Title: Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World
Author: Eric Metaxas
Rating: 4 of 5
The introduction to this book boldly claims that “much of what the world has come to ‘know’ about [Martin Luther] is fiction” and “sloppy glosses on the actual facts.” So does this volume illuminate for us the One True Luther as he has never been revealed before? Well…it is certainly a good biography that provides a lot of historical detail, but I don’t think it is anything groundbreaking. Like any biography, it has its strengths and weaknesses.
Metaxas’ strength is in describing the historical events. When it comes to the timing of occurrences, the words that were spoken/written, the people who were involved, the settings, etc. there are no “sloppy glosses” here. He usually shows sound historical research to back up his descriptions. However, he does occasionally indulge in speculation in what seems to be an unnecessary effort to suck the grandeur out of the best-known events (e.g. Maybe the 95 Theses was posted a couple weeks after October 31 by the church custodian and Maybe it was stuck up with paste instead of nails and Maybe Luther’s “Tower/Cloaca conversion experience” took place while he was sh*tting on the toilet…and, yes, he did use that word repeatedly).
The discussion of the theological and political issues involved was a little more hit-and-miss. Metaxas’ main takeaway throughout is that Luther unintentionally opened up the way for the modern pluralist understanding that people should be allowed to investigate spiritual truth themselves and draw their own conclusions and beliefs (whether right or wrong) without coercion.
He does discuss Luther’s developing theology on justification by faith alone, the sacraments, the relationship between church and state, etc., but it is largely subsumed into his freedom of conscience (or priesthood of the believer) emphasis and is not discussed with the level of detail you can find elsewhere (e.g. Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton which I reviewed here). I found this a bit disappointing and possibly a bit misleading. Luther took great strides in acknowledging the Bible as the only authority for Christian faith and practice, but he did not advocate religious freedom or separation of church and state as we know it today (e.g. he agreed to the execution of peaceful Anabaptists who preached something different than the state church…which this book completely omits).
Overall, this is well worth reading for the rich historical detail even if the strong emphasis on pluralism and freedom of religion does feel a bit forced and Americanized.