Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book Review: Beyond the 95 Theses

Beyond the 95 Theses. Stephen J. Nichols. 2016. P&R. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Beyond the Ninety-Five Theses contains two previously published Stephen J. Nichols titles; both published in 2002. I had not read Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought or Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses so this one was a very welcome addition for me!

The book has four parts. Part one focuses on the life of Martin Luther. Part two and three focus on Luther's theology and his legacy. In this section, Nichols walks readers through all of Luther's major works including the Three Treatises, Bondage of the Will, the Smaller Catechism, etc. Part four focuses on the 95 Theses. Nichols annotates these.

I definitely enjoyed reading this one. I am slowly but surely familiarizing myself with Luther and his work. (Earlier this month I finished The Three Treatises.) So I was definitely interested in the subject beforehand. I think this one serves as a good introduction overall.

From the preface:
This book offers a guided tour of Martin Luther’s life, writings, and thought. It is offered not in the hope that we merely enshrine Luther and his legacy but that in the hope that we too might find the same confidence in God, the Mighty Fortress; in God’s sure and certain Word; and in Christ and his finished work on the cross—alone. May we look back and be filled with gratitude for Luther’s life and legacy.
From the introduction:
This current lack of familiarity with Luther’s work is precisely the reason for this book. These ideas, however, are not mere relics of the past. To be sure, his thought inspired a whole generation in his own day. But, it also has the power to impact the church today and to ignite our own generation to a passionate quest for God and his truth.
From part one:
One thing on which scholars agree is that the world “Martin Luder” was born into on November 10, 1483, was quite different from the one he left on February 18, 1546. The decades of his life contained unprecedented change and upheaval, and Martin Luther was at the center of it all.
From part two:
Luther never wrote a systematic theology. His theology developed in the trenches, as it were, as he was thrust into conflicts and engaged in the controversies of his day.
“If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of those branches because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant.” ~ Martin Luther
“There is nothing easier than sinning.” Martin Luther
From part three:
The Small Catechism is a masterpiece in being both comprehensive and concise. Timeless in its presentation, style, and content, the work ranks among classics of both devotional and theological literature. It consists of a brief exposition of the essential elements in understanding God, his Word, and his work in the world, as it contains brief teachings on the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments. Luther expanded the catechism in later editions to include instructions on prayer and what he referred to as “the table of duties.”
A definite pattern emerges from this catechism section that continues through the entire text. He cites the commandment, then asks simply, “What does this mean?” (“Was ist das?”). Admittedly, the repeating question lacks originality and variety. Whatever qualities may be lacking in the question, however, he supplies in the answer. Concerning the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” Luther asks his trademark question, “What does this mean?” and then follows by answering, “We should fear, love, and trust God above all things.” This tendency to pull a positive teaching from the negative command reverberates throughout his discussion of the Ten Commandments. In fact, he uses the first part of the answer to the question concerning the first commandment, “We should fear and love God,” to begin the rest of the answers. Luther is guarding those children (and us) from simply viewing the Ten Commandments as an external law code. He also keeps us from moralism by grounding the basis and motive for adhering to the Ten Commandments in nothing other than an expression of grateful obedience to God. According to Luther, one’s relationship to God grounds an obedient Christian life.
Consider his answer to the fifth commandment, “You shall not kill,” as representative of his treatment of the other commandments. Here Luther informs us that “we should love and fear God, and we should not endanger our neighbor’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.”

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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