You'd be forgiven if you thought you knew a fair bit about Martin Luther, especially now at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But Luther was a different kind of man; bombastic yet understanding, harsh yet kind, over the top yet pastoral. He is a difficult man to understand. We think we know him with the plethora of Facebook memes and the numerous tidbits from historians lately. But like any other historical figure that has initiated world changing events, the man must be studied and like any other man, he was a man of his time. At this point we can thank Herman Selderhuis for his biography of Luther, Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. The mysteries of the man who changed Christendom forever have been mined and his story told.
Many see Luther as the man at ground zero of Lutheranism and moreover, the Reformation. Indeed, he was. However, his life's story is more convoluted, more variegated and more wrought with strife than most of us can imagine. His time was much different than ours. His world was one of sickness & disease, the plague, where church and government was inextricably intertwined, where excommunication was far worse than perceived today, and where going against the Roman Catholic Pope could get one killed. He persisted with his theology which focused on justification by faith; something we in the Reformed world today almost take for granted but it was miles away from what the church taught at the time. Rarely a kind word for those who opposed him, even friends could fall under his wrathful pen or spoken word if they dared to disagree with him.
Unlike Calvin, Luther wrote much about himself, both the happy times and those of strife. From these written words we know much about Luther and his struggles. Selderhuis has written a fascinating account of his life outlining his troubles and joy in both his personal and public life and quotes often from his works. Selderhuis doesn't candy coat his story, though. Luther was often harsh with his words, both written and spoken, and was not afraid of anyone, including those who could take his life. When issues arose he would travel to preach, speak at disputations and write volumes on issues needing change and explanation within the church. At any one time in his later years Luther could be preaching, writing, teaching, attending meetings and answering correspondence on a myriad of subjects. He was often exhausted. His home life was made enjoyable thanks to his wife Katharina who managed the household well. Luther loved her and his children much, however home life could be chaotic. Money always seemed to be an issue and their home was always filled with friends and lodgers. Katharina held it all together managing their money and vegetable gardens well. These various aspects tell the story of Luther's life, much the average Christian doesn't know, and Selderhuis does it well.
Selderhuis' writing is direct, enjoyable, and informative. In 350+ pages he shares the life of a man that changed history and to who every Christian is indebted.
Crossway has provided a complimentary copy of this book through Beyond the Page.
Looking for other works on Luther? Check out this link at Reformed Renegade.