Book Notice: A Shorter Life of Martin Luther

Book Notice: A Shorter Life of Martin Luther May 3, 2017

Thomas Kaufmann 
A Short Life of Martin Luther
Translated by Peter D. S. Krey and James D. Bratt.
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.
Available at Amazon.com

By Jill Firth

This English translation of Kaufmann’s Short Life of Martin Luther has been hailed as ‘superb.’ Thomas Kaufmann is a professor of church history at the University of Göttingen. A scholar of the Lutheran Reformation, his publications in German have included a history of the reformation in Germany, Luther and the Jews, sacramental theology, theological education and ecclesiastical organization. Peter Krey has translated Luther’s Spirituality (Classics of Western Spirituality) and James Bratt is an authority on Abraham Kuyper.

This short work (146 pages) seeks to avoid hagiography and denigration of the famous German reformer. Luther was both a significant public figure and one who wrestled in private with God. He was ‘a man of prayer and a man of action.’ Kaufmann explains that to understand Luther we need to understand his historical setting and his inner journey.

The first chapter asks the question ‘Who did Martin Luther think he was?’ It briefly examines his writings, his actions, his claims to authority, contemporary evaluations of Luther, early portraits in woodcuts and copper engravings and his own awareness of himself as ‘a sinner made free in Christ.’ Chapter Two examines Luther’s participation in the Reformation. It follows his early life, education, experiences as a monk, early theological thought, the progress of the Reformation and Luther’s death in 1546, aged 62. Chapter Three discusses Luther’s theology, his relationship to the Bible, his role as lecturer and preacher, his relationship to the civic order, his friends and family and his enemies. A brief epilogue comments on Luther’s significance in history.

The work is concise and clearly written. Though it is undergirded with careful scholarship, the book presents a very readable account of Luther that provides a helpful introduction to his life and thought, and his significance today. It would make an excellent gift in this 500th year of the Reformation to a friend or family member who was a non-specialist, as well as providing a succinct presentation for a student or pastor. The volume includes a foreword by William G. Rusch, a timeline of key events in Luther’s life, a map of Luther’s Germany, the text of the 95 Theses, suggestions for further reading, and an index to the historical personages mentioned in the work.

Jill Firth has a keen interest in the Reformation. She also lectures in Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne.

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