Category Archives: Book Review

Radicalism and Dissent in the World of Protestant Reform

From V&R.

The 500th anniversary of the onset of the Protestant Reformation is receiving global attention, both from the public and from academic researchers. However, the significance of the year 1517 has been an issue of scholarly debate for quite some time, and its importance as a caesura in European history has been questioned. The popular picture, in particular, of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church doors on 31 October 1517 and thereby unleashing both the Reformation movement and the modern era has been successfully challenged by research.

Our understanding of the Reformation has become more differentiated and complex, and this has been and will be documented in the context of the quincentenary in many events, publications and exhibitions around the world. The acknowledgement of plurality and dissent within early modern Protestantism is one key aspect of this differentiated picture of the Reformation. The symposium “The Protestant Reformation and its Radical Critique”, which was held at the German Historical Institute in London from September 15–17, 2016, concentrated on radical currents within the Reformation movement, most of which were inspired by a critical engagement with Luther and the other magisterial reformers. These radical groups and theologies are of particular interest because they link British, German, Dutch, French and North American experiences and historiographies.

The period on which the essays in this volume focus extends from the early Reformation of the 1520s to the Pietist movement of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This broad chronological perspective will help to shift the anniversary discussions from their predominant focus on the sixteenth century. A public lecture given at the British Museum within the framework of this symposium positioned the various strands of early-modern religious radicalism within an even wider temporal framework and linked them to those of the 20th century. The symposium itself was structured thematically around issues such as group formation, religious radicalism in politics, gender and family relations, missionary activity, radicalism across borders, and radical history writing.

Radicalism is one of the unintended consequences of Luther’s reformatory efforts. Once the floodgates were opened, thanks to Luther’s own doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, all bets were off concerning what people would do with that freedom. Unsurprisingly, many misused it and others abused it.

In the present volume the contributors show the variety of ways in which the chief Reformers (Luther and Zwingli) had their work distorted and mistreated by various radical groups. As such, it is a wonderful historical examination and a delightful look at the nature of history as it sometimes surprises its inhabitants.

Who were these Radicals?

The radical reformers, as classified by George Williams in his encyclopaedic The Radical Reformation, were the Anabaptists, the Spiritualists and the Anti-Trinitarians (p. 8).

Or are they?

As John Coffey points out in his essay for this volume, producing taxonomies of radicalism, as Williams did, is analogous to ‘fixing butterflies on a wall rather than tracking their unpredictable movements through the air’ (p. 9).

The volume presently under review, then, strives to move us forward from the common understanding of the Radical Reformation by shedding new light on a number of particular historical events. We have, in short, at hand here a series of historical case studies.

Of particular significance, in this reviewer’s estimate, is the essay by Lehmann. He writes

No wall that Luther erected was high enough, however, to prevent some of the ideas that he had formulated and propagated from spreading. The centrality of the Scriptures for all Christians, for example, captured many people’s minds, in towns and in the countryside. For Luther, this notion was closely tied to his most effective form of defense against papal arguments. As a professor of biblical studies he was convinced that he knew, and understood, God’s words at least as well, and in fact much better than anyone else. Early on, in 1518 or 1519, when being attacked, he asked his opponents to base their arguments on scriptural evidence. No doubt this method worked very well to his advantage, for example at the hearings in Worms. In keeping with this, Luther demanded that future pastors should receive a solid university education in biblical studies. As a result, what he created, together with Melanchthon, was nothing less than a new clerical elite, a professional corps of theological experts trained to explain the true meaning of God’s word to the uneducated, thus eroding the foundation of his very own slogan of the priesthood of all believers. Within just a few years he dropped the idea that anyone could simply go ahead and read and understand the message of the Bible (p. 17).

I offer that extensive quote because it shows both the quality of Lehmann’s writing and the cogency of his argument. This is a stupendous collection and I confess to having learned much from each of the essays included herein.

Those interested in the contents and the front matter of the present work are encouraged to visit the PDF of those materials kindly provided by the publisher.  I genuinely enjoy historical studies of the Radical Reformation (perhaps because at heart I’m a bit of a Radical myself), and I enjoyed this volume more than I’ve enjoyed any movie or TV show I’ve seen this year.  This book is worth turning the TV off for (and I love TV) and setting Facebook aside for a few hours for and even ignoring Twitter for a time, and times, and half a time.

CHRISTIANITY IN EURAFRICA: A History of the Church in Europe and Africa

Nothing has bound Africa and Europe more together than the history of Christianity. From Paradise onwards, the Church has been the communion of believers. As the Body of Jesus Christ she started in Jerusalem. Through the proclamation of the Gospel the Church soon reached parts of Africa and the Atlantic Coast, from where – after the Middle Ages and particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries – she took deep root in Sub-Saharan Africa. Today, in post-modern times, African Christianity is being challenged to re-plant the Church in secularized Europe.  

This textbook for learners and teachers of the History of the Church focuses on the West and the South, on Europe and Africa, the continents whose histories have been increasingly intertwined since Antiquity. Since the 1960s, the classical dependence of the South on the North has changed dramatically. There is a clear shift in the centre of gravity of Christianity from the north to the south Atlantic, making African Christianity increasingly important. The future of European Christianity largely depends on a much-needed shift to mission-mindedness in the African churches.

I genuinely enjoyed Stephen’s earlier book on Christian Zionism so I was keen to read this, which he’s sent along for review.

In the volume at hand Paas traces the history of the Christian movement from its inception to the recent past.  In the introductory chapter he discusses the chief characteristics of Church history and its sources and rationale as well as its various branches.  The first major segment, ‘From Galilee to the Atlantic’ is a sweeping description of the historical setting of the early Church through the work of Augustine and the collapse of the Roman Empire and on to the rise of the Church in the West, the rise of Islam in the East, and the intersection of Church and State.

Then Paas turns his attention to the 16th century ‘Reformation Era’ and in the pages which follow the life and work of Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin, the Radical Reformers, and the Reformation in France, the Netherlands, England, and Scotland before he turns to the Counter Reformation.

Paas next describes the spread of Protestantism in Europe and North America and how Christianity proclaimed its variety of theologies through the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Second Part turns away from Europe and North America and instead focuses on the expansion of Christianity in Africa and the variety of missionary activities and theological expressions carried out and manifested on that continent from the beginning to the present.

This work truly is a sprawling and all encompassing survey of history and theological variety.  It is an impressive volume achieving in its pages what many longer and, frankly, more tedious works do not: the bestowal on the reader of a very thorough grasp of the history of the Church.

Paas’s expertise is on full display and his knowledge of the grand sweep of the history of the Church is astonishing.  There are, however, parts where he is dependent on the general consensus even when that consensus is incorrect.  So, for example, in his discussion of Zwingli, he writes

Zwingli officially turned to the Reformation after he had become priest in the cathedral of Zurich (p. 176).

This is, to be sure, the Lutheran perspective: the portrayal of Zwingli dependent on Luther in order to arrive at a proper Reformation viewpoint.  However Zwingli’s own testimony, and there’s no reason to doubt it, is that his own turn came as early as 1515 after the horrors of the Battle of Marignano.  By the time he reached Zurich in 1519 he had already become well acquainted with Paul’s theology and was slowly but surely, as was his custom, changing things where he was.

This caveat aside, the volume is a genuinely extraordinarily useful and informative work.  It is thoroughly illustrated with over 170 graphics and it is laced with useful bibliographies.  An index is also provided but in all frankness it is not necessary: the table of contents is one of the most thorough I’ve seen in any history of the Church.

I recommend this work for, especially, students of Church History who are early in their work; interested lay people; College and University Professors looking for a comprehensive textbook; and theologians concerned with the history of Dogma.

Tolle, Lege!  This is the most affordable, most comprehensive volume on the topic you’re likely to find anywhere.  And it is a pleasure to read.


»What is Human?« Theological Encounters with Anthropology

The present volume is the result of an interdisciplinary project within the Department of Theology at Aarhus University. The project was related to the research programme: “Christianity and Theology in Culture and Society: Formation – Reformation – Transformation”, running from 2012–2016 at the Institute of Culture and Society, Faculty of Arts, Aarhus University. The idea was to bring together scholars from all disciplines of Theology at Aarhus University in order to stimulate and coordinate disciplinary and interdisciplinary research cooperation. One substantial fruit of this endeavor can be found in the form of the present volume.

The front matter can be read here.  With thanks to V&R for the review copy.  Stay tuned for more.

Luther heute

In diesem Buch werden die Hauptthemen reformatorischer Theologie beleuchtet, die für die evangelische Kirche grundlegend sind, eine starke Wirkungsgeschichte entfaltet haben und bis heute das kirchliche Handeln wie das gesellschaftliche Leben prägen. Dabei sollen die zentralen theologischen Anliegen Martin Luthers einerseits in ihren Grundzügen historisch sorgfältig dargestellt, andererseits in ihrer Bedeutung für Kirche und Gesellschaft heute deutlich gemacht werden. Die einzelnen Beiträge sind für den Vortrag in einer Ringvorlesung der Evangelisch-Theologischen Fakultät in Tübingen zum Reformationsjubiläum im WS 2016/17 konzipiert worden. Der Band bietet einen konzentrierten Überblick über die wichtigsten Themen reformatorischer Theologie und Lebensgestaltung aus der Sicht unterschiedlicher Disziplinen. Er ist gedacht für alle, die sich für die Relevanz der Reformation für Kirche und Gesellschaft heute interessieren.

  • – Christoph Schwöbel: Sola Scriptura – Schriftprinzip und Schriftgebrauch
  • Friedrich Hermanni:Luthers Lehre vom unfreien Willen. Ein Plädoyer
  • Friederike Nüssel: Sola gratia – in einer gnadenlosen Wettbewerbsgesellschaft?
  • Walter Sparn: »Er heißt Jesus Christ, der Herr Zebaoth, und ist kein andrer Gott«. Solus Christus als Kanon reformatorischen Christentums
  • Eilert Herms:»Der Glaube ist ein schäftig, tätig Ding«. Luthers »Ethik«: sein Bild vom christlichen Leben
  • Ulrich Heckel: »Wasser tut’s freilich nicht« – Taufe und Glaube bei Luther
  • Volker Leppin: Priestertum aller Gläubigen. Amt und Ehrenamt in der lutherischen Kirche
  • Jürgen Kampmann: »Lasset alles ehrbar und ordentlich zugehen« (1 Kor 14,40): Anliegen und Maßstäbe reformatorischer kirchlicher Ordnung
  • Johannes Schilling: Luther, die Musik und der Gottesdienst
  • Reiner Preul: »Du sollst Evangelium predigen« / »nihil nisi Christus praedicandus« – Gesetz und Evangelium in der Predigt
  • Birgit Weyel: »(D)aß ein Mensch den anderen trösten soll«. Überlegungen zu einem Grundanliegen reformatorischer Seelsorge aus heutiger Sicht
  • Albrecht Geck: Der Protestantismus und (seine) Bilder
  • Friedrich Schweitzer: Die Reformation als Bildungsbewegung – nicht nur im schulischen Bereich. Ausgangspunkte, Wirkungsgeschichte, Zukunftsbedeutung
  • Wilfried Härle: »Niemand soll in eigener Sache Richter sein« – Luthers Sicht der Obrigkeit und der demokratische Rechtsstaat
  • Elisabeth Gräb-Schmidt: Gerechtigkeit und Freiheit in den Institutionen am Beispiel von Ehe und Familie
  • Bernd Jochen Hilberath: »Allein die Erfahrung«: Martin Luther – katholischer Theologe und Lehrer der Kirche
  • Thomas Kaufmann: Luthers Christus und die anderen Religionen und Konfessionen

The chief benefit of the present volume is the breadth and scope of the topics treated.  It provides readers nothing less than a ‘handbook on Luther’, giving the interested the most up to date scholarship on aspects of Luther’s thought as diverse as his view of marriage and his view of music.  It lacks any indices of any sort but that fact is understandable given the precise titles provided for the essays.  It also includes several (though not many) very nice illustrations in black and white.

The chief theological concerns of Luther are addressed herein.  Sola Scriptura, baptism, government, and all the rest are found with the incredibly interesting exception of any treatment on the topic of the Lord’s Supper.  Given the importance of that doctrine both in Luther’s day and in our own this is quite astonishing.  Indeed, it is shocking.  One is forced to wonder why this is the case yet one will seek in vain for an explanation in the Preface.

The essays here collected, however, serve quite well to explain concisely  what Luther thought and taught and, more importantly, how those views can lend themselves to interfaith dialogue in our time.  It is a commendable collection which I am happy to commend.

The Myth of Rebellious Angels: Studies in Second Temple Judaism and New Testament Texts

9780802873156This excellent book arrived about a month back and I’ve since read through it.  Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

The mythical story of fallen angels preserved in 1 Enoch and related literature was profoundly influential during the Second Temple period. In this volume renowned scholar Loren Stuckenbruck explores aspects of that influence and demonstrates how the myth was reused and adapted to address new religious and cultural contexts.

Stuckenbruck considers a variety of themes, including demonology, giants, exorcism, petitionary prayer, the birth and activity of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the conversion of Gentiles, “apocalyptic” and the understanding of time, and more. He also offers a theological framework for the myth of fallen angels through which to reconsider several New Testament texts—the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John, Acts, Paul’s letters, and the book of Revelation.

Stuckenbruck has long been one of my favorite experts on Second Temple Judaism because he is simultaneously informative and articulate.  The present volume is something of a summary of his thoughts on some of the most interesting aspects of Second Temple belief.  In 14 chapters he discusses everything from giants and Genesis 6 to the need for women to cover their heads for the benefit of the angels in 1 Corinthians to the Apocalypse of John and 1 Enoch.

The essays are arranged in canonical order.  That is,

  1. Origins of Evil in Jewish Apocalyptic Tradition.
  2. Giant Mythology and Demonology.
  3. The Lamech Narrative in the Genesis Apocryphon and 1 Enoch 106-107.
  4. Demonic Beings and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
  5. Early Enochic and Daniel Traditions in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
  6. The Book of Tobit and the Problem of ‘Magic’.
  7. To What Extent did Philo’s Treatment of Enoch and the Giants Presuppose Knowledge of Enochic and Other Sources Preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls?
  8. Conflicting Stories: the Spirit origin of Jesus’ Birth.
  9. The Human Being and Demonic Invasion.
  10. The Need for Protection From the Evil One and John’s Gospel.
  11. The ‘Cleansing’ of the Gentiles.
  12. Posturing ‘Apocalyptic’ in Pauline Theology.
  13. Why Should Women Cover their Heads Because of the Angels?
  14. The Apocalypse of John, I Enoch,, and the Question of Influence.

Stuckenbruck also provides an extensive bibliography and indices of passages, authors, and subjects.

The value of this volume is revealed and properly manifested in its broad scope and comprehensiveness.  Curious notions are examined and demons abound.  The stickier passages are approached fearlessly and competently so that persons interested in the origin of the giants or the reason women had to cover their heads in Corinth are provided sensible and cogent explanations.

The majority of the chapters have been published elsewhere while one appears here for the first time.  The notes are copious and the documentation (i.e., evidence for Stuckenbruck’s interpretations) exceedingly thorough, as one would expect of a scholar of his caliber.

This is a book for the curious by a scholar who understands that curiosity because he shares it.  And he has the background, training, and skills along with a profound familiarity with the primary sources that allow his expositions to capture the imagination at the same time that they convince the reader of their correctness.

This is a glorious example of biblical scholarship and it proves that detailed investigations of the highest quality needn’t be dry, boring, dusty, uninspiring, or lilting.  I hope one day to know as much about something as Stuckenbruck seems to know about second Temple Judaism.  To that end, I’m off to follow up several leads Loren suggested concerning those pesky headcoverings in Corinth.

My recommendation to you, dear reader, is that you read this book: not only because it will inform you, but rather because it will actually inspire you to better, deeper, more engaged scholarship.

A Review of the DBG’s Facsimile Edition of Luther’s 1545 ‘Biblia Germanica’

Published in 2017 for the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, this facsimile edition is an exact replica of Luther’s 1545 German Bible.  And the 1545 German Bible is Luther’s best edition, far superior to the two volume 1534 edition and much better than any of the earlier incarnations of Luther’s version.

This edition is distributed in North America by Hendrickson Publishers, as are all of the German Bible Society’s volumes.

Luther’s translation of the Bible alone makes him a figure of importance and it is not at all difficult to muster the argument that of all the works of Luther, it is the most significant.  To be sure, his great books of 1520 stand as monuments to the beginning of the Reformation and will always be valued for that historical reason alone.  But of Luther’s lasting contributions to Christian theology, they pale in importance to Luther’s rendition of Scripture.

The present facsimile edition is unaltered from its original form with only one exception: the ‘afterword’ provided by the German publisher.  Everything else, from font to woodcuts to prefaces and forwards are all exactly as published in 1545, a year before Luther’s death.  Those seeking Luther’s most mature thought on Amos or Hosea need simply read the preface he provides to those books (and all the rest).  Luther’s Preface to the Old Testament is still one of the best ‘introductions’ to the Old Testament to this very day as is his Preface to the New Testament to New Testament studies.  Luther was at his best and brightest when working directly with Scripture.  Would that he had avoided some of his more controversial efforts and simply stuck with exegesis; what a legacy he would have left behind.

The volume presently under discussion also comes beneficially ensconced in a very sturdy box and comes bound in a lovely and sturdy beige cloth cover.  The paper used in this edition is substantial and the volume thereby avoids the easy creasing so common to bibles published with paper which bleeds through.

The price is not exorbitant for the quality or historical significance of the volume though doubtless many will wish it were less expensive than it is.  Nonetheless, you ‘get what you pay for’ and the quality and importance of this facsimile are well worth the cost.  If potential buyers are stymied by the price, I would advise that they sell their collection of NT Wright’s works or their Joel Osteen volumes for whatever they can get for them and buy this instead.  It’s far more deserving of a place on your shelves and you’ll get more out of if in terms of theological education than either of those modern authors could proffer in all of their books combined together.

What follows below are a series of photos I snapped to provide readers with visuals of this fantastic and highly important and wonderfully accessible Bible.

I could recommend this edition with more than glowing words but I think it speaks for itself.  Students of the Reformation; students of the Bible; and people who love fantastic books will want it.  Crave it.  Need it.  Get it.

Gerechtigkeit verstehen

04916_landmesser_popkes_gerechtigkeitMenschliches Leben kann sich nur dort zum Guten entfalten, wo auch Gerechtigkeit herrscht. Was aber ist Gerechtigkeit? Ganz selbstverständlich fordern wir Gerechtigkeit in allen Bereichen unseres Lebens. Um Gerechtigkeit aber auch zur Geltung zu bringen, ist eine grundsätzliche Verständigung darüber erforderlich, was wir unter Gerechtigkeit verstehen wollen.

Diesem Leitthema widmete sich die 18. Jahrestagung der Rudolf-Bultmann-Gesellschaft für Hermeneutische Theologie e. V., deren Erträge durch den vorliegenden Sammelband dokumentiert werden.

Mit Beiträgen von Hermann Spieckermann, Christof Landmesser, Angelika Neuwirth, Rainer Marten, Tom Kleffmann und Bischof Otfried July.

The papers herein were read at the 2016 Rudolf-Bultmann-Gesellschaft that met in Bad Herrenalb.  In total six essays plus an introduction comprise the substance and each addresses the theological concept of ‘righteousness’ from a particular perspective.  Accordingly, the first, by H. Spickermann is an investigation of the concept in the Old Testament. The second, by Landmesser sees the concept through the lenses of Matthew and Paul. The third steps away from the Bible and thinks about the subject from the point of view of the Koran whilst the fourth widens the vista further by broadly discussing the question of righteousness itself.

In chapter 5, T. Kleffmann returns to a consideration of the subject from a theological perspective- particularly from the point of view of Pauline studies and the last chapter F. July attempts to bring the subject to bear on present churchly practice among the Diaconate.

I am happy to confess the first two chapters are nearer my own interests than the others, which is why I am pleased to have encountered those first two and the latter four, for they broaden the reader’s perspective exponentially. I know virtually nothing of the Koran so that I cannot rightly analyze the contents of that chapter and nonetheless am glad to have read it simply because it is so very instructive. Indeed, perhaps Jewish/ Christian/ and Muslim dialogue should and can begin with a colloquium on the subject of ‘righteousness’.

When the Bultmann-Gesellschaft holds its annual meetings the scholars presenting always bring intriguing and helpful ideas to the table.  The publication of those proceedings by the Evangelische Verlagsanstalt Leipzig should be greeted with appreciation as they allow the entire interested theological public to ‘sit in’ on the sessions even if they cannot do so literally.

Biblia Germanica

Hendrickson have published the brilliant Biblia Germanica, Luther’s 1545 edition of the German Bible.

No other German book has exercised for centuries such a profound effect on the German language as the German Bible of Martin Luther. Over time other German translations appeared, and in the present we see an almost bewildering abundance of new translations, but the Luther Bible launched the progression of the German language. In addition, the Luther text set binding standards for dealing with the biblical word. The output is one column set, with the exception of the Psalter and the Proverbs of Solomon, which are in two columns. This print is a replica of the 1545 Luther Bible, of which only two originals are left. This replica maintains the numerous wood cuts, headings, and explanatory notes of Luther.

They’ve sent along, with excessive kindness, a review copy.  More anon- and here it is in its box and shrink wrap:

Petrus Dathenus und der Heidelberger Katechismus

9783525552476Der Heidelberger Katechismus zählt zu den zentralen Lehr- und Bekenntnisschriften des reformierten Protestantismus. Bei seiner Abfassung wurde in nicht unerheblichem Maße auf Stoff aus älteren Katechismen reformierter Prägung zurückgegriffen. Neben dem großen und dem kleinen Katechismus von Zacharias Ursinus (1534–1583) und dem Genfer Katechismus Johannes Calvins (1509–1564) sind dies insbesondere eine Reihe niederländischer bzw. niederdeutscher Katechismen. Die Rezeption letzterer wird in der Forschungsliteratur häufig auf den Einfluss einer Gruppe niederländischer Glaubensflüchtlinge zurückgeführt, die 1562 im leerstehenden Kloster Frankenthal in der Kurpfalz Asyl fanden.

Der Prediger dieser Gruppe, Petrus Dathenus (1531/32–1588) steht dabei exemplarisch für die (west-)europäische Ausrichtung der Kurpfälzischen Politik in der zweiten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts: Als Theologe setzte er sich intensiv für die Verbreitung des Heidelberger Katechismus in der Niederlande ein, als Gesandter des Kurfürsten versuchte er, Einfluss auf die spannungsreiche politische Lage in seinem Heimatland zu nehmen.Tobias Schreiber untersucht die Frage, ob es tatsächlich jener Petrus Dathenus war, der die spezifisch niederländische bzw. niederdeutsche Katechismustradition in den Entstehungsprozess des Heidelberger Katechismus einbrachte und so den konfessionellen Wandel in der Kurpfalz um 1563 mitprägte. Der Autor nimmt dabei auch die 1563 kurz nach dem Katechismus veröffentlichte Kurpfälzische Kirchenordnung in den Blick.

V&R continue to bring to press volumes which expand our understanding of the Reformation by introducing a wider public to the life and work of generally unknown scholars.  This revised dissertation continues that tradition.

Tobias Schreiber first brings to our attention the status questionis and then launches straightaway into an examination of Dathenus’ pilgrimage from papacy to Reformed and his sojourn in London where he learned the faith more deeply and commenced in seriousness his own theological work.  From there we follow Dathenus’ further theological development as it is evidenced in his various compositions.

Throughout the volume the importance of various theological traditions is on full display.    More precisely, it is shown that one of the Reformed tradition’s most underrated thinkers was the product of many giants upon whose shoulders he stood.  We are privy to the truth that no person is influenced only by one idea or one document.  That is certainly true of Dathenus, whose own thought is shown to be the consequence of the blending of many streams of theological influence.

This is shown by copious documentation and by the frequent setting side by side of various theological texts along with Dathenus’ own works.  The result is a very fine study worthy of scholarly attention.  And Dathenus is very much worth reading in and of his own right.  He opines

Vom Anfang der Erneuerung des Evangeliums an haben sie (sc. die Evangelischen) alle übereinstimmend gelehrt, dass Christus das eine Haupt, Fundament, der eine König, Lehrer und Priester der Kirche sei, durch den die Gläubigen umsonst, allein aus Glauben ohne jede Werke von Gott gerecht gesprochen würden […]. Sie lehrten, dass die Kanonische Schrift vollständig [integram] und vollkommen [perfectam] sei, und dass in ihr nichts, was zum wahren Glauben und zur wahren Frömmigkeit notwendig ist, ausgelassen sei – dass ihr nichts hinzugefügt werden braucht noch kann: Dies bekennen sie bis jetzt offen (p. 193).

Or this:

„So definiere ich die Kirche: Die sichtbare Kirche Christi ist die Versammlung all jener sowohl wahrhaft Gläubiger als auch Heuchler, die das reine Evangelium bekennen, wobei sie die unreine Lehre fliehen, Christus als das eine und höchste Haupt, als Heiland, Priester und Mittler anerkennen und die Sakramente und die von Christus übergebenen Schlüssel recht gebrauchen“ (p. 194).

And the discussion of the Scriptures (on pages 198ff) is simply brilliantly insightful.  Proving, yet again, that anything we might say about theological matters has already been said long ago, and better; and all we need do is comb the archives to discover the un-mined riches of our own theological tradition.

A Dutch Historian Reviews “The Commentary”

Read it here.  Or enjoy the English version below:

The humanities are, essentially, a pedagogical program. The study of history and foreign cultures serves to help us understand our own civilization and age a bit better, helps us recognize our own prejudices, and puts our own ideas in a different perspective. Besides, the humanities can be great fun.

Because it would be unfair if only academics benefit from the humanities, academics are supposed to transfer their insights to society, but – pace authors like Eric Cline – this duty is seriously neglected. Stripped of their pedagogical essence, the humanities have become sterile activities. The government can stop financing them and no one would really notice, because we lost the humanities a long time ago. For various reasons, other disciplines have suffered from a similar loss of significance. In religious studies, however, there are some interesting initiatives, initiatives that may also be useful among the humanities.

One of these initiatives is the commentary on the Bible by Jim West, a theologian who is lecturer in Biblical and Reformation Studies at Ming Hua Theological College in Hong Kong and is also Pastor of a Baptist Church in Petros, Tennessee.

In his commentary, West explains every chapter from Genesis to Revelation to “the person in the pew”: the ordinary member of a church, who, when reading the Bible, encounters a desperately foreign culture and therefore needs some guidance to understand it. This fact applies to every ancient text and therefore, the success of West’s commentary shows me, a historian of the ancient world, a road to take to give the humanities back their lost pedagogical essence.

West’s approach is straightforward: he offers the Bible in a translation (American Standard Version) and interrupts the narrative every now and then to explain a couple of verses. His comments are aimed “at English speaking and reading members of the community of faith”: in other words, he makes the ancient texts accessible for believers. His approach can be applied to other ancient authors as well, such as the Epic of Gilgameš, the Iliad, Herodotus, Caesar, Suetonius, or Augustine.

That would even be quite easy. If I were to write a West-like commentary on Caesar’s Gallic War, I would have to make sure that a modern reader receives some background knowledge so that he may understand what Caesar takes for granted and can understand and enjoy the dictator’s writing. Such a commentary would not be easy to write, but it is a straightforward job. As a pastor, West has an additional task: he needs to present the text in such a way that the faithful can use the Bible as a guideline. As I said, West’s approach is straightforward. The fact that he succeeds is encouraging for everyone who thinks that the study of ancient texts is meaningful.

Back to West’s commentary, which was not written to show ancient historians how to regain purpose, but is intended as a means of pastoral care. I am no theologian and cannot judge the theological merits, but I can say that it is a pleasant read. I am currently reading a text I know quite well, Daniel, and West has pointed out many aspects I had not recognized before. The PDFs of West’s Commentary for the Person in the Pew are on my tablet, allowing me to go through the entire Bible when my train is delayed or has been cancelled. Given the quality of Dutch public transport I expect to have renewed my encounter with the Bible within a few months.

Jona Lendering

From Jesus to his First Followers: Continuity and Discontinuity

Brill have sent a review copy of this new volume:

54589From Jesus to His First Followers examines to what extent early Christian groups were in continuity or discontinuity with respect to Jesus. Adriana Destro and Mauro Pesce concentrate on the transformation of religious practices. Their anthropological-historical analysis focuses on the relations between discipleship and households, on the models of contact with the supernatural world, and on cohabitation among distinct religious groups. The book highlights how Matthew uses non-Jewish instruments of legitimation, John reformulates religious experiences through symbolized domestic slavery, Paul adopts a religious practice diffused in Roman-Hellenistic environments. The book reconstructs the map of early Christian groups in the Land of Israel and explains their divergences on the basis of an original theory of the local origin of Gospels’ information.

More in the not too distant future.

A History of Biblical Israel

knaufThis new book from Equinox is excellent.  Indeed, it is the finest history of Israel written in the last 5 decades.

There was probably only one past, but there are many different histories. As mental representations of narrow segments of the past, ‘histories’ reflect different cultural contexts and different historians, although ‘history’ is a scientific enterprise whenever it processes representative data using rational and controllable methods to work out hypotheses that can be falsified by empirical evidence.

A History of Biblical Israel combines experience gained through decades of teaching biblical exegesis and courses on the history of ancient Israel, and of on-going involvement in biblical archaeology. ‘Biblical Israel’ is understood as a narrative produced primarily in the province of Yehud to forge the collective memory of the elite that operated the temple of Jerusalem under the auspices of the Achaemenid imperial apparatus. The notion of ‘Biblical Israel’ provides the necessary hindsight to narrate the fate of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah as the pre-history of ‘Biblical Israel’, since the archives of these kingdoms were only mined in the Persian era to produce the grand biblical narrative. The volume covers the history of ‘Biblical Israel’ through its fragmentation in the Hellenistic and Roman periods until 136 CE, when four Roman legions crushed the revolt of Simeon Bar-Kosiba.

ISD has sent a copy which arrived at the end of last month and I’ve read through it and offer below my thoughts on the volume.

First, it is comprised of three major divisions: The Pre History of Biblical Israel; The formation of Biblical Israel in Yehud and Samaria in the Persian Period; and The disintegration of Biblical Israel.    There are, as well, the usual preface, introduction, appendix, indices, and numerous illustrations (53 of them plus 5 tables to be precise).  The full table of contents can be viewed at the link above.

The introduction delineates the time-span of the study, defines terms like Israel, and history, and history of Israel as well as notions and ideas.  Each chapter following begins with an italicized central thought which then is fully explicated in the associated chapter.  So, for example, chapter one’s heading reads thusly:

The relations of Egypt with Canaan in the Late Bronze Age establish the framework for development in the Iron Age (p. 29).

Chapter two commences:

The rise of proto-Israelite tribes in the Central Palestinian Range is placed in the context of Canaanite revival spurred by the exploitation of copper mines in the Arabah following the collapse of the first Mediterranean economic system (p. 42).

And such brief snippets occur throughout.  Which brings me, conveniently, to the greatest feature of the present work: unlike so many ‘Histories of Israel’ this volume is not merely a dry retelling of the events of the biblical text (as though that were actual historical reconstruction).  No, here readers will discover actual history.  The who, what, when, and where of the events experienced by ancient Israel are on full, cogent, coherent display.  In short, actual history is to be found here and not the pious repetition of the biblical narrative.  John Bright, and to a lesser extent every history of Israel written in the last 50 years has done nothing more than repeat the Bible and toss in a bit of Egyptian and Mesopotamian history.  That is not the case here.  Thankfully.

Rather, then, than focusing on the biblical narrative, our authors deliver a historical reconstruction which investigates the economical and societal reasons for the shifting sands of the ancient near eastern political world and the impact those economic and social events had on the people we know as Ancient Israel.

To be sure, the biblical text is not ignored.  How could it be?  Rather, it is integrated into the social-critical approach utilized by our authors.  So, for instance,

According to the biblical scenario, 720 BCE closed the unfortunate parenthesis opened by Jeroboam I.  The “fall” of Israel only marks the end of the kingdom, but from the point of view of the biblical writers, it allowed them to ignore further events to the north of Benjamin and to turn their full attention to Jerusalem and, to a lesser extent, on the Edomites and Arabs (p. 115).

Alongside the extraordinary content the authors also offer – from time to time – pithy phrases that stick to the brain.  One of my favorite is their lovely ‘Baal allergy’ in reference to Israel’s Prophets’ attitude towards Baalism.

The bibliography at the conclusion of the volume and the appendix which offers readers a comparative table of Israelite/Judean monarchs and their dates are both very helpful.

This book, as I said above, is truly the best history of Israel written in the last 5 decades.  Readers will benefit from it and it should find its place in every biblical scholar’s library and at every institution of higher education where biblical studies or religion are taught.

The People’s Book: The Reformation and the Bible

9780830851638Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses caught Europe by storm and initiated the Reformation, which fundamentally transformed both the church and society. Yet by Luther’s own estimation, his translation of the Bible into German was his crowning achievement.

The Bible played an absolutely vital role in the lives, theology, and practice of the Protestant Reformers. In addition, the proliferation and diffusion of vernacular Bibles—grounded in the original languages, enabled by advancements in printing, and lauded by the theological principles of sola Scriptura and the priesthood of all believers—contributed to an ever-widening circle of Bible readers and listeners among the people they served.

This collection of essays from the 2016 Wheaton Theology Conference—the 25th anniversary of the conference—brings together the reflections of church historians and theologians on the nature of the Bible as “the people’s book.” With care and insight, they explore the complex role of the Bible in the Reformation by considering matters of access, readership, and authority, as well as the Bible’s place in the worship context, issues of theological interpretation, and the role of Scripture in creating both division and unity within Christianity.

On the 500th anniversary of this significant event in the life of the church, these essays point not only to the crucial role of the Bible during the Reformation era but also its ongoing importance as “the people’s book” today.

Part I: Access and Readership
1. Teaching the Church: Protestant Latin Bibles and Their Readers- Bruce Gordon
2. Scripture, the Priesthood of All Believers, and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14 – G. Sujin Pak
3. Learning to Read Scripture for Ourselves: The Guidance of Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin – Randall Zachman
4. The Reformation and Vernacular Culture: Wales as a Case Study – D. Densil Morgan

Part II: Transmission and Worship
5. The Reformation as Media Event – Read Mercer Schuchardt
6. The Interplay of Catechesis and Liturgy in the Sixteenth Century: Examples from the Lutheran and Reformed Traditions – John D. Witvliet
7. Word and Sacrament: The Gordian Knot of Reformation Worship – Jennifer Powell McNutt

Part III: Protestant-Catholic Dialogue
8. John Calvin’s Commentary on the Council of Trent – Michael Horton
9. The Bible and the Italian Reformation – Christopher Castaldo
10. Reading the Reformers After Newman – Carl Trueman

Part IV: The People’s Book Yesterday and Today
11. From the Spirit to the Sovereign to Sapiential Reason: A Brief History of Sola Scriptura – Paul C. H. Lim
12. Perspicuity and the People’s Book – Mark Labberton

When people of the stature of JB say things like “This valuable collection of essays from an excellent group of scholars does a superb job of covering topics ranging from Latin Bibles to vernacular culture, perspicuity, and reading the Reformers after Newman. A great mix of historical and theological material and a pleasure to read.” —Jon Balserak

And Karin Maag says “Sola Scriptura, ‘Scripture alone’: these words still resonate over the centuries since the early 1500s. No single scholar can do justice to the complex history of the Bible and its impact in the Reformation era. Fortunately, Jennifer Powell McNutt and David Lauber have assembled a top-notch team to provide a rich feast of insights on the Bible in the Reformation era and beyond. From regional studies to carefully crafted reflections on the Bible and authority or worship, this book offers timely guidance for all who want to understand the roots of Protestant engagement with Scripture.” —Karin Maag

Then you know this will very much be a book worth reading. I’ve been sent a prepublication copy and I’m diving in now.  The review will appear later on in Relegere.

The Reformation Then and Now: 25 Years of Modern Reformation Articles Celebrating 500 Years of the Reformation

9781619708907oHendrickson has sent a review copy of this new volume of collected essays:

What caused Luther, Calvin, and others to set in motion the Reformation—and what are the consequences, both then and now? Is the 500-year-old breach between Rome and the Protestant church still necessary today? Does the Reformation even matter anymore?

The Reformation, Then and Now is a compendium of articles—gathered from the pages of Modern Reformation magazine—that illuminate the history and impact of the Protestant Reformation over the past 500 years. Although the questions above don’t have easy answers, over forty articles written by some of the most trusted voices across the Reformation spectrum offer readers a historical and spiritual walk through the Reformation by addressing the cause, the characters, and the consequences.

At the very start I have to say that I am a bit displeased with Horton and Landry, the editors of the volume.  At the conclusion of the volume they include a section which they call ‘Who were the Reformers’, a sort of very brief bio for each of the people they deem noteworthy. They then list Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Bullinger ,Cranmer, Latimer, and Knox.  They completely ignore Oecolampadius (why not him instead of Melanchthon) and Zwingli not to mention any women of reformational substance.  You’ll be unsurprised to know that this failure, this abject and miserable shortsighted failure to include Zwingli is inexcusable.  Only someone utterly unfamiliar with the history of the Reformation could leave Zwingli off any list of major Reformers.  This lack of insight bodes ill for the editorial guidance of the volume.

Add to that fact the even more incredible fact that of the 42 essays included from the pages of Modern Reformation (the original source of all of these essays) not a single one explicitly deals with any aspect of Zwingli’s work whilst many discuss both Luther and Calvin and the sad result is a volume which is editorially poor.

The contributors, by and large, on the other hand, are quite outstanding in terms of their scholarly reputations.  Indeed, worthy of special note are Veith’s “The Reformation and the Arts” (pp.159ff), McGrath’s “The State of the Church Before the Reformation” (pp. 9ff), and MacCulloch’s “Against the Weber Thesis” (pp. 176ff).  These three essays are – to make use of an overused but in this case true cliche- worth the price of admission.    Horton seems to admire his own work very much and as co-editor he includes 12 of his own essays; i.e., nearly a quarter of the volume is his.  Evidently it was somewhat difficult to find other essays by other authors of “Modern Reformation” to include.

Only one woman’s essay is included (Serene Jones, “Calvin and the Continuing Protestant Story” (pp. 246ff)) in the work and this too is cause for concern.  There are brilliant women who also happen to be Reformation scholars.  Are none of them invited to write for Modern Reformation or were their essays deemed unworthy so that Horton’s could find a home here?  Where is Elsie McKee?  Where is Rebecca Gieselbrecht?  Where is Amy Nelson Burnett?  Their absence is, frankly, astonishing.  Have they never published in Modern Reformation?  Reading about the Reformation without taking notice of their work is like reading about 20th century Christian theology without ever hearing mention Barth or Brunner.  It is, to be concise, jarring.

Still, I enjoyed this volume a great deal and appreciate Hendrickson for publishing such a fine collection of materials sure to engage students of the history of Christianity in a useful and informative way.    An index would have been useful but I understand its absence and cannot quibble with that too much.

Unfortunately, then, in something of a Summa Summarum, I have to register, for the sake of honesty and truthful evaluation, my tremendous disappointment at the volume’s editors for what can only be described as a work that on the whole is quite inadequate.  , not because of the core content but because of the poor decisions which can only fairly be laid at the editors feet.  Perhaps other editors would have chosen more wisely not only the essays they included so as to provide a far more well rounded work, but the editorial guidance such a volume ought to provide.

This volume should be read, even if the editorial Preface is skipped and the appendices are left aside, given their being tragically misleading thanks to what they exclude rather than what they include. At the end of the day, readers will learn more than they will lose due to the shortsightnedness of the editors.

«Hör nicht auf zu singen» : Zeuginnen der Schweizer Reformation

9783290178505Welche Rolle spielten Frauen während der Reformation? Was bedeutete es für Katharina Schütz Zell oder Idelette de Bure, «Gefährten im Dienst» zu sein? Und inwiefern war Margarete Blarer aus Konstanz eine Ausnahmeerscheinung?

Zum 500-Jahr-Jubiläum der Reformation haben Autorinnen und Autoren die Frauen und ihre Anliegen im Blick und lenken die Aufmerksamkeit auf überraschende Aspekte der Sozialgeschichte. Neben Zeugnissen von selbständigen Frauen wird dem Einfluss der Reformation auf die Frauen- und Männerrolle sowie auf das Ehe- und Familienverständnis Raum gegeben. Neue Ehe- und Gesellschaftsideen und deren Wirkung kommen ebenfalls zur Sprache. Nicht zuletzt ist es ein Buch über die tragischen Schicksale von prominenten, aber auch völlig unbekannten Frauen, die der Reformation zum Opfer fielen.

Mit Beiträgen von Karla Apperloo-Boersma, Urte Bejick, Christine Christ-von Wedel, Rebecca Giselbrecht, Isabelle Graesslé, Susan Karant-Nunn, Elsie McKee, Helmut Puff, Sabine Scheuter, Kirsi Stjerna.

TVZ has graciously sent a copy for review without any expectations concerning the review’s negative or positive take on the volume.

Everyone is familiar with the chief (male) protagonists of the Reformation: Zwingli, Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Oecolampadius, etc.  And some folk have heard of Anna Zwingli or Katie Luther.  But few have ever had the opportunity of being exposed to the chief women of the Reformation.

Who they were and what they did matters, so this is a welcome volume.  It isn’t, though, simply a series of biographies of women; rather it investigates the broader question of women during the Reformation and their contributions to it.

The first section of the volume, then, intriguingly introduces the significance of witnesses of various sorts to the Reformation.  The second turns to an investigation of Reformation thought and women, with particular emphasis on Erasmus’s views on women and 16th century portraits of important women.

The third segment is more extensive than the previous as it concerns the witnesses of the Swiss Reformation who happen to have been women and how they ‘feed’ the ‘river’ of Reformation thought.   Here we are treated to the life stories of Katharina Zell, Idelette de Bure, Ursula Jost, Margaretha Preuss, Marie Dentiere, and Margarete Blarer.

The final section widens the focus once more to bring us full circle with its discussion of men and women as men and women during the 16th century.

The volume concludes with a bibliography and table of images as well as very brief bylines of the volume’s numerous contributors.

The Reformation is big business these days.  Luther especially is being treated to more publicity than he’s had since 1521.  It is, accordingly, very important that we be reminded that the Reformation wasn’t just about men, nor were its most important actors always men.  The Reformation was a massive event which necessitated the participation of armies of theologians and supporters.  They are often forgotten but they shouldn’t be.

This book serves the purpose of reminding us that women played an invaluable role in the most important theological movement since the days of the Apostles.  The authors and editors are to be thanked for it and so is the publisher, for realizing both the importance of the topic and the need for it to be disseminated.

I recommend this book without reservation.

Storing, Archiving, Organizing: The Changing Dynamics of Scholarly Information Management in Post-Reformation Zurich

97889Storing, Archiving, Organizing: The Changing Dynamics of Scholarly Information Management in Post-Reformation Zurich is a study of the Lectorium at the Zurich Grossmünster, the earliest of post-Reformation Swiss academies, initiated by the church reformer Huldrych Zwingli in 1523. This institution of higher education was planned in the wake of humanism and according to the demands of the reforming church. Scrutinizing the institutional archival records, Anja-Silvia Goeing shows how the lectorium’s teachers used practices of storing, archiving, and organizing to create an elaborate administrative structure to deal with students and to identify their own didactic and disciplinary methods. She finds techniques developing that we today would consider important to understand the history of information management and knowledge transfer.

It may not sound like the most exciting title but the topic is a really important one and I’m very appreciative of Brill for sending a copy for review which you can read below and be sure to check out the book’s associated webpage.  It is loaded with absolutely fantastic materials and sources.

After illustrating why Zurich is such a fine case study for the dissemination of knowledge in the 16th century, G. moves to a description of European higher education and how Zurich both fits and breaks the mold.  This is followed by a discussion of the Zurich school regulations which is itself followed by a discussion of school governance and record keeping.

The fourth part of the book is, in my mind, the heart of it for here G. describes course lectures and course textbooks.  A conclusion draws together the consequences for historical research of all of these facts and materials.

Important appendices round the volume out.  These include an appendix listing Academic Directors, Teachers and Students at the Lectorium and Documents Pertaining to the Grossmünster Stift’s School Regulations as well as School Minutes and finally, Textbooks.

The volume also contains 18 figures and 4 tables.  And, according to the author, is the first volume of two planned:

A second volume in preparation focused on the students will look closely at matriculation lists and life documents, students’ notebooks and annotations, and their letters. Finally, in the next volume I will also examine their lectures, sermons, and written books as adults, asking what influence the school had on the creation of a knowledge society.

I’m very keen to read that additional material given the very engaging material presented in this volume.

The great benefit of the volume at hand is its enriching provision of primary source materials (as collected in the appendices).  The importance of primary sources need not be repeated here since all know their value.  Suffice it to say, when researchers have the ability to ‘check out’ the materials presented in the body of the text with their own eyes because those primary sources are provided, research past is reinforced and research future is enhanced.  Here’s a short sample:

Acta der schulherren by verwaltung // Josiae Simleri anno 1564 // Aprilis 26. Alß von unseren gnadigen herren … den // 16 aprilis in gmeiner Censur bewilliget worden ettliche // knaben von dem frawenmünster gen wandlen zu schicken // und benamset wurdent Samuel fattlin, Josue Vuaekerling, Hans // heinrich wirt, Joseph Breitenwaeg, Hanß Großman, hatt man // geordnet daß Samuel Fattli und Josue Vuaekerling gen bern // und di übrigen dry gen Losanna zügind, und sol… sij commen, // diavon gen bern herr hansen haller gen Losanna herr Blasio // Marcuardo und den selbigen ir gelt zuschiken, welches auch // von mir beschahen ist. //

Studies based on primary sources are always superior to studies based on the mere collection of secondary sources.  Indeed, a look at most academic work today reveals that many scholars have hardly paid any attention at all to the primary sources and instead are merely arguing with recent discussions on ancient or early modern texts.  G. is of a better spirit.

Persons engaged in study of the 16th century means and methods of higher education will need to get hold of this volume and carefully read it.  Students of the Reformation need to do the same.  And finally, persons who have an interest in the dissemination of knowledge in the early modern period cannot do better than to start here in their in depth research on the topic.  This volume is thoroughly recommend-able.

Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?

9780190264260Anyone who reads the Gospels carefully will notice that there are differences in the manner in which they report the same events. These differences have led many conservative Christians to resort to harmonization efforts that are often quite strained, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Many people have concluded the Gospels are hopelessly contradictory and therefore historically unreliable as accounts of Jesus. The majority of New Testament scholars now hold that most if not all of the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography and that this genre permitted some flexibility in the way in which historical events were narrated. However, few scholars have undertaken a robust discussion of how this plays out in Gospel pericopes (self-contained passages).

Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? provides a fresh approach to the question by examining the works of Plutarch, a Greek essayist who lived in the first and second centuries CE. Michael R. Licona discovers three-dozen pericopes narrated two or more times in Plutarch’s Lives, identifies differences between the accounts, and analyzes these differences in light of compositional devices identified by classical scholars as commonly employed by ancient authors. The book then applies the same approach to nineteen pericopes that are narrated in two or more Gospels, demonstrating that the major differences found there likely result from the same compositional devices employed by Plutarch.

Showing both the strained harmonizations and the hasty dismissals of the Gospels as reliable accounts to be misguided, Licona invites readers to approach them in light of their biographical genre and in that way to gain a clearer understanding of why they differ.

Oxford have sent a review copy which I’ll get to in the next few weeks.  More anon.

Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity

9783110486070De Gruyter have sent along this for review.  It is comprised of seven substantive chapters:

  1. The Great Persecution, the Emperor Julian and Christian Reactions
  2. Fahrenheit AD 451 – Imperial Legislation and Public Authority
  3. Holy Men, Clerics and Ascetics
  4. Materialist Philosophy
  5. Moral Disapproval of Literary Genres
  6. Destruction of Libraries
  7. The Post-Roman Successor States

Everything is drawn together in the conclusion and readers are offered an introduction and the usual indices and bibliographies to round out the volume.

This is a fascinating study.  Rohmann has provided students of Christianity one of the most engaging studies I have yet read.  The topic is fascinating and the development of the subject is meticulous and wise.

But the most astonishing feature of the volume is the explanation of the historical events which gave rise to book burning among Christians.  It’s a fascinating practice and here we learn why it was done and to what end.  For example, did you know

….  that book-burning and censorship in ancient societies were in many ways different from a modern notion of these acts where they are often associated with a totalitarian state.


… in the early imperial period … book-burning served the purpose of conflict-management.


… it is worth noting that Christian authors describe philosophy as an ill body that is dying naturally. I suggest that the body-metaphor includes a polemical attack against materialist philosophies because these supported the preference of the body to the soul.


Monks, ascetics and holy men could burn books as part of a spectacle in order to destroy the demons by which they felt persecuted.

This book is literally packed with important historical details which fill in the gaps about an early Christian practice which raises eyebrows among those who may not know the whence and why of book burning.  It ought to be read by those with an interest in the intellectual history of the early Church and by those with a fondness for the peculiarities of some Christian practices.

By no means, though, should this volume be ‘burned’ on the woodpile of disinterest.  Tolle, lege!

Two New Volumes From Ellert & Richter Verlag on Luther

Matthias Gretzschel
Martin Luther
His Life and Places of Work

978-3-8319-0642-0The effects of the life and work of the Wittenberg Reformer Martin Luther were universal, but he spent most of his time in the electoral principality of Saxony, which as a result of his life and work became the “mother country of the Reformation”. The theologian and journalist Matthias Gretzschel approaches the Luther phenomenon by tracing Luther’s fortunes along the stations of his life: from Eisleben in the county of Mansfeld where he was born via his schooldays in Eisenach to his entry into the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt as a monk, from Wittenberg where he nailed his theses to the church door to the Leipzig Debate, from his appearances before the Diet of Worms to his “protective custody” in Wartburg Castle where he translated the New Testament into German. The later journeys that he made from Wittenberg to promote the Reformation are also documented. In the second part of the book Luther sites in Germany are presented in alphabetical order with detailed information and up-to-date photos of each town or city. The focus is on authentic places where Martin Luther lived and worked, many of which have already been refurbished for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. They are the churches in which he preached, houses where he lived or stayed, and Luther monuments and exhibitions. The other main sites of the cities and towns in question are also presented. With more than 250 illustrations, a chronology and an index.


Martin Treu
Am Anfang war das Wort
Martin Luther und die Reformation in Europa

978-3-8319-0639-01517 veröffentlichte ein Wittenberger Professor 95 Thesen gegen den Missbrauch des Ablasses. Daraus entstand eine Bewegung, die weder Martin Luther noch irgendein anderer voraussehen konnte: die Reformation. Eine umstürzende Veränderung weit über die Grenzen der Kirche hinaus. In Sachsen zuerst, dann in weiten Teilen Deutschlands und schließlich in ganz Europa veränderten sich Kirche und Kultur, Staat und Gesellschaft. Wie und wo das geschah, erzählt der Autor auf knappem Raum in leicht verständlicher Sprache. Die Verhältnisse in Wittenberg werden ebenso geschil- dert, wie die Entwicklungen im Deutschen Reich. Gleichzeitig werden die Reformationen in der Schweiz und den Niederlanden als Ausgangspunkt der zweiten großen Strömung neben Luther gewürdigt. Schließlich finden sich auch die Veränderungen in der katholischen Kirche, die zu ihrer neuzeitlichen Gestalt führen.

Both of these books present interesting details about Luther which readers may not have found in other sources.  So, for instance, the first volume by Gretzschel, in English, gives readers nothing less than a fully illustrated guided tour of Luther’s life and locales.  Scarcely does a page pass which isn’t gorgeously illustrated in full color prints and reproductions.

Accordingly, when one comes to the point in the discussion where Luther is summoned to appear at the Diet of Worms the reader is provided a portrait of Charles V, a copy of the summons to Luther, a portrayal of the city, a number of pictures of Luther statues from the famous ‘here I stand’ episode, and a copy of the edict denouncing Luther, along with precise descriptions of the events portrayed.

But that’s just the first part of the book.  The second part is an alphabetical listing of every place which played a part in Luther’s life from Altenburg to Zwickau and each place is lushly illustrated as was the case in the first part of the book.

The third part of the volume offers a chronology of Luther’s life and this is followed by an index and a listing of photo credits.

The second book, this time in German, also provides a biography of Luther and is also richly illustrated.  But unlike the former volume, which ends at Luther’s death, the volume in hand takes the further step of describing the influence of Luther not only in Germany but across Europe as well as his Reformation reached as far as England, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Austria, and numerous other lands.  It also discusses the events of the Augsburg Interim and the Council of Trent.  For this reason the work by Treu can be viewed as a very helpful continuation of the work of Gretzschel.

2017 will continue to see dozens of volumes about Luther and about his Reformation spring from the presses of Germany and North America (and other lands as well).  For persons interested in dipping their feet in the Luther-an waters, these two books are the perfect ‘wading pool’.  They are not so technical that beginning ‘swimmers’ will drown but they are not so shallow and insubstantive that readers will feel unchallenged or uninformed once they have waded through them.

These books are, in a word, ideal introductions to Luther’s life.  Not least because they are so wonderfully illustrated, but more importantly because they are both so well written.

Luther! Biographie Eines Befreiten

160307_EVA_Biographie_Luther_Cover_rz.inddMit entschiedener Sympathie und beeindruckendem psychologischen Gespür lässt Joachim Köhler, Autor zahlreicher biographischer und kulturgeschichtlicher Werke, den großen Glaubenskämpfer der deutschen Geschichte lebendig werden. »Christsein heißt, von Tag zu Tag mehr hineingerissen werden in Christus.« Dieses leidenschaftliche Bekenntnis des Reformators steht im Mittelpunkt von Köhlers brillanter Biographie, die Luthers dramatische Entwicklung in drei Stadien – Bedrängnis, Befreiung und Bewahrung – darstellt. Sie zeichnet sowohl Luthers existenzielle Glaubenserfahrungen nach als auch die Anfechtungen psychologischer und politischer Art, mit denen er lebenslang zu ringen hatte.

Köhler schreibt uns den großen Luther ins Herz, ohne den manchmal kleinlichen und irrenden zu beschönigen. Er lässt symbolträchtige, aber in ihrer Faktizität teils umstrittene Momente wie Turmerlebnis oder Thesenanschlag in ihrer Authentizität einsichtig werden. Vor allem aber zeigt er: Luther ist nicht von gestern. Er hat vor 500 Jahren Fragen aufgeworfen und beantwortet, die wir uns heute wieder stellen müssen. Lesen Sie Luther mit Köhler!

You can read a fairly large sample here.

The publisher, Evangelische Verlagsanstalt Leipzig, is also the publisher of the very impressive Europa Reformata (a sample of which I saw at SBL in San Antonio).  Take a look for yourself at these pages.  They’ve provided a review copy of this new Luther bio and it is purely delightful.

Comprised of three major divisions, this biography is a bit different than most, as it only traces Luther’s life from his earliest days through his spiritual awakening to the denouement of the Marburg Colloquy and the composition, in its wake, of Luther’s most famous hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’.  The three divisions are comprised of 12 chapters and each chapter is festooned with subsections, each discussing a particular aspect of Luther’s life and thought.

K. is absolutely right to focus on the early, formative years of Luther and the Reformation that he inspired and he is absolutely right to end his treatment at Marburg, where Luther’s views on the Supper, and everything else, hardened – never to change again.  Post-Marburg, Luther will simply expand on his earlier views without adjusting them or changing them in any substantial way.

The genius of this biography is its comprehension of Luther’s intellectual development and its explanation of that development.  For example, of the era in which Luther developed intellectually, K. observes

Es war die Geburtsstunde des »Universalen Menschen«. … Auch die Galionsfigur der Humanisten, der
Holländer Gerhard Gerhards, schmückte sich mit dem lateinischen Pseudonym »Erasmus Roterodamus«. Als Mann aus Rotterdam verkörperte er wie kein anderer das neue Menschheitsideal. …  Der neue Menschentyp war nicht zur
Unterwerfung unter Dogmen und Gebote geschaffen, sondern entschied sich aus freien Stücken, das Gute zu tun. Das war die schöne, neue Welt des Erasmus Roterodamus, und Martinus Viropolitanus nahm sie in vollen Zügen in sich auf.

And then, on Luther’s first encounter with the Bible, K. remarks

Auf der Suche nach Ablenkung oder Trost stieß er in der Universitätsbibliothek auf eine Bibel. Das war Neuland für ihn. Denn trotz seiner zwanzig Jahre, so bekannte er, hatte ich noch keine gesehen.60 Die Beschäftigung mit den heiligen Texten galt nämlich als Privileg der Geistlichkeit. Noch als Mönch wurde ihm von der Lektüre abgeraten. »Ei, Bruder Martinus«, warnte ein Theologieprofessor, »man soll die alten Lehrer lesen, die haben den Saft der Wahrheit aus der Bibel gesogen«.

In a day when most of us have numerous Bible’s scattered around our homes, the fact that Luther never saw one until he was 20 is astonishing.

K’.s volume isn’t just interesting because of the facts and details it contains, it is interesting and engaging because K. can write really, really well.  One example of this can suffice, K. relating Luther’s time as a monk:

Nicht christliche Liebe herrschte, sondern das altvertraute Leistungsprinzip. Jeder Mönch bewegte sich wie der Hamster im Rad. Martin wollte der schnellste Hamster sein.

This is, I can say without hesitation, the best biography of Luther which focuses on Luther’s intellectual development that I’ve read.  I sincerely hope that it will soon be translated into English so that a wider audience can benefit from the impressive learning and insight which it contains.  Indeed, I can only implore the publishing houses out there to make the translation of this volume their priority project for 2017.  English speaking Church History and Reformation History ‘fans’ will be eternally grateful.

If, in the meanwhile, you have a relatively basic understanding of German, get a copy and read it.  You will be glad you did.