Books Worth Reading: The Life, Teaching, and Legacy of Martin Luther by Andrew J. Lindsey
It is with great personal excitement that, in this edition of “Books Worth Reading,” I get to present you with a book on Martin Luther by my good friend, Andrew Lindsey. As many of you know, Andrew Lindsey was a member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church for approximately six years, and I have had the joy of sitting under his teaching ministry in our Aletheia Sunday School class in years past. Though Andrew has now moved to Atlanta, he is still using his gifts to serve the church at large. Specifically, Andrew has used his background in church history to produce his first published work, a biography on Martin Luther. I am delighted to write this review of his new book.
There are few people in church history–or for that matter, all history–who are as important as Martin Luther (1483-1546). While Luther was certainly not alone in his quest to bring about what we know as the Protestant Reformation, Luther’s voice was no doubt the loudest and most influential. Luther, through both his actions and teaching, challenged the religious status quo of his day, and his influence would ultimately lead to the division of Western Christianity into Roman Catholic and Protestant factions. What is important to recognize is that Luther was not some religious malcontent or an anti-authoritarian revolutionary. Rather, Luther was driven by deep-seated biblical and theological convictions that required him to speak out at the abuse and the false teaching he saw everywhere around him. At the core of Luther’s teaching were two very important ideas, namely, (1) that the Scriptures were the ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice, and (2) salvation (and justification in particular) is obtained exclusively through faith in Jesus Christ.
In The Life, Teaching, and Legacy of Martin Luther, Andrew explains how Luther came to be a proponent of these and other important ideas, ideas which would have a tremendous impact on Western religious thought.
It is important at the outset of this review, to emphasize what this book is and what this book is not. This book is intended to be a basic–I repeat–basic introduction to the life and teachings of Martin Luther. In his introduction, Andrew tells us that he “endeavored to make this work accessible even for readers who may still be in middle school or underclassmen in high school” (p. ix). The inspiration for the book itself came as a result of Andrew’s classroom experience with 5th and 6th graders. As such, the book’s target audience is young people, not necessarily scholars. Therefore, the reader should not come to this book expecting an in-depth treatment of Luther’s life. A scholarly tome this book is not, nor was it intended to be such (for more developed studies of Luther’s life it is advisable to read biographies like Roland Bainton’s classic Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther or the more recent book by Derek Wilson, Luther: Out of the Storm). That said, the reader should not be led to believe that this book was not carefully written. Andrew is careful to note his sources throughout the work (appearing as endnotes at the end of the book), and he provides the reader with a short bibliography at the back of the book for those who would like to do more study on their own.
The content of the book is what you would expect from an introductory biography of Luther. The chapters tell us how Luther grew up to become an Augustinian monk (chs. 1-2), how he became concerned that his efforts to earn salvation were unsatisfactory (ch. 2), how he was converted (ch. 3), how he challenged Roman Catholic teaching and practices (chs. 4-8), and how he promoted the Protestant faith around the world (chs. 11-12). There is also a chapter on Luther’s marriage to Katharina von Bora (ch. 10) and a chapter on the somewhat humorous story of Luther’s return to Wittenberg after his time in the castle of Wartburg (ch. 9). These chapters will provide the reader with the essential tenets of Luther’s life and teaching.
In terms of evaluation, I would like to say a number of things:
First, The fact that this book was written for young people makes it extremely valuable. The book is written in a clear and readable style. Where technical language is used throughout the book, the author makes a point to explain those terms so that the reader can understand.
Second, The book is fairly short (I read the book in about an hour and a half), which makes it accessible for younger readers (and adults who do not like to read all that much). The brevity of the book also makes it useful as a read-aloud book in Sunday Schools, Children’s Church programs, or youth groups (reading a chapter a week would likely take less than 10 minutes in such a setting). There are also study questions at the end of each chapter which will help young people rehearse the important points of Luther’s story.
Third, the book stresses the spiritual and theological legacy of Martin Luther. Andrew does an excellent job in explaining that Luther’s chief contribution to Christian thought was his emphasis on justification by faith alone. The discussions on Luther’s conversion and his disputes concerning the abuse of indulgences bring Luther’s doctrine of justification to the forefront of the book. Andrew also shows us that the Reformation dealt with reforms that went beyond theology. The Reformation would have a tremendous impact on domestic life as well. The chapter dealing with Luther’s marriage and family life illustrates the fact that Luther believed that everyday life had spiritual value and significance. Another important theological idea that we learn from Luther through this book is the notion of sola Scriptura. Chapter 8 on the Diet of Worms does an excellent job of presenting us with Luther’s sentiments on the Word of God as Andrew quotes Luther’s final speech before the council. Andrew makes it completely clear that Luther held the Scriptures in higher regard than popes or councils. However, I will offer one mild critique at this point. I did find it strange that the idea of sola Scriptura, which was so prominent in chapter 8 of this book, was not brought up again in chapter 12, when Andrew summarizes Luther’s overall significance (he lists Luther’s key teachings as justification by faith alone, the theology of the Cross, the freedom of a Christian, and the bondage of the will, p. 85). It is not that this idea cannot be found in the book at all, but it might have been helpful to bring it up again at the end since this teaching is one of the most significant ideas in Protestantism.
Finally, the book is very enjoyable to read. You will likely not want to put the book down until you have read it all the way through. I think you will agree.
For these reasons (and probably several that I haven’t thought of), The Life, Teaching, and Legacy of Martin Luther is a book worth reading.