Martin Luther
Martin Luther is well known for initiating one of the most influential movements in church history--the Reformation. But this fascinating nonconformist, praised as a hero or criticized as a heretic throughout history, was first and foremost a man searching for God. This new biography by leading Reformation scholar Herman Selderhuis digs deep into the heart and mind of Luther, following him on his spiritual journey and revealing the many facets of his powerful personality, from loving husband and father, to serious monk, to feared opponent, to compelling preacher and writer. Selderhuis uses Luther's own words to help us see him as a man of flesh and blood, full of faith and full of faults, with a deep longing to live for God.

Martin Luther Details

TitleMartin Luther
Author
ReleaseOct 31st, 2017
PublisherCrossway Books
ISBN-139781433556944
Rating
GenreChristian, Biography, Nonfiction, History

Martin Luther Review

  • Sherwood Smith
    January 1, 1970
    When I read biographies, I usually end up highlighting four or five, maybe half a dozen passages—some of these because of interesting ideas, and sometimes because I’m noting an unsupported judgment that weakens the overall point the writer is making.It’s rare that I mark more than a dozen passages, but when I finished this biography of Martin Luther and went back to count up the highlights, I discovered more than twenty—and all of them marking sections woth rereading.This is one of those raritie When I read biographies, I usually end up highlighting four or five, maybe half a dozen passages—some of these because of interesting ideas, and sometimes because I’m noting an unsupported judgment that weakens the overall point the writer is making.It’s rare that I mark more than a dozen passages, but when I finished this biography of Martin Luther and went back to count up the highlights, I discovered more than twenty—and all of them marking sections woth rereading.This is one of those rarities, a biography written by a scholar clearly thoroughly engaged with the time period as well as the subject, but written so lucidly that the book can be enjoyed by academics as well as the casual reader such as myself.From his first appearance on the European scholastic stage in the early 1500s, Luther inspired a firestorm of writing about him and his ideas, a storm which has scarcely abated in the half-millennium since. Selderhuis steers with style and expertise through all these shoals—whether vilifying or hagiographic—as he presents the man through his own words as much as possible. Back in my own grad school days, I struggled through Luther’s words in Reformation-era German, and I recognized many of these passages.Selderhuis places Luther within the context of his era, initially furnishing an understanding of life in Luther’s Germany and setting it against the religious issues of that time. Without passing judgment on the Roman Catholic Church of the period (and reminding the reader that Luther began his famous career determined to be a good monk, which he was for half his life), Selderhuis shows how Luther evolved from organizer to reformer. I appreciated the care the author took in explaining the scholastic and theological pursuits of the day, such as setting up debates—which the famous 95 Theses was intended to be. Luther did not dramatically break with the Church when he proposed the theses. He wanted debate, clarification, and correction, and Selderhuis takes us through every step of Luther’s thought processes as he dealt with his initial religious fears, then read the Bible for himself, and then encountered Erasmus’s Greek translation, which was a thunderbolt to Luther.Selderhuis then takes the reader step by step through the evolution of Luther’s thought as he strives to define Christian faith through Biblical text, and separate it from centuries of traditional and ritual accretion that, he posited, had nothing to do with Christ’s message. So we read about Luther making his way through one crisis to another, harrowed by spiritual, political, medical, and later, social and familial problems—his own personality, as he often recognized, getting in his way, especially later in life. It’s clear from this record that Luther both relished life and yet was tormented by what we can now recognize as the symptoms of Meniere’s disease, and probably IBS as well—much exacerbated not only by the diet of those times, but the horrible “cures”—most of which involved some form of dung. When he called himself, as he frequently did, a bag of maggots, that might not have been very far from the truth.Pain likely made Luther irascible, and drove him to see Satan and devils everywhere, including, in his later years, not only his enemies but old friends with whom he disagreed. Seiderhuis does not neglect the less savory side of Luther, such as his venomous writings about Turks and especially Jews. The latter is particularly unfortunate, as we know how those words were used by certain Germans in the last century, and yet Luther—presented with the horrific outcome—might have regretted his heat, for we also see evidence of his dislike of violence. He not only found the noble art of hunting dispiriting, as he felt sorrow for the innocent animals, but he dreaded violence being used to enforce religious laws and views, as inevitably happened—all this while living in expectation of being dragged to the stake by either pope or emperor.Seiderhuis does not neglect the important figures in Luther’s life, and takes the time to give them their voices, not excluding Luther’s wife Kathe, who too frequently has been judged as a shrew because of complaining letters from the many Luther invited to his home. It was she who had to collect rents, in order to pay for a household that not only included the many Luther invited to reside with them, but seventeen children—her own six, and the eleven belonging to Luther’s siblings who died young. She organized his bachelor pad into a home, and established kitchen gardens and milk animals, as Luther--raised as a monk--never thought about money. He shared everything he had, but it fell to her to figure out how to do it.Above all, this is a record of Luther’s spiritual evolution, and the beginning of the reformation church branches, as he and his contemporaries debated crucial concepts, and tried to find ways to translate those into everyday life, as well as in new forms of worship. Political writers often find it convenient to overlook the spiritual side of Luther, claiming political and social expedience on every side (particularly in reference to the Peasants’ War, and other imperial maneuverings), but Seiderhuis demonstrates that this was an age of faith. As evidenced by the hundreds, even thousands, who traveled at great hardship just to lay eyes on Luther, or to hear him preach. In spite of his many illnesses, Luther was an indefatigable worker, writing many books, and sometimes as much as forty letters in a day, but Seiderhuis shows—often with illustrations from the Cranachs, who lived nearby—how Luther took time in the evenings to be with his family, and how important music was to him. So, in the end, we see the man as well as the reformer and catalyst for change.The bibliography at the end is every bit as formidable as one could expect in such a careful, scholarly work, and the prose is clear, humane, vivid, and engaging.Copy provided by NetGalley
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  • Lola Et La Vie
    January 1, 1970
    Despite the fact that religion itself has no real place in my own day to day life, theology has always been a subject that fascinates me. Why do people believe what they do? And how?In university I did a bit of work on the reformation in England and again, the subject matter just grabbed me. Religion has shaped countries, it still does.So I jumped at the opportunity to read this book on Martin Luther, a figurehead of the reformation across Europe. A reluctant figurehead at first, as I discovered Despite the fact that religion itself has no real place in my own day to day life, theology has always been a subject that fascinates me. Why do people believe what they do? And how?In university I did a bit of work on the reformation in England and again, the subject matter just grabbed me. Religion has shaped countries, it still does.So I jumped at the opportunity to read this book on Martin Luther, a figurehead of the reformation across Europe. A reluctant figurehead at first, as I discovered reading this book, and not always a pleasant man.The author takes the reader on a very matter-a-fact journey through Martin Luther’s life. He shows Luther as a committed monk, a passionate and stubborn reformer, a respected theologist, a loving father, but also touches on his difficult character and his flaws, his anti-semitism and his self-righteousness.The biographical parts are interspersed with quotes and letters from Martin Luther himself. The author speculates little, preferring to lean on fact, and although it can sometimes make the text a little dry, it also gives it integrity. Sometimes it does jump around in time and it is not always clear why the author has chosen to write this biography that way.Overall, having read this biography I feel I have gained an understanding of a turbulent time I did not quite have before. I am certainly a little wiser.*Read as an ARC courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley*
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  • Becky
    January 1, 1970
    First sentence from the introduction: Luther was a problem. Certainly for the pope and the emperor, but often he was also a problem for his fellow reformers. Prone to outbursts of rage and coarse language, Luther was frequently stubborn and undiplomatic, even with allies. First sentence from chapter one: God, the Devil, and death were everyday topics in the world into which Martin Luther was born. As a child, Luther learned that God was a Judge more righteous than merciful. The Devil was out to First sentence from the introduction: Luther was a problem. Certainly for the pope and the emperor, but often he was also a problem for his fellow reformers. Prone to outbursts of rage and coarse language, Luther was frequently stubborn and undiplomatic, even with allies. First sentence from chapter one: God, the Devil, and death were everyday topics in the world into which Martin Luther was born. As a child, Luther learned that God was a Judge more righteous than merciful. The Devil was out to snatch your soul and turn women into witches. Death was not the end of life, Luther was taught, but instead it was the moment you appear before God and enter purgatory. With these dour lessons firmly in his head, is it any surprise that years later Luther would say that every mention of God was “as a clap of thunder in [his] heart”? The god that Martin Luther was told to believe in as a child was a god who signaled his righteousness chiefly through punishment.Premise/plot: Herman Selderhuis has written a spiritual biography of Martin Luther. He balances writing about Martin Luther's life with letting Martin Luther tell his own story by sharing quotes from his books, letters, sermons, pamphlets, etc. Even if you've read half a dozen books on Martin Luther in the past, I'd invite you to read this newly published biography. Selderhuis' narrative style is compelling.My thoughts: I loved this book. I have read a handful of books on Martin Luther. Perhaps I should amend that to read, I've struggled my way through a handful of books on Martin Luther. I've almost always found them dull, intimidating, repetitive, or simplistic. Perhaps that isn't fair. Perhaps a fairer description would be not quite ideal in terms of reader appeal or approachability.I loved Selderhuis' biography because it was packed with information, with detail, but the presentation was such that everything fit together and created a big picture context. It included plenty of information--some of it new to me--in a fascinating narrative. Nothing was dumbed down or made to be concise. The book was not yet another basic outline of his life. There's a passage in Ezekiel that I think applies here.Ezekiel 37:1-10 reads,"The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army." Other biographers have given readers the dry bones of Martin Luther. But it is Selderhuis' biography that has given Martin Luther flesh and skin in my opinion. I loved LEARNING. There were so many things I did NOT know about Luther even though I've read up on him. For example, did you know that Martin Luther once promised his wife fifty guilders if she would read the Bible cover to cover during the period of early October to Easter? (She was SUPER busy being a mom and wife) Selderhuis writes, "Apparently, Käthe accepted this arrangement because on October 28, Luther mentioned to a friend, “She is taking this seriously, because she has already reached Deuteronomy.” I was aware of Martin Luther's many stomach ailments. But I was NOT aware of the ringing in his ears. I found out I have something else in common with him!OR did you know that on his deathbed Martin Luther kept quoting Psalm 31:6?Favorite Selderhuis quotes:The Middle Ages may not have been as dark as they have often been portrayed, but from a spiritual perspective, the world in which young Martin Luther grew up was more like a haunted house than a playground. Whoever reads the Bible must be very careful not to wander, Luther insisted. One can expand on the Scriptures, but this should never be directed by feeling. Instead, one must allow the Bible to lead back to the source, that is, to the cross of Christ.Luther did not have an agenda, and he did not have a system of theology. He had a thesis: that God gives grace and does not require merit. The consequences of that thesis were so enormous that they ultimately led to a different Europe. In a sense, October 31, 1517, could be called the birthday of a new world, a world in which life looked different in every context for those who followed Luther’s lead. A society that was based on the conviction that people have to restore their relationship with God changed radically when a new foundational conviction emerged: that God in Christ accomplished everything. The Psalms for him were the key to a life with God. Those who want to obey the first commandment can do that best, Luther believed, by reading through the Psalms, to learn them and to pray them. Despite the constant medical issues, Luther was able to accomplish much work. In 1521, he was sick for seven months but still published thirty treatises, wrote a hundred letters, and preached seventy times. In 1530, he was sick for ten months but produced thirty treatises, one hundred seventy letters, and sixty sermons. In 1536, he was ill for eight months and produced ten treatises, ninety letters, and fifty sermons. In 1545, again sick for ten months, he nevertheless produced thirteen treatises, eighty letters, and thirty-five sermons.Favorite Luther quotes:This letter [Romans] is the most important chapter in the New Testament and is the purist gospel. It would be worth a Christian’s effort not only to memorize this letter word for word but also to work with it on a daily basis like daily bread for the soul. One can never read or reflect on it too often or too thoroughly. The more frequently you engage yourself with this letter, the more valuable and appetizing it becomes.We are doing our best to translate the Prophets into German. God, what a huge and tiring task this is to force the Hebrew writers to speak German. They do not want to abandon their Hebrew singularity to follow the barbarian German.From a book you will never learn to pray well. You can read in it and receive instruction how and in what way you should pray. And you can let it motivate you to pray, but the prayer should come from the heart, without all the words that have already been written, and you should use words that your heart desires“The letter to the Galatians is my little letter, and I am married to it. It is my Käthe von Bora.”Every preacher must be so sure and should be so convinced that he has and that he preaches the Word of God that he would be willing to die for it, specifically because preaching concerns life.
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  • David Steele
    January 1, 1970
    Herman Selderhuis, professor of church history at the Theological University Apeldoorn needs little introduction. His book, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life was warmly received by many as he unpacked the Reformer’s life and legacy.Now the author makes his contribution to a growing list of books with Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Selderhuis’s work is a fitting tribute to Luther and the many men and women who made a contribu Herman Selderhuis, professor of church history at the Theological University Apeldoorn needs little introduction. His book, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life was warmly received by many as he unpacked the Reformer’s life and legacy.Now the author makes his contribution to a growing list of books with Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Selderhuis’s work is a fitting tribute to Luther and the many men and women who made a contribution in the sixteenth century.Selderhuis examines ten movements in Luther’s life including Child, Student, Monk, Exegete, Theologian, Architect, Reformer, Father, Professor, and Prophet. Each movement is an opportunity for the author to present historical details and relay the massive contribution that Luther made.The author carefully traces the spiritual history of Luther – from an unconverted monk who struggled with God and even hated him to a man who passionately embraced the doctrines of grace. Selderhuis does not gloss over the negative details of Luther’s life. Luther’s brashness and vulgarity are explored as well as some of Luther’s racist proclivities.Luther: A Spiritual Biography is an illuminating look at a man whose influence continues to captivate and inspire people around the world. It beautifully complements classic works such as Bainton’s, Here I Stand and should receive a wide reading.I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.
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  • Debbie
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a biography on Martin Luther. The author described Luther's life from birth to death while focusing on his developing theology. The author summarized and quoted Martin Luther's own letters and writings. He also noted what people who knew Luther at the time said about him and some of what was going on in the world that influenced what he wrote about (actions by the Pope, Emperor, Turks, etc.). I thought that the author did a good job of showing the good along with the bad in a way th This book is a biography on Martin Luther. The author described Luther's life from birth to death while focusing on his developing theology. The author summarized and quoted Martin Luther's own letters and writings. He also noted what people who knew Luther at the time said about him and some of what was going on in the world that influenced what he wrote about (actions by the Pope, Emperor, Turks, etc.). I thought that the author did a good job of showing the good along with the bad in a way that showed Luther as human but remained respectful of all the positive that Luther did. You get to know the man, not the legend.The author covered where Luther went, what he experienced, his family life, and his health issues. But mainly he focused on what Luther's beliefs were, why he believed these things, and how these beliefs changed over his lifetime. Initially, this was handled by explaining what types of debates Luther was dealing with, what he said, and who influenced his thinking. Near the end, this became more topical--for example, what did Luther say about Jews (or Muslims, death, etc.), how did that change, and why did it change?I found this book very interesting and informative. I felt like the author explained the various theological concepts clearly so I could easily understand the points being made. Overall, I'd highly recommend this biography to anyone interested in Martin Luther or the Reformation.I received an ebook review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
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  • Andrea Stoeckel
    January 1, 1970
    [I received this advanced copy from NetGalley. I am voluntarily reviewing it]“It should be said at the outset that this is a biography of Martin Luther and not a history of the Reformation, though of course we cannot understand Luther without at least a basic understanding of the historical context that formed him.”Herman Selderhuis’ new look at the life and times of Martin Luther coincides with the 500th anniversary of the publication of Luther’s 95 Theses that falls at the end of October 2017. [I received this advanced copy from NetGalley. I am voluntarily reviewing it]“It should be said at the outset that this is a biography of Martin Luther and not a history of the Reformation, though of course we cannot understand Luther without at least a basic understanding of the historical context that formed him.”Herman Selderhuis’ new look at the life and times of Martin Luther coincides with the 500th anniversary of the publication of Luther’s 95 Theses that falls at the end of October 2017. With the addition of archeological data and better translations and knowledge of the life and times of Luther, Selderhuis hopes to make Luther both more human and accessible while acknowledging his questioning of the rules and beliefs of the day.Luther entered seminary to try to find answers to the constant fear embedded in most believers of the day. His disgust with the indulgence system forced him to question established doctrines taught to barely literate parishioners, who were being taught that the Devil was thwarted not by faith, but by works. He once walked to Rome to try to find the answers, but was never able to find the Pope or the learned priests as they were off doing other things. His insights would help rebuild the church of the Christ, not the corruption he saw as the foundation of the Old Order. It would cause his arrest, his trial and foment changes that laid the foundation for Reformed theologies that exist today.Luther lived with some debilitating illness most of his life. In 1518, when he first mentioned serious stomach problems, to his death in 1546, Luther had problems with his stomach and his intestines. He suffered heart problems, kidney stones, a leg wound that did not heal properly, dizzy spells, rheumatic issues, endless ringing in his ears together with deafness (Ménière’s disease), hemorrhoids, headaches, vertigo, chronic stress, insomnia, and constant fatigue.He seemed at times, to be chronically ill. Some of it may have been caused by his life in the Church and how Augustinian monks were treated. Dispite his illnesses, his breadth of work is staggering. Almost up to his death his voice and his writings challenged both the government and The Church’s influence over it. The man who stood up to Emperors, Kings, Popes and even other Reformers still holds sway. His faith was strong, and Selderhuis tries to reflect that. Unfortunately, this book reads like a poorly written paper with a huge amount of footnotes, endnotes and illustrations that often detract from the manuscript. As a theologian with a background in Church History, this is not a book I would recommend save its new source material. The book is what it is, nothing more.
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  • Dave Wheeler
    January 1, 1970
    This is a very well researched biography of Martin Luther the great Reformer. Whilst great care has been taken, Herman Slederhuis has kept to facts rather endorse popular assumption if it is not actually clear that it is fact he tells you. The integrity of this book is also seen in the fact that as you read it is not clear if the author loves, likes or is just intrigued by him but whichever it makes for a great biography. This biography is also well told as it focuses largely on why Martin Luthe This is a very well researched biography of Martin Luther the great Reformer. Whilst great care has been taken, Herman Slederhuis has kept to facts rather endorse popular assumption if it is not actually clear that it is fact he tells you. The integrity of this book is also seen in the fact that as you read it is not clear if the author loves, likes or is just intrigued by him but whichever it makes for a great biography. This biography is also well told as it focuses largely on why Martin Luther was who he was and the events going on around Europe that made him a reformer and his desire to go back to the Word of God (the Bible) rather than man's teaching that came from Rome. I have been given a free copy of this book from NetGalley in return for a honest review.
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  • Laura M
    January 1, 1970
    This book couldn't have come at a better time for me. I had been wanting for a time to learn more about the man behind the religion I practice. When I saw this book, I knew it was meant for me. Some autobiographies can be quite dry, but I found this to be just my speed. It was easy to read and filled with anecdotes I found relatable. The book leads the reader through Martin Luther's life from every life stage including childhood, monk, reformer and professor. Each stage is in a separate chapter This book couldn't have come at a better time for me. I had been wanting for a time to learn more about the man behind the religion I practice. When I saw this book, I knew it was meant for me. Some autobiographies can be quite dry, but I found this to be just my speed. It was easy to read and filled with anecdotes I found relatable. The book leads the reader through Martin Luther's life from every life stage including childhood, monk, reformer and professor. Each stage is in a separate chapter for easy reference. I highly recommend this book to all fellow Lutherans, those interested in the religion, and those interested in learning more about the history of this important religious leader.
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