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Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography

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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 Luth 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.


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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 Luth 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.

30 review for Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    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

  2. 5 out of 5

    K L

    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*

  3. 5 out of 5

    Vaclav

    I really loved this biography of the reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). You will learn things about Luther in this book that you have not known about "the good, the bad and the ugly". But if you know the Lord Christ as your Lord and Savior you will love the truth of "the gospel of God's grace" and the passionate heart of Luther with which he loved to proclaim it to all. I really loved this biography of the reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). You will learn things about Luther in this book that you have not known about "the good, the bad and the ugly". But if you know the Lord Christ as your Lord and Savior you will love the truth of "the gospel of God's grace" and the passionate heart of Luther with which he loved to proclaim it to all.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David Steele

    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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Shane Williamson

    Selderhuis presents a full picture of Luther, fallen and yet richly supplied by God's grace. It's a great read as Selderhuis brings to light some lesser-known details and presents a full-orbed portrait of the man who dramatically changed the world as we know it. Selderhuis' method is generally free from critique, and centers mostly on presenting objective events and details of Luther's life. It doesn't get five stars for the following reasons: (1) It was, despite the person of discussion, quite Selderhuis presents a full picture of Luther, fallen and yet richly supplied by God's grace. It's a great read as Selderhuis brings to light some lesser-known details and presents a full-orbed portrait of the man who dramatically changed the world as we know it. Selderhuis' method is generally free from critique, and centers mostly on presenting objective events and details of Luther's life. It doesn't get five stars for the following reasons: (1) It was, despite the person of discussion, quite bland and not terribly invigorating to read; and (2) the biography is quite disjointed in its layout. I found several paragraph transitions to be rather jolting and unrelated to what came before. Other than these small-ish aspects, it was an enjoyable read and very accessible.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    Fair and evenhanded, but a little bit dry. I’m in no position to say which is more accurate, but I found Metaxas’ biography to be more entertaining and informative. The latter may be somewhat overdramatic at times, but it better explains the theological nuances of Luther’s thought, and the reasons his insights shook the world. I enjoyed both more than the Bainton biography (sorry BJ! ;) ).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ian Clary

    An excellent book. Did a great job in humanising Luther and dispelling many myths. Heavy use of primary sources. Written in clear prose and very engaging. Definitely a worthwhile read for Refo500.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    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.

  10. 5 out of 5

    George P.

    “Luther was a problem,” writes Herman Selderhuis in Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. “Certainly for the pope and the emperor, but often he was also a problem for his fellow reformers.” However, Luther was problematic to those people in different ways — good and bad — which complicates his legacy. On October 31, 2017, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On that date in 1517, Luther published his 95 Theses challenging “the power and efficacy of indulgences.” Today “Luther was a problem,” writes Herman Selderhuis in Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. “Certainly for the pope and the emperor, but often he was also a problem for his fellow reformers.” However, Luther was problematic to those people in different ways — good and bad — which complicates his legacy. On October 31, 2017, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On that date in 1517, Luther published his 95 Theses challenging “the power and efficacy of indulgences.” Today, November 10, is Luther’s birthday. (He was born in 1483.) These dates give us a suitable occasion to assess Luther’s legacy and learn what lessons we can from it. Let us begin with the positive. No less an authority than Calvin said that Luther “gave the Gospel back to us.” By this, he meant the doctrine of justification by faith. Christ alone (solus Christus) saves sinners by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide). “This article of faith cannot be compromised,” wrote Luther about justification by faith in The Smalkald Articles of 1537. “Nothing can be taken away from it, even if the earth or heaven or whatever should fall.” Why? Because “if this article remains standing, the church remains standing, but if this article falls, the church also falls.” Luther came to believe this gospel based on his close reading of Paul, especially the apostle’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians. Romans 1:17 says, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The just will live by faith.’” And that brings us to a second positive aspect of Luther’s legacy: the authority of Scripture. Luther was a professor of the Bible at the University of Wittenberg, able to read Scripture in its original languages, Hebrew and Greek. It was his close reading of Scripture that led him to begin to question the penitential practices of the late medieval Catholic church. These questions first became public in the 95 Theses. When Catholic authorities pushed back on Luther’s questions, they drove him deeper into Scripture. The more he read, the more he questioned, until he concluded that Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) is the final authority for Christian faith and practice — not papal authority, church tradition or even the decisions of church councils. When called upon to recant his beliefs at the 1521 Diet of Worms, standing before the Holy Roman Emperor, German princes, church leaders and a representative of the pope himself, Luther refused: "If, then, I am not convinced by testimonies of Scripture or by clear rational arguments — for I do not believe in the pope or in the councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted each other — I am bound by the Bible texts that I have quoted. And as long as my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot nor do I want to retract anything when things become doubtful. Salvation will be threatened if you go against your conscience. May God help me. Amen." The famous words, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” were evidently added at a later time, but they capture the spirit of Luther’s refusal. Later theologians called sola fide the material principle of the Reformation and sola Scriptura its formal principle. The principles answer humanity’s two most basic questions: How can I be saved? And how do I know? Luther’s rediscovery of them is the core of his positive legacy, in my opinion. Certainly they created problems for both the pope and the emperor, but they were necessary problems, essential reforms to a corrupt medieval church, and good news in every age. As Selderhuis noted, however, Luther created other problems for his fellow reformers that can be neither overlooked nor excused. No doubt a man who takes a stand against the religious and political powers of his day must have a spine of steel. Unfortunately, Luther could be stiff-necked and abusive toward his fellow reformers on issues where compromise and gentle language were necessary. Luther’s closest colleague, Philip Melanchthon, bore the brunt of that abuse. Luther’s temper was so well-known that Melanchthon usually served as a buffer between him and other Protestant reformers. Two years after Luther’s death, Melanchthon offered this blunt assessment: “I had to bear an almost degrading bondage because Luther was led by his militant temperament and exhibited a cocky self-righteousness, rather than that he would pay attention to his deferential position and the common good.” But Luther’s cantankerousness toward allies pales in comparison to the worst aspects of his legacy: his violent rhetoric. Two examples should suffice. In 1524–25, German peasants rose in revolt against the aristocracy. Many had been inspired by Luther’s words and personal example, and Luther himself was initially sympathetic to their complaints. But by 1525, Luther felt the peasants had gone too far, and encouraged authorities to deal harshly with them: "whosoever can, should smite, strangle, and stab, secretly or publicly, and should remember that there is nothing more poisonous, pernicious, and devilish than a rebellious man. Just as one must slay a mad dog, so, if you do not fight the rebels, they will fight you, and the whole country with you." Then there’s what Luther said about Jews. Early in his career, Luther had hoped Jews would convert to Christianity once they heard the proclamation of the true gospel. Later in life, though, his attitude took a much darker turn. In Concerning the Jews and Their Lies (1542), he advocated authorities take specific measures against Jews. Let me quote Selderhuis at length. "First of all, synagogues should be burned because that is where the blasphemy takes place. For the same reason, Jews’ homes should be destroyed. Their prayer books and their Talmuds should be confiscated. Since their money had been stolen from Christians, Luther thought [a false but common belief in the middle ages], their money and jewelry should be seized. That money must be used for the support of Jews who had become Christians. Jews who did not qualify would have to earn their money by means of forced labor." These are hard words for anyone to read after the Holocaust, especially when we know that Nazis used Luther’s remarks in their anti-Semitic propaganda. They certainly tarnish the Protestant celebration of Luther’s positive legacy. So, what do we make of Luther today? After narrating Luther’s life honestly, warts and all, Selderhuis concludes: “Luther needed the grace that he himself had proclaimed. Throughout his life he remained a good example of his view that a Christian remains a sinner all his life and remains justified at the same time.” Simul iustus et peccator is how Luther expressed that view in Latin. On Luther’s birthday and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, simul iustus et peccator summarizes Luther’s legacy, both the good and the bad. Herman Selderhuis should be thanked for writing a biography that so skillfully narrates the life of Martin Luther and helps us interpret its complicated meaning.   Book Reviewed Herman Selderhuis, Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017). P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission. P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sam Pflederer

    I enjoyed this book about one of the most influential and fascinating figures in modern world history. What drew me in was the title, suggesting that this portrayal would focus on the spiritual questions and motivations that drove Luther himself rather than on the effects (though far-reaching) that he had on Christianity in particular and the West more generally. On the whole I was not disappointed. The best part about this portrayal was that the author allows Luther and his colleagues to speak I enjoyed this book about one of the most influential and fascinating figures in modern world history. What drew me in was the title, suggesting that this portrayal would focus on the spiritual questions and motivations that drove Luther himself rather than on the effects (though far-reaching) that he had on Christianity in particular and the West more generally. On the whole I was not disappointed. The best part about this portrayal was that the author allows Luther and his colleagues to speak for themselves through frequent and extended citations of primary sources, and he spends little time attempting either to psycho-analyze Luther or to understand his personality merely through the interpretations of previous biographers. What these sources reveal is a man with many rough edges but, at heart, a unique personal hunger for Christ and conviction of his Word so powerful that he was willing to challenge all authority even when it meant certain death. The author neither makes excuses for Luther’s shortfalls nor allows them to destroy his legacy. Despite extensive documentation, the text is eminently readable. However, I did find the chronology slightly confusing since the author chose to organize the chapters according to different roles Luther filled (e.g. monk, priest, reformer, husband, father, etc.) which roughly correspond to different periods of his life but allow for too much overlap. There are few books to which I could give five stars (i.e. a delight to read in every way), but, were it an option, I would easily give this one 4.5.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tim Michiemo

    4.8 Stars A phenomenal biography on the life of Martin Luther. Selderhuis excellently presented Luther not only as a reformer but as a complex figure who lived intimately with God. Selderhuis displayed Luther's faults and weaknesses, but his strengths and beliefs and well. It was Luther's theology that drove him and his steadfastness to his Savior Jesus Christ. This book was a personal and intimate look into the life of Luther. In this book, you will meet Luther as a man and not a giant. You will 4.8 Stars A phenomenal biography on the life of Martin Luther. Selderhuis excellently presented Luther not only as a reformer but as a complex figure who lived intimately with God. Selderhuis displayed Luther's faults and weaknesses, but his strengths and beliefs and well. It was Luther's theology that drove him and his steadfastness to his Savior Jesus Christ. This book was a personal and intimate look into the life of Luther. In this book, you will meet Luther as a man and not a giant. You will meet him as a monk struggling to believe in the grace of God. As a father who cares and plays for his children and weeps for his daughter who passed. You will meet a pastor who brought his enemies into his home and fought to bring unity between arguing brothers. You will meet him as a temperamental grouch but ultimately as a forgiven child of God who discovered the gospel of grace and worked his whole life to proclaim it boldly.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Stoeckel

    [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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    James

    I received a copy of this book via NetGalley for an honest review. Selderhuis offers here a very accessible biography of pastor, monk, and prophet Martin Luther. The author integrates Luther's theology throughout the book, explaining it in a way that is easy to understand for the layperson. He gives a fair assessment of Luther's irascible temperament which sometimes was his own worst enemy. He does not ignore Luther's failings, such as his involvement against the Peasant's Revolt. However, Luthe I received a copy of this book via NetGalley for an honest review. Selderhuis offers here a very accessible biography of pastor, monk, and prophet Martin Luther. The author integrates Luther's theology throughout the book, explaining it in a way that is easy to understand for the layperson. He gives a fair assessment of Luther's irascible temperament which sometimes was his own worst enemy. He does not ignore Luther's failings, such as his involvement against the Peasant's Revolt. However, Luther's anti-Semitism is relegated to the final chapter. Indeed the final chapter is the weakest in the book - when the author appears to be jamming in final issues that could have been better integrated elsewhere. Despite, this issue, the biography is a commendable one which offers a balanced, comprehensive view of the greatest Reformer.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dave Wheeler

    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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Laura M

    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.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christian

    Very approachable and easy read. Selderhuis is not afraid to tackle legends and set the history straight. I do wish he has spend a bit more time with Luther's impact on the Diet of Augsburg and the monumental societal impact of the same. Perhaps he completely skips any mention of the Edict of Augsburg because in his view Luther had little impact on the diet. The biography is well organized and very interesting. Very approachable and easy read. Selderhuis is not afraid to tackle legends and set the history straight. I do wish he has spend a bit more time with Luther's impact on the Diet of Augsburg and the monumental societal impact of the same. Perhaps he completely skips any mention of the Edict of Augsburg because in his view Luther had little impact on the diet. The biography is well organized and very interesting.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hank Pharis

    This is one of the best shorter biographies of Luther. Metaxas is probably more accessible to general readers but longer and less "scholarly." There are some details here I had either missed or not seen in the other 2-3 dozen books on Luther I have read the last year. (Note: I'm stingy with stars. For me 2 stars means a good book. 3 = Very good; 4 = Outstanding {only about 5% of the books I read merit this}; 5 = All time favorites {one of these may come along every 400-500 books}) This is one of the best shorter biographies of Luther. Metaxas is probably more accessible to general readers but longer and less "scholarly." There are some details here I had either missed or not seen in the other 2-3 dozen books on Luther I have read the last year. (Note: I'm stingy with stars. For me 2 stars means a good book. 3 = Very good; 4 = Outstanding {only about 5% of the books I read merit this}; 5 = All time favorites {one of these may come along every 400-500 books})

  19. 5 out of 5

    Matt Moran

    Very readable biography, interesting, and spiritually challenging. The emphasis is on the wonderful side of Luther's theology but this book is not overly obsequious to Luther. This biography gives a vivid picture of what a difficult person he could be to live with and relate with. Does not shy away from the anti-semitism. Very readable biography, interesting, and spiritually challenging. The emphasis is on the wonderful side of Luther's theology but this book is not overly obsequious to Luther. This biography gives a vivid picture of what a difficult person he could be to live with and relate with. Does not shy away from the anti-semitism.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    This biography manages to give a good overview of Luther’s life and thought without falling into hero worship or co-opting Luther’s thought and distorting it. Worth the read for anyone who wants to know more about the reformers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Benack

    Excellent biography of the great reformer. The writing was engaging and clear. The author relied heavily on primary sources. Highly recommended!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pete Williamson

    Excellent bio in both content and style. If you're interested in learning more about Luther and his times, this is a great place to start. Excellent bio in both content and style. If you're interested in learning more about Luther and his times, this is a great place to start.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jacob London

    Brilliant.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ken Han

    A fantastic portrayal of the amazing and deeply flawed man. Simultaneous justified and a sinner, indeed.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Zach Hollifield

    A nice biography, though I felt it never really dove into any part of Luther’s life. More of a comprehensive overview. Still a helpful and enjoyable read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Seth Nelson

    Very thorough.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Greg Bailey

    A lively biography of the great reformer, covering both his noble qualities and his shortcomings, and placing him solidly within his own time. Note: As I am an employee of Crossway, I do not give star ratings to books Crossway publishes.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Klynsmith

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dafydd Job

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tim Genry

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