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Family, Movie Reviews

Storm and Luther's forbidden letter

Family / Drama 105 minutes / 2017 RATING: 7/10 Storm Voeten is the 12-year-old son of a printer, living in 1500s Antwerp. Martin Luther has written his 95 Theses and his ideas are a source of debate and division across Europe. That's also true in the Voeten household, where Storm's mother, a staunch Catholic, doesn't even want to hear Luther's name. But his father is interested in learning more...and he's even willing to print Luther's ideas. The opening scene has Luther making his brief appearance in the film. He's writing a letter, even as a squadron of soldiers is heading his way. The letter is entrusted to the care of an assistant to quickly and secretly take to Antwerp. Though the events in this film are more of the "inspired by" variety, rather than purporting to be historically accurate, there is some real history here. Luther did send a letter to Antwerp. In the film the letter is a rallying cry against the Catholic Church, and a call to rely on Jesus alone. In real life, while we don't have the letter itself, other accounts make it sound as if it had an additional target, the Anabaptists. But that doesn't come up in the film. When Luther's assistant arrives in Antwerp he seeks out Storm's father. Voeten Sr. accepts the printing job, even though the town's Inquisitor has already arrested another printer for producing forbidden Protestant materials. And that's when the film turns into a chase movie. The authorities catch Storm's father in the act of printing and arrest him, but not before Storm runs off with the letter's printing plate. He gets chased through the alleys and only escapes when 12-year-old street orphan Maria, and her handy sling, intervene. Now it's up to Storm to figure out how to get the letter printed, and how to save his dad. CAUTIONS There are no language concerns, and any "sexual content" is limited to one short kiss between the two 12-year-olds at the film's end. But there is a fair amount of violence. All of it is muted and some of it takes place off screen. But here's a partial list: A printer's burned hand is shown briefly (one second). The printer is tortured by the Inquisitor – via some form of water boarding – and while we don't see it happen, we do briefly hear the man pleading. A couple of soldiers get hit in the head by rocks hurled by Maria and her sling. Maria hits a soldier in the head with a pole. Storm hits a soldier in the head with a pole. One man is murdered by the Inquisitor, but off-screen, and before Storm arrives. We do see the body with just a little blood for a second or two. In addition, there is quite a lot of tension. Some of it involves chases, and some of it involves not knowing what will happen next – when Storm's father is set to be burned at the stake, the young audience doesn't know whether he'll be saved, and that makes this quite scary. For those reasons I'd say the target audience for this is probably 12 and up. One theological concern: Maria thinks that the Virgin Mary helps her. Storm tells her Luther's thoughts on idols, and that Mary is just an ordinary woman, but the issue is left unsettled. By film's end, Maria hasn't clearly changed her mind.  So that might be a good topic to discuss with younger viewers CONCLUSION The big caution with this film concerns the tension. This is more a "chase film" than a theological exploration of Luther's views, but that might just make it perfect for the younger audience it's aimed at. While the plot is a bit simple for mom and dad, the authentic 1500s setting will keep their attention. This is good, clean, even educational, fun. The film was carefully shot so that it could be dubbed into a number of different languages. If you pay attention you'll notice that the principal characters often speak with their mouths obscured in some way. Sometimes we see their mouth when they start speaking but, as they continue, the camera cuts away. That's because this was shot in Dutch, and this clever camera work means the dubbing is hardly noticeable in the English version. An English trailer doesn't seem available, but the Dutch version still gives a good idea of the look and feel of the film. While the English trailer is hard to find, it's easy enough to find online stores that sell or rent the English film. A version of this review first appeared on ReelConservative.com. https://youtu.be/BcbR4at2p_U...

Adult fiction, Teen fiction

Katharina, Katharina: the story of Katharina Schutz Zell

by Christine Farenhorst 328 pages / 2017 In the past year, inspired by the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing up his 95 theses (or did he?) I've read about a dozen works on Luther. This is a favorite. One reason I love it so, is because it offers something very different from the others – this about is Luther and his time, but he isn't the main character. He isn't even a minor character, never making an in-story appearance. The events take place miles away from Luther's Wittenberg, in the French city of Strasbourg, on the border with Germany. The story centers around a middle daughter of the middle-class Schutz family. Like their neighbors, the Schutz's read and discuss Luther's pamphlets. By taking a step back from the man himself, author Christine Farenhorst (as regular RP readers will know, she is a long-time contributor to the magazine) give her readers the opportunity to encounter Luther's ideas in much the same way as the people of his time did. They didn't debate his ideas at the start, so much as wonder what to think of them. Some of his points they could readily agree with – many saw a need for at least some sort of reformation of the Church. But his thoughts on indulgences... might he be right? We follow the title character from childhood up until her mid-twenties. Though Katharina Schutz is a real person, this is historical fiction – all the big events are true, but the day-to-day details of Katharina's life have been made up. This is why, even as a background character, Luther still dominates the story. Katharina's life is fascinating reading but because much of it is speculative, it serves as the foundation while what we learn about Luther here is his real, actual history. One of the strangest bits of true history in the book is the dancing plague of 1518 that hit Strasbourg. Victims couldn't help but dance. It would have been funny except that this stilted, clumsy dancing never stopped - as many as 400 dancers kept going for days and days, beyond exhaustion, and even to the point of heart attacks and strokes. Target audience This is a teen to young adult book, but like any good children's book, adults interested in their church history will find it fascinating. However, as a third of all children at that time died before they hit age 5, there are some parts to Katharina's story that would be bawl-inducing to anyone under, say, 10. The somewhat slow beginning – it took until chapter 4 to really grab me – also makes it better suited for readers with a little maturity to them. Conclusion There is a real benefit to learning about Luther in this one-step-removed fashion. I was fascinated by what I learned about the people and culture of that time. It gave me a deeper understanding of the pressures that Luther faced, and insights into how God prepared the ground for the Reformation Luther sparked. It is a fascinating story that I look forward to reading with my daughters. This review first appeared on ReallyGoodReads.com. Pick up your copy of Christine Farenhorst’s “Katharina, Katharina” at Sola-Scriptura.ca/store/shop. ...

Book Reviews, Lists

Learning about Luther: 10 titles your family will enjoy

Five hundred years ago a learned monk drew up 95 pointed arguments and asked for a debate. What he got was a revolution. Fast forward five centuries, and on the very same evening that others are dressing up as demons and celebrating death, at least a few kids are putting on brown bathrobes and dressing up as a round Reformation giant. On Oct. 31, each year, we remember Luther posting his 95 theses, and we celebrate the man's courage, his insight, and his love for the Lord. Largely overlooked are his faults. Oh, yes, we know about his attempts at self-justification, and his crass insults, and even his anger, but in the books and films that are recommended below, Luther’s darkest side is hardly raised. Maybe it comes from a desire not to speak ill of the dead. After all, when we reminisce about our Great Aunt Ditty we fondly recall how she loved to sew doll clothes for all her grandchildren, but we don’t bring up the disagreeable face she made whenever a particular ethnic group crossed her path. The fifth commandment would seem to encourage us to talk only about what was good and praiseworthy about our dearly departed. That’s a good approach for the Great Aunt Dittys of the world, but something more is needed when it comes to Christian heroes. Then there is a reason to acknowledge both the good and the bad. As Calvin said, our hearts are idol factories – so much so that we can take the proper respect (Heb. 13:7) we have for one of God’s servants and twist and pervert it into something that blocks our view of God. We go from respecting the man, to worshipping the legend, and getting angry if anyone dares mention his faults. But acknowledging his flaws guards us against hero worship. It also keeps us from being blindsided by the critics who want to attack the good God did through him. When we understand that even a man after God’s own heart like David – giant-killer and slayer of tens of thousands – was also an adulterer and a murderer, we aren’t going to put him on a pedestal. And then we won’t have to worry about critics trying to knock him off that pedestal. It’s important, then, to acknowledge that Luther said some dreadful things about the Jews. In his earliest writings he was kind and winsome, trying to evangelize to them. But in his later years he concluded that God was done with the Jews, and he wrote a 60,000-word treatise called On The Jews And Their Lies. In it he encouraged that their synagogues and homes be burned, their books and money taken, and their rabbis killed if they didn’t stop teaching. He also repeated, as true, lies about Jews poisoning wells and kidnapping children. This is Luther at his worst, writing a book that Nazis reprinted. So how do we handle Luther’s dark side? We acknowledge it and clearly identify it for the sin that it is. And then we continue our 500th anniversary party. This was never supposed to be all about the man, but rather the wonderful truths he rediscovered about God’s grace and mercy and love. And when we understand our hero’s failings, then how can we help but glorify God all the more, appreciating how He can use fallen, frail, sinful sorts like Luther – and like you and me – to accomplish his glorious ends? ***** It’s been said there are more books about Martin Luther than on any other human being. But some are dry and dusty. Some need a forklift to pick up. And some need a dictionary in hand just to get through them. These aren’t the kind of books we’re after. Our focus is on engaging, and readable. So we're suggesting novels, pictures books and comics that parents will enjoy reading to their kids. And there's a movie, novels, and non-fiction for mom and dad, that they can finish in a quiet evening or two. These aren’t big books, and these aren’t long movies, but they are intriguing. My hope is that you’ll find a good match for everyone in your family. CHILDREN’S BOOKS Martin Luther by Simonetta Carr 2016 / 62 pages This is the perfect book for any 4th grader and up looking to do a school project on the Reformer. Like other entries in Simonetta Carr's series of "Christian biographies for young readers" Martin Luther is a gorgeous book. It is a beautifully bound, with thick pages, and includes 12 full-page paintings among its 44 illustrations. It is also well-researched, and wonderfully detailed. After reading more than a dozen works on Luther I was pleasantly surprised to still be learning so many new things from a children's book. For example, I don't think I'd ever before heard that Martin had a special relationship with his young brother Jacob, nor that Jacob might have been with him when Luther was "kidnapped" on his way home from the Diet of Worms. And it was interesting to learn that Luther's famous "brand" – the Luther rose – was designed for him at the request of his protector, John Frederick of Saxony. What makes this book special is how much Carr has managed to pack in its 60 pages. But that also means that even though this is a picture book, it is probably too much for children in Grades 1 or 2. I think the best bet is Grade 4 and up. Overall, Carr gives a generous assessment of Luther, focussing on his strengths. But she is willing to at least note his faults, the biggest of which is what he wrote about the Jews in his later years. Carr makes brief mention of it, noting that he "wrote against the Jews" and there is no "excuse for writing what he did." I'd recommend this as a wonderful educational resource, and by that I mean that while it makes learning easy, this isn't the type of frothy, brightly-colored picture book that young children will pick up simply for entertainment. It will need a teacher's or parent's prompt. Thunderstorm in Church by Louise A. Vernon 1974 / 132 pages It isn't easy being the son of a giant. In Louise Vernon's children's novel, we get to hear Luther's story told from the perspective of his young son Hans, who is worried that he won't measure up to his father. Though I'm a bit outside the intended demographic, I found it a very fun read, and I think that's because, with one of his offspring acting as the narrator, this is a really unique look at Luther. Hans reveals to us a father who is both funny and furious - a man of quick temper who also laughs a lot. Having Hans narrate also allows Luther to teach us, as he instructs his son, some of the truths that he uncovered about God's grace – that we don't have to buy the forgiveness that God freely offers. Some reviewers have faulted the book for being too dialogue-driven, and there is a lot of talking. But Vernon inserts a few actions scenes as well, like when the town's bullies want to teach the son of the famous Doctor Luther a lesson or two. If your child is a reader, this is a book that could be enjoyed simply as entertainment – it is fun, even if it has some slower sections. As an educational tool, the age-level this is aimed at – as young as Grade 3 – may have to be alerted that this is a fictionalized biography, and that this means only the general facts are true, but many of the details are just a matter of imagination. Overall, Thunderstorm in Church is a wonderful book that could make for a nice night time read with your kids. Also worth a mention Old Testament historian Paul L. Maier’s picture book Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World is simply gorgeous, and a wonderful introduction to the man for younger readers. RC Sproul also has a great picture book for younger children called The Man Who Wanted to Pray, about Luther teaching his barber how to talk to God. And what the barber learned from Luther, our children can learn from the barber. I should note that there is one picture of Jesus, with his face mostly, but not entirely obscured. GRAPHIC NOVELS Luther by Rich Melheim illustrated by Jonathan Koelsch 2016 / 72 pages I've reviewed other "comic biographies" and never enjoyed one more. Luther is scripted like a movie, has witty dialogue with actions scene interspersed, and the artwork is of the same quality you would find in Marvel or DC comics – it is fantastic! Educational comics, as a genre, are valuable in that they make learning history a lot less painful. But very few of these educational graphic novels are the sort that a teen would just pick up and start reading. Luther is the exception. I don't want to over-hype it – a kid who reads nothing but superhero comics will still find this a bit of a stretch – but it really is as good a comic as you will find. Since this is intended for teens, I'll note a few cautions. The word "crap" is mentioned three times, "ass" once, and "old fart" once. But when you consider this is a comic about the notoriously potty-mouthed Luther, this is really quite tame. I’ll also note there is a depiction of Christ on the inside back cover of the book that is not part of the story, but rather part of an ad for other comics by the same publisher. Also: the comic treats as fact that famous conclusion to Martin Luther's speech at the Diet of Worms, where he is said to have declared, "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." There is some dispute as to whether he ever said these words. The comic has several strengths including the overall picture it gives of the happenings going on in the broader world that made it possible for Luther to both spark this Reformation and live into old age and die a natural death. I’ve always wondered why the Emperor didn’t just have him killed. Perhaps it was because, as we learn in this comic, Charles V was busy contending with Turkish expansion and might not have wanted to risk alienating any of his German princes. Another strength is that while this account is sympathetic, it does note one of Luther's weaknesses: that sometimes Luther's pen got the best of him and he could write some "terrible and hateful words" denouncing Jews, Calvinists, and Anabaptists alike. Overall this is a comic that teens and adults (who aren't embarrassed to be seen reading a comic) will certainly enjoy. Luther: Echoes of the Hammer by Susan K. Leigh illustrated by Dave Hill 2011 / 144 pages I think this is the perfect compliment to the other Luther comic reviewed here. Whereas Luther is the more exciting of the two, it plays a little looser with the details. Meanwhile Luther: Echoes of the Hammer is a more reliable history lesson, but it isn't as dramatic. I tested this graphic novel on two of my nephews with mixed results. The older one, heading to grade 10, was happy to take a look, and thought it would be a great way to learn about Luther. The other, two years younger, seemed to think it was too much biography, and not enough comic book for his tastes. As far as comics go, this one is quite an involved, even heavy, read. Interspersed throughout are explanations of key events, like the Diet of Worms, key terms, like “indulgences,” and key figures, like Charles of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor. These one or two-page insertions really add to the narrative and make this a highly educational comic. However, a few of these insertions will also trouble informed Reformed readers. In one list of Luther’s adversaries, Calvin is numbered among them! While it is true Calvin and Luther had their differences, it is surprising to see Calvin listed as an opponent. Especially when, some pages later, we find Erasmus listed as one of Luther’s supporters! While Erasmus was, like Luther, critical of the Roman Church, he never left it, and this led to strong, vitriolic disagreements with Luther. In fact Luther once called Erasmus, “the very mouth and organ of Satan.”  It is downright silly, then, for the authors to list Erasmus as a friend if they are going to list fellow Reformer John Calvin as an adversary. The only other quibble would be the overestimation the authors have of Philip Melanchthon, describing him as “a great Reformer, second only to Martin Luther.” Second? Really? How can they overlook Calvin like that? Those quibbles aside, this is a impressive book. The writing is crisp, succinct and engaging. The artwork is attractive and instructive – many of these pictures are worth a thousand words. For example, in the pages covering Luther’s visit to Worms illustrator Dave Hill shows us the man’s quiet passion, his many supporters, and his opponents marshaled together. This gives us a good understanding of the setting, and thus a better understanding of the courage it took for Luther to stand up for what he knew to be true. Older teens will enjoy it, and many an adult too. Also worth a mention The same folks who created Luther: Echo of the Hammer, created a sequel, focused on his wife. Katie Luther is a little shorter, and a little less involved, but also quite enjoyable. YOUNG ADULT FICTION The Story of Martin Luther by Danika Cooley 2015 / 231 pages This is a treat! The target audience is teens, but like any fantastic book, adults are sure to enjoy it too. In fact, this is the perfect book for any adults who feel a need to know more about church history but are a little reluctant to get started. That's how I'd characterize myself. As a student I hated history – learning dates and names seemed pointless. Now I understand it is important to know where we came from, and I want to learn more....but I have no interest in learning it from a dry, dusty tome. That's why this was such a treat. In the hands of a talented writer, it doesn’t take much to make Luther's life exciting. As doubt-filled as he was early on, the Reformer was bombastic after he understood that forgiveness is a gift given, not earned. This is a man who: was condemned by the pope as a heretic had 200 knights pledge to protect him didn't want to marry lest he quickly leave his wife a widow was kidnapped masqueraded as a knight helped formulate the German language cared for Plague victims ended up marrying a nun And it would be easy to go on and on. While much of the day-to-day dialogue is fictionalized, a strength of the book is the many genuine quotes that are interspersed throughout (these are identifiable by the endnote numbers after such quotes). One example: in a debate at Lepzig University, Johann Eck hits Luther with a stinging question: "Are you the only one who knows anything? With the exception of you, is all the church in error?" It stung because Luther, plagued by self-doubt, had been wondering this very same thing. But Luther also knows that God's truth doesn't depend on Luther being brilliant. Nope - God can spread his truth using even the dumbest of beasts, as Luther notes in his reply: "I answer that God once spoke through the mouth of a donkey." Another strength is how the book reveals more of the man – warts and all – than many other biographies. While Cooley largely skips over Luther's love of scatological insults (this is a book intended for younger readers, after all) she does share how Luther's anger stung not only the pope, but allies as well. She has Luther attempt to justify himself: "It is precisely because of my outbursts that the Lord has used me! I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened." There is a time and place for anger, and God made good use of Luther's righteous anger. But later, as Luther aged, it seems he came to indulge in anger, and that got him and others into trouble. Cooley shares how Luther's anger cost him friends. And it was in his anger that he wrote his tract condemning the Jews, who were already facing persecution. So he used his influence for great good, but his anger meant that at times his influence also caused great harm. When Lightning Struck! would make a great present to just about any reader, particularly if they have even the slightest interest in church history. I'd even recommend this to teens who have the same bad attitude towards history that I once did. For them, this might be a bit of a gamble, but if you can get your son or daughter to promise to read through the first 60 pages, that should have them hooked. Luther in love by Douglas Bond 2017 / 320 pages Luther in Love shows us the Reformer from the perspective of his better half. The story begins with 62-year-old Luther spending an evening in his chair. He's not in the best of health – worn out from a lifetime of controversy and conflict – and his dear wife knows that it can't be long before he is gone. So she has given herself a bittersweet project to complete. Others have written accounts of the Reformer, but always from one extreme or the other - either thinking him "the spawn of Satan" or "a living angel." She wants the world to know the real man, and she's going to record his story as he remembers it. But Katie doesn't want her husband to know what she's up to, so even as she's prodding him about the past, and has paper and quill at the ready, he thinks she's busy keeping track of the family finances and other business matters. It's a great premise and let's Bond explore Luther's life through the appreciative, but far from naive, perspective of his helpmeet. After all, who knows a man better than his wife? One strength of the book is the thorough research evident throughout - we are immersed in Luther's world! And then there is Bond's writing – this is the fourth fictionalized biography Bond has written about Reformers, and he is a master of this form. Again and again I had to get up to find my wife and read sections to her that were simply too exciting, or too sweet, not to share. Some of that sweetness comes up when the couple is teasing and debating each other. Bond gives us a wonderful look at how two souls can grow old together and continue growing in love for one another. It's a book about Luther, but it's also a model for marriage. Of the many books I've read about Luther, this is one of the biggest. But it might just be the fastest read. That's why I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone, teens and up. It is funny, entertaining, informative, sweet, challenging, and more. Also worth a mention Christine Farenhorst’s new novel, Katharina, Katharina is the Reformation as it happened far from the walls of Wittenburg.  While Luther never makes an in-book appearance, he is still a central figure – Farenhorst gives us an intriguing look at this monk and his work by showing us how he was being debated and discussed by the regular folk of his day. MARTIN AT THE MOVIES Torchlighters: The Martin Luther Story 2016 / 34 minutes The strength of this film is its short length. At just 34 minutes, it can be shown in the space of a single school period. For the pre-teens this is intended for, that might be just the right length, with the quick pace, and colorful animation sure to grab most students’ attention. But the biggest weakness of this short film is….its length. It is far too short to tell this story with the gravitas it needs – Luther’s spiritual wrestling is dealt with in just 7 minutes! It also ends abruptly, with Luther busy translating the Bible into German in Wartburg Castle. The narrator then spends just a single minute summing up the whole of the second half of Luther's life. And then the credits role. I should note a couple of inclusions that might have been better left out. Luther is told that the very night he nailed up his 95 Theses, his long-time protector, Duke Frederick, had a dream about a monk writing on a church door with a quill that was so long it extended all the way to Rome "where it toppled the crown off of a lion." This is presented as the reason Frederick was willing to defend his rebellious trouble-making monk: God had told him ahead of time that his monk was going to topple the pope. But while the movie portrays this as fact, there is reason to think this might just be a popular myth. Also, at the film's conclusion, there is a passing, two or three second shot of a title page illustration from one of Luther's books depicting Christ on the cross, with Luther and John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony kneeling below. I make mention of it, for any who consider this a violation of the Second Commandment. That said, this is a great film for children who don't yet have the attention span for a longer Luther film – it will certainly keep most children engaged, and does give a good overview. Check out the trailer here. Martin Luther 1953 / 105 minutes What sort of film is Martin Luther? The sort that gets produced by a church, and yet gets nominated for an Oscar – solid theology paired with high production values. How often has that happened? It does get off to a slow start; the first couple of minutes are more documentary than drama. But when we get introduced to Niall MacGinnis as Luther, his brilliant portrayal sweeps us into the story. We follow along, starting with his tormented time in the monastery, and continue all the way through to his marriage to an ex-nun. MacGinnis captures all the contradictions of the man – even as the Reformer stands before the Diet of Worms strong and defiant he is distraught and trembling. This is certainly among the best Christian films ever made. As a caution I will note that while there is nothing graphic in the film (it is G-rated), some scenes are psychologically intense. I think that would just go over the heads of most children, but for some young sensitive sorts, Luther's spiritual turmoil might be too much. This is a black and white film, which is a mark against it in many minds. But if you're considering showing this to your class or to your family, here's the secret to helping them get into it: make the sound your priority! In a dialogue-driven film it's the sound, much more than the visuals, that really matters. I still remember watching this with my Grade 6 classmates, years ago. The screen was small – minuscule by today's standards – but this big box TV had great speakers. There was no fuzziness, no straining to understand what was being said – we could all follow it. And after 30 minutes or so, we were all hooked. There are quite a number of films about Martin Luther, with at least a half dozen dramas, and more than a dozen documentaries. The best known is probably the 2003 Luther that played in major theaters, and starred Joseph Fiennes (of Shakespeare in Love fame). It is a wonderful film (and in color!) but marred by an instance or two where God's name is taken in vain. As well, it focuses a little more on Luther's external struggles with the powers that be, and a little less on his own internal struggles. That makes for more action, but less of a theological focus – more about Martin, but God somehow fades into the background. So the 1953 Martin Luther is the better educational film. This would be great for a family movie night. I've seen kids as young as 7 enjoy it, though with younger children you're going to want to break it into a few "chunks" so it's spread out over two or three nights. But for those 12 and up, so long as they are "forced" to give it a half hour ("No, you can't check your smartphone while watching this") it will grab them and give them a good understanding of the amazing work God performed through this man. Watch the trailer here. ADULT NON-FICTION The heroic boldness of Martin Luther by Steven J. Lawson 145 pages / 2013 My brother Jeff called this “a book that every Protestant minister should read….because it uses the story of the first Protestant minister, Martin Luther, to show what Protestant ministers should be doing with the word of God.” To be clear, this isn’t so much a biography as it is an examination of Luther’s “conviction about the Word” and his approach to preaching. Before the Reformation, church services were dominated by the Mass, and by rituals, but Luther and others made preaching central. And not just preaching, but biblical preaching that was willing to be controversial, not for controversy’s sake, but because apostasy needed to be challenged, and sin needed to be named. There was a need to have God’s Word set loose. Author Steven Lawson thinks that’s just as true today, so he’s hoping that Luther’s example – his respect for Scripture, his practice of reading through the whole Bible twice each year, his passionate delivery off the pulpit – can inspire others to go and do likewise. That makes this a book that might seem like it would only be for ministers. But while it does definitely have particular relevance for them, all of us can learn from Luther’s zeal to grow in the knowledge of his Lord. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses by Timothy J. Wengert 2015 / 90 pages If you want to understand Luther and the reforms he began, can there be a better place to start than his 95 theses? When I first got my copy in the mail, I was struck by how short it was. This is the Pope-shaking document that God used to start it all? Shouldn't it be...heavier? And if we were to take out the introduction, commentary, and study guide, Luther's 95 theses only amounts to 13 or 14 pages! Thankfully, Timothy Wengert stretches it out to (a still slim) 90 pages so he can present Luther's pivotal work in the right context. He uses his introduction to set the scene, explaining how the doctrine of indulgences evolved from bad to worse. He also includes two other documents – Luther's letter to the Bishop of Mainz in which he respectfully asks the bishop to consider the theses, and Luther's "Sermon on Indulgences and Grace" written a year later, in 1518, which was an explanation of his 95 theses intended for the common people. In the theses themselves, Wengert fills almost half of each page with footnotes to clarify Luther's more difficult points. So this is a short, but intense read – it will take some effort to work through it, but not all that much time. And to make the going a little easier, Wengert has sprinkled in all sorts of fascinating facts. Did you know Luther may never have posted his theses to the church door? The first published account of this particular detail occurs in 1546, four months after Luther's death. If he did post them he probably used wax, not nails. Luther's 95 theses were not the first he had written. This was a common communication form among students and professors, and just one month before, in Sept 1517, Luther composed 97 theses against scholastic theology. Outside of God's Word, Luther's 95 theses might be the key document that our Father used to reform his Church. It isn't long. It is an education. Also worth a mention John Piper’s The Legacy of Sovereign Joy is about Luther, Calvin and Augustine, and the joy the three found in knowing God better. It is short, at just 150 pages, and an informative encouraging read. It’s also free as an e-book here....

History

Ulrich Zwingli: Reformer in the shadows?

In 1983 churches all over the world commemorated the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther. Ulrich Zwingli should have gotten the same sort of celebration a year later, when his own 500th birthday came and went on January 1, 1484. But Zwingli (1484-1531) has had to stand somewhat "in the shadows" of such giants as Luther and Calvin. But Zwingli's person, work, and life merit some more attention than he has received through the years. The call to "remember your leaders" (Hebrews 13:7) extends also to this man and the work he was enabled to do by the Lord. Early life Ulrich Zwingli was born into a relatively prosperous family living in the mountainous region of Wildhaus, Switzerland, as one of many children. Already at a very young age he left home, first to learn from an uncle, Bartholomew Zwingli, who was priest in the town of Wiesen. When he was ten years old, Zwingli proceeded to the grammar schools in Basel and Bern. Fearing that, because of his beautiful singing voice, Zwingli would be inducted into monastery life, his parents sent him on to Vienna, where he studied (natural) science and literature. Here in Vienna, Zwingli was drenched in the humanistic philosophy of his time. In 1506 Zwingli returned to Basel where he was promoted to magister artium (Master of Arts). After a brief training in (mostly scholastic) theology, Zwingli was ordained as priest in the village of Glarus. At this time Zwingli is a typical priest: well educated but humanistically oriented in his thinking. Taking a pacifistic turn Zwingli's period of service in Glarus is significant in many ways. It is here that he begins to study both Christian and secular classics, and becomes attracted to the works of Erasmus, the Dutch humanist. Here, also, Zwingli displays some of the patriotism for which he will become legendary. Although he twice accompanies Swiss infantry in battle for the Pope against the French, Zwingli begins to discourage young Swiss men from becoming mercenaries in foreign service. He expresses these sentiments strongly in an Aesop-like morality tale, The Fable of the Ox. Having experienced the ugly, mass slaughter of the battlefield, Zwingli turned to a more pacifistic philosophy. In 1516, Zwingli left Glarus and took up ministry in Einsiedeln. Here Zwingli further refined his emerging pacifistic views. During this time he considered all service in foreign armies a curse, although he maintained that it is one's patriotic duty to defend one's homeland. While in Einsiedeln, Zwingli met Erasmus and discovered Erasmus' edition of the Greek New Testament. As he proceeded to study this edition, Zwingli began to distance himself more and more from Erasmus' humanistic views and from the prevailing allegorical interpretation of Scripture. He began to study the Word of God in its own light and began to understand that Scripture require a literal interpretation. He realized that the scholastic and philosophical approach to the Bible and theology must be rejected. It is during this same time that Zwingli made a serious study of the works of Augustine and came to condemn the worship of relics and the adoration of saints. This growing resistance gradually deepened into a carefully-worded warning against the worship of Mary, and into a ridiculing of the indulgences. Ministry in Zurich In 1519 Zwingli was installed in Zurich, and it is in this city that he clearly made himself known as a prophetic reformer of great influence. It became evident that Zwingli wanted to let the Scriptures speak for themselves, and that he understood traditions and precepts of men that are made binding for the church are to be rejected. The sola Scriptura of the Reformation began to take powerful form in his ministry! Zwingli supported those who rejected the Romanist laws of fasting. He spoke out against celibacy and himself married a widow of class, Anna Reinhart, a marriage which became officially known two years later, in 1524. That same year Zwingli broke with the Church of Rome by declaring that he can no longer accept the Pope as the "head of the church," instead accusing the Pope of abusing worldly power. Christ is declared as the only Head of the church and His Word as its only guide. Spurred on by Zwingli's preaching, the city council of Zurich refused to give in to the objections of the Bishop of Constanz, but it did agree to conduct a public disputation. The first of these disputations — not unknown in the days of the Reformation — took place in January 1523 between Zwingli and the influential Romanist prelate, Johann Faber. The result was a smashing victory for the Reformation, for at its conclusion the city council of Zurich decrees that from then on nothing may be preached which is not in full accord with the gospel. Growing divisions Many Swiss cities, such as Basel and Bern, took the side of the Reformation in Zurich and, in 1528, formed a Christian federation. However, the Roman Catholic cantons were also organized against the influence of Zwingli and Zurich. This situation ultimately led to battle and bloodshed. On October 11, 1531, in a battle near Kappel, Zwingli was killed along with 400 other citizens of Zurich. After having declared him to be a heretic, a hastily formed court lets his body be quartered and burned. Zwingli paid the price in blood; at age 47, his earthly course suddenly came to an end. While the rift between the Romanist and Reformed factions in Switzerland was inevitable, there also emerged other, perhaps not so expected, divisions. In the years before Zwingli's death, there were radicals in Zurich who felt that Zwingli was not going far enough in his reforms. These radicals, such as Konrad Grebel and Felix Mantz, began to reject all civil authority. The Anabaptist movement was born and it causes so much dissension and confusion that the city council of Zurich arrested its leaders. One of these, Felix Mantz, is executed by drowning in 1527, and the Anabaptist movement then also had a martyr. All this was a source of great sorrow for Zwingli; many of the Anabaptist leaders were former associates and close friends. Of greater significance, perhaps, was the growing division between Zwingli and Luther. In 1529, in a meeting in Marburg, Luther and Zwingli discussed at length the matter of the Lord's Supper but could not come to agreement. Luther's theory of consubstantiation is too far from Zwingli's symbolic interpretation. Although both agree that Christ is present in bread and wine, they cannot agree as to the manner. Luther and Zwingli depart bitterly from each other and become estranged. This controversy, of course, greatly damaged the cause of the Reformation. Since it furthered Zwingli's isolation, it also contributed to his death. Conclusion It is not easy to estimate the significance of the work of a person such as Zwingli. Because of his own development and changing insights, Zwingli's significance cannot be caught in an easy formula. In liberal circles, Zwingli is hailed as the reformer who was a true humanist, a worthy forerunner of contemporary radical and political theologians. His humanistic background and patriotic zeal, perhaps, cause him to recede somewhat to the background in Reformed appreciation. We generally turn to Calvin for advice. Yet it cannot be denied that Zwingli's basic convictions and personal endeavors are true to the spirit of the Great Reformation. Zwingli wanted nothing else than to live by the Scriptures alone and to let the Scriptures explain themselves under the illumination of the Holy Spirit and not under the tradition of the church. For Zwingli it was without doubt that it is not the church with its sacramental administration that governs the flow of grace, but that men are reconciled to God only by the death of His Son. He clearly rejected the "cursed idolatry" of the mass and its excesses in the worship of saints and relics, proclaiming that our salvation lies only in the sacrifice of Christ, once offered on the cross. Zwingli did not tire in defending the just cause of the Reformation over against the Anabaptists, remaining firm with respect to the Scriptural doctrine of infant baptism. Although in many ways a disciple of Erasmus, he refuted the teaching of the master that the will of man is free. Man cannot save himself, Zwingli emphasized time and again, but must have true knowledge of God and sin, knowledge learned only from the Word of God. Man has no saving knowledge in himself! It is clear, then, that in these key issues there is a direct line from Ulrich Zwingli to John Calvin. In the turbulent era of the Reformation, Zwingli maintained the Scriptures over against the prevailing humanism and emerging radicalism of his time. In this respect he is still an example for the church, some five hundred years later. It would be good if in this commemorative year his works were rediscovered and studied anew. Since we are faced in our time with similar extremes, humanism and radicalism, we can learn from Zwingli's struggle. Zwingli definitely does not belong in the shadows between Luther and Calvin. Rev. Clarence Stam (1948-2016) was the editor of Reformed Perspective for eight years, from 1985-1993, and was a contributor for many more. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the June, 1984 edition....

Adult biographies, Adult fiction

The Betrayal: A novel on John Calvin

by Douglas Bond 383 pages / 2009 If you want to get an understanding of the times Calvin lived in, this novel is better than any biography. Douglas Bond immerses readers in the day-to-day details of living in France in the 1500s by telling Calvin’s story through the eyes of a life-long, entirely fictional, companion named Jean-Louis. Jean-Louis is born in the same village as Calvin, and for a time goes to the same school. But while Calvin’s intellectual gifts set him apart early, Jean-Louis is an average fellow living an ordinary, though rather brutal existence. Like many in the 16th century, he loses his whole family and his livelihood to the Plague. Left without a home or money, he falls back on his one extraordinary ability: Jean-Louis can lie without shame or qualm of conscience. It is this “talent” that gets him close to Calvin again, securing a job serving the Reformer. And it is this trait that allows him to act the role of loyal servant even as he vows to work against God’s servant. This is a fascinating read, but one that takes some effort. Though Bond is known as a teen fiction author, the weighty theological dialogues interspersed throughout The Betrayal make this a novel best suited for adult Calvin enthusiasts. It is available at Christianbooks.com and has also been translated into Dutch as Het verraad....

Children’s non-fiction, Children’s picture books

Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World

by Paul Maier 32 pages /  2004 Take a look at your children’s bookshelves. How many of the stories there are about the history of God’s church? Here, finally, in a wonderfully illustrated edition we have a story for young children that gives a beautiful account of the life of Martin Luther. It was 1483 when Martin Luther was born in Eiselbern, Germany, but this story starts long before that. This story begins with God’s promise to preserve His church throughout history, and already on the first pages of this book we read of God’s mercy in sending people to call His church to repentance. Times were dark for the church in the 15th century. The church was leading the people away from the true word of God into a world of lies and false doctrines. The people were walking in darkness and it was into this world that Martin Luther was born. Luther’s story is very familiar to most of us. His name is a common one in our households. Yet this book brings out for the young reader what life was like for Martin Luther. As a child growing up, his life would have been much different than ours. Did you know, for example, that in his school children who did poorly had to wear a donkey mask! Or, can you imagine the students in your school having to go from door to door in the neighborhood to sing for their food? As Luther’s life unfolds, the young learner can see how the Lord leads Luther step by step. The author shows how Luther, through constant searching and studying of God’s word, learns that his salvation does not come from himself, or from the church, but that his salvation rests in God alone. It is with this sure knowledge and the confidence in his Savior that Luther confronts the Roman Catholic Church. His boldness to proclaim God’s Word leads him into many life-threatening situations but the Lord uses his efforts to spread His true word to many people around the world. Paul Maier is the professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University. His overview of the life of Martin Luther in this non-fiction children’s book remains true to the historical details of the time. He does not shy away from telling what was wrong with the Roman Catholic Church of the time and proclaims the message of salvation through grace alone as Luther himself did many years ago. Greg Copeland adds to the book’s appeal with beautiful illustrations that bring this story to life. There are very few books written about our church’s history that are geared to the young readers in our homes and schools. This book is ideal for a read-aloud at home or in the primary grades at school. Add it to your bookshelves as a research tool for your young students in both the primary and intermediate grades. It would be wonderful to be able to fill our children’s bookshelves with stories and resources like this little gem on Martin Luther!...

Adult biographies

The life of John Calvin: A Modern Translation of the Classic

by Theodore Beza 148 pages / 1997 This biography has two strengths. First, it is short. Because it was originally written as an introduction to Calvin’s last published work, his Commentary on Joshua, it weighs in at only 144 pages. That could also be considered a weakness – the small size means it doesn’t have the detail or scope of most other Calvin biographies – but the slim size makes it more inviting than its 400 or 500 page rivals. This is a biography that can be read in a few days, rather than a few weeks. Second, this is an eyewitness account. Theodore Beza was a friend and disciple of Calvin and wrote his account as a tribute. That too could be considered a weakness; Beza’s admiration of Calvin made him incapable of seeing, or at least incapable of recording, any of his mentor’s faults. But this same admiration made Beza the best chronicler of Calvin’s gifts, the God-given talents that made the man a giant of the Reformation. The Life of John Calvin is available in a number of different editions but, because the original is over 400 years old, some translations are dated and simply dreadful. Fortunately Evangelical Press books have done “a modern translation of the classic” that can be found without too much digging on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca....

Adult biographies

The Legacy of Sovereign Joy

by John Piper 160 pages / 2000 Meet the giants! In this slim volume, John Piper tells the tales of Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin with a very specific purpose. He aims to encourage modern-day believers by showing how God’s grace overcame each man’s flaws to provide the church with the gift of their work and example. Augustine was arguably the most influential church father after Paul. He was also a favorite of John Calvin, who quoted him 342 times in the Institutes. He spent the early years of his life enslaved to lust, living with a concubine, and drinking in the philosophical ideas of his day. His eyes were finally completely opened and God became his “sovereign joy.” Augustine spent much of his life and energy defending the centrality of God’s grace against the Pelagians, who taught that, “though grace may facilitate the achieving of righteousness, it is not necessary to that end.” His complete dependence on God is perhaps best summed up with his prayer: “Command what you wish, but give what you command.” Martin Luther’s story is generally well-known among Reformed folk, and is another striking example of the grace of God at work in history. Luther had an extremely high view of the Bible as the very words of God, and thus spent countless hours reading and wrestling with the Word. It was this relentless study that God used to open Luther’s eyes to the wonder of grace, which freed him from bondage to the works righteousness of the Roman Catholic church. This view of God’s Word also led Luther to warn against spending all one’s time reading commentaries and books and never going beyond this to the Word itself. Doing so makes us “like men who study the signposts and never travel the road.” John Calvin, another well-known Reformer, shared Luther’s view of God’s Word, and was awestruck at the majesty of God present in the pages of Scripture. B.B. Warfield once wrote that, “No man ever had a profounder sense of God than he.” Calvin had visions of spending his days quietly as a biblical scholar. However, God called him to pastoral ministry through the imprecations of William Farel and later Martin Bucer (contemporary Reformers). Calvin continued to dig through the gold mine of God’s Word, producing an astounding number of sermons, commentaries, and his well-known Institutes of the Christian Religion. This book is certainly not an exhaustive historical treatment of each of these men since it serves a more pastoral purpose of encouragement. Throughout the book Piper makes generous use of original quotations from these men, and, although some quotes are unnecessarily reused a number of times, they overflow with a love and zeal for God. In fact, they may stir the reader to reading the originals. Overall, an easy and encouraging read for anyone. To make it even more appealing, John Piper is giving the e-book version of it away free. You can download the pdf by going here.  ...