A very short introduction
A very short introduction
By Scott H. Hendrix
Oxford University Press. 126 pages. £7.95
This is a good introduction to the person and work of Brother Martin, keeping a balance between a historical narrative and theological exposition, and expressing the desire to understand Martin Luther in terms of his own setting.
Thank God for Martin Luther, and for the conditions on mainland Europe that made it possible for his Protest to take hold, and not (like the protests of Waldo, and Wyclif and Hus before him) to be largely snuffed out by the powers that be.
But how about this? ‘Know therefore that marriage is an outward, bodily thing, like any other worldly undertaking. Just as I may eat, drink, sleep, walk with, buy from, speak to and deal with a heathen, Jew, Turk, or heretic, so I may marry and continue in wedlock with any one. Pay no attention to those fools who forbid it.’ A rather unexpected (for me) application of Luther’s ‘two kingdoms’ doctrine.
And this? ‘Doctrine and conduct must be distinguished. Conduct is bad among us as it is among the papists, but we don’t fight about conduct or condemn the papists on that account. Wyclif and Hus did not know this and attacked the papacy for its behaviour…. [Attacking doctrine is my calling]’.
What this suggests is that despite the link we make between Luther and Calvin, Brother Martin seems to occupy a rather more remote world even than JC. Is this because Protestantism in the UK is (as the author notes) Calvin-influenced, and not Luther- influenced? Might such statements as those quoted make plausible Calvin’s (and others’) concern with the antinomian consequences of justification by faith alone, at least when expressed in Luther’s extreme language? It could never be fair to accuse Martin of moralism.
After a sceneŠsetting chapter, there are three on the events of the Reformation, including its political aspect. Luther’s Bible receives one, as also does the nature of Reformation religion, and Luther the family man. The last chapter is on angels and demons (another topic that reminds us of the distance we are from Luther.)
The author, Scott Hendrix, retired from Princeton Seminary, is a Luther expert. The book is full of accurate information and sensible opinion. It is pleasantly written. The danger with experts is that, through familiarity with their topic and a certain world-weariness, they talk down their subject. They may even lose the plot, mistaking the wood for the trees by a sort of self-induced myopia. I wondered about this when I read the last words of the book.
‘The best parts of Luther’s legacy may be his eschewal of fundamentalism and his insistence that religion is not a way to appease the gods and gain their favour — but a constant reminder to place the world and its needs above selfish desires’. I thought: ‘Is that it? Where’s the beef?’
The book is nicely produced and contains a number of black and white illustrations, a bibliography, references for further reading, a glossary, a set of short biographical sketches, a good index, and no footnotes. The typeface is clear, but minuscule. Very short introductions use very small type. Have your magnifying glass handy.