Tuesday, October 25, 2011

LHP Review: Luther




Luther, Martin. Edited and translated by Holger Sonntag. Solus Decalogus Est Aeternus: Martin Luther's Complete Antinomian Theses and Disputations. Minneapolis: Cygnus Series/Lutheran Press, 2008. 409 Pages. Paper. $15.50. www.lutheranpress.com (LHP)


Luther, Martin. Translated by Holger Sonntag. Edited and Arranged by Paul Strawn. Christians Can Be Soldiers: From Martin Luther's Whether Soldiers Too Can Be in a Holy Estate. Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2010. 123 Pages. Paper. $6.00.  www.lutheranpress.com (LHP)


Luther, Martin. Translated by Holger Sonntag. Adapted by Paul Strawn. Convicted by the Spirit: From Martin Luther's Postil 235 - John 16:8-13). Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2009. 105 Pages. Paper. $.6.00. www.lutheranpress.com (LHP)


Luther, Martin. Edited by Christopher Boyd Brown. Sermons V (Luther's Works, Volume 58.) St. Louis: Concordia, 2010. 489 Pages. Cloth. $49.99. http://www.cph.org (LHP)



I've said it once and I'll say it again: Christians need to read more Luther. And not just in time for Reformation Day. Sit down with him at least once a week. And graduate from the one Table Talk Volume. Read his exegetical and theological works. And then, challenge yourself.



Pick up Solus Decalogus Est Aeternus. 



The title is intimidating because it is in Latin. 


And because Luther uses formal logic and great rhetoric inside. 

If you don't know Latin, buy the English-only edition.


I appreciated this volume for two main reasons.


  1. It is a perfect piece of homework for the Headmaster of a Classical Lutheran school. For the last two years, I've taught an Introductory Logic class for middle school children (beyond the offerings of our K-5 grammar school) and their parents, grandparents, as well as our grammar school teachers. We also include Latin in the curriculum and are preparing to teach Intermediate Logic, Aristotle, Rhetoric, Apologetics, and Worldview. Luther is perfect reading for this kind of background and to prepare to teach and lead this kind of classical education.
  2. I love the content. This is a translation of all of Luther's antinomian theses, not just the ones formally presented in public disputation. (See below)

This is not a critical edition, but it is a bilingual Latin-English edition. This edition's title, "Only the Decalogue Is Eternal," comes from page 128, the 34th argument of the first disputation (7).

Why the Antinomian disputations? Why now? Whether it is the disappearance of the last generation of native-German speaking Americans, a residual post-World War II anti-German bias, or simply neglect, the theology of Luther that made its way out of the 16th century seems to have devolved, at least in the United States, into simple caricature. If known at all, Lutheran theology seems simply to be that which bolsters or buttresses contemporary theological concepts, ideas and trends...By bringing an unknown work of Luther to light, once again the reader is forced to consider the greater question of his theology in toto.

This 416 page side-by-side Latin/English work presents Luther's Antinomian Theses and Disputations for the very first time in English, and is a must-have for anyone interested in Lutheran theology. (Publisher's website)

Many today are unfamiliar with the logic-heavy and theologically demanding exercise of disputations as a way to do theology. How does one deal with false/ambiguous/unclear teachings in the church? This is one way. Motive and method are important (205, 277). Luther himself took on Agricola's teachings on the law of God. He did it in several rounds. Agricola recanted, and Luther accepted this recantation, suspicions remained (15).


The experience of reading all the theses and disputations in one volume is a very positive one. It has aided my preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and understanding of Walther's Law and Gospel.


I look forward to more in this elegant, substantial, and unique Cygnus Series (Latin for swan) imprint of Lutheran Press in addition to their two volume biography of Matthias Flacius and new offerings in their popular Luther series.




Christians Can Be Soldiers is one of two examples of Lutheran Press' popular series of the works of Luther.

It generally is not difficult to understand how a Christian can serve in the military compulsorily during a conflict in which life, family, property and even a nation itself is at stake; when right and wrong are easy to determine, when an enemy combatant is easily identifiable and a desired outcome clearly desirable and achievable. In such a situation the specific acts of individual soldiers, although troubling, and in any other context, unacceptable, are accepted and indeed, understood as necessary. But what about when the greater contours of war are not as clear? When military service is not compulsory, but voluntary? When combatants are difficult to identify? When the validity of individual acts of soldiers is routinely questioned by those outside of the military? Can a Christian serve in such a situation? Martin Luther answers this question with a sure and confident "Yes!" How? By explaining what a soldier actually is in the eyes of God and what therefore a soldier is to do. Luther even includes a prayer written specifically for soldiers before they enter combat.

Formatted into 15 simple chapters along with study questions, this 128 page book is perfect for personal devotion or Bible study. (Publisher's website)

And that's how I've personally used this volume. It was good reading to prepare to give pastoral care to returning veterans and retired military. It was a supplemental volume to a 2011 midweek Bible Class on Islam through Christian eyes. And it is as relevant as when it was first published. 


Sonntag's translation gives Luther an appropriately conversational and earthy tone. Editor Paul Strawn's study questions are properly insightful and Socratic in that they allow the reader/class to make the mental connections and the joyful discovery of what Luther says from God's own Word about war and those who have the vocation for it.



Convicted by the Spirit is a second volume in series of popular versions of Luther's Works. 


A commentary on John 16:8-13, readers will learn:

  • The sin of the world is that it does not believe in Christ (32).
  • Once you have this [Christ's] righteousness, then go ahead and do as many good works as you can (63).
  • The world's prince and his followers are in condemnation already (76)


In today's massive field of popular Christian literature it is common to find books about the End Times, about the Holy Spirit, and about Christ. Yet rarely are books found that deal with all three subjects at one time. As Martin Luther demonstrates in this work, all three topics do indeed belong together. In these End Times, the Christian remains in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit. But what is that working? Is it in various types of manifestations which are interpreted to be fundamental faith-growing and faith-nurturing events? Is it in giving insight to individual Christians directly so that those around them can benefit from knowledge not to be found in the Bible? Is it in the creation of a specific emotion which is understood to be faith itself? By treating passages from John 16, Jesus' last words to his disciples before his crucifixion, Luther demonstrates that the work of the Holy Spirit is much more all-encompassing in the life of the Christian. Specifically, the work of the Spirit is to convict the Christian of his sin, his righteousness in Christ, and the judgment of Satan. Far from being simplistic ideas of salvation history, however, Luther demonstrates that the continual conviction of the veracity of all three is fundamental to the life of the Christian in the here and now.

Formatted into 16 simple chapters along with study questions, this 112 page book is perfect for personal devotion or Bible study. (Publishers website)

Accessible for the modern reader, Strawn and Sonntag have developed a translating, editing, and formatting process that works (105). And I want more for the sake of the Gospel!


Electronic versions are available on the Lutheran Press website. Personally, I prefer the neat paperbacks to purchase and give away.


I've taken to reading Luther more closely in Lent. The new volume of sermons (Sermons V) in the Twenty-first Century expansion of the American Edition of Luther's Works was ideal Lenten reading for me.


This volume contains a selection of Luther's preaching from between January 1539 and his death in 1546. Aware of his own mortality and deeply committed to the proclamation of the Gospel in the last days of the world, Luther preached during these years with a special sense of urgency, seeking to make a final confession and testament of his teaching and to issue a public rejection of its opponents. In that effort, he returned frequently to theological themes from the early years of his public career and to autobiographical reflection, working to convey the significance of the Reformation to a new generation ignorant of the circumstances that had called for reform, who had experienced "nothing of these distresses and heartbreak under the pope and what a joyful thing the Gospel is."

The recent expansion of the Reformation to previously hostile territories and cities provided Luther, despite his health, with opportunities to travel and to preach to newly Evangelical communities, expounding the basic elements of his theology. In these sermons, Luther emphasized catechesis in the heart of the Gospel as he understood it, but he was also concerned with warning against a return to old abuses and with encouraging the new organization and support of Evangelical clergy and schools to ensure the survival of the Reformation.

In his ongoing preaching in Wittenberg itself, Luther was intensely concerned with the life and welfare of the congregation with whose life he had been most intimately involved. In addition to preaching on the broader theological conflicts with which he dealt in his published treatises, Luther dealt with local tensions—which culminated in his own brief, self-imposed "exile" from Wittenberg in the summer of 1545. He defended his own role within and responsibility for the Wittenberg church and dealt concretely with the Antinomians' rejection of the Law for Christians by assiduously preaching both the Law and the Gospel to the congregation. When, as it often did, the life of the Wittenbergers seemed to fall short in both good works and faithful devotion, Luther could be uncompromising and unrestrained in his admonitions, whether in denouncing the university jurists who sought to reimpose the standards of papal canon law or in rebuking the Wittenbergers for immorality and, especially, for their greed.

Nevertheless, even Luther's most bitter complaints about Evangelical congregations do not suggest that the old reformer had fallen into despair. His admonitions to faithful hearing of the Word and amendment of life appear alongside his confident declarations that, in fact, the Gospel was being faithfully taught. Luther boasted that the Gospel was being preached and proclaimed, not only in the churches by faithful pastors, not only in the schools, but also in homes, among parents and children, as he says in his last sermon: "You hear [God's Word] at home in your house, father and mother and children sing and speak of it, the preacher speaks of it in the parish church." The Gospel is thus communicated from one generation to the next, from parents to children—and also back again, from children to parents. It is to the children, learning the Catechism, that Luther refers adults who have questions about Christian faith, and upon the youth, "the seedlings with which the Church of God, like a beautiful garden, is cultivated and propagated," that the reformer continues to place undiminished hopes. These sermons thus bear witness to Luther's understanding that the Reformation is neither an accomplished, once-for-all event nor a step along the progressive way to the full purification of the Church, but a continual struggle, carried out through the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, to be renewed from generation to generation until the Last Day. (Publisher's website)

Volume 58 is an ideal supplement to the four widely-available volumes of Luther's Church Postils translated/edited by John Nicholas Lenker.

One will hear echoes of Luther's Catechisms in these sermons (xviii). He comments on theological current events like his ongoing disputations with antinomians (16) and criticism of such preachers (234) or the discussion of "the analogy of faith" (215). And the editors walk the modern reader through Luther's views of the Jews (407, 458), largely a result of frustration of a continued rejection of the Gospel. His sermon of February 2, 1546 on Luke 2:22-32 touches on Jesus' Jewish heritage, the virginity of Mary (433), and a warning against Christian pride over and against the Jews (440). I hear repentance for Luther's previous harshness, but the very fact that Luther calls for conversion of Jews to Christianity will be seen by modern Judaism as antisemitic anyway.


  • extols marriage (27)
  • condemns clandestine engagements (82)
  • tells of his father's words to him on becoming a monk (86) and true godly vocations (201)
  • finally tells us who Hans Pfriem is (100)
  • holds communicants to the Words of Christ (110, 448) and the sacraments (116)
  • speaks of Islamic militarism (139, 298) and Mohammed's theological confusion (193)
  • teaches logic in Latin (149)
  • frankly describes sin (156)
  • talks of a Roman Church, not Roman Catholic (218)
  • preaches at a site of Tetzel's preaching of indulgences for its rededication (259)
  • rejects human/demon hybrids (292ff)
  • recalls his trip to Rome (333, 372)
  • modified the lectionary for local use (387)
  • clarifies childbirth and "the churching of women" (431)
  • condemns schisms and false doctrine (457)

Luther advocates for the more frequent singing of "Blessed Be the Lord," the Benedictus, a canticle for Matins/Morning Prayer (302).  Our school sings the Benedictus at Wednesday Morning Prayer each week and in Advent and Lent when we pray Matins on Mondays.

Educators will be encouraged to hear:

Nothing whatsoever will help us except to pay serious attention to God's Word with all diligence to help preserve it for ourselves and for our descendants, especially by maintaining good schools and educating the youth, for they are the seedlings with which the Church of God, like a beautiful garden, is cultivated and propagated (262 and 279, as also quoted above).

Look for this and other volumes of Luther's Works for LOGOS and other electronic formats as well.

Lutheran Christians know that reading Luther is good for them for he preaches the Word and points us to Christ. These five volumes will edify you and those whom you serve. I pray that this review will encourage you in why they are good so that Luther may be a continued blessing to the Lord's Church.




The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

View article...