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Resilient Reformer

Resilient Reformer: The Life and Thought of Martin Luther

Timothy F. Lull
Derek R. Nelson
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    Resilient Reformer
    Book Description:

    Some would argue that there is no need for yet another biography of Martin Luther. The story has been told many times, and very well at that! And yet, interest in Luther's life and thought remains high, and each generation brings its own set of questions to the task.

    This biography, begun by Timothy F. Lull prior to his death and capably finished by Derek R. Nelson, is marked for its fresh, winsome, and invigorating style-one undoubtedly shaped by the years that each author spent in undergraduate and seminary classrooms. In this telling, Luther is an energetic, resilient actor, driven by very human strengths and failings, always wishing to do right by his understanding of God and the witness of the Scriptures. Luther is portrayed here more as a loud tenor in a Reformation chorale than as a solo voice of dissent against church and empire, as he and his work are closely linked with his many collaborators. At times humorous, always realistic, and appropriately critical when necessary, Lull and Nelson tell the story of an amazing, unforgettable life, one that impacted our world in countless ways.

    eISBN: 978-1-5064-0025-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Derek R. Nelson
  4. Prologue: Here I Sit The Crisis of Summer 1545
    (pp. xix-xxx)

    In the summer of 1545 Martin Luther was sixty-one years old and well-known throughout Europe. He was one of the five most famous people alive, three of the others being kings (Charles V of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England) and one a pope (Paul III). This was quite an achievement for a man whose grandfather had been a peasant and whose father had started out in life as a copper miner.

    Luther was also a survivor. He had been living now for twenty-five years as a monk excommunicated by the Roman...

  5. 1 A Family’s Hopes 1483–1505
    (pp. 1-18)

    Once upon a time, there was an older son of a farmer from west of the Thuringian Forest. He had grown up in the village of Mohra, where there were about sixty families. Though the family lived simply, they were the second most prominent group in this town. This son, Johannes Luder, or Hans Luther as he came to be called, married Margarete Lindemann, a daughter of the even more prominent family. Her people originally came from the nearby town of Eisenach. But Hans and Margarete settled neither in Mohra nor in Eisenach, but went east to the region of...

  6. 2 From Brother Martin to Doctor Luther 1505–1517
    (pp. 19-40)

    The Luther family celebration of Martin’s achievements did not last long. The master’s degree was awarded in January 1505. By the middle of May, he had begun his next level of study at the faculty of law. But six weeks later, Luther went through a crisis that changed his vocational direction from law to the church, much to the anger and deep disappointment of his family—especially his father.

    There may have been warning signs along the way. For the rest of his life, Luther had more than the usual amount of invective against lawyers. He may have heard enough...

  7. 3 Critic of the Church 1517–1519
    (pp. 41-72)

    In the years when Luther was becoming a monk and a professor, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469–1536) was the most famous scholar in Europe. This was surprising both because his background was not particularly distinguished and also because he had only temporarily held university positions.¹ Although he had not achieved prominence in any of the usual ways, Erasmus was an amazingly successful independent scholar, one who used his imagination and church connections to do the work he felt called to do.

    That work was mostly of a serious scholarly nature—editing a new critical edition of the Greek New...

  8. 4 Theologian for the Church 1519–1520
    (pp. 73-106)

    One’s realization that death might well be imminent can be energizing or paralyzing. By the end of 1518, Luther understood the depth of his trouble with Rome and the strong possibility that he would have to flee or be taken prisoner. In Luther’s case, the situation made him deeply aware of how much he still had to say. He plunged into the most amazing explosion of important theological writings in a two-year period that had ever been seen in Christendom. And when he was forced to admit his growing doubts about the papacy at the Leipzig Debate in the summer...

  9. 5 The Trial of Martin Luther 1520–1521
    (pp. 107-138)

    The excommunication of Martin Luther by the pope and Luther’s appearance before Emperor Charles at the Diet of Worms are among the best-known parts of Luther’s story. Yet events unfolded in such a way that no one could have predicted the outcome (which was not evident for many years), and scarcely anyone knew what would happen next at any point. Luther’s own mood swung from exhilaration to calm trust in God to sheer fear and back again. Yet he continued to write and preach, even though he was now not just a widely read author but at the center of...

  10. 6 Luther the Prisoner 1521–1522
    (pp. 139-174)

    For the second time in his life, Luther had escaped from a situation of extreme personal danger. There had been an active debate among Charles’s advisors at Worms whether to ignore the safe-conduct and either put Luther to death or send him to Rome as a prisoner. But the emperor was also aware of the delicate situation both with the German nobility and the general public and decided that he could deal with Luther at a more opportune time.

    In a letter to Spalatin at the Electoral Court, Luther describes the situation of his capture:

    After a short while, close...

  11. 7 The Reformation in Wittenberg 1522–1524
    (pp. 175-220)

    The surge of energy that helped Luther get through ten months in the Wartburg Castle lasted through the first years of his return to Wittenberg. His return while under papal excommunication and the imperial ban was an act of great courage, but something that he also seems to have felt driven to do. He was rightly aware of the possibility of death throughout this period, as is evident in the first sermons that he preached on his return. Yet his health was basically very good for these next three years, and he seemed to thrive on sorting through the crises...

  12. 8 Becoming Martin Luther The Decisive Year 1525
    (pp. 221-262)

    Luther had been carried through the first years of the decade by repeated surges of energy. One came after Worms, when he survived what was probably the most dangerous situation he ever experienced. Though unhappy and lonely during his ten months of captivity in the Wartburg Castle, he knew that his work was unfinished and found meaning in writing, especially in his Advent and Christmas Postils and in his translation of the New Testament into German. The crisis in Wittenberg provided the occasion for his return to public life in the relatively safe setting of Electoral Saxony. The years of...

  13. 9 The Birth of Lutheranism 1526–1531
    (pp. 263-302)

    That the Luther story continues very far past 1522 at all depends on facts and events that are as much political as they are theological. Luther was able to continue work as a theologian and professor of Bible almost entirely because he had the protection of a powerful house in Electoral Saxony and its skillful and accurately named leader Frederick the Wise. Therefore, when Frederick died in 1525, Luther had reason to be nervous.

    Luther’s punching match with Erasmus could be conducted from the privacy of their respective studies. Meanwhile, very public tempers raged, involving not the interpretation of Bible...

  14. 10 Being Martin Luther 1532–1539
    (pp. 303-332)

    Luther and John of Saxony returned to Wittenberg, uneasy about the political fortunes of this movement spun out of control. Shortly thereafter, Halley’s Comet streaked across the sky. Every side in the Reformation dispute took it as a sign of disastrous things to come for their opponents. Not surprisingly, each side was wrong, as the real story was much more subtle.

    Almost any army with the prospect of facing mighty Charles V would be an underdog. This is even true of the expansive Schmalkaldic League, which was the evangelical princes’ answer to the recess (declaration of decisions) imposed by the...

  15. 11 Darkness with Shafts of Light 1540–1545
    (pp. 333-366)

    Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something some time in your life.” By that measure, Luther must have stood up for many things. By 1540, Luther found himself hated (and beloved by others) even more intensely than in his polarizing younger years. He did not find this surprising, and in fact he almost welcomed it. There are complex reasons for this. First, Luther thought of himself as locked in a struggle between good and evil in the world. He thought the devil operated in daily life by persecuting the...

  16. 12 Death and Vindication 1545–1555
    (pp. 367-386)

    At least that is what some people thought. A short pamphlet from which this quotation is drawn reached Philip of Hesse’s hands in March 1545, a yearbeforeLuther’s death. He thought it was humorous, so he had it translated and sent to Luther. Luther had the farce published along with a note from his hand indicating that he was very interested to learn of his death and these strange circumstances. We glimpse here Luther’s knack for using the press to his advantage; the Italian who wrote the pamphlet wanted to shock the common folk into hating Luther, but Luther’s...

  17. The Forty-Six Players in the Lutheran Reformation A Brief Guide
    (pp. 387-394)
  18. Index of Names
    (pp. 395-400)
  19. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 401-406)
  20. Index of Martin Luther’s Published Writings
    (pp. 407-411)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 412-412)