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January 4, 2017

Day by Day We Magnify You: Daily Readings for the Entire Year Selected from the Writings of Martin Luther

Review by Pr. Robert L. Lee

It’s the Luther Year! In 2017 we are commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and what better way to celebrate than to read something by Martin Luther. My church history students may remember that there are two towering personalities from the past whom we can really get to know through their writings; Augustine is the first, and Luther is the second.

I’ve chosen to observe the Luther Year by using again a daily devotional book entitled Day by Day We Magnify You: Daily Readings for the Entire Year Selected from the Writings of Martin Luther, compiled and translated by Margarete Steiner and Percy Scott (revised edition, edited by Marshall Johnson). The book follows the Church Year instead of the calendar year, so on January 1st one must begin with the New Year’s Day devotions (p.49) and return to the Advent and Christmas season ones next winter to complete the year.

Each page begins with a title and a Scripture reference and concludes with a brief prayer, plus the name and year of Luther’s writings from which the reading was taken. There are also Scriptural and topical indices at the end of the book, which makes it a helpful tool for further study. It is interesting to see that the books of the Bible most frequently quoted are Psalms, Matthew, Luke, John, and Romans.

Both the secular and religious worlds recognize the impact of the life of Martin Luther, but it is important to remember that the heart of the Reformation was not a man but the rediscovery of the Scriptural teaching of salvation by grace through faith. So it’s good for us to commence our celebration of the Luther Year, not by reading a biography, but by following a devotional pathway through selections from the insightful writings of the great reformer. Remember that they are all drawn from Holy Scripture, which will nourish and encourage us, just as it did for him . . . “the great and precious thing is the noble Word of God, proclaimed in the gospel, that offers us the grace of God in Christ” (p.252).

Pastor Robert L. Lee
AFLBS/TS Professor of Church History
Plymouth, MN

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January 11, 2017

Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career

Review by Dr. Timothy Skramstad

Biographies of Martin Luther are certainly not lacking. James Kittelson has provided a biography that "fills in the gaps," not only concerning aspects of Luther's life but also of his theology and the events surrounding his development as a reformer.

One of the confusing issues to many in our era is how Luther and others could read the same Bible verses that we so clearly see today, that show our salvation is not by any of our works but only because of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Luther read Romans 1:17 and Ephesians 2:8-9, but was blinded by the theology of the late Middle Ages. God was a demanding judge who expected people to become righteous or pure by their own efforts. Humans were indeed sinners, and they added to their sin by blaming God "for having established his laws in the first place."

While Jesus was righteous, He was also seen as merciful. It was up to man to change God from being a righteous judge to being merciful by acts of love, repentance, confession, and faith. Luther was a man who tried to do his best earning his way into heaven, but the more he struggled, the more his conscience tormented him. The Holy Spirit had to open up his mind and heart to discover the truth of the Bible.

This rich text helps us to understand Luther with the historical narrative of the events of his day. The competing ideologies of his day, including diverse teachings such as Erasmus and his humanistic approach and on the other side the scholastic teachers of classical Catholic theology with its heavy reliance upon Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, all had to be thoughtfully evaluated and eventually discarded.

Luther was a complex man. He is often described as crude, forceful, stubborn, unwilling to compromise, and anti-Semitic. Kittelson addresses several of these issues and neither excuses his behavior nor condemns him. Instead, he reflects upon a deep study of Luther's own words to understand him. On the issue of anti-Semitism, Luther is seen as first a man of his times who reflected the terrible hatred of the Jews by many of his day, but also how he rejected and attacked anyone who had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and still refused to believe.

This biography rewards the reader with the background needed to understand many of the reasons for the Reformation and about the man, Martin Luther, who is credited with the re-establishment of biblical Christianity.

Dr. Timothy Skramstad
Adjunct Professor, AFLTS
Plymouth, MN

NOTE: For this 2016 revised edition, editor Hans H. Wiersma has made an outstanding text even better. The research is updated, and the text is revised throughout, with images, bibliographies, and timelines to enhance the experience. It’s a great volume, greatly improved.

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January 18, 2017

Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World

Review by Solveig Hjermstad

When browsing recently at the Ambassador Publications store, I picked up and began reading Martin Luther, a Man Who Changed the World. Within moments I knew I had to purchase the book. The twenty-six page, large format book would be perfect to share with my grandchildren. Yes, the oldest is only two, but it is always good to be ahead of the curve. Besides that, if I only had one historical man who lived after Bible times to introduce my grandchildren to, it would be Martin Luther. He’s simply that significant.

The author, Paul L. Maier, grabbed my attention in the first two paragraphs of the book:

Our loving God helps His people turn from sin and error. In the Old Testament, He sent prophets to warn them. In the New Testament, He even sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to reform and save the world. And in the centuries since then, God sent others to keep the church pure.

The greatest of these was Martin Luther, an extraordinary man who started the Reformation just when the church needed it most.

I kept reading. The full-page, classical, richly-colored illustrations by Greg Copeland were as well-crafted as the concise, easy-to-read summary of Luther’s life that spanned from 1483 to 1546. The double-page spread showing Luther standing before the emperor, Charles V, came alive. I could almost hear Luther’s courageous answer: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen!”

I realized anew why Luther’s life was so momentous. The good news of the Gospel was once again setting people free. His translation of God’s Word in the language of the people increased the power of the reformation. His influence was so great that five hundred years later most scholars agree that Luther changed the course of Western history.

The thought that a simple book could capture my mind amused me. Maybe that’s what C. S. Lewis meant when he wrote, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally—and often far more—worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

Solveig Hjermstad
AFLC Board of Publications and Parish Education
Bagley, MN

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January 25, 2017

Luther Discovers the Gospel: New Light upon Luther's Way from Medieval Catholicism to Evangelical Faith

Review by Pr. Brett Boe

In a sleuth-like manner, Dr. Uuras Saarnivaara in Luther Discovers the Gospel seeks the solution to the question of when Martin Luther became a “Lutheran.” Saarnivaara, the first theology professor at the AFLC Seminary, offers the purpose of this book in the preface: “It tries to show what was Luther’s path to a living fellowship with God and to a participation in the grace through which he gained the joyful assurance that he was acceptable to God.” Saarnivaara puts together the puzzle pieces of details that give us a good indication of when exactly Luther discovered, or rediscovered, the Gospel. Key events in Luther’s life are aligned with his concurrent writings.

I had always assumed that there was only one “breakthrough” in Luther’s life: the “tower experience.” Yet Saarnivaara skillfully shows that Luther’s discovery of the Gospel happened in stages, with the final burst of light coming at that tower experience.

Up until that point, Luther had been steeped in the writings of St. Augustine and others during his time in the monastery. Augustine did not possess a fully-formed evangelical view of justification. There was just enough doubt in that theological system to drive Luther to despair. Johann von Staupitz, the leader of the monastery where Luther lived, was a key person in Luther’s life. He counseled Luther in his despair and indeed pointed him to Christ. This counsel from Staupitz moved Luther closer to fully discovering the Gospel.

In the “tower experience,” Luther had been studying Romans 1:17: “The righteous shall live by faith.” The light of the Gospel penetrated his heart so that he came to view justification as completely the work of Christ for him on his behalf. Saarnivaara claims that without this tower experience, Luther would have been merely a “reformist” and not a “reformer.” Others, namely Wycliffe, Huss, and Savonarola fit this description. By examining the writings of Luther at key moments in his life, one can see how this fully-formed view of justification began to shine through. Saarnivaara recommends that the Lutheran Church “own as its true spiritual possessions only those writings of Luther which date from the year 1519 or later.”

I heartily recommend this book as a great resource to reflect on how the Gospel was discovered by Luther. May the light of the Gospel penetrate our hearts!

Pr. Brett Boe
King of Glory Lutheran Church
Shakopee, MN

Order your copy here: Ambassador Publications Online Store