Reviews - What do customers think about Luther: Biography of a Reformer?
A Great Introductory source for all Aug 13, 2006
For Lutherans and all others this provides some of the best history on Martin Luther, what he knew to be right and practiced. This is a very good book for anyone who has no knowledge of Luther's beginnings.
All will find this enlightening when you think of where we are today and the influence Martin had on the world before, during, and after the reformation. It's also an easy read.
Martin Luther goes to Hollywood Feb 20, 2006
The "Biography of Luther" is a product of Concordia Publishing House, the publisher of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The book is more of an inspirational novel than an objective historical account. Also, the book is not based on primary research documents, but is a summary of the movie staring Joseph Fiennes, so, be prepared for a somewhat overly dramatic version of an infallible paragon of righteousness. Glossy photos of Martin Luther as portrayed by Joseph Fiennes are provided throughout. Written simply in the manner of a children's encyclopedia, "Luther" is an enjoyable and quick read.
A Gracious Gospel Aug 28, 2005
Concisely written, Nohl gets to the point without many scholarly flourishes. This volume would make an excellent confirmation gift for Lutheran youth. Frederick Nohl's work is a reprinting of his original 1962 biography "Martin Luther: Hero of Faith" (Concordia Publishing House). The current version was meant to coincide with the 2003 release of the major motion picture "Luther" starring Joseph Fiennes, Alfred Molina and the late Sir Peter Ustinov. If you thirst for a more in-depth scholarly but still readable approach to this subject, try the classic "Here I Stand" by Roland H. Bainton. Nohl accurately depicts reformer Luther's "middle way" between the Roman Church traditionalists and the newly spawned radicals like Andreas Carlstadt and Thomas Mýntzer, advocates of complete political and theological revolution. Nor does Nohl soft-pedal Luther's frustration and awkward position during the Great Peasants' War in the Germany of 1524-25. Of greatest importance, however, is that Martin Luther rediscovered the "Gospel of grace", freeing the true Gospel message from its obscurity by centuries of layered fear and superstition, the bitter fruits of self-serving human traditions and the general biblical ignorance of the populace. Europe was slowly emerging from the Middle Ages and could ill afford to look back. The message of a gracious Gospel would in time be disseminated to all Christendom and provide a safe haven for the concept of "freedom of conscience". But the message isn't about Luther. He was both a self-acknowledged sinner and a saint (if only in the New Testament sense.) He would be taken aback by all the attention directed at him since the Reformation and be embarrassed that a major Protestant denomination had attached his name to themselves-quite against his wishes. He could not have imagined the extent of the social and political repercussions of his life. No, it isn't about Luther: It's about the Christ to whom Luther pointed; it's about the Jesus who said that God has given us what we don't deserve and will never earn by our efforts. If you think of Martin Luther without remembering this, you've missed the point.
Best "Entry Level" Biography of Luther Available Jun 12, 2005
It is a wonderful thing to know that there are so many excellent biographies of Luther available out there. This volume is the best "entry level" biography of Luther out there. This is the perfect volume for anyone who knows nothing, or only very little, about Martin Luther. It is well written, clear and gives you a great overview of Luther's life and work. Plus, it is very nicely printed, in hardback, with full color photos from the recent Luther movie. A tremendous bargain for only $10.50 or so.
Beautiful book but weak in content Dec 29, 2004
Frederick Nohl was a North American Lutheran who had degrees in education (B.S., Concordia, River Forest, IL) and history (M.A., Northwestern, Evanston, IL). In his working career, he was a teacher and principal for a couple of Lutheran elementary schools in Illinois. So his abilities converged that allowed him to write an easy-to-read biography, which he did so in 1962. Luther: Biography of a Reformer is a renamed version of Nohl's original book, Luther: Hero of Faith.
Luther: Biography of a Reformer covers the early life of Luther and that segment of the Reformation well, but dedicates only a few pages to the last decade of Luther's life. Nohl paints with broad brush-strokes and is sometimes inaccurate in his descriptions. For example, after chaos began to hold sway in Wittenberg's churchly life in 1522, Luther returned from Wartburg to help to restore order by preaching his Invocavit sermons. Luther's fellow professor Karlstadt had changed the way the Lord's Supper was received: the laity were told to receive both the body and the blood of Christ--if not, they would be sinning! Nohl writes that when Luther returned, "Those who wanted to receive both the bread and the wine could do so, while those who wanted only the bread were also taken care of" (pg. 133). However, Luther did not do that; he restored communion under one kind until the situation could be sorted out without troubling anyone's conscience. For Luther considered liturgical changes as a blessing only if they came as Gospel gifts and not as coercive mandates of the Law, as Karlstadt had made them.
On Luther's revision of the Mass, Nohl writes that Luther's German Mass became the official order of service for Saxon churches in 1526 (pg. 150). This is true, but incomplete. Today, we hail Luther as a champion of the laity and promoter of the vernacular in the Divine Service. But Luther is not so simple to be classified so quickly. Luther intended his highly simplified Deutsche Messe (German Mass) only for small village churches with few resources--not as a repudiation of his own earlier and more strictly liturgical work, the Formula Missae of 1523. Luther's intent was that the poorly educated of Saxony could worship using the Deutsche Messe liturgy, especially in country congregations. Today, we should note this well when many among us use services so lacking of any formal liturgy that some among us now consider the Deutsche Messe of 1526 to be "high church"!
And the few times Nohl uses his pen to explain Luther's theology, he comes up wanting. On the term "Lutheran," Nohl correctly writes that "Luther and many of those supported him did not want to be called Lutherans" (pg. 182). Then he writes, "They preferred to be known simply as Christians, or as evangelicals" (pg 182). Again, what Nohl contends is true, but incomplete, for Lutherans also preferred the term "Evangelical Catholic." For Luther, true reformation was marked by a recapturing of Christianity's evangelical, catholic, and orthodox past. Luther did not want his reforms to end up within a sect; he wanted them to stand within that "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) and testify to the living God in the "one holy, catholic, and apostolic church" of all time and space. The following quotation shows the philosophical view of the Lutheran reformers: "So we teach nothing . . . that is alien either to Scripture or to the church catholic. We have simply cleansed and brought into the light the most important statements in the Scriptures and the [Church] Fathers that had been obscured by the sophistic quarreling of recent theologians" (Kolb-Wengert, Apology of the Augsburg Confession: 1, I, 32)
When Nohl writes about Luther's understanding of the Gospel, he records, "Because of his faith in Christ, the believer is a `free lord, subject to no one'" (pg. 83). Luther understood that St. Paul never said that one is saved because of faith but through or by faith--the cause is always God's grace, Christ's work. Faith is God's gift to the believer and through God-given faith, the believer simply believes. To be correct, Nohl should have written, "By faith in Christ, the believer is a `free lord, subject to no one.'"
Concerning Luther's "Gospel discovery," Nohl describes it in this way: "I see the answer! God punished Jesus in my place, the same Jesus who had kept God's holy Law. By punishing His Son, God carried out His threat that sin will be punished by death. All I have to do is . . ." (pg. 47). Nohl's error to direct the reader inward is appalling because it misapprehends Luther's understanding of justification. Nohl's improper explanation directs a person to look to his own works, decision, or belief instead of Christ alone for salvation. It also robs a person of salvation's certainty because it directs him to his own efforts instead of Christ's. When Nohl explains Luther's Gospel discovery, he unwittingly puts the reader back under the Law. From that, Christ has set us free; the Gospel has no "ifs" or "strings" attached. I can hear Luther now cursing anathemas on Nohl's misunderstanding of the Gospel.
On the purely positive side, of all the chapters in the book, I found Chapter 10, "The Family Man," to be jewel to seek out. It that chapter, Nohl gives a glimpse of the man Luther, and his relationship with his wife and children. Nohl's retelling of Luther losing two of his daughters to death shows forth Luther's humanity for all to see, as well as his confidence in Christ in such a true, personal way. Especially touching was a letter Luther had written to his son, Hans (pgs. 170-173).
In his book, Luther: Biography of a Reformer, Nohl has written an engaging and quick read. However, Nohl takes some license when he "connects the dots" of Luther's life, taking some liberties and distorting what may have really happened. In addition, parts of his book are more of a hagiography than a biography. Finally, Nohl's casual explanations of Luther's theology makes Luther seem more like an American Protestant than a German reformer. Despite the parts of the book I enjoyed, and its very beautiful format, I do not recommend Nohl's biography.