About the Book
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical Theology
Release Date: August 8, 2017
In 1517, an unknown Augustinian monk, informed by his growing belief that salvation is by faith alone, published and distributed a stark criticism of papal abuses in the Catholic Church. In doing so, Martin Luther lit the spark for what would become the Protestant Reformation. What became known as the “95 Theses” was a series of statements expressing concern with corruption within the church, primarily the selling of “indulgences” to the people as a means of releasing them from acts of penitence. For the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s revolutionary writing, This volume combines each thesis with an excerpt from one of his later works to provide a convenient way to understand the ideas and concepts that became the seeds of the Protestant Reformation.
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This book is an introduction to Luther's writings, specifically the theses that precipitated the Reformation. The format of the book is such that a thesis is given then a relevant quote from a later work of Luther follows. The added quotes are usually from works written about three years later. They add some additional insight to the concerns Luther had with the state of the church in 1517.
The format of the book was not as clear as it could have been. In the digital edition I read, the thesis was not set off in different type. I had to consult another source to make sure only the first paragraph in each section was the thesis. The quotes that follow each thesis are identified only by the title of the source document. No page numbers are given. This became problematic for me when I noticed the same paragraph appearing in two places. It begins, “Little children are saved only by faith...” (Loc 988/1827 and 1576/1827) The source is listed merely as “Table Talk.” The succeeding paragraphs differ so one or both quotes left something out. There was no way for me to check out the context of these passages or any of the other ones.
The works of Luther, in general, may be of limited impact for today's evangelical Christians. For example, thesis 29 deals with purgatory. In the associated quote, Luther wrote, “The existence of purgatory I have never denied. I still hold that it exists... I find in Scripture that Christ, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Job, David, Hezekiah, and some others tasted hell in this life. This I think was purgatory... I myself have come to the conclusion that there is a purgatory...” (Loc 625/1827) Some of the statements may be confusing to contemporary readers. Thesis 71, for example: “He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed.” (Loc 1321/1827) And then thesis 76: “We affirm … that papal pardons cannot take away even the least of venial sins, regardless of guilt.” (Loc 1411/1827)
Nonetheless, there are some insights from Luther that contemporary readers would do well to pay attention to. One is the sense of terror over sin that Christians should exhibit. Sorrow, contrition, penitence, mortification of the flesh – those are concepts we don't hear much from the evangelical pulpit. In thesis 40, “True contrition seeks and loves punishment...” (Loc 807/1827) How would that preach today?
Luther's sincere criticisms of the practices of his day are still relevant. Luther was dismayed that the clergy let sinning Christians off with a financial payment. True remorse was not required. Clergy and believers would do well to review Luther's 95 in light of their own spiritual practices.
I do recommend this book to those who want to know more of Luther and his influence on the church at that time. Potential readers must remember that the book contains Luther's works alone, without insightful contemporary commentary.
My rating: 3/5 stars.
About the Author
Martin Luther (1483–1546) was a German monk, priest, professor of theology, and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the sale of indulgences, the church’s practice of selling pieces of paper that guaranteed freedom from God’s punishment for sin. In 1517, Luther directly confronted this and other papal abuses by publishing his “95 Theses.” In 1534, Luther published a complete translation of the Bible into German.
Guest Post from Whitaker House Publishing
In 1517, a thriving new industry was sweeping northern Germany. Begun a few centuries earlier, its reappearance in the 16th century was perhaps the cleverest abuse of church power to date. Church officials strapped for cash decided to offer remission from the punishment for sins, or “indulgence,” to German believers in return for a commensurate amount of money. The slick church salesmanship of indulgences incensed one young priest, who believed that faithful Christians were being manipulated and the Word of God misinterpreted. He wrote a pamphlet comprised of 95 claims that he hoped would inspire scholarly debate. Titled Disputation of Dr. Martin Luther Concerning Penitence and Indulgences, it went down in history as “The 95 Theses.”
Most historians believe that Martin Luther did not intend to spark a public debate. It was written in Latin, the language of scholars, and pinned to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church which served as a “bulletin board” of sorts, where Luther knew fellow theologians would see it and perhaps engage in a discussion on the topic.
Luther’s pamphlet, however, was not another piece of paper flapping in the wind. Someone translated into German, and distributed it to the public with the help of a recent invention—the printing press. Luther tried to retrieve his work, but the damage was done. Within weeks, the debate that began in Wittenberg spread throughout Germany, and within months, all of Europe.
Five hundred years later, Whitaker House presents each of Luther’s 95 Theses paired with an excerpt from his many writings. Not every excerpt directly relates to the accompanying thesis, but we endeavored to select passages in which Luther was expounding on the same subject. Where further explanation was thought necessary to contextualize his words, a footnote is included. We hope you find 95: The Ideas That Changed the World an accessible and fascinating look into the ideas of this groundbreaking priest who stood up for God’s Word, the grace of the gospel—and made history.
Lane Hill House, November 24