Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Review of Books on the Reformation


OCT 17 WILL BE THE FIVE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY of the Protestant Reformation. Here are some books for fun Summer reading. There are too many to settle for one. 

Brand Luther, by Andrew Pettegree was a delightful read. In 1517, at the age of 34, Luther began publishing. Although Gutenberg’s printing press was sixty years old at this time, no one had figured out how to make money with it. Most printers were going bankrupt. 

Along came Martin Luther. The subtitle says it all. How an unheralded monk turned his small town into a center of publishing, made himself the most famous man in Europe—and started the Protestant Reformation.  Pettegree concludes that Luther was a communications genius. What was his secret? He broke the rules by printing in German. 

Before Luther all publishing was in Latin, the language of scholarship. Because the common man didn’t read or speak Latin, books sold poorly, and publishers didn't make money. Luther did something different. He bypassed the academic world, and wrote for the common man. He published in German, and within 24 months he was the most widely read author in Europe. Luther was history’s first best-selling author.

The sheer volume of his writings astonishes the modern reader. Today, his published works fill 80 volumes, and this he accomplished, not with a word processor, but with quill and ink. Brand Luther is informative, and motivational. I highly recommend.

For a good biography of Luther's life  I recommend Here I Stand by Yale Reformation scholar, Roland Bainton. Published over fifty years ago, this classic has sold in the millions. For anyone wanting to understand Luther and the Reformation Bainton is the place to start. Written in an engaging, easy to read style, this book is highly accessible by the non-academic.

To understand the century in which Luther lived, read A World Lit Only By Fire by esteemed historian, William. The subtitle is The Medieval mind and the Renaissance, a Portrait of an Age. Manchester is a world class story teller writing about daily life in the time of Luther and the Reformation. People lived, acted, and thought very differently, and until this is taken into account, it is difficult to understand the Reformers. It was an age of witches, knights, the Spanish Inquisition, Magellan, the divine right of kings, sexual immorality, burning at the stake, drawing and quartering, the Black Plague, dreadful ignorance, and short, brutish lives. Because Manchester details the cruelty and immorality of the era, I only recommend this book for adults. 

Last, skipping to the 18th century, everyone should read Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas, the story of William Wilberforce. Converted in his early 20s, Wilberforce, who was only five feet tall, served as a member of Parliament for over forty years. Despite his diminutive size, he possessed a very large gift of oratory. According to one observer, as he began speaking I thought, “what a shrimp,” but by the time he finished I realized I "this man is a whale."

Wilberforce joined the “Clapham Fellowship” a band of Christian brothers and sisters devoted to ending the British slave trade and reforming the moral temper of the British people. He persevered until the job was done, and it took fifty years. You will learn about the horrors of the slave trade, John Newton, Wilberforce’ mentor, life in 18th century England, and what a man who perseveres, despite numerous obstacles, can accomplish. 

Amazing Grace will also encourage those working to end abortion in the Western World, which also requires Wilberforce's steely-perseverance and long term perspective. 




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