Monday, November 30, 2009
Review: Luther's Works, Volume 69
I recently finished reading the latest volume of Luther's Works:
Luther's Works Volume 69, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Chapters 17-20 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House,2009).
For those interested in Reformation studies, this book won't reveal anything previously unknown about Luther. On the other hand, for those of you that only know the polemical Luther at war with the Papacy, this volume will introduce you to Luther the preacher. Indeed, one will find references to Luther's battles, but more often this volume demonstrates the heart of a caring pastor who sought to comfort his hearers with the Gospel, as well as exhort them to live each day to the glory of God. Luther gives touching expositions of Christ's prayer for his disciples in John 17. For those people who feed off sparse uplifting daily devotionals, put them away and feed on these deep expositions that Luther preached to a struggling group of believers in turbulent times.
Luther's expositions of the Crucifixion and resurrection of Christ prove exactly what scholar Robert Kolb has said in summarizing Luther's theology: when you say Jesus, you've said it all. Luther doesn't dabble in speculative and philosophical approaches to the text. He takes every ounce of Scripture and points it to Jesus Christ. Each point of the passion narrative isn't a mere historical fact. Each fact has something to do with salvation and the Gospel.
Luther's expositions on John 20:19-31 comprise the final section of the text. The editors put together a series of sermons spanning Luther's entire career on these verses. One can follow the same basic themes through Luther's career as he progressed. While Luther is often charged with contradiction based on his developing theology, one will see that Luther's exposition remained quite consistent on this text. In one sermon, the editors place Luther's sermon notes on one side of the page, and the actual sermon on the other. This shows how closely (or not) Luther followed his own notes while preaching.
There are many other interesting themes throughout the book. What's interesting is that since this book is comprised of sermons, one is not wearied by detailed scholastic theology intended for scholars in ivory towers. Rather, one is given simple expositions of difficult problems the sixteenth century church faced: What is a true church? Is Rome a true church? What about the Anabaptists? Is their preaching valid? Should Christians still confess their sins to another person? If so, who is qualified? What is an authentic call to preach? Who determines it?
Overall, the English translation is quite smooth. The text is devoid of cumbersome or archaic words intended only to be understood by scholars. This volume is thoroughly readable, even for those new to the Christian faith. On the other hand, the text is thoroughly footnoted. Each page has enough footnotes demonstrating the deep care that went in to putting this volume together. Anyone seeking to go deeper in Luther studies has more than enough to keep them busy for a long time. I also appreciated how each page gives the reference back to the Weimar text. The historical introductions are not overwhelming as those in many critical volumes. Often, one will pick up a critical text, and the introduction spans so many pages that one is wearied before getting to the actual text. The editors have done an outstanding job of not overburdening the reader with extensive introductions.
The book can purchased directly from Concordia Publishing House.