This is part two of my review of Luther: The Rest of the Story By Ken Hensley (2003). In three audio lectures, Mr. Hensley explains Luther from his particular Roman Catholic perspective. In this installment, I'll be looking at points from Ken's first lecture of his three part series. Part one of my review can be found here.
In this installment, I'm simply going to lay out Mr. Hensley's position on the biography of Luther. What caused Luther to rebel against the Roman Catholic Church? What caused Luther to see God the way he did? Mr. Hensley answers these questions in his first lecture. Throughout this critique, I've included brief mp3 audio snippets from Ken's lecture designated as "(mp3 clip)". Each clip runs around one to four minutes.
Telling the Rest of the Story?
Ken Hensley begins his treatment exactly where Heiko Oberman's Luther: Man Between God and the Devil did, Luther's death. He relates how upon hearing the news of Luther's death, it was viewed by Luther's supporters as if "The charioteer of Israel has fallen" (2 Kings 2:12). This is the first glimpse of Hensley's position. He's going to debunk the myth of Luther as the great hero by telling "the rest of the story." The "rest" is the part that Protestants never hear, and that Lutheran school children are never told. He's going to dissect the Luther story that has grown to legendary proportions (mp3 clip) (mp3 clip).
Hensley though doesn't initially seek the invective level of a Cochlaeus, Denifle, or Sippo. He notes that Luther had valuable things to say, and was correct in pointing out the abuses plaguing the Roman church. Hensley admits the church needed reform (mp3 clip).While I can appreciate these concessions, by the end of the second lecture Luther is painted as such a theological villain with an antinomian theology that whatever positive things were stated earlier become meaningless.
Throughout his first lecture Hensley quotes Oberman and also Roland Bainton's Here I Stand extensively. This is Hensley's attempt to tell Luther's story from a respected Protestant perspective. To point out "the rest of the story" in this first lecture amounts to a critique of the historical conclusions of these Protestant authors. Hensley reads their conclusions and points out either a different interpretation of the facts, a nuanced interpretation of their conclusions, or flat out rejects what these authors say as Protestant bias. In some instances he'll concede their points, but downplays their conclusions with facts that are alleged to trump Protestant historical interpretation.
Where Bainton and Oberman argue Luther reacted to a corrupt church with a faulty theology saddled with anti-Biblical baggage, Hensley will argue the emphasis of Luther should be placed on him as a man struggling with psychological factors of depression and a difficult relationship with parents he could never please. The doctrines Luther created were based on curing aspects of his psyche. Luther's goal was not really church reform or an accurate critique of Roman Catholic theology by comparing it to the authority of the Bible. Luther's depressions and familial relationships caused him to create a God which was neither the God of the Bible or that taught by the Roman church (Mp3 clip). To relate to this false conception of God, Luther invented sola fide. By the end of lecture one, the "Luther" explained by Hensley is to be pitied. Hensley views the image he's created as sympathetic. Who would not pity a sensitive child continually beaten by adults?
Hensley's approach is known as pyschohistory. This approach holds history can be understood by applying the science of psychoanalysis to a historical figure. History is more than simply “facts”- it is also the result of psychological forces that drive people to do what they do. The Reformation therefore was not God's Spirit working in the Church, it was the result of a man with deep psychological problems who was in the right place at the right time to cause a controversy which divided the church.
Luther's Abusive Parents: Hensley's Psycho-historical Argument
Hensley says that Luther's family situation is that which caused his heresy and revolt. His parents were stern and abusive, and this impacted the fragile sensitive psyche of young Martin. He provides evidence that Luther was beaten by both parents, as well as as by those in charge at school. This harsh treatment, particularly by his father, caused Luther to view God as a severe judge who could not be pleased. Luther had a fear of his father, and a fear of being unable to please his father. Hensley claims it was the severe treatment inflicted on Luther by his parents that sent him into the monastery (mp3 clip). Hensley forcefully brings this point of Luther's relationship with his parents out by describing Luther's first mass. The fear Luther felt during the mass was fear that was instilled by his own father. After the mass, Luther's father embarrassed his son in front of everyone (mp3 clip).
Hensley relates this relationship Luther had with his parents to the way Luther understood God. It wasn't God who was angry with Luther, it was Hans Luther displeased with son for becoming a monk. It wasn't God who was angry with Luther, it was Luther who was angry at God, or rather, the impact of Hans Luther that caused Luther's anger toward God (mp3 clip).
Luther the Monk
At the first mass, Luther claims to have been "without faith" during this period in his life. Luther also mentions that as a devout monk he hated God. These statements question the validity of Luther's call to the monastic life. While not explicitly stated by Hensley, Luther in essence, needed to learn to cope with his father, he didn't need the monastery. Luther wasn't called by God to be a monk. He was a man with a faulty image of God that wrongly chose the monastic life. Luther's struggle was based on the father he loved, feared, but could please (mp3 clip). This transferred to Luther's understanding of God: Luther feared that he could not please God. While Hensley says Luther loved Hans Luther, he hated God and viewed him as angry deity.
As a monk, Hensley points out the rigorous discipline Luther subjected himself to please God, but never felt he could do enough. While Protestants see this is as the natural result on one applying the Romanist system consistently, Hensley asks how it was possible then that others who lived during the sixteenth century were able to achieve sainthood (mp3 clip).
Along with these issues, Hensley's says that Luther's experience of going to Rome caused him to doubt the power and authority of the Roman Catholic Church (mp3 clip) . Hensley comes right out and says Rome was more or less morally depraved from head to toe and that Luther questioned his faith in Rome should be no surprise. Hensley says if Papal leadership doesn't act morally, this is what one should expect of her faithful followers. I add, Hensley's comments should be applied to Rome's current 2010 scandal.
Hensley on briefly touches the aspect of indulgences in the sixteenth century (mp3 clip). He doesn't spend any time describing the rampant abuse of the indulgence, and Luther's critique of the abuse of indulgences. Rather, he says indulgences are an act of prayer and "sincerely seeking God and seeking God's blessing."
In my next installment of this series, I'll take a look at the historical image of Luther sketched by Ken Hensley. The conclusions Ken reached are not "the rest of the story."