The New York Times called Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton, “Excellent . . . illuminating and eloquent” and “The most readable Luther biography in English.” Echoing this, I found this book to be incredibly interesting and a rather easy and enjoyable read. Bainton fused scholarly with pleasurable. It is obvious that he both knew Luther and Luther’s historical setting extremely well. The book is filled with pictures of wood carvings from the time period as well as other art pieces such as musical scores which provide an interesting as well as helpful learning aid. Bainton organizes the book in a largely chronological fashion, yet at times diverts from this pattern with some occasional topical sections when deemed helpful (and it is). One of my favorite aspects of the book was the frequent quotes from Luther himself. Luther’s own words are worth the read. He is incredibly challenging, inspiring, witty, and quite humorous. At times I even found myself laughing audibly.
I would recommend this book to a variety of people. The obvious groups would be those who love biographies and church history or those who want to know more about Martin Luther. But I would also recommend this book to those who want to know more about Luther’s theology as well as Lutheranism and its emergence. Bainton did an excellent job explaining Luther’s developing beliefs in an understandable fashion. Finally, I would recommend this book to Christians who may struggle with depression, melancholy, an overly sensitive conscience, or doubts about their salvation. Luther experienced all of these himself and his own experiences may serve as an encouragement to you.
I will close this review with an excerpt. The following is from the final sub-section of the book entitled “The Measure of the Man.” It provides an excellent summary of Luther’s significance in regards to three spheres–Germany, the Church, and religion–and in a way gives a quick snap shot of the entire book.
The most profound impact of Luther on his people was in their religion. His sermons were read to the congregations, his liturgy was sung, his catechism was rehearsed by the father with the household, his Bible cheered the fainthearted and consoled the dying. If no Englishmen occupies a similar place in the religious life of his people, it is because no Englishman had anything like Luther’s range. The Bible translation in England was the work of Tyndale, the prayer book of Cranmer, the catechism of the Westminster divines. The sermonic style stemmed from Latimer; the hymnbook came from Watts. And not all of these lived in one century. Luther did the work of more than five men. And for sheer richness and exuberance of vocabulary and master of style he is to compared only with Shakespeare.
. . .
Luther’s influence extends so far beyond his own land. Lutheranism took possession of Scandinavia and has an extensive following in the United States, and apart from that his movement gave the impetus which sometimes launched and sometimes helped to establish the other varieties of Protestantism. They all stem in some measure from him. . . . And even the Catholic Church owes much to him. . . . The Catholic Church received a tremendous shock from the Lutheran Reformation and a terrific urge to reform after its own pattern.
The third area [by which to measure Luther, the first two being Germany and the Church as mentioned above] is of all the most important and the only one which to Luther mattered much, and that is the area of religion. Here it is that he must be judged. In his religion he was a Hebrew, not a Greek fancying gods and goddesses disporting themselves about some limpid pool or banqueting upon Olympus. The God of Luther, as of Moses, was the God who inhabits the storm clouds and rides on the wings of the wind. At his nod the earth trembles, and the people before him are as a drop in the bucket. He is a God of majesty and power, inscrutable, terrifying, devastating, and consuming in his anger. Yet the All Terrible is the All Merciful too. ‘Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord . . .’ But how shall we know this? In Christ, only in Christ. In the Lord of life, born in the squaler of a cow stall and dying as a malefactor under the dessertion and the derision of men, crying unto God and receiving for answer only the trembling of the earth and the blinding of the sun, even by God forsaken, and in that hour taking to himself and annihilating our iniquity, trampling down the hosts of hell and disclosing within the wrath of the All Terrible the love that will not let us go. No longer did Luther tremble at the rustling of a wind-blown leaf, and instead of calling upon St. Anne he declared himself able to laugh at thunder and jagged bolts from out the storm. This was what enabled him to utter such words as these: ‘Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me.’
Overal – 4
Readability – 4
Interesting – 4
Scholarly – 4
Worth reading – 4