The Essential Luther: A Reader on Scripture, Redemption, and Society

By Jerry K. Robbins, ed.
Grand Rapids : Baker (1991). 93 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Irv Busenitz
3.1 (Spring 1992) : 111-112

Noting the passion of Martin Luther for the education of Christians –"Of all the Christian educators in history, Luther certainly ranks among the foremost" (p. 7) – Robbins has designed this handbook as a "brief introduction to some of the major religious ideas of the Reformer" (p. 7), primarily as an introductory reader for college and seminary students (back dust cover).

Following Luther's three fundamental principles of justification by faith, the Bible as the sole authority for faith, and the priesthood of all believers, Jerry Robbins, campus minister for the Lutheran Campus Center at West Virginia University, excerpts central themes from the essays, letters, and sermons of Martin Luther. In addition, each concept is augmented with an editor's summary.

The chapters are brief and the treatises succinct, allowing the reader to travel quickly and easily through the foundational principles of the former priest's life. The editor clearly presents Luther's rejection of the allegorical hermeneutic (though Luther himself occasionally lapses into allegory), his unbending commitment to the literalness of Scripture, and the subordination of tradition to Scripture.

Most of the book presents the Reformer's convictions on redemption, a feature not difficult to understand. "For Luther, the central certainty, the central illumination holding all his thought together and giving sense to his vast writings is the Reformation battle cry, 'Justification by faith'" (p. 30). Whether in his Lectures on Romans, Heidelberg Disputation, or On Christian Liberty (also known as The Freedom of a Christian), the theme of justification by faith is obviously the central passion of his heart. It pervades all his writings, either explicitly or implicitly.

Through a final window into the life of Luther come glimpses of the impact of his theology on everyday life. Life and theology were inseparably intertwined. Says Robbins, "The overall effect of Luther's writing was to elevate secular life to a new position of dignity and sacred importance. . . . All life is the arena of God's goodness and all noble effort makes that divine goodness active and available" (p. 62). As a result, Luther delivered sermons and treatises on a believer's duty toward religious leaders and government, including the limitations of their power.

The brevity of the book limits its usefulness. Nevertheless, it provides a good overview of the foundation stones of this great Reformation figure. One need stop for only a few moments to catch a glimpse of his passion and feel his theological heartbeat.