I have decided to include a few book reviews every now and again on this blog, and this one is the first. Why book reviews? Two reasons. First, and most obviously, I just want to share what books I have found helpful (or not) and why, so that other people can choose wisely with their limited reading time (so many books, so little time).
Second, I discovered during my years at Bible College that whenever I had to write a book review I would without fail get a lot more out of the book – it helps me to engage critically with and synthesize what I’m reading. So there are my two reasons. Now on to my first blogged book review.
Roland H. Bainton wrote a great biography, entitled Here I Stand, about the famous reformer Martin Luther.
Luther is a man that evangelical Christians simply can not ignore. His impact on the course of Christianity was profound, and his life is one that never fails to inspire, challenge, and encourage the Christian reader. I would highly recommend Here I Stand, because this intriguing, deep, yet accessible account of Luther’s life gives as good an introduction as can be found to the astounding life of the German reformer.
This book serves not only to familiarize one with the life of Luther, but also to discover the reasons behind the split between Catholic and Protestant Christianity and to help one wrestle with some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
At a time like ours when it can be easy to take the knowledge of the gospel for granted, it is eye-opening to be drawn into the world of five hundred years ago when the Bible was inaccessible to the common person and a knowledge of God’s saving grace was so obscured by the very church that claimed to proclaim it.
For years Luther devoted himself to living a pious life, yet despite his best efforts as a monk, he was constantly suffering under an overwhelming sense of guilt. No matter what he did or how many hours each day he spent in confession to the priest, he always knew that he was unworthy to stand in the presence of an all holy and righteous God. This biography shows how Luther went from a guilt-ridden monk to a radical who had the audacity to stand against the Pope.
It is truly a wonderful thing to read along as Luther discovers the gospel in all its beauty for the first time – to see his wonder, gratitude, and joy overflow as his agonizing guilt is taken away by his discovery of the true meaning of God’s grace. What a good reminder to us who can so easily lose our sense of wonder for what God has given us in Jesus.
The book was written in 1950, and there are times when the language is perhaps a little dated or unfamiliar, but it is still very accessible. Read this book with a dictionary on hand (or google at your fingertips) to get the most out of it and feed your vocabulary at the same time. The author also has an infrequent tendency to use jargon (e.g. “sacerdotalism” or “caesaropapism”) without explanation, but again, it’s nothing google can’t fix.
This biography also offers an insight into some areas of Martin Luther’s life that one is much less likely to hear about from other sources. For example, a whole chapter is devoted to Luther’s marriage, home life, and children. I was fascinated to learn about Luther’s highs and lows of his own experiences with marriage and with his six children, and to see a side of Luther that is not concerned only with justification and reformation, but also with washing nappies and getting along with his wife after a long day at work! It certainly paints a broader picture of Luther, and is one of the elements that makes this biography of Luther a must-read.
Here I Stand is a great biography. Whether you’ve never heard of Martin Luther before or you’ve studied his life at some length, you will enjoy and learn from this book, and will be challenged and inspired by his amazing life. I highly recommend it.