As a professor, Scott Hendrix observed a void in the area of Martin Luther scholarship and he sought to fill that void by penning the biography, Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer. Hendrix succeeded by producing a work on Luther that is both well researched and highly readable. Since much attention will be devoted to Luther in the coming days, with the 500th anniversary of his 95 theses; Hendrix adds a pertinent layer to the available material on Luther's life that is both valuable and timely.
It would be a poor writer who would make a biography of Luther boring. His life was prodigiously interesting and exciting; and Hendrix brings that out in this book. Luther's father desired for his son to study law, but Martin's life was drastically changed when he was frightened by a thunderstorm and promised God that he would enter a monastery. While Hendrix raises doubt as to the historical accuracy of this event, the decision of Martin to become a monk is unquestioned. The zealous Luther sought to please God and assuage His wrath; and in so doing he entered the Augustinian order with fervor. Martin's father was not happy with the decision, but eventually came around and was present with a large entourage when his son was ordained. According to Hendrix, Luther's father was skeptical himself of the Catholic church and wanted his son to thus avoid the priesthood. Yet, against his father's wishes he joined; and Hans Luther would eventually rejoice at his son's rejection of Catholicism and the ensuing reformation.
Martin's legalistic Catholicism eventually clashed with what he read in the Scriptures and he famously spoke out against it. As he observed the selling of indulgences by the established church, he rightly called it out as a scam that preyed upon the fears of the common people. He sought to right this wrong by posting his 95 Theses on the castle door at Wittenberg.
It has been well established that Martin never dreamed his act would spark such a response as it did. Yet God was pleased to use Luther in ways that he never would have imagined. Luther originally sought reform within Catholicism, as opposed to the establishment of a new denomination. But time, and the Pope's edict, would soon force his hand. Luther grew more and more emboldened as time passed; and he spoke out brazenly against the Pope. At times, openly insulting, Luther eventually embraced the conclusion that the Pope was the Anti-Christ and a tool of Satan himself. This led to his defrocking. But it also led to his historical status as a reformer and legendary figure in Christian history. “Lutheranism” became powerful in Germany as the corruption of Catholicism was exposed. Still yet, some of Luther's greatest defenders were German political leaders who remained faithful to the Catholic hierarchy. Luther could have easily been executed; yet political favor and more importantly divine providence, protected him.
Hendrix's work reads almost like a novel in it's narrative; but it retains the feel of a scholarly work. He seeks to separate the Luther myth with reality and at times is forced to speculate on how events transpired. In what might be a disappointment to Luther fans, he argues that Luther had a lot of help from others during the Protestant Reformation; and that he probably gets more credit than is warranted. This is undoubtedly true, but still Luther's prominence is adequately presented in the book, albeit in a more tempered line of reasoning.
Hendrix is also unashamed to point out Luther's faults. For example, Luther was often brash, overly opinionated, and combative. These traits, which endeared him to so many, could at times serve as a two-edged sword in leading him into some fights that he might have otherwise avoided. Still yet, Luther is presented as the man that he was. Outspoken to a fault? Yes. But outspoken for what he believed to be divine truth? Certainly.
Some of Hendrix's observation's of Luther are helpful:
“Keeping quiet was never Martin Luther’s strength. He offered his opinion, sought or unsought, on most matters that crossed his desk.”
“He pronounced the world “utterly perverted” and blamed it on the absence of faithful preachers. Among perhaps 3,000 preachers, he contended, only four good ones could be found.”
“Erasmus was hurt by the accusations in Luther’s book and told him so: “The whole world knows your nature; truly you have so guided your pen that you have written against no one more rabidly and, what is more detestable, more maliciously than against me.… I would wish you a better disposition were you not so marvelously satisfied with the one you have.”
Luther's famous debates with Erasmus are well documented in the book. As are his well documented comments at the Diet of Worms where he refused to recant his views regarding the corruption of Catholicism. In time, Luther had assisted many nuns in shunning their vows, which he viewed as unbiblical; and helped them find husbands. He ultimately married a nun of his own and fathered six children with his beloved Katherine; who is presented as one who is brash in her own right and makes a good counter-punch and companion to the irascible Luther.
Eventually, Luther ran his course, kept the faith, and died in faithful service to the Lord. He had fought against several physical ailments in his later days and finally succumbed to sickness at the age of 62. His mark on Christianity was indelible. Scott Hendrix does an admirable job of presenting this most interesting life in all the grandeur it deserves. While the reader might not agree with Hendrix in all his assumptions and conclusions; it is without doubt that he presents Luther's life in a very accurate and interesting manner. The reader may draw his own conclusion; but this work will aid him in forming an accurate opinion of a man who intellectually feared no one; and “took no prisoners” in the realm of theology. Luther's fame is well deserved and Hendrix succeeds in presenting this, while also reminding the reader that Luther is still a fallible man. Luther was used of God to further His kingdom. The same might be said of Hendrix in this enjoyable biography.