Luther: Man Between God and the Devil

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Yale University Press, 2006 - Biography & Autobiography - 380 pages
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Written by one of the world's greatest authorities on Martin Luther, this is the definitive biography of the central figure of the Protestant Reformation.
 
“A brilliant account of Luther’s evolution as a man, a thinker, and a Christian. . . . Every person interested in Christianity should put this on his or her reading list.”—Lawrence Cunningham, Commonweal
 
“This is the biography of Luther for our time by the world’s foremost authority.”—Steven Ozment, Harvard University 
 
“If the world is to gain from Luther it must turn to the real Luther—furious, violent, foul-mouthed, passionately concerned. Him it will find in Oberman’s book, a labour of love.”—G. R. Elton, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

 

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Luther: man between God and the Devil

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Oberman believes that we can best understand Martin Luther as a man of the Middle Ages who believed that he was literally involved in a mortal struggle with the devil incarnate and that the pope was ... Read full review

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TITLE: "Indeed, a 'Remarkable [ and Erudite ] Study' on the times, writings, and complex persona of Martin Luther" October 15, 2006
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The New Yorker calls this book a "Remarkable Study"
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Okay, so this is the first biography of Luther that I have ever read. My previous knowledge of who was the "great Reformer" is from movies, religious literature quotes, preachers talking about church history and Reformation - a very limited view on the complexity of the Martin Luther's persona. The image on the cover is of Luther as Junker Jörg, Martin's moniker while hiding in the Wartburg castle after the papal excommunication.
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For anyone intersted in seriously getting a good-enough grasp of who Martin Luther was and the times the he lived in, look no further. Oberman 's expectation of his work has had its effect on me - I am more interested in reading Martin Luther's original works.
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The reason why I selected this to be my first biography on Luther is for a couple of reasons:
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1) it is a book used by some Lutheran seminaries,
2) the author has used original sources and also German scholarly works for his research (his chapter notes alone span 23 pages)
3)wrote and published the first printing in German, and
4) the author has been true to his mission stated in the preface to "grasp the main in his totality - with head 'and' heart."
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My impression, as I was slowly making my way through the book (underlining and writing notes), is that the author really understands the times in which Luther lived. I really felt that the author took me back to the early 1500's, central medieval Europe (aka Holy Roman Empire). Thus this book is not about exploring the "Catholic" or "Protestant," or even the "modern" Luther (although they are encountered in the book) but understanding Martin Luther as the man between God and the Devil. For Luther the work of the Devil was as real as the work of God; and he thought that the times he lived in were leading to the apocalyptic End Times.
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Oberman, does an excellent job at showing the reader how Luther came to "discover the Gospel" again (who knew that the first book Luther taught as a professor of theology were the Psalms?) and understand "the righteousness" of God (not as a legalistic monk anymore but as a free Christian living by grace thru faith in Jesus Christ). The author understands well the climate of the late Medieval times: historical events (and the power struggles that played a role in the birth and the survival of the Reformation), theological disputes (not only between Rome and Luther, but also amongst the various reformers and European scholars), cultural and social barometer (how monks were viewed, what the lives of the peasants was, the medival superstitions that prevailed, etc.), and much, much more.
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While the book has a tendency to read like a textbook, the author is not afraid to explore all aspects of the life and character of Luther and follows Luther in three stages:
1) the national, medieval, and Luther's familial atmosphere of "The Longed-for Reformation" (the word "reformation" at the time was as widely used as the word "democracy" is in our modern western times),
2) "The Unexpected Reformation" (even the Catholic theologian Hans Kueng admits that this church-dividing effect could have been prevented if the issue of indulgences and the charges against them would have been taken seriously by the pope and his legates), and
3) "The Reformation in Peril" (the debates amongst reformers about the meaning of Baptism and the Eucharist; Luther vs. Erasmus; Luther's inflamatory writtings against the 3 "enemies" of God: pope, revolting peasant, and Jews; his marriage to a nun being a medieval taboo and Luther's secret advice for bigamy to a prince; and more).
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In conclusion, this erudite study will present all aspects of the life, writings, and complex
 

Contents

The Charioteer of Israel Has Fallen History in the Shadow of the Last Days
13
The Enigmatic Elector Frederick The State of the Nation Election Victory
50
Chapter HI An Elemental Event
82
Decisions before
113
The Fundamental Question of an Age
134
The Reformation Breakthrough
151
Chapter vr The Reformer Attacked
175
Chapter vn Life between God and the Devil
209
Chapter VIH Discord in the Reformation
226
Christianity between God and the Devil
246
In Defiance of the Devil
272
The Man and His Deeds
298
Luther as He Was
325
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About the author (2006)

The late Heiko A. Oberman was professor of medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation history at the University of Arizona.
 

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