Book Review: Martin Luther – By Stephen J. Nichols

Martin Luther Stephen J Nichols.pngletter-cContinuing in the vein of readings related to the Reformation is Stephen J. Nichols‘ Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought. Nichols’ work is not strictly a biography, but as the title implies is designed not only to orient the reader to the life of Luther but also his work.

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Nichols begins with a brief survey of Luther’s life leading up to and through the Reformation. This is followed by an overview of Luther’s theology. As Nichols notes, “his theology developed in the trenches, as it were, as he was thrust into conflicts and engaged in the controversies of his day” (p69).

This engagement includes Luther’s theology as presented the Three Treatises and The Bondage of the Will before turning to focus on Luther’s thoughts on the Lord’s Supper and ethics (such as his vision of the Two Kingdoms and the dilemmas presented by the plague and the peasant’s war).

Having covered the basics of Luther’s life and an outline of his thought Nichols offers a look at Luther as a pastor, for Luther was not merely a theologian but – perhaps primarily – a pastor. Here Nichols focuses on Luther’s use of catechism as instructional tools, his conversations around the dinner-table, his hymnody, his views on the marks of the church, and his sermons.

Nichols does not idolize Luther but recognizes him as a man who was imperfect and yet also a visionary with a properly prominent place in history. While keeping the humanity of Luther in focus Nichols also works to dispel some of the misunderstandings surrounding Luther. One such misunderstanding is the idea that Luther was completely opposed to tradition and that everyone is equally equipped for interpreting scripture:

“For Luther, the authority is Scripture alone. We need to be clear as to what Luther fully intends by this doctrine. He does not mean that everyone can understand and interpret it without help. He views the church, especially the church’s activity of preaching the Word, as God’s intended means to enable one to better understand Scripture, and he does not disavow tradition, as some might conclude from the sola Scriptura principle. Rather, the history of interpretation of texts can be an important safeguard for testing our interpretations. Again, sola Scriptura concerns the authority in question. It reminds us that we submit to the text; it does not submit to us.”-p78

While Nichols’ work is by no means revolutionary or extraordinary, it is a faithful and accurate transmission of Luther’s life, thought, and legacy. The book is a leisurely read and offers an excellent introduction to and survey of Luther.


Memorable Quotes: 

“The entire face of Europe changed; in fact, the modern world and the rise of the nation state were born.”-47

“The theology of glory celebrates works and what humanity can do; the theology of the cross celebrates Christ and what he alone can accomplish.”-74

-“The irony of this tendency [of selfishness] is that what seems to promote the self actually leads to destroy the self; our self-interest brings about our self-destruction.”-75

“Luther’s view of applying  the word vocation to all occupations signaled an entirely new perspective on work and daily, or so-called ordinary, life. All work, not just the churchly professions, could be done as an act of both service and worship.”-84



A member of the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Chesterton Society. Ordained PCA. MDiv.

May or may not be a Time Lord.


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