This fall you will have the opportunity to hear from one of the world’s leading experts on Reformation history as he will be with us for our Reformation 500 lecture series on September 6 and 9. Thomas Kaufmann is the Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Göttingen and Chairman of the German Society for Reformation History. While he has published multiple books, two of his books were recently published in English.
A Short Life of Martin Luther
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Martin Luther was a man of opposite extremes, and on many fronts. When he first burst on the public scene, in his attack on the sale of indulgences in 1517, he was just another Augustinian friar, a Bible professor at an obscure university in the middle of Germany. In very short order, however, he rose far above the rank of ordinary mortal in the eyes of thousands. For them he was a direct channel to the transcendent. He embodied radical new convictions about how we might attain—or lose—our salvation; he not only taught new answers but also demanded new commitments on the ultimate question of how God relates to humanity. As a man of extremes, he galvanized extreme reactions, dividing opinion as few have few others, before or since. (page 1)
While this certainly isn’t the only biography of Luther available, Kaufmann presents a distinct and comprehensive look in just over 100 pages. It is well suited both for those who are new to learning about Luther’s life and legacy, as well as those who want to see Luther with fresh eyes. Kaufmann offers a detailed glimpse into Luther’s passion and fervor for Christianity, which he ultimately changed the course of. Throughout, Kaufmann remains honest to Luther’s ability to both attract and divide.
Luther’s Jews: A Journey into Anti-Semitism
Oxford University Press
Luther’s fear and hatred of the Jews were of their time, but the fact that this circumstance has not proved a barrier to their being taken up in the twentieth century is fundamentally linked to the deeply rooted tendency in Protestant history to monumentalize Luther the reformer and to appropriate his theology and quote it as being always ‘timely’ and adaptable to the current situation. The only way forward is to accept the truth, no doubt painful to some but theologically inescapable, that we can no more put our faith blindly in Luther’s theology than responsible twenty-first-century adults would voluntarily place themselves in the hands of a sixteenth-century surgeon. (page 11)
While Kaufmann clearly understands our modern tendency to give Martin Luther super human qualities, in this book, he makes it impossible for us to not grapple with the realities of Luther’s anti-Semite views. Kaufmann takes a clear and methodical look the ideas pervading sixteenth century society and how they contributed towards a Luther’s ideas and have even continued into the twentieth century. This sobering book will help individuals explore this topic, but will also offer rich discussion among groups.
The Reformation 500 Lectures are free events on September 6 from 6-9pm and September 9 from 9am-1pm. Find more about the lectures and RSVP here.