Book Review: Martin Luther in His Own Words

Martin Luther in His Own Words: Essential Writings of the Reformation

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Short, but moderately difficult read. This isn’t an intro for the Reformation, some knowledge of church history and theology will be needed.

Summary
The title could be a bit misleading to some, i.e., one may think it is a sort of autobiography. However, the book is a collect of Martin Luther’s writings. Twelve selections, to be precise, broken into five broad topics (cleverly) modeled after the five solas – fida, gratia, scriptura, Christus, and gloria.

If you are unfamiliar, the five ‘solae’ (alone or only in Latin, think of the modern words sole and solo) was the cry of the Reformation. So the chapters are laid out in the Latin words mentioned above that correspond to faith, grace, Scripture, Christ, glory (to God). Delving into these is beyond the scope of a book review, but as this year (2017) is the 500 anniversary of the Reformation and Martin Luther was the initiator, it was a pretty interesting way to divide the book.

There is an into by Kilcrease before each selection that helps with context and there are a few footnotes within the selections that are helpful for understanding particular, archaic, and/or theological/ecclesiastical terms.

My Thoughts
There is a difficultly in trying to review a sample pack of a book. My main critique would be that Luther’s most famous writings are probably ‘The Bondage of the Will’ and his Larger & Short Catechisms, and if you know much about him, his commentary on Galatians, and of the 12 selections, only four come from sources other than these. Granted, this may have been their reason for the selections, but I would have preferred a more diverse grouping.

I wanted to like this book more, but maybe because I am fairly familiar with Luther, it just didn’t quite do it for me. However, if you do not know much about Luther’s writings or the beginnings of the Reformation, this may be a great place to start. Kilcrease’s introductions are great and very informative. Or, if you are curious about Luther’s writings and don’t know where to begin, this would be a great place to start. If you haven’t read much, the translation footnotes are incredibly helpful and will make it an easier read the just pulling some of the freely available online versions of many of his writings.

There is renewed interest in Luther and the Reformation in general this year as we approach the 500th anniversary and this book is one to read, if you are looking for something.

If you were looking for a biography then check out Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. I haven’t read it yet, but the general consensus seems to be that it is the best.

If you think this book sounds a little to introductory, or you’ve read it and want more of Luther, then this collection (which I have read) seems to be the best next step (there is some overlap) – The Martin Luther Collection: 15 Classic Works

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sermon on the Mount – the Merciful, Pure in Heart, and Peacemakers

The past few post I’ve covered the first four beatitudes, which relate to how we respond to God. Today, I’ll move on to Matthew 5:7-9, which relate to how we respond to others.

V7

What does it mean to be merciful? Well, it sounds simple, but it is one who shows mercy. Sure, sounds good, so what is mercy? The Greek word is eleos and is the stand new testament word for mercy, or sometimes compassion. This is in response to pain, misery, and brokenness of others. The word is both used for our reaction to others and God’s reaction to us. The word being used for merciful has an active sense, so we are actively responding to people, we are showing people mercy and compassion.

So, in some ways, this one is fairly simple – show mercy and mercy will be shown to you. Maybe the questions is obvious, but who is showing you mercy? We know that just because you show mercy or kindness to people does not mean that people will show it to you. The answer, as has been to the doer of all the second clauses of the beatitudes, is God. The tense used for ‘be shown mercy’ has a future active sense, leading one translator to make up the word ‘mercied’, which I like as a way to understand this verse. This continues the eschatological theme of the Sermon on Mount. That in our knowledge of God grace and mercy to use in the end, out of gratitude and obedience, we show others mercy and compassion today.

V8

Both verse 7 and 9 are very much continuation of the promises of the Old Testament, but this is probable the most direct of the three. There is almost nothing to comment on. We are supposed to love God with all our…heart. The Psalms call out to God, asking for Him to create in us a clean (leading to pure) heart. One commentator defined the pure heart as one of ‘inner moral purity and single mindedness,’ the single mindedness being in devotion to God.

What do we receive for this pure devotion? To see the face of God. This is the ultimate sense of blessing in the Old Testament, the ultimate way of experiencing the Glory of God. Remember that this is exactly what Moses requested of God, thought even he was only allowed to see God has He passed by.

The most direct connection is Psalm 24:6 – the generation of those whom seek him, will see the face of the God of Jacob.

V9

What exactly is a peacemaker? McKnight says it is one with ‘active entrance into warring parties, to make reconciliation. In Psalm 34:14(?) we are told to turn away from evil, seek peace pursue it. Being sons of God has two distinct meanings in this context. First, there is the obvious, that as a son(child) there would be an inheritance which of course brings us back to the overall eschatological sense of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically as it related to the Kingdom of God. The second, less obvious to modern readers is in the Hebrew, ‘to be called sons,’ has the meaning of sharing the characteristics of a father, in this case, God the Father, though Jesus Christ the Son.

There is a reason Christ is called the Prince of Peace. He is the ultimate reconciler, between us and God. Paul says in Colossian’s 1:20, ‘and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’

What a great place to end our quick look into these three beatitudes. If you are thinking, aren’t there eight, you only did four earlier. We will look next week at the final one, those persecuted, and look at their connection to the following two verses.

Follow along in the series – Intro, The Poor in Spirit & Those Who Mourn, The Meek and Those Who Hunger & Thirst

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary

New, New Direction and Other Updates

I have a number of updates I’ve wanted to get to for a while but have kept pushing them off. I realize, somewhat, the irony of saying I’m going a new direction when, that was literally my post just a few months ago.

While I started this site years ago, I really ramped it up about 18 months ago, and I didn’t really have a direction. It was, and still is, mostly book reviews, but I was also working on a number of post going through some of the Minor Prophets, something I’d like to get back into again (especially as I only finished one, Amos, and there are 11 others). I’m currently going through the Sermon on the Mount, and may go back to the prophets when I finish that.

Leading into the election, I ended up writing a good bit more about politics than I had anticipated, mostly due to the inexplicably massive evangelical support of Trump. Considered how much news he is making now, as President Trump, I can imagine that will go back to being a more regular topic. Especially as I have taken a recent interesting in Christian Ethics.

The biggest change overall, especially on a more personal level, is that I had expected to enroll in Westminster this fall with the launch of their new online Counseling program (the MA has been around for a long time, but only this year moved to an online degree). I expected that I would be working on that and moving from my current career. I even took a few courses this past Spring. Over the last year, I’ve looking into different Counseling programs and spoken to many counselors about the field. However, at this point, I do not think it is for me. My fear was always that I would go into a master’s program and end up a career I didn’t like, something that I had already done.

Despite not being very good with people, I thought that counseling was something I could work my way into, but looking back, I think most o that was just hope, especially because of the desperation I was experiencing at my current job. A few things happened in the past six months that have helped me avoid making a costly mistake. First, I started a new job, and I really like it. One question I always had was do I dislike my field or my job. Turned out moving to a new city revamped my desire for my career. This removed the desperation and hurriedness from my decisions making. Providentially, the new company I worked for administers the Myers-Briggs personality type test to new hires.

This turned out to be extremely helpful, as not only did it confirm my current career path/field, but also shed light on some of my concerns related to counseling. For one, I’m introverted, making talking to people draining. Also, I’m not particularly empathetic, which would also be draining. It is already a career with high burnout, and I was headed that way, before even started. I asked one of the counselors about this, and he basically told me, yes, I could do it, but I would be mentally wiped out at the end of the day. I’ve already experienced too much of that in my previous job, and i know the effects it has on your life and family.

Two more quick things about counseling and I’ll move on. One, while I was taking the courses this Spring, I had no time to write. I really missed what (little) I do on this blog, so I think there is something there. Also, the course I was supposed to take this Summer, would have required me to meet with two other students for an hour a week. I was absolutely dreading this. Mrs. MMT was correct to point out the irony of not want to talk to other students about counseling, when this would become my career.

I still have a great interesting in Counseling, and will likely continue to study it as it has already been helpful my leading my small group and speaking with people in general. Eventually, maybe a small ministry in our church could come from it. For now, I don’t see anyway I go do it as a profession.

That is career, as far as that goes right now. What is next for this blog? I’ll continue to do book reviews and Bible Study, but I’d like to expand a good bit and have much more content, with a series of studies on things like Work and Finance, and diving into some current ethical issues. I also have an idea to start a podcast, as I don’t think many of the ones out there are getting it done, or at least not doing what I’d like to see be done.

So, that’s pretty much it. For now at least. I struggle to focus too long on things, and have what you might call and unquiet mind, but I do plan to get more focused content up and hopefully, most of it will be good.

Book Review: Brave New World

Brave New World

Rating: Put it on your list

Level: Quick, easy read

Summary
Huxley’s most famous book is set in a dystopian world roughly 600 years in the future; puns abound as the time is known as the Year of Our Ford, a reference to Henry Ford and the roll out of the Model T (all crosses at churches are cut to a ‘T’ and Ford is a used as a swear). The book explores eugenics as were feared by some at the time of the right (1932), including forced sterilization; strict classes separation for the sake of ‘order’; ‘sleep-learning’ and classical conditioning; open sexual ‘freedom’; and most famously, self medication with high power psychopharmaceuticals, in the book known as ‘Soma’.

The book is famous enough I won’t spend any more time on the summary, but will note that it somewhat kicked off an era of in which some of the most famous dystopain books of the 20th century were written. Most notability, within 20 years both 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 were written. Both Brave New World and 1984 are widely considered two of the best books of the 20th century (though I find 451 more frighteningly accurate).

My Thoughts
This book is most famously contrasted with 1984, so I will get that out of the way, as the offer two competing views about books and our free time. In 1984, the government bans book, in Brave New World, there is no need. We have TVs (though hilariously viewed from his time as small and black and white), special entertainment complexes after work, orgies, and of course, Soma. Huxley’s view of the future had us seeking our own pleasure as the reason for our undoing.

Along with technological issues, the other surprising thing to the modern reader might be his fear of the breakdown of the family. My copy was published in 1946 and in his forward he writes that he has heard there are parts of the US where the divorce rate is pushing 50%, of course we are now roughly that as a nation. As someone born in the 80s, after the sexual revolution and the advent of the no-fault divorce, this fear of his seems quaint and almost strange. Additionally, in the forward, he reflects that he set his world in the distance future, but feared we’d be closer to it by the end of the century. The sex didn’t get quite as crazy (mostly due to his fear of what would happen with minors) as he thought, and eugenics has (mostly) fallen away, but he was correct on some level as far as conditioning goes. Though, in our current world, the conditioning comes from media and our consumerist culture than it does from government ‘learning centers’ and schools. What he did nail was ‘Soma’, the explosion of pills lit up in the 90’s, 60 years after the writing of the book, not 600 (Xanax was released in 1981, less than 50 years out).

He (obviously) didn’t get everything correct, but many of the overall issues are still with us today, especially the way we are conditioned, often without knowing it. The writing is good, maybe not as quick and clear as it could be, but overall this is an easy and entertaining read. If you are a fan of dystopian literature, this is a must read. For everyone else, I think you need to put this on your list, if for nothing else than it’s cultural impact and significance. I think it is always fascinating to look at what those in past thought the future would be like.

 

Sermon on the Mount – The Meek and Those Who Hunger & Thirst

Matthew 5:3-6

Las week, I only made it through verses 3 & 4, so this week I’ll wrap up the first section of the Beatitudes and go through verses 5 & 6. So, let’s jump right in.

V5
Who are the meek? This isn’t a word used often in modern English. Discussing this passage with my study group, we could only come up with that Christmas song where they call Jesus meek and mild. The Greek word is praus, which can mean – humble, gentle, considerate, courteous, long suffering, and free from malice. Barclay calls meek being ‘angry at the right time and never at the wrong time’, and according to Aristotle, meekness is being ‘angry on the right occasion, for the right people, for the right amount, and for the right length of time’.

Maybe because they are homonyms, but I think most people just go straight to associating meekness with weakness. I think quite probably gets in there a good bit to. Other Biblical references include Moses being called meek in Numbers, and both James and Peter writing about meekness as a way to act and receive the Word.

How we see who the meek are in this verse is influenced by how we understand the blessing. The reward for being meek is inheriting the earth. The word translated can mean either earth (as in the physical aspect) or land. This has a pretty clear meaning to Israel, but what about today? Similar to those who mourn, you can double dip into eschatological meanings here. For Jews, it is the Messianic Kingdom, for Christians it is the second coming – think inheriting the new Earth. Considering the likelihood that the mourning is the broken world with the blessing being the new Earth, I view the meek as the longsuffering and humble. Combining the two verses, and we should read each in light of the other, that means we mourning the brokenness of the world, but in humility of our own sin, and of course we may live our whole lives in the world, not seeing the restoration, making us long suffering. The blessing for this combined affliction is the same, we will be comforted when we inherit (as heirs to the Kingdom) the new Earth after the second coming, resurrection, final judgement, and restoration of all things.

V6
This is another phrase that is hard to understand in modern American life, hunger for me means something drastically different than to the original hearer/reader (or the majority of Christians over the past 2000 years, or any number of hundreds of millions elsewhere in the world today). I’ll eat breakfast around 6:00, then get to work and get moving and around 11:00 someone will mention lunch, and I’ll think, ‘man, I haven’t eaten since breakfast, I’m starving.’ Compare this to even my grandparents who were growing up before ‘three meals a day’ was even a concept. Or to the original hearer/reader, where there were likely days when on food was consumed. That is real hunger.

Likewise, thirst is a difficult concept. For one, there is no running water, indoor plumbing, etc. You have to go to a well. Now, I live in what was formally a malarial swamp (if you’ve ever wondered why the CDC is in Atlanta…), but the context hear is a desert. The well can run dry and it may not rain for months. I have some neighbors that moved here from LA about a year ago and one of the things they said they enjoyed here was listening to thunderstorms. They tell me that it may rain once, and then not again for a month or so, and that is pretty much the expected outcome. So, this concept is a bit lost on me, as even in our level 3 drought years, we still receive about 30 inches or so of rain. However, I do know you can last weeks without food, but only days without water.

This is a long intro to two commonly used words, but it is helpful for context. The picture here is someone who hasn’t eaten in a week and had no water in a day or two. It is someone who will soon die if they do not find food and water. This is the level to which we should seek righteousness. This is a theme throughout Christ’s ministry, later He will tell us to ‘First, seek the Kingdom and its righteousness”. So we know that He isn’t talking, if you have time, or when it is convenient for you, but seek it as if it is the drop of water that will keep you alive.

Finally, what is the blessing? They will receive it. The BEC translates the promise as, they will be filled. This takes us back to the point from last week about being poor in spirit. We need to empty ourselves to be filled. Those who seek Christ and His righteousness will find it, and He will give it to them. They will be covered in Christ’s righteousness, and it is through Christ that we will one day enter the Kingdom or inherit the new Earth.

That wraps up the section of the Beatitudes about how we relate to God, next week I’ll move into the section about how we relate to each other.

Follow along in the series – Intro, The Poor in Spirit & Those Who Mourn.

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary