Book Review: Here I Stand

Introduction

Martin Luther was gifted in so many areas that he single-handedly gave birth to what we now know as the Protestant Reformation. Luther was a man of great conviction, passion, and intelligence, whose convictions would not let him back away from truth. Despite the numerous good Martin Luther’s work has done and continues to do 500 years after nailing the 95 theses, he was still a man with many shortcomings. Luther was regularly plagued by depression, immense amounts of stress, and multiple physical ailments. Luther’s convictions could lead him to be unbending to a fault. Furthermore, Luther’s greatest critique was his unwillingness to press for reforms beyond the church and into society where systemic injustices and oppression against the poor was rampant. Despite his faults and shortcomings without Martin Luther there is no Reformation.

Summary

Here I Stand is an exhaustive biography of Martin Luther from birth to death. Roland H. Bainton takes the reader on a guided tour of Martin Luther’s life from early childhood to elder statesmen. The reader gets to see Luther transform from a terrified monk who understands he can earn nothing before a holy God to a man rooted and grounded firmly in the sufficiency of God’s Word. As Luther grows in his knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures in their original languages he begins to conclude that salvation is solely by grace through faith. For a right relationship with God one need only to put their faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

As Luther’s convictions grow in salvation by grace alone through faith alone he begins to publically call into question specific practices taking place in the Catholic church. The culmination of his questioning is the nailing of the 95 theses to the church door.

Bainton then takes the reader through Martin Luther’s war of words with the Catholic church. Through debates, diets, trials, and ex-communication the reader is given a front row seat to everything Luther endured for the sake of his convictions. The book concludes its final chapters by examining all the ways Luther brought reform, his personal life as a husband and father of six, as well as some of Luther’s shortcomings.

Analysis

Roland H. Bainton goes to great lengths to draw the reader into the life of Martin Luther. Through his life’s victories, defeats, crisis, and eventual leadership of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther’s life is intimately and fully put on display. Bainton shows how theologically different the last 500 years of church history would be without Martin Luther. Everything from ecclesiology, Christology, soteriology, and the priesthood of all believers would look and function radically different without Luther. What Bainton does so well is intertwine Luther’s life into the theological issues at stake.

The author’s goal of this book is to create a genuine and authoritative biography on Martin Luther. He does accomplish this goal in many ways. One of the strongest is his ability to use Luther’s own words, which humanizes and brings to life many facets of his personality. For example, in his wedding invitation to a friend Luther says, “My tract has greatly offended the peasants. I’d be sorry if it had not. While I was thinking of other things, God has suddenly brought me to marriage with Katherine. I invite you and absolve you from any thought of a present.”(p. 226) Through this quote the reader gets to see how much Luther regularly had on his mind, as well as how many different directions he was constantly being pulled in. Where Bainton does struggle in accomplishing his goal is in his ability to show in depth the shortcomings of Martin Luther. Though they are discussed and often alluded to they are not treated with the same detail as his many accomplishments.

In his review of “Here I Stand” Herbert J. Clancy finds himself at a loss for the lack of footnoting by Bainton as well as for what he sees as a bias by the author towards Luther caused by Protestants solidarity towards him. Clancy believes Bainton has fallen victim to this solidarity when he says, “He rarely misses a chance to side with Luther when the latter attacks Catholicism and falls into errors of his own.”(Henry J. Clancy https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1289993140?pq-origsite=summon&accountid=12085) Though this reader can see the validity in Clancy’s argument it would be a tremendous shock if Bainton did not side with Luther as someone who falls into the same theological convictions.

Furthermore, Hudson S. Winthrop holds a different view from Clancy in that he sees “Here I Stand” as not only a masterful work on the life of Martin Luther, but he argues Bainton really shows the books worth in highlighting the Protestant Reformation. Winthrop explains, “Roland Bainton’s clear and vigorous prose coupled with the dramatic quality of his subject makes this biography of Martin Luther a delight to read. But the great contribution of this volume lies elsewhere. Bainton has succeeded in bringing into focus, on the basis of rigorous scholarship, the essential genius of the Protestant Reformation.”(Hudson, Winthrop S.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/1457328)

Conclusion

            This work should be required reading for any protestant regardless of their theological leaning. The reality is that apart from Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation all Christians would still be Catholic. Roland Bainton does a phenomenal job in bringing both the Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation to life in a vivid and detailed manner. Though this reader is not a Lutheran he is theologically Reformed. Here I Stand has allowed for a greater appreciation for the history and sacrifice men like Martin Luther and others have made to create and cultivate a rich and robust Reformed theology. The primary thought this book has left this reader with is to continue to strive to gain nuance, clarity, and precision in understanding his own theological convictions. Here I Stand was a great reminder that theology that doesn’t impact people in their everyday lives is not a theology worth pursuing. 

One thought on “Book Review: Here I Stand

  1. James, I finished reading 3 volumes of sermons by Martin Luther several years ago. They were very interesting. Ed Soriano gave them to me. You might remember Ed. Martin Luther used some pretty salty language to describe the pope at that time. If anybody would like to wade through them, let me know. They are in the house. I understand that we are celebrating the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation. I heard that Pope Francis actually commended Martin Luther for emphasizing the importance of the Bible.

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