Entries tagged with “Martin Luther”.
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Wed 25 Feb 2015
In news that took everyone by surprise, Playmobil has announced that a new figurine of Martin Luther has become their fastest selling toy ever. Their initial run of 34,000 figurines sold out in less than 72 hours (see Deutsche Welle’s report here).
The set was released in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (which will take place in 2017—five centuries after Luther first posted his 95 theses on the Castle Door in Wittenberg). The Playmobil set features a little Martin Luther, complete with scholar’s hat, academic gown and quill. He comes also with an open Bible, which reads (in German) “Here ends the Old Testament” on the left page and “The New Testament translated by Doctor Martin Luther” on the right—a reference to Luther’s famous translation of the Scripture into German, a work often considered the first German classic (much as the King James Version is considered a classic in English).
Demand for the toy far outstripped supply, and so Playmobil has announced they will be making more figurines of the little Luther. The next batch should be ready by the end of April. Sadly, however, it doesn’t appear that the toy will be made available to purchase by English speakers anytime soon.
It seems the little toy was made in a partnership with Nuremberg’s Tourism Center, and so the toys have been directed for sale in that area of the world. As it currently stands, you can pre-order the Playmobil Luther from Nuremberg’s Tourism Office for a scant €2.39 each (plus tax and shipping). Regrettably, they only ship to addresses in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
When the figure first hit headlines, I tweeted Playmobil about getting one. They seem to confirm that he’s only available in the above three countries.
Maybe that will change in the future, given how widely popular the toy has been (the rapid sell-out has garnered news coverage from many English publications, including The Guardian, The Telegraph, Slate, and Newsweek). There’s certainly interest in North America for the toy. I know more than one organization (churches, for example) who might actually be interested in a bulk purchase.
In the meantime, however, you could always ask a friend in Germany to order one for you. Apart from that, you might be stuck trying to get one on Ebay where (last I looked) it seemed to be going for ten times the original cost (plus shipping).
Tue 26 Aug 2014
My friend Karl recently challenged me on Facebook to name ten books that have changed my life. Or, more accurately, I was to “write down ten books that have affected your life in some way and tag ten friends including me so I can see your choices as well.” Ignoring the fact that the word “affected” is “abominably vague” (as Karl also noted), here’s my list. It’s eclectic, to be sure, with fiction, poetry, theology, and more.
The books follow in no particular order.
1. The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
This series served, in many ways, as my gateway to both fantasy and theology. As a child, it was my favourite series of books, and I still reread them all every few years. The Christian symbolism is not something I become aware of until some years later, when my pastor explained it to me. At first I rebelled at the knowledge, but eventually the secret of it (Another story beneath! Deeper magic!) led me to read more of C.S. Lewis, including…
2. Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
This. This was my first introduction to serious Christian thought. My first introduction, as it were, to theology. More detailed study into the various focuses of Christian theology came later, as did wide reading in the writings of Christians from across the centuries. But Mere Christianity was, for me, where it all began. And for that, I am truly grateful to C.S. Lewis.
3. The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton
This book was my first introduction to Chesterton, and thus an introduction to numerous other important books in my life (like Heretics, Orthodoxy, Napoleon of Notting Hill, etc). The ability to make the ordinary strange is a particular gift of Chesterton’s and a prevailing theme in much of his other writing; but nowhere is the concept so well enfleshed as it is in The Man Who Was Thursday. This book is my favourite novel, bar none—even if (or perhaps because?) it so often confounds me.
4. The Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana) – Philip Melanchthon
The primary Lutheran confession of faith, important not only for articulating Lutheran theology over/against contemporary abuses, but also for stressing the theological continuity of Lutheranism with the faith of the ancient Church. “The churches among us,” Melanchthon writes, “do not dissent from the Catholic Church in any article of faith.” Indeed.
5. The Freedom of a Christian – Martin Luther
Too many people (including too many Lutherans) seem to think that salvation by grace through faith alone means works are excluded from the Christian’s life. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this book, Luther explains the proper relationship between faith and works. While only the former justifies before God, he writes, both are nevertheless necessary in the Christian’s life. This little work, too seldom read, also introduces a number of other important Lutheran ideas, as I’ve summarized elsewhere: “Here Luther touches on the simultaneous sinner/saint state of Christians; explains Law and Gospel; argues justification by faith alone; defends the necessity of works as a fruit of faith; discusses what makes works ‘good’; expounds on the priesthood of all believers (both what it does and doesn’t mean); and delves into his theology of vocation, as well as hinting at the doctrine of the ‘two kingdoms.’”
6. The Spirituality of the Cross – Gene Edward Veith
This is the quintessential introduction to Lutheranism for those wanting to know more about “the way of first evangelicals.” Veith provides a winsome case for the Evangelical Catholic (aka Lutheran) tradition, taking readers on a tour through the major points of Lutheran theology in clear and eminently readable prose. And it never descends into mere academic musings; this is a theology that is forever relevant and applicable to Christians today. Looking for a sacramental evangelicalism? A protestantism that is, at its core, nevertheless catholic? Veith explains why Lutheranism is the church you’re seeking.
7. Poems (1633) – John Donne
Where do I begin? Donne’s poetry, whether focused on the earthly or the divine—and really, Donne would say (and I would agree), everything in creation counts under the category of “divine”—is deeply profound and deeply moving. Meaning is packed tightly into each line, each phrase, like a compressed spring waiting to be released. The Holy Sonnets have especially been important to me in my own spiritual journeys. While what I’m writing here applies to any edition of Donne’s English poetry, there’s something particularly pleasing about holding my reproduction copy of the 1633 edition, as I reflect on Donne’s Holy Sonnets. It provides a tactile experience, a weight in my hands to mirror the weight in my heart—a heart that Donne (and God) batter, for my good.
8. The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
I know what you’re thinking: “That old book? That long-on-words and short-on-plot book? That
thinly-veiled not-at-all-veiled allegory? Why that book?” I know this book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s been important to me for a number of reasons, not least of all because Bunyan’s thoughts have helped me formulate my understanding of what literature is for. I also acknowledge this book for Bunyan’s theology of despair, a condition in which I have an interest both personally and academically. Christian’s encounter with Giant Despair is, for those interested, made all the more illuminating when reading it alongside Bunyan’s own spiritual battle with despair (as described in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners).
9. The Gospel of John
While the Bible in its totality has had an obviously massive impact on my life, the Gospel of John is particularly dear to me. St. John’s surprisingly simple vocabulary make accessible complex theological ideas—mirroring, in a way, the enfleshing of the Divine Word in the Man Jesus. God humbles Himself that we may be brought up—He discloses Himself that we might to know Him Who made us.
10. The Odyssey – Homer
I am a lover of classical mythology and culture, and for me there is no greater story from the era than Homer’s Odyssey. This text led to my wider interest in the literature and philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome—studies which have significantly impacted how I view all other literature and philosophies.
I can’t help but feel I’ve cut too many books that should also be on this list, just in order to keep it to ten. An expanded list must needs include some classic science fiction (such as the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells), children’s adventure stories (Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain), philosophy (Plato), drama (Shakespeare) fantasy (JRR Tolkien), and more from the Inklings (especially Charles Williams’ The Place of the Lion and War in Heaven). I should also mention the first book of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, as the description of Ransom learning alien language is what first kindled my interest (and subsequent degree) in Linguistics.
But there is one other book I just must mention, and that is C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Now what is so important about this book you ask? Well, it’s responsible (at least in part) for my marrying Leah. Some years ago, not long after Leah and I had first met, we fell into conversation at a large-group dinner event. We began by chance to speak of Lewis, zeroing in on The Great Divorce. I made some remark about the characterization of George MacDonald in the text. But Leah promptly corrected me, telling me in no uncertain terms I was wrong. Surprised, I actually went home that night and reread the book. Leah was right: I was wrong. About that time I began to realize just how attractive Leah was….
I count it a great blessing that Leah and I can talk so easily together about big ideas, and that each of us can learn from (and correct) each other. But it’s never lost on me that The Great Divorce led, in our case, to a rather Great Marriage.
Edit (August 27): I have no idea how I forgot to put The Screwtape Letters on this list. Major oversight.
Sun 23 Feb 2014
My latest at First Things went up a few days ago (February 18), to coincide with the anniversary of Luther’s death. Since then, it’s been picked up by Real Clear Religion and the Gospel Coalition, among other sites.
On this day in 1546, Martin Luther fell asleep in the Lord. Lutherans therefore recognize him this day and thank God for him. But let’s be honest: Luther wasn’t always a very nice man.
So begins the article. I go on to discuss Luther’s failings (they are many) before bringing us back to the real reason we remember him:
“This truly is why we remember Luther: not because he was always nice, not because he was always good, and certainly not because he was always right. He wasn’t. Instead, we remember Luther because he directed attention always away from himself to Christ. It is to Christ we look for salvation, not our own holiness.”
Read the whole thing at “Standing with Martin Luther: Remembering a sinful saint.”
(The title of this post is taken from Anthony Sacramone’s tweeted description of my article).
Wed 23 Oct 2013
Back when I was in university—in my first semester, in fact—I took Religious Studies 100. It wasn’t a very intense class, just an introduction to world religions. We looked at Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in particular, taking a cursory look at the doctrines that make up these different faiths. It was hardly earth-shattering stuff. Trying to get through all the world’s major faiths plus a number of smaller ones in a few months? You hardly have time to do more than take a quick glance at each of them.
Imagine my surprise then when a Christian classmate confided to me after the course that the class had “really shaken” his faith. I was flabbergasted. How could it shake his faith? We had hardly learned anything about these other religions!
A little conversation revealed the truth: despite growing up in a Christian family and going regularly to church, he had somehow learned hardly anything about his own faith along the way. He had faith, but no real roots to ground him in that faith.
Navigating the faith
That’s a danger we all face in the Church: we can go through the motions, show up every Sunday, even serve on church committees, but unless we learn to dive beneath the surface, we can end up with an unanchored faith. When the weather is good, we bob along on top and all seems well. But then a big storm—or maybe even just a minor squall—strikes, and we find ourselves, as St. Paul warns, “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching, and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14 NIV).
Unless we learn to dive beneath the surface, we can end up with an unanchored faith.
Part of the problem is that we’re often trying to row the boat alone. Or maybe we remember the old Sunday school song and sing, “With Jesus in my boat, I can smile at the storm.” That’s true. But it’s not just Jesus who’s in the boat with us. He’s the Captain, but we have fellow shipmates, too. The trouble is, we often ignore them as we go about daily life. We each think we’re sailing the storm on our own. We each think we have to navigate the ship ourselves. But the Church is a big boat, and there are many people aboard it. Others have been sailing longer than we have, and it’s important that we look to them for help.
It’s to prevent shipwrecked faith, St. Paul tells us, that God provided different servants to work in the Church in the first place: “It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service,” he writes. Why? “So that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV). Teachers and pastors in the Church are like experienced sailors; they know how to keep the ship on course, and they’re there to train us to become mature, experienced sailors, too.
Teachers and pastors in the Church are like experienced sailors; they know how to keep the ship on course, and they’re there to train us to become mature, experienced sailors, too.
In our turn, we’ll help other young Christians grow up in the faith. In fact, St. Paul encourages us in another part of Scripture to teach each other. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” he writes, “as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16 NIV). The things we learn, we’re supposed to share with others. Faith isn’t meant to be a private thing; it’s something we all do together.
That means connecting with the people in the pews beside you, of course, but it doesn’t stop there. The Church isn’t just your own congregation; it stretches, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “through all time and space” and is “rooted in eternity.” We confess in the Apostle’s Creed that we believe in “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” The ancient text says “catholic” instead of “Christian,” because “catholic” is the Latin word for “universal.” In other words, we believe in the whole Christian Church, the universal Church, spread out across the globe, reaching back to the beginning of all things and stretching out to forever—the great, vast body of Christ in all times and places.
If that’s the Church we say we believe in, if that’s the Church we say we’re part of, then that changes how we ought to approach faith. The ship we’re sailing is truly massive, and there are some master sailors on board to learn from. Many of them are no longer with us; they’ve passed on to glory. But we can still learn from them in the words they’ve left behind.
The ship we’re sailing is truly massive, and there are some master sailors on board to learn from. Many of them are no longer with us; they’ve passed on to glory. But we can still learn from them in the words they’ve left behind.
We’ve quoted one of these master sailors just a few moments ago: the great 20th century Christian author C.S. Lewis. He played an incredibly important role in the development of my own faith. As a child, I first came to know Lewis as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. When I was young, my pastor explained to me that these stories have Christian elements in them—that the great lion Aslan from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was, in fact, a symbol for Christ, and that Aslan’s death and resurrection pointed to Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross and His triumphant resurrection three days later.
As a teen I came to read some of Lewis’ other works. This Oxford professor wrote numerous books, some fiction (like his Space Trilogy and The Great Divorce), and some non-fiction, including his autobiography Surprised by Joy and the classic Mere Christianity. I particularly enjoyed The Screwtape Letters. In this book, Lewis takes on the persona of an “uncle” demon writing to his “nephew,” giving advice on how to tempt humans. It’s witty, and clever, and made me think about temptation in a way I never had before.
From Lewis, I moved on to other great teachers of the faith. There are of course Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and the rest of the leaders of the Lutheran reformation. But there are other important writers too—Christians who came before and after the Reformation—who also have things to teach us. There’s John Donne, the 17th century English priest and poet. There’s the famous mystery writer, Dorothy Sayers, from the early 20th century. There’s St. Augustine from the 5th century. There’s St. Clement, a bishop from the 1st century, who likely knew some of the Apostles themselves.
The writings of these and other Christians throughout the ages help us understand our faith better. They’re there to help us understand the Scriptures, to “teach and admonish us,” just as St. Paul encouraged the early Christians to do (Colossians 3:16 NIV). Are these writers always right? By no means! But they’ve faced the same trials we face. They’ve survived the same storms we are still struggling through. We have so much to learn from their advice, if we will only listen.
Don’t sail the ship alone! Get to know your fellow shipmates. Join or start a Bible study at your local congregation. Take an online seminary class. While you’re at it, ask your pastor to recommend a book by a great Christian writer who has gone on before. You’ll be surprised to see how much they have to teach you.
The above article was originally written for the Fall 2013 issue of Tapestry Magazine (the national magazine of Lutheran Women’s Missionary League—Canada). I thank the League for giving me permission to reprint it here. Download the article in its original magazine layout (in pdf) here.
Fri 2 Aug 2013
From my post “You Probably Think This Psalm is About You” at First Things.
And yet we still can’t help but read ourselves into the text from time to time. It seems to me that some of this might be attributable to our desire to examine our own lives and beliefs (and test out other potential lives and beliefs) through literature; we take Bunyan’s advice and lay our head and heart together with the book. We know it’s not about us literally; and yet we believe, innately, that it has the capacity to become “about us.”
But there is one book (or series of books) that Christians have throughout the ages repeatedly affirmed is “about us:” the Bible. And no book in this library is declared “about us” more often than the Psalms. St. Basil the Great explains the idea well: “The Holy Spirit composed the Scriptures so that in them, as in a pharmacy open to all souls, we might each of us be able to find the medicine suited to our own particular illness… But the Book of Psalms contains everything useful that the others have. It predicts the future, it recalls the past, it gives directions for living, it suggests the right behaviour to adopt. It is, in short, a jewel case in which have been collected all the valid teachings in such a way that individuals find remedies just right for their cases” (Homily on Psalm 1).
While this is a valid and important way of reading the Psalms, it should not become the sole way we read them—something Jonathan Kraemer discusses in his article “Praying the Psalms with the Body of Christ.” After all, while this or that Psalm may seem to fit how we’re feeling on any given day, there are many more which will not. What good is it then to read “Psalms that have us lamenting when we feel like praising; and praising when we feel like lamenting?”
Read the rest at First Things.
Wed 27 Mar 2013
Posted by Mathew Block under Articles, Main
“You should believe, and never doubt,” writes Luther, “that you are in fact the one who killed Christ. Your sins did this to Him. When you look at the nails being driven through His hands, firmly believe that it is your work. Do you see His crown of thorns? Those thorns are your wicked thoughts.”
Luther’s point is an important one: If we do not see ourselves as the persecutors of Christ in the passion narratives, then we read them wrongly. As the disciples failed to keep watch with the Lord in Gethsemane, we too in sloth ignore him. As Judas betrayed him with a kiss, so in our thoughts, words, and deeds we betray him daily. We reject him like Peter, wash our hands of him like Pilate, call for his death like the crowds, and lead him out to Golgotha. We crucify him and hurl insults at him as he hangs dying on the cross. We kill God.
Read the rest of my post on “The right way to meditate on Christ’s sufferings” over at First Things.
Tue 6 Nov 2012
This past Sunday was the celebration for All Saints Day (actually Nov. 1), and the Sunday before that was (at least in my branch of the Christian Church) Reformation Sunday (actually Oct. 31).
Given those two days (All Saints and Reformation), it might be good to share with you my most recent column for The Canadian Lutheran: “Martin Luther: Sinner/Saint.”
Occasionally when sharing my faith with others, I will be met with the reply: “You’re a Lutheran? But don’t you know the terrible things that Martin Luther did?”
More often than not, these people are referring to Luther’s treatise On the Jews and their Lies. In this work, Luther writes some dreadful things, including his “sincere advice” to Christians to go and burn down the Jews’ synagogues and schools; destroy their houses; forbid their rabbis to teach under pain of death; deprive them of wealth and property; force young Jewish men and women into hard labour; or simply drive them out of the country. In the years leading up to World War II, the Nazis would rediscover this book of Luther’s and use it in their twisted campaign to first imprison and then murder the Jewish people.
Now there are a whole host of defenses one could fall back on to try to excuse Luther for this book. One could argue that he was simply a product of his times. Antisemitism was prevalent in most of Europe during the Middle Ages, after all, and Luther was merely writing as many thinkers of his age did. Or one could point out that Luther’s book was precipitated by the publication of a Jewish tract which (apparently) aimed to convert Christians to Judaism; Luther was no doubt writing in anger rather than reasoned thought. One could even point out that Luther’s earlier writings on the Jews were generally counsels to love them, not persecute them. Yes, one could do all these things when confronted by people disgusted with Luther and what he wrote. But I suggest there is a better approach to take.
We should agree with them.
Read the rest of the article over at CanadianLutheran.ca.