Will the Real Martin Luther Please Stand Up?
Back in 1983 I was a young keen PhD student just starting out and trying to grapple with the theology and personalities of the Reformation. 1983 was, of course, an important anniversary date for Reformation enthusiasts because it was the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther. As part of the anniversary celebrations, there was a lecture at the German Historical Institute in London and my supervisor managed to get me a ticket. I was blown away by what took place.
The guest lecturer was a distinguished Dutch historian who had, up to that point, spent most of his career teaching and lecturing in Germany. Heiko Augustus Oberman (died 2001) was, at that time, the greatest living historian of the Reformation by a mile. The room was packed with historians of all sorts of shapes and sizes and, by the end of Oberman’s lecture we were all spellbound. Truly great thinkers (like truly great preachers incidentally) take great, profound and difficult concepts and make them accessible and comprehensible to ordinary mortals like you and I. That’s exactly what Oberman did for us that night. I and everyone else who had been present went away thinking ‘Why has nobody else ever explained Luther like that? It’s so obvious, so simple, it’s like we always should have understood Luther but never have.’
Last Christmas (2011) I was asked by the editors of this blog to give an insight into what I might be doing over Christmas. I remember writing that I would, no doubt, spend a little ‘downtime’ re-reading my favourite book, Oberman’s Luther: Man between God and the Devil. Published first in German in 1982 and then in English translation in 1989 it is, without doubt, the most stimulating modern book I have ever read. So I thought that I would take you over the next few weeks through some of the less explored areas of Luther’s life, theology and ministry using Oberman as my guide. It’s Martin Luther all right, but probably not as you know him!