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Martin Luther: A Penguin Life (Penguin Lives Biographies) Hardcover – January 29, 2004


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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Lives Biographies
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (January 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670032727
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032723
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.4 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #278,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Marty, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and winner of the National Book Award for Righteous Empire, offers a sterling biography of history's irascible reformer. In concise, accessible style, Marty outlines Luther's life and times, gauging why this man changed the face of Europe and Western Christianity. Marty excels in distilling debates that were matters of life and death 500 years ago but seem obscure to Christians today. Although the celibacy of the clergy is a controversy that no contemporary reader will need explained, other issues such as infant baptism, communion in both kinds (the laity receiving both the bread and the wine) and justification by grace through faith are made accessible by Marty's skillful narration. He depicts Luther as a "man of extremes," bound up in contradictions. Marty wryly notes that Luther's biographer is doomed to qualify any statement about him with the phrase "at the same time." The theologian was tender, yet at the same time blustery and arrogant; he could be a superbly cogent thinker, yet near the end of his life he published a horrific attack on Jews that unthinkingly drew upon "traditional Christian rumors" and "whispered claims" about alleged Jewish atrocities. Even his beliefs seemed rife with contradiction: Christians were simultaneously justified and sinners; they were perfectly free but bound in service to all; God was both revealed and inscrutable. Marty is sensitive to Luther's deep, lifelong quest for theological assurance and his struggles with doubt. This is the best brief biography of Luther ever penned.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Renowned historian of religion (and Lutheran minister) Marty, author of multivolume studies, here gives us a short, vivid biography. His portrait confirms Luther's stubborn integrity; he was serious about Scripture as the sole authority for Christian practice, and that led him to repudiate clerical hierarchy and priestly celibacy, and to declare the priesthood of all believers and the goodness of God's gift of the body. He was, however, humanly contradictory, "a man of conservative outlook," Marty says, "but also a person of radical expression." He identified and sympathized with the common people yet so feared disorder that he sided with the abusive barons during the Peasants' War of 1524-25 rather than possibly overturn secular authority, even when it flouted Christian morals. Of course, he had his further reasons: utopian firebrand Thomas Muntzer was inciting the peasants to murderous class warfare, which Luther couldn't tolerate. Anti-Semitic in old age, he disgusted even his right-hand man, Philip Melancthon. Warts and all, however, Luther remains intrinsically admirable, a bulwark of conscience as well as faith. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Orthodox Lutheran Reader on December 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In November 2000, Penguin Group approached Martin Marty to write a biography on Martin Luther. He agreed and approached such a biography with no set agenda or niche he wished to fill that other biographies had left fallow. Yet throughout the book, one finds Marty talking about Luther as a Jacob (from the Old Testament account of Jacob wresting with God by the Jabbok River), as one who wrestled with God his entire life.

On one level, I found Marty's biography a complete joy to read. It straddles the fence between a theological development of Luther like that of Althaus or Lohse and a chronological, easy-to-read biography like that of Roland Bainton. This middle ground of Marty's book turns out to be a glowing success--but in a few ways, also a gloomy failure.

Marty succeeds getting into the mind of Luther as no other easy-to-read biography does. Early in the book, he highlights more than others do the influence on Martin Luther by Usingen and Trutvetter, two professors of Luther who were followers of Ockham. It was probably through them that the Sola Scriptura principle was planted into Luther's mind, which lay dormant until his struggles with Roman Catholicism forced that seed to spout and take root. Marty with clarity explains Luther's idea of Anfechtung (of inner struggle and anxiety), of a Christian being a theologian of the cross, and even the functions of Law and Gospel in the life of a person. Other biographies may touch on these topics, but not in the way Marty does--so that even a layperson or casual reader can grasp what Luther was getting at.

Strewn so informally throughout the book are golden nuggets of Luther's theology and insights that other biographies may not mention--or get wrong, if mentioned!
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47 of 53 people found the following review helpful By John F. Krueger on February 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Martin Luther was the great Protestant Reformer. Martin Marty is one of the great Lutheran theologians of our time. In Martin Luther: Penguin Lives, Martin (the younger) paints an excellent picture of Martin (the Luther) that goes far beyond the movie. Not only does Dr. Marty finish the story of the movie, but he also takes the measure of the man in a surprisingly unbiased manner.
The common thread between the movie and the book is the German word Anfechtungen, which is depicted in the movie as "conversations with the devil" and more accurately depicted in the book as plumbing the depths of a tortured soul. It is from these depths that the linchpin of Luther's theology, justification by grace through faith, has its roots - for Luther, it was his way to climb out of those depths alive.
Dr. Marty pulls no punches; despite his Lutheran pedigree, he excoriates Luther for his anti-Semitism (on the basis of both Christian behavior and bad scholarship) and his habit of lobbing grenades in unneeded and unwarranted directions (such as Erasmus and Henry VIII). In addition, he questions Luther's behavior during the Peasant Revolt of 1524-25 (unlike the movie) without moralizing or answering the questions for the reader.
This is a very accurate biography of Luther. It does not have the sappiness of Roland Bainton's "classic" biography (which was taken to the nth degree in the old b&w movie we "old Lutherans" saw in confirmation class) or the movie's portrayal of Luther as a dynamic hero (which was probably necessary for cinematic purposes).
What it does have are Luther's struggles with himself, the Roman church and other reformers.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By JKJ on March 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Having grown up Lutheran, I've know the facts of Luther's life practically from the cradle, and in our day we had to virtually memorize his Small Catechism when we were confirmed. Since then I've read other, longer bios and all were fine. But this one is excellent, though brief--or perhaps because it's brief. I learned even more about the man and his thinking, though I already knew a reasonable amount. This would also be a fine introduction for anyone who doesn't know much about Luther. It's concise and very well written, and neither idolizes nor condemns a complex man who did much to shape life as we now know it. I'm recommending it to all my friends, Lutheran and otherwise.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lutheran minister and historian Martin Marty writes a brief, but complete biography of Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation. Marty covers the life of Luther from birth and childhood until his death. Though overly detailed in some spots and sketchy in others, this biography gives the reader a fairly objective view the famous monk turned revolutionary. We learn about Luther's inner struggles through intensive research of his personal journals, letters, and subsequent biographies immediately after his death. A faithful monk and teacher, Martin Luther advocated the doctrine of the `priesthood of all believers' and `justification through faith alone.' This was in direct defiance of the Roman Catholic Church, which stressed the special power of the Pope and priests to intervene with God on behalf of the people. Though tolerated for years by Rome, he was eventually excommunicated and lived the rest of his under a death sentence. Some details about Luther's life were fascinating. He married a nun that he helped to escape from a convent. They had six children. He maintained relationships with powerful political figures during his long career. He grew bitter during old age and withdrew from public life. Disturbingly, Luther wrote several tracts condemning Jews that were later used by others to justify anti-Semitism. Throughout the biography, Marty depicts Luther as a man of extremes. He was both an erudite scholar and a fiery debater; harsh with critics, but loved by his students and followers; and a revolutionary that would not support violent peasant uprisings. Marty gives an excellent history lesson on the politics and religious controversies of the day. Understanding the political strife between the Germanic states and Roman Pope is critical to understanding the life and work of Martin Luther. Although slow in the beginning, this biography of history's most overlooked revolutionary is a complete and informative read.
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