Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 08:1 (Winter 1999)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous

Book Reviews

Luther: Man Between God And The Devil, Heiko A. Oberman. New Haven: Yale University Press (1989). 380 pages, cloth, $29.95.

If James Kittelson has given us the best readable and accessible introduction to Luther’s life, then the next step up in the biographical journey must include this English translation of the original German volume, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil. Luther scholar Heiko Oberman, now professor of Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation History at the University of Arizona, tackles his subject from the standpoint of Luther’s conflict with Satan whom Luther considered to be locked in continual conflict with God and His people. Here one of the world’s most highly respected Luther scholars provides what most think is the definitive single-volume treatment of Martin Luther.

Oberman, the author of numerous books, including The Dawn of the Reformation, The Harvest of Medieval Theology, The Impact of the Reformation, and The Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Age of Renaissance and Reformation, is a distinguished Reformation scholar who has a profound knowledge of medieval scholastic thought. This knowledge allows Oberman to range across a number of important fields of study while providing, at the same time, a closely reasoned biographical account of Luther’s life and times.

Oberman begins with the background of the political and social setting at the turn of the sixteenth century. He

gives a rather brief account of the young Luther, describing his relationship with his parents and his unique intellectual growth. After showing how Luther’s theology emerged out of early struggles Oberman helpfully unpacks the controversies within the new movement begun in the second decade of the century. Controversies, which played such an important part in the true story, are accurately opened and addressed.

What makes this book intriguing, and at the same time unusual, is how the author traces Luther’s struggle to his opposition of the Devil. He insists that Luther was acutely aware of Satan. Oberman believes, therefore, that the Devil “provides the key to understanding this man at once creative and crude, who railed bitterly against popes, Turks, and Jews as instruments of the Devil” (dust jacket). The same description concludes that Luther “... brought hope and consolation by emphasizing the need for people to have faith in God’s mercy and to perform acts of righteousness—with the aim not of winning favor with God but of improving the world.”

Oberman demonstrates that the times were such that belief in the Devil was commonplace. He then develops his uni...

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