Book in Review: "Here I Stand"

Though written over 65 years ago, Here I Stand is still widely read and is by many considered the best work on the life of Martin Luther. Though I have not read enough to make any such claim, I can say that this is an excellent biography written with a melodic prose that truly captures weight of Martin Luther.

Luther is a controversial figure. Demonized by his opponents and glorified by his followers, there seems to be little middle ground with the man. After all he was a revolutionary who did not mince words; an unstable maverick who shook the world in in the 1500s leaving us in the wake of the aftershock today. He went after popes and kings, monastic institutions and sacraments. But whatever your view on Luther may be, you cannot deny that He lived out of a deeply rooted conviction; a passion for God's Word that He subjected His life to. Luther believed in the primacy of Scripture so much that He translated that Bible into the German common tongue in order that all men and women would be able to subject their lives to its authority.

This book gave me a greater appreciation of how much Luther accomplished. He was not just some divisive church reformer. Luther was a preacher, pastor, counselor, translator, father, husband, composer, and political advisor. "The sum extant of the sermons he preached is 2300!" Bainton writes,
“If no Englishman occupies a similar place in history it is because no Englishman had anything like Luther’s range. The Bible translation in England was the work of Tyndale; the prayer book of Cranmer, the catechism of the Westminster divines. The sermonic style stemmed from Latimer; the hymnbook came from Watts. And not all of these lived in one century. Luther did the work of more than five men.”
Martin Luther did not just correct a church that had long lost its way, he re discovered a church model that is followed (and heavily borrowed) from to this day. He was not the sower of discord that many see him as, but a great planter of something true.

Perhaps Bainton's greatest insight was into Luther's "Anfechtungen" or his epic, internal struggles. When reading biographies it can be easy to get an idealistic picture of the individual being studied. This account however was free to go into the depths of Luther’s intense battles and depressions that perpetuated throughout his life. Instead of crushing him, these internal torments formed him, enabling him to reach great heights. Luther himself said, “He does not know the meaning of hope who was never subject to temptations.” Through the darkness the light can be seen brighter.

Though a good and concise biography I wish that Bainton expanded on certain aspects. I found myself frequently getting lost in the politics of the middle ages: this rival did this, this heretic said that; this duke sided with Luther, this one did not. As an uninformed reader, I needed a little more careful background to bring me to terms with the scenes of the turbulent middle ages. Also while Bainton did not shy away from Luther’s failures—he heaped praise after praise on the man. Part of me wishes “Here I stand” was a little more neutral in this, speaking more frequently about the consequences of Luther’s brashness.

All in all, great biography. 4/5 stars.

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