- The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology, and: The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther
Historians of late medieval and early modern Europe should welcome two of the most recent contributions to a new series on religion: The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther, ed. Donald K. McKim (henceforth CCML), and The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology, ed. David Bagchi and David C. Steinmetz (henceforth CCRT).
Donald McKim has gathered an impressive number of English- and German-speaking scholars in CCML, whose eighteen chapters address Luther's life and context, his theology and writings, his reception, and his continuing legacy for both the modern church and contemporary theology. Albrecht Beutel opens with a biography of Luther, in which his intellectual development is presented chronologically and contextually. Repeating standard accounts, Beutel emphasizes Luther's life until the Peasants' War without giving equal attention to the two following decades, in which he was forced to clarify his positions not merely as a theologian, but as a scholar, pastor, and advisor to governments. Helmar Junghans's essay on "Luther's Wittenberg" explores the extent to which the city and its university informed and, indeed, influenced Luther and provided him with the colleagues and contexts to develop and pursue his program. His presence, however, also affected the local population and economy, especially the thriving printing industry.
The second section, "Luther's Work," includes ten of CCML's chapters, and thus represents the core of the volume. Timothy Lull's essay on "Luther's Writings" explains the state of the sources and breaks them down into some eighteen categories; here even the specialist will find a convenient and useful presentation of the themes and genres that the reformer took up. One should note, however, that Lull mistakenly assigns only the Hauspostille to the recently reprinted and affordable (and not always reliable) translation of Luther's sermons by J. N. Lenker [End Page 190] (50), when in fact these eight volumes also contain translations of his massive Kirchenpostille, the collection that generations of (not only!) Lutheran ministers used to prepare their sermons.
Eric Gritsch's "Luther as Bible Translator" is equally well done, and is illustrated by numerous examples of Luther's superb skill and creativity in order to demonstrate his insistence that the translator must ask, "What would a German say in this situation?" (69). Gritsch also provides details of the inner workings of Luther's translation team and the appropriation of his German Bible by Catholic opponents. Less successful is the piece on Luther as an interpreter of scripture by Oswald Bayer, whose massive and erudite Promissio (2nd ed., 1989) remains a standard, but whose chapter here is too complicated for a "companion" volume. He argues that Luther abandoned an entire tradition when he designated the language of the Bible as the present reality of the divine and not as a system of signs representing objects and emotions (that is, an absent reality). But his focus on speech acts, language as being, and a variety of semiotic concepts neglects completely the extent to which Luther's core doctrines shaped his entire approach to scripture and led him to emphasize certain biblical books at the expense of others.
Several additional chapters focus on specific theological themes, introduced by the fine interpretation of "Luther's Theology" by Markus Wriedt. Luther was not a systematic theologian, a problem Wriedt seizes as an opportunity to explore Luther's delight in exploiting tensions and contradictions between positions, termed here a "relational theology" (103) that was hyperconscious of conflict. Wriedt's piece may be warmly recommended as one that captures much in Luther by way of a limited number of clear and concise concepts.