- Martin Luther—Lehrer der christlichen Religion by Reinhard Schwarz
Schwarz, Professor Emeritus of Church History at the Evangelical Theological Faculty, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, draws upon his lifetime of significant Luther research to provide a Luther study for Luther scholars. At the same time, this well-written inductive exposition of Luther’s theology obviously appeals to a wider audience beyond the specialist for, by the time of writing this review, a second edition had already appeared.
The present volume builds upon the church-historical foundations Schwarz developed in his “Luther” section of the handbook, Die Kirche in ihrer Geschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986, separately published in revised editions in 1998, separately published in revised editions in 2004). Steeped in Luther’s historical context and development, Schwarz now focuses [End Page 487] on Luther’s reformatory theology as a new understanding of Christianity in contrast to the institutional form and theology which Christianity acquired in the Middle Ages. Luther’s new reformatory understanding of the Christian religion as the proclamation of God’s unconditional promise of salvation in Jesus Christ is based in Scripture and is expressed through the dialectic of law and gospel. God’s Word of law and gospel directly addresses us and integrates our experience of God and of ourselves. Through the law we become conscious of our responsibility before God and recognize our estrangement from God. Whereas through the gospel of Christ we experience God’s salvation from the power over us of sin, death, and the law, thereby liberating us for neighbor-love (335–36). Schwarz graphically illustrates this law-gospel theology with an exposition of Cranach’s famous 1529 woodcut, “Law and Gospel” (chapter 5). When Luther examines biblical texts as to whether they testify to Christ (“Christum treiben”), he means Jesus Christ as the Redeemer and Liberator of humankind from every alienation from God. It is decisive for Luther’s insight into the essence of the gospel that the Word of God must be kept free from every form of sacral-legal admixture which he saw in medieval ecclesiology and doctrine (266). Luther views the relationship of the church to the gospel analogously to the relationship of sheep to their shepherd (John 10:3–5). The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice, and in following testify that in truth it is the voice of their shepherd. The shepherd in no way owes his authority to the sheep. Here Luther understands by “church” the believing community that exists through the Word of the gospel. The church in this understanding is not structured by a hierarchy vested by Christ as divine lawgiver with a unique legal authority over Scripture. The question of what confers certainty to the gospel cannot be answered with reference to the authority of the church. The gospel bears its own certainty in itself because it is experienced as the Word of God (464). Throughout his study, Schwarz emphasizes that Luther’s understanding of the Christian religion is focused solely upon God’s promise of salvation in the gospel of Jesus Christ received through faith alone. Faith is not formed or completed by love or any other pious activity, but on the contrary, is liberated for neighbor-love through God’s grace, favor, and pleasure (339–40). [End Page 488]
Schwarz exhibits a phenomenal grasp of Luther’s writings which he uses not as proof texts for his theological analysis and construction but rather as the textual substance of his exposition of Luther’s fundamental theological motifs. The book is practically a compendium of extensive Luther citations correlated with Luther’s theological loci. Those of us less adept in Latin will appreciate that Schwarz provides a German parallel for Latin citations. Schwarz’s conversance with Luther is also clearly seen in the extensive index of cited Luther texts (530–44). There is a bibliography correlated to the book’s chapters, and an index of persons and authorities extending from the classical period to the Reformation. A subject index would be helpful since the inner coherence of Luther’s theology means that...