- The Oxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther
It is rare to describe an academic project as breathtaking, but that designation is exactly what should be said of this encyclopedia. Editors Nelson and Hinlicky have assembled 125 entries by 113 international scholars offering cutting edge scholarship on virtually every imaginable avenue of current Luther research. Not only is each entry substantiated with endnotes, but each entry offers an overview of the available literature on any given topic, often with a direction for where new research ought to go. The project appears in two formats, a three-volume print version referenced above, but also an online version, which is poised to be open to revision as new developments arise. For access to the online version, see: http://religion.oxfordre.com/search?f_0=keyword&q_0=Martin%20Luther. No doubt, this encyclopedia will be the first stop for any Luther research by scholars or serious students. Note, however, that this project is weighted more toward the academic community, and less toward pastors and church leaders.
All the standard theological loci such as God, justification, Holy Spirit, church, and so forth are present. Additionally, we find articles on the reception of Luther in select European countries (Britain, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Germany) as well as North America, Latin America, and among "world Christianities." Luther's biography (volume II) is helpfully divided up into three entries (1483–1516, 1517–1525, 1526–1546), each written by a different expert. Luther's works are also analyzed based on the type of literature they represent: catechisms, disputations, treatises, sermons, table talk, and pastoral writings.
This encyclopedia is most interesting, however, because it brings up various topics of which we would not conventionally think. [End Page 360] These include articles on "body, desire, and sexuality," "cosmology," "emotions and experience," "gift," "Luther, Lutheranism, and Post-Christianity," "magic and occult," "modern New Testament scholarship," "Polemicist," "Portrayals in Print, Stage and Film," and "relational thinking."
Topics chosen for inclusion fall under four broad categories: (1) contexts (historical situation of the reformation), (2) genres, (3) theology and ethics, and (4) reception and transformation. The overall portrait of Luther and his reformation which comes through these entries tends to surmount the tendency to make Luther either a hero or a villain, and challenges stereotypes of Luther as either the defender of individualistic conscience or the source of "virulent nationalism" (xxii). Indeed, the project succeeds in its goal to destabilize "fixed images of Martin Luther" (xxiii). But this is only possible because the editors have brought together Luther scholars of such disparate disciplines and perspectives, such as social historians, intellectual historians, economic historians, historians of gender, art historians, theologians belonging to different schools, and ethicists. The overall work is markedly interdisciplinary at every level. So, for example, in the matter of indulgences, the political question of German money flowing into Italy is given as much attention as much as the theological questions about penance and salvation.
A bonus of the Encyclopedia is the fact that many topics receive commentary from multiple perspectives. By looking at these multiple perspectives, a fuller portrait of the topic is obtained. So, for example, with the topic of "law," John Witte examines how the Reformation brought about changes in civil law, Charles Arand presents the relation between law and gospel, Knut Alfsvåg explores Luther on Natural Law theory, and Risto Saarinen and Derek Nelson look at law in the totality of Luther's corpus. Similarly, with respect to "philosophy" the Encyclopedia offers the following angles: (1) Simon D. Podmore describes "Modern European Philosophy," (2) Pekka Kärkkäinen writes on "Nominalism and the Via Moderna," (3) Dennis Bielfeldt presents "Ontology," (4) Hans-Peter Grosshans describes the relation between "Reason and Philosophy," and (5) Albrecht Beutel shows Luther's influence on the "German Enlightenment." In such a kaleidoscopic perspective, it is impossible not to receive some awareness [End Page 361] that one did not previously have. My only complaint with respect to the topic of philosophy is that no entry raises up the work...