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Jeremy Butler #22416702

CHHI 525

Liberty Theological Seminary

Critical Book Review

A Paper
Submitted to Dr. Tim McAlhaney
In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Course
History of Christianity II
CHHI 525

By
Jeremy Butler

06 December 2009
Jeremy Butler #22416702
CHHI 525
Roland Bainton’s “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther” is considered by many

a classic work on the famous reformer. His in depth study and research on Luther, the

surrounding events and situations are of great quality and insight. Bainton is well

qualified to write on the subject having taught Ecclesiastical History at Yale Divinity

School for forty-two years. For the most part Bainton seems to paint a solid and accurate

picture of the man who turned the church upside down but does leave me with a point or

two of contention. He seems to have missed the mark as to Luther’s main driving force

and chief end.

Bainton begins as with most biographies with some background information on

Luther and moves mostly chronologically through his life. Following this section He

moves into Luther’s days as a monk and focuses on how dedicated he was in this.

Moving forward Bainton covers Luther’s inner struggles of faith and how he developed

his theology which would lead to his eventual problems with the Roman church. The

book continues on focusing heavily on his conflict with the papacy, certain individuals

and the church in general. The final section of the book centers on Luther’s contributions

following his conflicts with the Catholic Church. These chapters discus his work on

translating the Bible to German, other writings including hymns as well as his

contribution to early Protestant traditions.

Bainton doesn’t limit himself to only things Luther in his biography. This is both

an incredible strength and a glaring weakness of the work. The strength is easily

discerned as providing a well-thought and complete understanding of the time. This

includes a great overview of some of the other great individuals in church history such as

Erasmus and movements such as the Anabaptist and Hussites. The weakness in this is
Jeremy Butler #22416702
CHHI 525
also easily seen. The trouble with this is that the book becomes less a biography of the

man, Martin Luther, and more a history of the Reformation. This doesn’t take away from

the complexity and quality of the work but it may be slightly mislabeled solely as a

biography.

The major focus of the body seems to be on the theology of Luther. Bainton goes

to great lengths to explain circumstances and understanding as to how Luther came to his

conclusions on theology. He uses a tremendous amount of quotations and excerpts from

writings to limit his own bias and leave it to Luther to tell us about himself. The use of

the numerous sketches, illustrations and carvings coupled with descriptions and

explanations are also a nice feature that further explains the events and people of the

time. Overall this text provides a great resource for studying the Reformation and along

with the extensive bibliography provides a great starting point for deeper study.

My major criticism of the work stems from one phrase that I cannot help but

mention. Bainton asserts of Luther that “religion was for him the chief end of man, and

all else peripheral.” This statement seems a bit different from a more famous Lutheran

quote “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—…..my conscience is

captive to the Word of God.” I may be splitting hairs but his focus wasn’t on religion but

on Word of God which filled his thoughts of God’s grace and faith. Luther focused

everything in his beliefs and actions on faith in Christ. The Gospel was his true chief

end, not religion, or works but the simple story of grace and the work of Christ on the

cross.

The theological focus of this work is to me its’ greatest strength, especially the

chapter on the Gospel. Bainton’s explanation of Luther’s understanding of Christ’s


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CHHI 525
words on the cross “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” provides a true

snapshot of the struggles not only of Luther but of Christ and gives a deeper

understanding of the Gospel as a whole. Following these strengths is the overall

historical treatment of the Reformation which gives a great starting point for further study

on the period. The weaknesses are mostly that of a possible misrepresentation of the

book as a true biography when it is more an overall history of the period with a focus on

its main character. The other minor faults mostly deal with Bainton’s interjecting of his

own guesses or opinions into the understanding of Luther’s thinking. For the most part

the book seems to be a faithful volume on the matter and should be recommended for

anyone wanting to further study the Reformation and its greatest figure.
Jeremy Butler #22416702
CHHI 525
Bibliography

Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Mentor, 1950.