The Many Faces of Martin Luther

91jtsEDR+TL“Brilliant, tormented, passionate, scatological, superstitious, devious, loyal, bitter—pick an adjective, good or bad, and it invariably applies to the German reformer Martin Luther at one time or another in his turbulent life. . . . The towering figure who changed the course of Western civilization also had feet of clay. That is one reason why, 500 years later, we continue to find Luther captivating. . . .

As a Reformation scholar, I too find myself returning again and again to Luther, both for amusement and insight. I am not sure my ego could have survived the scathing rebukes he dished out to some of his closest friends. The truth is many of his friends learned to bite their tongues, or else they became his enemies. It was indeed difficult to stand in the presence of what his closest ally, Philip Melanchthon, described as a ‘militant temperament’ and a ‘cocky self-righteousness.’ Luther was a raging fire.”                 —Frank A. James III

So begins my scholar husband’s review of Herman Selderhius’s excellent new biography, Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography.

Frank’s review, titled “The Many Faces of Martin Luther,” alerts prospective readers that truly understanding Luther will undoubtedly require some readjustments (especially for those inclined toward hero worship of the reformers).

“Herman Selderhuis’s biography proves that just about every adjective, good or bad, can apply to the great reformer.”

While there are few reformation scholars to equal Dr. Selderhuis, and his work reflects superb scholarship and analysis, he wrote this book for a general audience. And for the record, he could hardly have chosen a more colorful and entertaining subject than Luther.

Read the whole review here.

Then take a look inside the book and order a copy here.


Herman Selderhuis


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Stan the Man!

stan_gundryIt was one of those moments I will never forget. I was at a Synergy conference when I asked a roomful of Synergy women how many of them were involved in ministry because of the advocacy of a man.

Nearly every woman in the room raised her hand.

I have no doubt that most every raised hand represented more than one man. That is certainly true for me. Of course, it is no secret that my husband has opened doors for me (and often shoved me through the opening).

It is also true that I am indebted for my writing career to Stan Gundry.

In 1998, Stan (Zondervan’s Editor-in-Chief) was on campus at Reformed Theological Seminary/Orlando where Frank was a professor. Stan was there in search of prospective authors among the faculty. When the two of them met, Frank (ever the CCJ promoter) mentioned that Stan might be interested in work I was doing. Frank came home with an invitation in hand for me to submit a book proposal to Stan.

When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference was the ultimate outcome of that proposal, but it didn’t come without a fight. I wanted to write about the importance of theology for women. But this was not the kind of book publishers were typically releasing for women.

Stan, already a staunch advocate for women, was unflinching in his support from the beginning. He was also realistic about the challenges involved in getting a contract. For me, the process involved a rejection letter from a male editor, a follow-up conversation with Stan who nudged that editor to give my proposal another look, and getting through the final jury—an all male publishing board.

From the start, I had two strikes against me. First, that I didn’t have a large audience, and second, that the men on the publishing committee didn’t think women would buy a book about theology—what they called the “dreaded T-word.”

What tipped the scales for me was a pile of impassioned letters from women who wrote to tell Zondervan that they wanted serious theological books. Later, I learned that Stan finally told the Pub Board “Maybe we should trust the ladies on this one.”

I couldn’t have imagined a better advocate!

He didn’t stop there. He befriended, mentored, and coached me every step of the way. He is always checking to make sure his team is treating me well—which I’m happy to say they always are.

I know I’m not the only one who loves and thanks God for this wonderful man. His ears should have been burning recently when I was at Moody Bible Institute, where earlier in his career he was a theology professor. One of the current professors, Dr. Pamela MacRae, told me that he was her favorite theology professor.

Today, November 16, at the Evangelical Theological Society, Zondervan unveiled a new book—a Festschrift—in Stan’s honor:  Evangelical Scholarship, Retrospects and Prospects: Essays in Honor of Stanley N. Gundry. (If you don’t know what a Festschrift is, you have a new word to Google. Look it up! It’s a huge honor.) It was a total surprise to Stan—and no small feat on the part of Katya Covrett and company to pull off the covert publication of a Zondervan book under the ever watchful eye of the vigilant Editor-in-Chief who was totally surprised.

Frank and I were privileged to contribute a chapter, “The Blessed Alliance—Already and Not Yet.” I’ve experienced that Blessed Alliance in my friendship with Stan—the Blessed Alliance reflected when  countless female hands went up at that Synergy Conference.

Stan, you are the man—a kind a gracious man!  Many thanks and congratulations!

evangelical scholarship

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Something to ponder . . .


“The small nuances of our day-to-day attitudes, acts, and words brought to their final fruition, turn out to be the stuff that heaven and hell are made of. . . . Every attitude, act, and word of ours partakes, alas, of either charity or egoism. Nothing is quite neutral. (We cannot read the prophets or the Sermon on the Mount without becoming alarmed over this.) Charity is what heaven is made of, and egoism is what hell is made of. One way or another, I am becoming more and more at home in one or the other. . . . The whole conflict of heaven and hell crops up at our elbow a thousand times a day. Everything in our experience seems to carry an enormous weight or significance.”

—Professor Thomas Howard, “Heaven and Hell Under Every Bush.”

To read more: “The Seismic Implications of #MeToo”

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Why Vindicating the Vixens Matters

FullSizeRenderA week from now (November 15-17 to be precise) the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) will gather for the 69th time. This year’s conference (held at Providence, Rhode Island) will be my first venture into an organization that for most of those 69 years been predominately the domain of white male evangelical biblical and theological scholars.

I’ll be attending on a non-member guest pass so I can participate on a panel moderated by Dr. Sandra Glahn. Sandi is editor of a new book, Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women in the Bible, that is being released for the first time at the ETS conference.

The panel consists of authors (both women and men) who contributed chapters to this important book. Each of us took up a biblical narrative of a woman in the Bible who has historically been interpreted in ways that reinforce the long-held conviction that women aren’t safe or that women who occupy leadership roles are aberrations. They don’t count as role models for the rest of us because women aren’t supposed to be leaders. The book features well-known names such as Eve, Tamar, Rahab, Deborah, Bathsheba, Huldah, Mary Magdalene, and Junia. I wrote the chapter titled “Tamar—The Righteous Prostitute.”

The immediate objective is to recover these narratives through solid scholarship and careful re-examination of these women within the ancient patriarchal cultural context. Sentences passed on these women generations ago deserve another look.

The long-range objective, however, hits closer to home.

Misinterpreting these narratives comes at a high cost today, not only for women and girls, but for the whole church and for the mission Jesus entrusted to us. Both women and men are impacted by these negative portrayals. Not only do they project a false view of women as inherent hindrances instead of indispensable allies for God’s purposes, they create suspicion and barriers between God’s sons and daughters when he created us to be a united force (that is to say, a Blessed Alliance) for his kingdom. This weakens the church by inclining women to hold back and depriving men of the strengths and gifts they need from their sisters.

That’s merely the harm done inside the church. It doesn’t address the negative, unwelcoming message this conveys to those we long to reach with the gospel.

The Roots of Vilifying Women in the Bible

Negative views of women come with a long history. The problem started early—at the fall—when Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam. Outside of Eden, patriarchy placed women on lower rungs of the social ladder by establishing the rule of men over women.

Both Jesus and Paul dismantled the temptress phobia of women in ways that defied and shocked their patriarchal culture. Jesus’ habitual interactions with women were counter-cultural, and Paul didn’t blink when the Holy Spirit sent him to plant the first church in Europe with a team of believing women (Acts 16:9-40). Paul later paid tribute to those founding mothers of the Philippian church in a letter that opened with,

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-4, emphasis added).

Evidently, the Early Church Fathers didn’t read the text carefully or simply found the downward pull of cultural values hard to resist. Instead of following Jesus and Paul’s lead, they reinforced prevailing negative views women with appalling statements (see, “The Pigtails that Sparked a Revolution”).

Tertullian applied the temptress label to every female and underscored the superiority of men when he wrote,

“Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die.”

The combined force of negative cultural views of women in every culture and negative statements of church fathers has impacted current thinking whether the acceptance of such thinking is involuntary or intentional. The resulting convictions make it hard to avoid viewing and interpreting biblical texts involving women through that cultural lens.

The Ripple Effect in the Present

Negative views of women—even kinder-gentler versions—continue to impact the present. Most importantly, patriarchy creates barriers between men and women that hinder God’s mission. But there are other serious consequences.

Maybe we should be asking how these views influence situations when women or girls in the church come forward with #MeToo stories or to seek protection from domestic abuse. Why is the first question all too frequently, “What were you wearing?” Or why do church leaders so often send wives back into harm’s way with instructions to “Try to be more submissive?”

Thankfully, that doesn’t happen every time. Growing numbers of Christian men have a high regard for women and won’t tolerate their mistreatment. Still, this new book is a significant effort to rethink dynamics in Christian circles. With such a long history and deeply held pejorative views of women, we have our work cut out for us.

My mission on this panel is to give a faithful portrait of Tamar—a woman whose unfortunate “claim to fame” is the fact that she posed as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law, Judah. With the cultural context clearly in view, we will find that the real Tamar was a hero.

I’ll have twenty minutes to pull this off. The clock will be ticking. Generations of patriarchal commentaries have been given hermeneutical priority. But, as Jesus said: “the truth will set you free.”

For further reading:

“The Fab Four”
“The Seismic Implications of #MeToo”
Lost Women of the Bible: The Women We Thought We Knew
Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women


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The Seismic Implications of #MeToo


“This is a larger cultural change away from patriarchy . . . an epic cultural change.”       —David Zurawik

The Baltimore Sun’s media critic David Zurawik’s astute observation came on the heels of the precipitous downfalls of three powerful men who once seemed invincible: Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Harvey Weinstein. All three were accused of sexual harassment and assault by women in their organizations.

Sexual harassment and assault are crimes of power, which men—especially men in positions of power and prominence—have recklessly committed. They do so with the arrogant but all-too-often accurate assumption that they will never face a day of reckoning.

When caught (and most are not) their first defense is a barrage of denials and verbal attacks to shame, discredit, and silence their accusers. If that fails, they often rely on cronyism and the urgency of protecting lucrative business careers or the company’s reputation to save them.

Compared to what victims suffer, the worst consequences these perpetrators face is a fine or costly settlement, followed by resuming business as usual. Not so for their traumatized victims. According to one sexual assault survivor, “My pain is everyday.”

But now, that day of reckoning has come.

Women are Speaking Out

What breached the “good old boy” system that up to now protected men from facing repercussions for their sexual offences is the fact that women are speaking out. What started as a few brave women pressing charges has escalated into a deafening chorus of female voices insisting they will be heard.

The first major collective protest was the Women’s March on January 21, 2017 when millions of pink-hatted women spilled into post-inauguration America’s city streets to demand the end of the sexual mistreatment of women. If their message didn’t sink in, the current #MeToo Twitter storm magnified their protest with scores of women bravely telling personal stories of sexual harassment and assault and plenty of women recalling memories they’d like to forget.

An indicator of just how difficult and painful it is for women talk about what was done to them are the tweets that simply say #MeToo. That alone takes a lot of courage. Filling in the details or identifying the perpetrator is simply asking too much.

Suddenly men who once assumed they could get away with anything are finding they can no longer buy or bluff or bully their way out of a jam. Even the current Oval Office occupant hasn’t heard the last from his accusers or about his own self-incriminating boasts.

#MeToo won’t be the last of it either. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, whose sexual harassment allegations brought down her boss Roger Ailes, has become a lightening rod for women’s stories. Her new book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take your Power Back, retells those stories to raise awareness, bring an end to sexual harassment of women and girls, and help them find their voices and the courage to resist.

Suddenly no man is too big to suffer consequences for his sexual misconduct, even though some are still denying and insisting they’re the real victims. The day of reckoning has come, and it is long overdue.

But the cost for men when they are caught—embarrassing allegations, lawsuits, expensive settlements, and falls from grace—goes well beyond what these men fear. The damage they are inflicting on themselves is far worse than any consequence an accuser or even a court of law can bring.

When Men Sabotage Themselves

Tucked inside my copy of Charles Williams’ novel, Descent Into Hell, that I read in college was an article titled “Heaven and Hell Under Every Bush.” The article, written by English Professor Thomas Howard, analyzes Williams’ thought and retains enormous relevance in today’s #MeToo world.

The small nuances of our day-to-day attitudes, acts, and words brought to their final fruition, turn out to be the stuff that heaven and hell are made of. . . . Every attitude, act, and word of ours partakes, alas, of either charity or egoism. Nothing is quite neutral. (We cannot read the prophets or the Sermon on the Mount without becoming alarmed over this.) Charity is what heaven is made of, and egoism is what hell is made of. One way or another, I am becoming more and more at home in one or the other. . . . The whole conflict of heaven and hell crops up at our elbow a thousand times a day. Everything in our experience seems to carry an enormous weight or significance.

When a man succumbs to his own narcissistic projections and sexually exploits or harasses a woman for his own self-gratification, he is degrading his own humanity and violating himself as a man. It is a man’s undoing to inflict harm on any of God’s image bearers, which only by the grace of God will he be brought to see.

Even more serious, the predatory attitudes, actions and words of God’s image bearers are making false statements about God’s character—reflecting lies about him. Selfishness is destructive. Selflessness is gospel. We become our best selves as human beings and more truly like our Creator when we love our neighbor as ourselves and put the interests of others ahead of ourselves.

Instead of a threat, this kind of man is truly good news for women.

Adversaries or Allies?

The seismic cultural shift that Zurawik identified was well underway long before the Women’s March or the bold #MeToo tweets. The seeds of that shift were planted in the Garden at the beginning of time. That’s when God defined how he wants his world to work when he created his male and female image bearers and commissioned them to do his work in the world together.

Patriarchy was waiting for humanity outside the Garden after the fall. In the hinterlands of Eden human rule over creation was distorted as men assumed power over women and men began to exert power over other men. Patriarchy was never God’s intention. It is proving its destructive powers against women and also against men as the #MeToo tweets continue.

Yes, Zurawik is right. Something bigger is going on. The epic cultural shift away from patriarchy that we are witnessing takes on new meaning and gains new power when Jesus’ gospel drives it. As Christians, we are called to embody and advance this great reversal.

For more about this hope-filled endeavor, see Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World

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Give Yourself a Day-Late Reformation 500 Treat!

9780310257431Trust me, this is no trick. This deal is totally sweet!

Church History Volume 2 (Kindle version) is now on sale. This normally expensive book (hardcover $36.88 on Amazon) and heavy (a couple of inches thick) is currently available on Kindle for $8.99!

My favorite church historian, Frank A. James III, wrote the Reformation and the Modern Church sections. If you’ve ever read anything he’s written, you’ll know what I mean when I say these chapters are gripping and shockingly honest.

Frank isn’t into hagiography. He’s a truth teller–even about his favorite theologians. Those who know him have heard him say, “God works through sinners to accomplish his good purposes.”

That should gives hope to all of us.

I read every word he wrote and, to be honest, just reading his chapters is worth purchasing the hard copy. But for the moment, you can have this book instantly at your fingertips for a steal of a price.

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The Pigtails that Sparked a Revolution

Version 3

Martin Luther, the confirmed celibate priest, had no intentions of marrying. He had theology on his mind. As it turned out, no one was more surprised than Luther to find himself at the marriage altar. Instead, as he later recalled, “Suddenly and when my mind was on other matters, the Lord snared me with the yoke of matrimony.”

What Luther discovered to his own surprise was that good theology has a way of touching down in places none of us expect. The impact of his theology of marriage would ultimately blindside him and totally change his life…for the better.

The forces of holy matrimony began closing in on an unsuspecting Luther when a wagonload of shipping barrels were deposited on his doorstep. Those barrels, originally packed with a cartload of herring that was unloaded at a convent, now contained surprising cargo: twelve renegade nuns who had defected from Catholicism to Protestantism and had appealed to Luther for help.

Matchmaker Luther

Luther was tasked with the responsibility of finding proper homes for the former nuns. Three were safely returned to their families. But families of the remaining nine refused to take their daughters back. So it fell to Luther to find husbands for them. He began systematically arranging marriages for the remaining nine.

He successfully found husbands for eight out of the nine. That left Katherine von Bora, who was proving hard to please. Luther came up with a couple of different options. None of them would do.

In 1953, the Lutheran Church produced a biographical film about Luther which portrayed a stymied Luther fruitlessly proposing candidates for Katie, when he saw a look in her eye that left him squirming nervously. The next scene was their wedding—a marriage of convenience for her and of inconvenience for him, or so he thought.

No one would have suspected the ultimate outcome of their relationship when a doleful Luther remarked, “I feel neither passionate love nor burning for her.”

Luther would discover, much to his surprise, that along with the theological and religious changes the Reformation was advancing, his marriage to the strong, smart, capable Kate would spark a social revolution as impactful as the Reformation of doctrine.

The Reformation of Marriage

Obviously the freedom for clergy to marry was yet another significant Protestant break with Roman Catholic doctrine (then and now). In his pre-Katie von Bora days, Luther had argued from his study of scripture that the requirement of celibacy for the priesthood was unbiblical. Within the Catholic Church, that should have been obvious, given the fact that the Apostle Peter—regarded as the first pope—had a mother-in-law. Justification (pun intended) for Luther’s marriage to Kate was theological and pragmatic. Over time, due to his relationship with Kate, his understanding of the value of marriage would deepen and a Blessed Alliance between them would take shape.

Beyond their marriage, Luther’s revolutionary views of celibacy and marriage created a seismic cultural shift. It violated established negative views of women and marriage that were embedded in the church and still have a lingering effect.

I’m married to a church historian and Reformation scholar who on frequent occasions has pointed out the misogyny that permeates the works of the Early Church Fathers. These are the men who shaped much of today’s orthodox Christian theology and doctrinal creeds. But when it came to their theology of marriage and women, these men were entrenched in their culture and they missed the truth by a mile. Statements from them that we have on record seem to have more in common with some of today’s demeaning “locker room talk” regarding women than the Bible’s view of God’s daughters.

Only think of the devastating impact when men of theological stature and acumen assert that celibacy is godly and marriage is not (Jerome) or that women are “not the image of God” (St. Augustine). Origin described women as “worse than animals,” and Tertullian added his two bits when he accused women of being “the devil’s gateway”—fueling the enduring notion of women as temptresses.

Aristotle believed that a woman is a “botched male.” According to Albert the Great, the fairer sex has a “defective nature,” and is “a poisonous snake” and “a horned devil.” Odo of Cluny employed scatological language, portraying women as “a sack of manure.”

We may roll our eyes at such outrageous language, but those Church Father’s words have done lasting damage in diminishing women to an unspoken but no less real second-class status vis-à-vis men in the wider culture and also in the church.

So when Luther revoked the celibacy requirement for the clergy, he was undermining long-held cultural and religious assumptions about both women and marriage. When he stood at the marriage altar to become Kate’s lawfully wedded husband, he was living out his theology.

But what is most remarkable with Luther and Kate is that, in their case, marriage didn’t simply mean companionship, the house swept clean, dinner served on time, and little ones underfoot. Over time, their relationship took a radical turn that changed everything for both of them.

Luther and Katie Cracked the Code

Much to his surprise, Martin Luther fell deeply in love with his wife. He quickly grew to treasure, admire, and respect his German bride. Although he remained a man of his time in many respects, he found her strengths were assets on which he could safely rely. Katie brought strength to their relationship and was a capable manager of their home and of their farm. Best of all, she was a spiritual ally and a source of courage in the ongoing battles he fought with opposition, death threats, and bouts of depression.

Luther became utterly devoted to her.

On his last journey, he penned letters to her in which he playfully addressed her as “Housewife of the Heart” and “Madam Pig-Marketer,” affectionately signing his letters as “your old love-bird” and “the willing servant of your Holiness.”

At his death, Luther broke with cultural protocol, naming Katie (instead of a male relative) as the executor of his will. He wrote, “I appoint you, Katie, as universal heiress. You bore the children and gave them your breast. You will not manage their affairs to their disadvantage. I am hostile to guardians, who seldom do things correctly.”

Their Blessed Alliance was fortified by their shared commitment to their Protestant faith and an ever deepening love for each other. They were in the battle together—no matter what God put in their path—ministering to their sick and dying neighbors during the Black Plague (instead of fleeing as other did) or staying strong together in the adversity the Reformation brought their way. Their confidence and trust in God and in each other was profound. We are the beneficiaries of their Blessed Alliance.

Pigtails on His Pillow

We should thank God that Martin Luther faced the shock of Katie’s pigtails on his pillow. It was the beginning of a good man’s great awakening to God’s wisdom in creating his male and female image bearers to join forces and do his work together. The church rightly credits Luther for breaking theological ground with respect to celibacy, marriage, and women. But we do him and Katie a great disservice if we stop there and fail to recognize the bigger implications of their marriage.

Their relationship went well beyond establishing the equality of women and men or simply getting along. Together, Martin and Katie point us to the power unleashed when God’s sons and daughters join forces to strengthen each other and advance God’s kingdom together. Their Blessed Alliance is a worthy study and corrective for the church in reassessing the state of relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ and reminding us that we all have more ground to gain in forging that Blessed Alliance.

Originally published at

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