NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, October 2nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
Well, it’s time to welcome Emily Whitten to tell us about our Classic Book of the Month for October. Hi, Emily! Thanks for joining us.
EMILY WHITTEN, BOOK REVIEWER: Hey, Mary! Glad to be here.
REICHARD: Last fall, you recommended several books on the Protestant Reformation. Today I think you have another classic on that subject, right?
WHITTEN: That’s right! We don’t have last year’s big anniversary—500 years since Martin Luther presented his 95 theses. But a lot of people celebrate October 31 as Reformation Day. So I figured, it’s a good time to pull out a classic biography on Martin Luther.
REICHARD: Makes sense to me. Tell us more!
WHITTEN: The title is Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Roland Bainton published the book in 1950, but you can still find plenty of print, ebook, and audiobook copies available. In fact, I highly recommend the Blackstone Audio version I listened to recently. Here’s a short clip:
AUDIO: My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything. For to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. The earliest printed versions added the words, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” The words, though not recorded on the spot, may nevertheless be genuine. Because the listeners at the moment may have been too moved to write.
REICHARD: That sounds like Luther’s famous speech at the Diet of Worms, although it reads differently…
WHITTEN: Or as my kids would say, the DIET of WORMS.
REICHARD: Ha. I have heard that pronunciation, too.
WHITTEN: At any rate, author Roland Bainton does a great job of setting up this defining moment. After many years of struggle and doubt, trying to find a solid foundation for faith, Luther finally appears before his judges at Worms. And there Roman Catholic officials call on him to recant his writings. But in the end, he stands firm on the Bible. He says, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” And in the second half of the book, we see the implications of that stand throughout the rest of his life.
REICHARD: So I guess Bainton chose a good title in Here I Stand.
WHITTEN: I agree, although I find it fascinating that, as he points out, Luther may not have uttered those words. Bainton could have skipped over that fact. But he remains committed to careful scholarship even when the truth is inconvenient—including unsavory aspects of Luther’s life like his anti-semitism or his over-the-top rhetoric.
I’d like to bring in R.C. Sproul at this point. Stephen Nichols of Ligonier Ministries’ Open Book podcast interviewed Sproul not long before his death. In this clip, they discuss why the book impacted Sproul so much:
SPROUL: He knows what he’s talking about. This biography gets in Luther’s skin.
NICHOLS: It sort of brings him to life?
SPROUL: It’s not hagiography. He notices Luther’s warts and all, but at the same time—I don’t want to sound trite and use the old cliché—but he makes Luther come alive. Luther’s not just some dusty memorial in the past. When you read this, you feel the weight of oppression and anxiety that Luther went through and the real rigors and torture of the monastery.
WHITTEN: I should note here, not everyone completely agrees with Sproul. Some folks think Bainton occasionally slips into hagiography, or painting too rosy of a picture. But overall, he writes in a way that’s both accessible and scholarly. He paints a riveting picture of Martin Luther as a real human being. AND he shows why Luther matters—to history and to us today.
REICHARD: Let’s take a moment and talk about Bainton then. How did he become such a great writer and scholar?
WHITTEN: Bainton came to America from England as a young boy. After graduating from Whitman College and then Yale University, he became a specialist in Reformation history at Yale Divinity School. One thing that sets him apart from other scholars—he did get ordained as a Congregationalist minister, though I don’t think he ever served in that capacity. But clearly he didn’t share the skepticism of many historians today. Bainton wrote more than 30 books in his career, with Here I Stand selling copies into the millions.
REICHARD: That’s interesting, because many academics struggle to connect with readers who aren’t in their discipline.
WHITTEN: That’s true. And I heard an interesting comment on that by Ryan Reeves recently. He’s Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Take a listen:
AUDIO: He would be a little bit blistering if not downright nasty at times to his Protestant brothers in different traditions. Over the course of the centuries, it meant the biggest fans were actually Lutherans. However, Roland Bainton’s changed so much of this. It really is a classic. It describes Luther in very, very wonderful, readable…In fact, it’s probably the most readable biography of Luther out there even today. And it put Luther back on the map. He suddenly became a person of respect for all Protestant traditions and even for some Catholics, frankly.
WHITTEN: Because Bainton used a wide lens, he won admiration for Luther from a lot of different camps. Bainton details contributions Luther made to culture, politics, and even economics. He also shows Luther’s impact on the everyday lives of Christians in many faith traditions—such as the use of congregational singing, catechism and Scripture memory, and emphasizing prayer in the home. Many of these practices go back to Luther’s stand at Worms and the reforms that came out of it.
REICHARD: Thanks for the recommendation, Emily. Sounds like a great option for those who want to celebrate Reformation Day—or maybe just want to learn what it’s about.
WHITTEN: You’re welcome, Mary. It’s always a pleasure talking with you.
REICHARD: Here I Stand by Roland Bainton is our Classic Book of the Month selection for October. You can find a transcript of today’s discussion along with links to the videos Emily mentioned at worldandeverything-dot-org.
And don’t forget to follow Emily on Twitter. Her handle is @emilyawhitten.