John Fuller: Eric Metaxas joins us again today on Focus on the Family and he’s gonna help highlight the way our faith has been impacted by a great man of history. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, last time we started a great conversation about Martin Luther and the impact that his life had on the world in terms of how we practice our faith, how power in leadership is handled within the church,and we’re gonna continue that conversation. If you missed last time, you need to get the download or get the … the app on the Smartphone. Listen to it, because I thought it was such a great history lesson, John, about Martin Luther. And I know some of you are probably asking, yeah, I know the name. I don’t know a lot about him. Andthatwas all covered in the previous program.
John: Yeah, he was … he was really driven to follow God closely and uh … not without controversy. Eric Metaxas is a popular speaker and radio host. He’s the author of a number of books. He’s a very popular guest here at Focus on the Family and he wrote the book that is the subject of today’s conversation. We have it by the way, atfocusonthefamily.com.It’s calledMartin Luther.
Jim: Eric, welcome back to Focus.
Eric Metaxas: Always great to be here, thank you.
Jim: Now, we’re in your neck of the woods for Part 2. We were here for Part 1,
Eric: You’re in New York City.
Jim: New York City.
Eric: You’re … mine … this is my neck of the woods, even though there’s no woods technically.
Jim: They’re right out there. We see Central Park--
Eric: Well …
Jim: --right out the window.
John: Saw it yesterday.
Eric: Yeah, that’s a park.
Jim: Okay, let’s get on with this, because we’re recognizing this month, later this month, the 500thanniversary of--
Eric:It’s a big one, 500thanniversary.
Jim: --yeah, not many things are that … the United States is not that old--
Eric: Not exactly.
Jim: --just to put it in perspective.
Eric: Not even close.
Jim: Why have you fallen into this biography space? I mean, you’re very good at it with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example.
Eric: Well, to be perfectly honest, uh … like many things in my life, I would say it was the hand of God. I never wanted to write a biography. I always joked that I’m far too self-centered to want to write about somebody else. It’s just not the kind of thing I want to do, spend two years thinking about some other guy.
But uh … I was on CNN back in 2005 talking about my Everything About God book and the anchor said, “Hey, what’s this here?” You know, and she suddenly points me to a page in my book where I refer to William Wilberforce. So, suddenly I’m on CNN talking about Wilberforce. Next thing I know, a publisher contacts me. “How’d you like to write a biography of William Wilberforce, because there’s a movie coming out, the 200thanniversary of the … the abolition of the slave trade.” That led to my writing Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce. Never thought I would do it.
But uh … after I wrote that, people then said, “Oh, you wrote that biography. Obviously, you’re gonna write more biographies. Who’s next? You know, and they kept buggin’ me and buggin’ me and I wrote Bonhoeffer. But I really, really thought that would be it.
Jim: Let me … and you do a great job.
Eric: Thank you.
Jim: And I know a lot of people in the listening audience are saying, yes, he does and they enjoy the books that you’ve written and we’ve aired a number of ‘em on Focus on the Family and they’re very popular.
Jim: Recap briefly uh … Martin Luther-- when he lived, what was—
Jim: --the big issue and why he is such a prominent feature in the church today?
Eric: Yeah, I mean, the … the short version is, that the Catholic church was the only church in Western Europe. It was allied with political power. It had grown rather corrupt by the time of the early 16thcentury. Luther became a monk and discovered in his studies of the Bible and other things, that there were some problems. And he thought as a good son of the church, he should bring these problems to the attention of other theologians, the attention of the Archbishop of Mainz, uh …to bring this to the attention of the pope.
And so, he posted, to begin with, he posted these famous 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church to get a conversation going, to get a dialogue going, a debate going on the issue first of indulgences, which is a little complicated.
But he really wanted to have an open conversation on what he saw as some real problems, theological problems that led to, you know, problems among the faithful and it didn’t go the way he thought. The … the church really tried to crush his dissent and their polite answer to him was, “Excuse me, shut up and recant” and he couldn’t recant.
He said, “What … what do you mean, recant? Unless you show me where I’ve made an error in the Bible, I can’t recant. I have to stand by the Word of God.” And so what he … what he really did without meaning to, is he asserted the primacy of Scripture over the church—
Eric: --over the pope. In other words, he said if the pope and the Scripture differ, guess who you gotta go with?
Jim: And let’s paint the culture of the time. I mean, it’s hard to understand much of this if we don’t understand what was happening. But church … people did not read the Bible. They didn’t have a Bible—
Eric: There were no Bibles.
Jim: --to read for themselves.
Eric: I mean, if you think about it, I mean, Bibles, the printing press had been invented by Guttenberg 50 years before this or 50 … you know 55, 60 years earlier. So, books were tremendously expensive uh … and …
Jim: Not everybody had one.
Eric: Almost no one had one.
Eric: Almost no one had one uh … and you … the Bible wasn’t really conceived of as abook, right? I mean, it’s all these books and the church would kind of dole it out in the terms of, you know, you … in those days, we have to forget that Luther dragged us really from the world of Medieval Christianity into the modern era.
Medieval Christianity, they were studying um … Aristotle, Duns Scotus. They … they … they were studying theSentencesof Peter Lombard. There were these texts that talked about the Bible, so they didn’t read the Bible directly. So, they studied these texts as though these texts were the only thing that existed. But nobody would hand you a Bible. There were no Bi … you know, it just wasn’t—
Eric: --the thing to do. So, people’s understanding of the Bible is very chopped up, very filtered through the church’s understand, filtered through Aquinas’s understanding, which was itself filtered through Aristotle’s understanding. And by the way, Aristotle was not exactly Christian, having lived 500 years before Christ. So, it was very convoluted.
And so, people’s understanding was all filtered through the church, and Luther, there was another movement going on, an intellectual movement happening at that time led by people like Erasmus in Rotterdam called Humanism.
They had discovered the original documents of antiquity and they began studying the actual Greek and the actual Latin. And so, this became this movement, which then was applied to the Bible. What if we read the Bible, not in the Latin Vulgate, which is what the church is giving everybody, but what about if we read it in the original Greek, will we find that there are problems when … when Saint Bernard uh …translated the Bible, did he get some stuff wrong when he changed it into Latin, did he get some … some stuff wrong?
So, Erasmus kind of restored the Greek New Testament just in time for Luther to study the actual Greek. And he found a few things and a few more things and he said, “Wait a second. We’ve got to restore Scripture to … we’ve gotta get all these things right. We’ve … we’ve been, you know, theologically a little confused here and there. We’ve gotta go back to the original Greek.”
So, one of the things that Luther ended up doing in 1521 when he was exiled at the Wartburg, after he was declared a heretic and a … an enemy of the empire, that the emperor declared … Emperor Charles the 5th, declares him an enemy of the empire, ‘cause Charles the 5th, of course, is a good Catholic.
Luther escapes to the Wartburg Castle and while he’s there, translates the entire New Testament in 11 weeks from the Greek, which was a new version of the Greek provided by Erasmus a few years earlier, into German. This is like one of the heroic literary efforts in the history of the world.
Jim: That was the first time—
Eric:And he did it—
Jim: --in the German language.
Eric: --he did … no. It wasn’t the first time in the German language, but his version of it was the first time that it was translated from … not from the Latin Vulgate which had all these errors, but from, uh … the actual original Greek New Testament.
Eric: And not only that, but Luther had such a gift. I mean, one of the reasons we’re talkin’ about Luther, he’s one of the most gifted human beings who ever lived. He had an ability to speak the language of the common man, to speak poetically. And so, when he wrote, when he translated the Bible into German, it stands to this day 500 years later. Germans usethat textway more than we use, for example, the King James. I mean, somehow he translated it into the language of everyday people so that it was on the one hand, you know, doctrinally correct, more correct than what they had before, but it was also more readable than before.
Jim: You know …
Eric: And so, he did something that to provide a German Bible to German people changed Germany totally forever.
Jim: And what’s important to recognize there, it’s the first time that the common person could actually accessthe Word of God, right?
Eric: That’s right.
Jim: I mean, that was—
Eric: Well, and—
Jim: --the big achievement.
Eric: --and not only … not only that, is that Luther uh … so he did that in 1521. By December of 1522, the book is published. The New Testament exists in German. He then set to work with all of his colleagues like Melanchthon and so on and so forth, to translate theentireOld Testament into German. And that came out in pieces. Like they would publish, you know, first the Pentateuch and whatever, but the whole thing was published in 1534. So, for the first timeever, people had access to the entire Bible and of course, printing costs went way down and it really … it … it was the story of the printing press as a big piece of the story of Martin Luther, ‘cause Luther could never have achieved what he did without the printing press.
Jim: When you look at all these things happening in history at a, you know, fairly close in proximity, the Guttenberg Press, Martin Luther and his declaration—
Jim: --his challenge—
Jim: --uh … these aren’t coincidences, do you think?
Jim: Do you see the hand of God in all that--
Eric: --I … yeah, I—
Jim: --and how they fit together?
Eric: I do see the hand of God, because I’ll tell you what. Even though Jan Hus in, you know, 1415 and Tyndale and others, they were amazing heroic human beings, but I think it could be argued that none of them had the communicative gifts of Martin Luther. He had an ability to writein German, not in Latin, but in German so that the common man, I mean, anyone who could read would read the pamphlets of Luther. So, he was able to spread his message.
If the world of pamphlets didn’t exist, which 50 or 100 years ago, it didn’t exist and if there weren’t printers in Germany, his words would have not gotten out. By getting his words out to the common man, it overwhelmed the power centers.
Eric: It … it’s kinda like—
Jim: It deconstructed them.
Eric: --you … you joke around by saying, but it’s like … like a … a Donald Trump tweeting and going over the heads of the mass media. That isexactlywhat happened 500 years ago. Luther said, “Wait a minute. I have the ability to speak to everybody who wants to read what I write.” This had never existed. I mean, so if you think about it, even if Luther had existed 100 years before, he wouldn’t have had the ability to communicate. So, by communicating this way, in such a gifted way, he overwhelmed the opposition, so that the horse was out of the barn. They could never … they could ne … even if they killed Luther, the horse was out of the barn because of everything that he wrote.
Jim: The words were already out.
Eric: The words were out and all of these theologians and … and priests and monks and common men and women had read his stuff and began picking up his ideas even independent of him.
John: Eric Metaxas on today’s Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. Thanks for joining us. We’ve got Eric’s book and a CD or a download of the conversation atfocusonthefamily.com/radioor when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
And Eric, in the last program-- and you alluded to this today-- Luther didn’t seek out controversy, it seems, but he … he didn’t shy away either from confronting. How did he achieve that balance? What was—
John: --that like?
Eric: --it … it was … you know, a lot of people would say, he totally failed at that balance. I mean, he was a really uh … he’s a checkered character in the sense that he is very, very, very great in some ways, but that greatness, you know, uh … bleeds over into some things that you would say are his big downsides.
He was … he became very outspoken. He wasn’t always outspoken. This … this is the funny thing and I think you’d see it in my book, is that there’s a real development in him. First he starts out as a very pious monk, veryholy, not cracking a lot of jokes.
But then more and more you could see him kind of becoming more and more human, right, as he comes to this theology that it’s not about being some sort of pious figure, but about being fully human. What does that mean?
So, his humor came out more. He was more outspoken and then I think the circumstances as the … Catholic powers tried to shut him up, he became more angry and outspoken, because he said, “Wait a minute. You’re at trying to shut up the Word of God. You’re trying …” So, he became more and more controversial and then he began understanding that controversy could help, uh … so that he would say things that were in a way, he knew that they were being uh … incendiary on purpose.
But so, I think that he … the real downside is, that he became a uh … a Don Rickles’ level insulter of everybody and he said increasingly nasty things about everyone and at the very end of his life, the … the particular black mark in his book is that he said some very nasty things uh … about the Jews of his day and now, he also saidincrediblynasty things about the Protestants he hated, about the uh … his colleagues who had betrayed him, about the … the Muslims who were uh … you know—
Jim: So, just about everybody.
Eric: --even … so everybody you can think of. But what he said about the Jews in … in a funny way, contradicts some very wonderful things he said about the Jews earlier in his life, but the reason it’s become a black mark in his book is because the Nazis discovered this tiny … really, it’s very little that he wrote that was nasty and it was right at the end of his life when he was really ill and super cranky and saying horrible things and his friends could see it.
But of course, the Nazis used thisand so, you see that his personality in a way … I would actually say that God would allow this so that we wouldn’t make a saint out of him, because he … otherwise you … it would be very difficult not to make a saint out of him and to say, “Oh, we worship Martin Luther.” We’re not supposed to worship Martin Luther. We’re supposed to worship Jesus.
But Luther was such an outsized figure that, as I say, he … he said some things that are, you know, he had a real fondness for scatological language. It`s … I mean, I put it all in my book because I think it’s very funny and it’s also very revealing of this man.
Jim: Well, and who knows what he was dealing with at the end of his age—dementia, maybe some—
Eric: Oh, he was—
Jim: --other things.
Eric: --dealing, no he was dealing with every bad thing you can think of.
Eric: I mean, I talk about that. He … he was a very ill man.
Jim: Let me ask you this, Eric, because when you look at Martin Luther, we look 500 years back, we’re not really the cultural types that see benefit from looking back 500 years ago and say, how can this apply to me today--
Jim: --unfortunately. How do we do that today? When you look at Martin Luther, the way he approached the church at the time—the Catholic church—
Jim: --and wanted to get down to some truth and to point some errors out, which he—
Jim: --felt, in a very, I think innocent way, but a very direct way, how does that apply today?
Eric: I think it applies—
Jim: How do we do that?
Eric: --to everyone differently, but I think one thing you see is this, that this man, first of all, you know, I … I think the story of Martin Luther’s life is a very entertaining story, because he was such a colorful figure. And so, you’re spending time with a human being who is at some times, very pious and super focused on God. Other times, he’s cracking rude jokes. And I think he’s a good model for us in a way to realize that you don’t check your humanity at the door when you run after God more zealously. In a way, it makes you more human.
And I think that a lot of us theologically, we adopt one or the other. We think like, well, I’m gonna become more worldly, ‘cause Jesus hung out with sinners and people who got drunk and … as though that’s the way to follow Jesus.
And then other people say, well, I’m gonna become so pious that I’m not gonna hang out with my neighbors, who I saw drinkin’ a beer once five years ago. And I really think that Luther challenges us to what is God really calling us to do? What does it mean to be a human being zealously following God? And how does that make us more human?
That’s … that’s the thing, is that Jesus came … I said this earlier, to redeem our humanity, not to wipe it out, but to make us human the way Jesus was human, so that there’s joy. There’s jokes. There’s prayer. It’s all mixed up together in a beautiful balance. And I … I really think that the story of Luther tells you that.
I also think that Luther’s faith is so inspiring. This man truly feared God in the sense that he did not fear man. He said, “I know that God will judge me. I don’t care what you think or what the pope thinks or what … I mean, I only care-- am I getting God right and God will be my judge.”
And if he had not been adamantine in his faith, none of this would’ve happened. If he had shrunk back at some moment because of fear of being burned at the stake or something, he said, “I don’t fear anything except God,” in a good way.
Jim: Did you see anything in the research that um … illuminated his opinion of characters in the Bible, because as you talk about his piousness—
Jim: --I’m thinking of David.
Jim: How did he manage the life of David? Did he ever write about that? Was there anything—
Eric: Well, he wrote—
Jim: --that indicated …?
Eric: --about everything. I could never read everything Luther wrote. He wrote 110 volumes of literature, from his letters to his books, to his essays. I mean, it’s … it’s unbelievable. So, to be a real Luther scholar, you need to spend decades.
Jim: But I guess here’s the … here’s the contrast that I’m dealing with in my mind right now.
Jim: After hearing you hearing you last time about his piousness, this time about his piousness, yet he reforms marriage. I mean, he challenges the Catholic church—
Jim:--that priests and nuns should marry, because we’re wired for that.
Jim: We’re wired for childbearing, women. Um … yet at the same time, there’s that piousness, there’s also this regard for humanity—
Eric: Well, he often quotes—
Jim: --and being human.
Eric: --the Scriptures. I can’t think of anything at this moment, but he often is quoting the Scriptures and giving examples from Scripture to illustrate his points, that this character in the Bible did this and this character in the Bible did that. You know, he knows the Bible backwards and forwards--
Jim: In multiple languages.
Eric: --from constantly … yes, I guess that’s right. And so, he is constantly going back to prove his points, but oh, my goodness, he said … he said so much. He was … I mean, there’s no doubt in my mind, as you were saying earlier, that like was it just coincidence that he was born at the time when the printing press was rea[dy]? I mean, it’s as much a coincidence as Jesus being born, you know, at … when He was at the crossroads of history. God clearly ordained this somehow.
In fact, there’s a really amazing thing. I don’t know if we have time, but this is the one thing that I discovered that does not exist in any literature that I have found on Luther, which blew my mind, because I don’t think of myself as somebody who is gonna be finding new things.
Jim: An archaeologist.
Eric: There are so many books. Yeah, there’s so many books written about Luther, but I discovered something that stunned me and if it’s a prophetic thing, uh … it seems prophetic. I’ll … I’ll give you the example of what I’m talkin’ about. I mean, I’ll … I’ll explain it.
Basically, I read uh … that okay, he was born on November 10thand on November 11thhe was baptized. They would take you to the church, which was like, literally 100 yards away—this huge church which I’ve been to. It’s still there, right? Like, a few feet away from his house, so he’s taken off, you know. He’s born and the next day they take him over.
What day was it? Oh, it’s Saint Martin’s Feast Day. So, they name him Martin, okay. His father was named Johannes, but he’s named Martin, because he’s … he’s baptized on the feast day of Saint Martin. So, I … I thought, I was just writing the book’s beginning and I thought, Saint Martin. Who’s Saint Martin? I’m not Catholic. I’m not familiar with Saint Martin of Tours. Who is this?
So, I kind of look him up on the Internet, who’s Saint Martin? And I read about him and he’s a figure who lived in the Roman Empire around uh … early 400’s. And he was … he became a Christian… kind of without the approval of his parents. They were kind of upset.
But he became a Christian and then he’s enrolled in the Roman army, okay and they … they weren’t fighting any battles, but at some point, he is called to fight in a battle. And because of his devout Christian faith, this Martin says, “I will not fight.”
Now let me just go back to say that you’ll remember I said earlier that Luther’s great moment where he stands before the emperor and the Holy Roman Emperor in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, this city in Germany, he takes his stand before the emperor and the powers and says what he says.
That’s … so, if anyone remembers anything about history, they remember, oh, yeah, the Diet of Worms, that’s the moment his—
Jim: And what did he say?
Eric: --that Luther said, “Here I stand; I can do no other.” It’s this big moment, right, the Diet of Worms. Okay, so I’m doing this research on this man that he was named after. Now what would the connection be? There’s no connection. He was just born on the feast day and he’s mentioned.
But I’m doing the research and it says that this guy had become a Christian. He was enrolled in the army and that he was told to fight in this battle and he said, “Because I … I’m a Christian, I will not fight.” It’s a little bit like “Hacksaw Ridge.” He said, “I’m not afraid to go out and die, but I will not kill.”
So, he takes this huge stand against the empire and it’s because of this that he was almost thrown in jail and whatever. And then he became a saint out of this, okay?
Where did this happen? In a Roman place called Borbetomagus. And if you look that up on Wikipedia, it says parentheses current day Worms, Germany.
Eric: Now if that doesn’t freak you out, the odds that the man after whom he was named had his moment in history to stand before the empire and the powers that be in this little place called Worms, Germany and 11 centuries in the future, it just so happened that his namesake stands before the emperor, whatever in Worms. It’s one of those freaky things in history that you actually have to sit on it for a while.
Jim: It’s like somebody knows what this means.
Eric: It’s as if God had bizarrely ordained this just to freak us out in 2017 that, oh, yes, by the way, I have my hand on history. It is utterly bizarre and amazing. And when I wrote that, I thought, God is in this story.
Jim: Eric, mention the hymns and the other contributions of Martin Luther.
Eric: Oh, man.
Jim: I mean, he was musical, as well.
Eric: Everything we take for granted in the church today started with Luther. I mean, imagine, he pulls away from the Catholic church. There was no congregational singing. Imagine there’s congregational singing in Catholic churches today, okay. There was no congregational singing. It was just the monks doing the Gregorian chants and so on and so forth. So, if you came to a service, you’re not singing.
Jim: You’re not participating.
Eric: Luther changed everything. He said, the people must sing. Their faith will be deepened by the lyrics of these Psalms and things. We’ve gotta make … we’ve gotta take these beautiful lyrics and we’ve gotta make hymns and we have to have the people sing hymns.
So, Luther very quickly said we’ve gotta invent our own services if we’re breaking away. Well, what will we do? He didn’t want to change too much from the Catholic church. He just wanted to improve these different things.
But one of the things, he made the sermon central and he incorporated congregational singing. So, today any time anybody in the church sings a song, by the way, it started with Martin Luther.
Jim: I mean, that is … that is insightful. Eric, this has been a delightful two days we’ve spent with you here in New York. We appreciate it. Thanks for bein’ such a great host, even with the noise.
Eric: Thanks for coming to New York (Laughter). This makes my life a little easier.
Jim: But what a—
Eric: I just love it.
Jim: --what a great book. I mean, you’ve done the Bonhoeffer. That received such high praise and now you’ve come back with Martin Luther on the 500thanniversary that we celebrate here in October. Amazing stuff, great insights, things we should know.
Eric: I mean, in fact, I would say this, Jim. I always say that Luther tells us what, if you … if you say to somebody, what is Christianity all about? That’s what Luther wanted to communicate. His whole life communicates what is the core … what do we really believe? What is the core of the faith?
And in the last 500 years, thanks to Luther, we have been working this out and he stands in history as a figure who I say, the title of my book isMartin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World.
Eric: That’s not hyperbole. He … he effectively rediscovered God for the future.
Jim: And also uh … from what I read, that one is saved by faith, not by works.
Eric: That’s … and that … that’s—
Jim: That’s it.
Eric: --that was always true, but for about 15 centuries, that had gotten buried. So, he resurrects this idea that it is faith inJesusthat saves you, not your pious acts.
Jim: Amen. I’m glad he lived.
John: It’s been a pretty fast-paced and lively conversation with Eric Metaxas the last couple of days here on Focus on the Family.
Jim: It’s true. There’s no dull moment with Eric, especially being in New York with him. I mean, half the time, I think he wants to go get pizza with us. (laughter) But he’s a great host. I hope that you’ve been intrigued and inspired by what Eric has shared. To me, taking this look at Martin Luther has been a powerful reminder of what happens when we devote our lives to God and being open to His leading. And as we learned, Martin Luther wasn’t perfect, probably like-- certainly like me-- maybe like you! He made mistakes. And we will too as we work to winsomely live out our faith in the culture.
Today’s program highlights one of the reasons that we exist here at Focus on the Family. And that is to equip you in your faith. And if you’ve been helped by our work here, would you let us know by making a financial donation to the ministry. And today with your donation of any amount, I’m going to send you a copy of Eric’s book, Martin Luther, and a CD of this two-day conversation as our way of saying thank you.
John: Yeah, that bundle is only available from us here at Focus on the Family and we’d ask for your generous donation when you stop by focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 1-800-232-6459. The letter A and the word FAMILY.
And coming up next time, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend describe how you can have appropriate boundaries for your marriage.
Dr. Henry Cloud: It’s really the fruit of self-control because the Bible tells all of us that we have to have self-control. Now what happens is, if somebody is not taking responsibility for their life-- whenever we don’t do that, there’s collateral damage in a relationship.
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