In 1546, 450 years ago this year, the German reformer Martin Luther died in the Saxon town of Eisleben, the very place where he had been born, on the eve of Saint Martin, November 10, 1483. Luther lived at one of the most dynamic intersections in history. He experienced firsthand the death throes of the Middle Ages and the birth pangs of modern times. Luther was only nine when Columbus set sail for India and stumbled onto the New World. Copernicus and Galileo were just opening the heavens to the human eye. The printing press was a brand new invention. The modern nation-state was beginning to emerge from the shadows of feudalism. In one way or another, Luther was involved in all these changes.
As someone has said, Luther was just like everyone else in the sixteenth century—only more so! He experienced the fears and hopes of his own age so profoundly that we can hardly understand it without reference to him. But as Christians, we remember and celebrate his legacy in this anniversary year not because he was a great "religious hero," but because in the very depth of his struggles, he points us beyond himself to the living God who graciously redeems us in Jesus Christ and reveals his will to us in his written Word, the Holy Scriptures.
Luther's role as a reformer grew out of his anguished quest for a gracious God. For Luther, theology was not simply the academic study of religion. Rather, it was a lifelong process of struggle and temptation. "I did not learn my theology all at once," he said, "but I had to search deeper for it, where my temptations took me. … Not understanding, reading, or speculation, but living—nay, dying and being damned—make a theologian."
Through his intense study of the Scriptures, ...