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Thursday, December 15, 2011

This Is Luther book by Ewald Plass – a book review (part 1)

The new modern (English) LC-MS thinks it knows Luther.  In 1948 Ewald Plass wrote a book published by Concordia Publishing House called This Is Luther – A Character Study (available here). It is a book probably found on many pastors' bookshelves (it's in English).  But when I was tearing through all of the "religious" writings of the new (improved?) LC-MS, it seemed to me this book was supposed to allay any fears by the laity that the LC-MS was straying from true (orthodox) Lutheran teaching. But what I found was rather a different story because this book bears testimony to quite the opposite.  So in 1998 I wrote a review of this book and am now publishing it to the world in 2 installments.
Some notes are in order: (1) Although the quotations from the book are rather short, it is not too difficult to understand the meaning of what Mr. Plass was trying convey. (2) Plass quotes the names of many other authors (e.g. Preserved Smith) who wrote about Luther in the past century, all of whom did not understand Luther spiritually. (3) Page numbering is from the original 1948 book. (4) My comments are in red font.
This is Part 1; Part 2 can be found in the next post.
This Is Luther by Ewald Plass – A Book Review by BackToLuther
Here comes Ewald Plass with his “This Is Luther” book – modern LC-MS’s answer to those who would say she has changed and left the fathers and left the teaching of Walther and Pieper.  He wants to be my friend.  Plass appears to defend Luther.  But in his defense, he condemns Luther.  How so?  This is Plass:
- (page  80) “One feels something like shame in the presence of such certainty.”
The word shame strikes me – why shame? Rather it would be awe for Christians, for theirs is the same object of faith as Luther’s.  Walther spoke of himself as a stutterer and a stammerer compared to Luther, but these terms speak differently than shame. The faith of all Christians holds the very same ‘diamond’ as Luther’s faith held.
- (page 107) “At the same time it need not be denied that vestiges of medieval superstition did cling to the Reformer to the end of his life. Nor is that at all surprising when one remembers the eager and receptive soul of young Martin and the manner in which the line of demarcation between faith and superstition had been blurred and smeared, if not entirely obliterated, by the Church of Rome.”
Plass charges Luther with retaining “medieval superstition”, then saying he was still following Rome! One could say that Plass meant the young Luther, but Plass says himself “to the end of his life”.
- (page 107) “In spite of modern progress in the study of the structure and functioning of the human mind, we have still much to learn. There are mysterious depths of the soul, of the inner life of man, which no psychologist or psychiatrist has as yet fathomed. It becomes us to speak modestly of this matter and to hold to no views that contradict the teaching of His revelation who has created the human mind and soul and knows what is in them.” 
This appears to hold off psychology and psychiatry, but Plass calls it ‘modern progress’ and allows they can learn the mysterious depths if given more time. All Christians know the ‘mysterious depths’ of man: “Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” Romans 3: 13-14
- (page 109) “But be that as it may: if Luther’s attitude is an unwarranted extreme, it is assuredly to be preferred to the denial of the very existence of a devil.” 
Plass at least allows that Luther’s attitude was an “unwarranted extreme”.
- (page 109) “Perhaps Luther’s dramatic imagination often found the old evil Foe personally present when and where he was not present.”
Dramatic imagination? Plass would attempt to defend Luther as not superstitious claimed by the modernists like Preserved Smith. But Plass leaves doubt in his defense. He calls Luther’s faith ‘dramatic imagination’.
- (page 115) “Naturally, intense characters such as his are peculiarly liable to outbursts of flaming anger.”
No, all Christians have “flaming anger” at the doctrine of works righteousness.
- (page 115) quoting H. Boehmer: “…his [Luther’s] naturally impatient disposition, …”
Plass quotes approvingly: Luther is ‘naturally impatient’.  Rather, Luther was extremely patient.
- (page 118) “He had a twofold hold on men: the charm of his personality…” 
It was rather his faith.  Plass would advance Luther’s earthly character as an attraction to the Gospel.  It was rather the object of his faith – God reconciled to man through Christ.
- (page 121) “What amazes one is the fact that they [specious objections against Luther] are at times still advanced and that people are taken in by them.”
Why is Plass amazed? It happened in Luther’s time, it will happen until the end of time.
- (page 122) “… poor sort of charity which fails to identify certain definite heresies with certain definite church bodies in order to appear irenical and conciliatory.”
But I have read nowhere in Plass’s writings where he condemned the errors of the ALC.
- (page 142) “Dr. W. Dau covered the case well when he wrote: ‘In the writings of Luther there occur terms, phrases, passages that sound repulsive.  The strongest admirer of Luther will have moments when he wishes certain things could have been said differently.  Luther’s language cannot be repeated in our times’ … at times Luther went too far in his use of violent and rude language”
The Bible uses violent and rude language when speaking spiritually of enemies of Gospel.
- (page 149) “… the Reformer unfortunately did not always fully live up to this lofty standard of [religious] toleration. … he was still intolerant to some extent …” 
Only the young Luther, who condemned the Hussites and perhaps the Greek Church, could have been considered ‘intolerant’.  And this ‘intolerance’ was only due to the fact that he had not seen all the errors of Rome yet (as the world knows he did later). Plass is trying to answer Preserved Smith’s charge of inconsistency and error in Luther’s judgments against the Anabaptists and others.  Plass reveals the modern mind, to wit, it isn’t so bad to teach doctrines against clear Scriptural doctrine as it is to curse, swear, revile, abuse, defame, and slander.  Plass prefers the ‘modern state’ to the state at Luther’s time, and he thinks Luther would prefer the ‘modern state’.  Plass thinks Luther stepped out of the mode of spiritual advice and into earthly advice, and shouldn’t have.  But Luther meant what he said and based it on Scripture - Psalm 82.  Luther did not refute this in later years.  Plass finds himself pitting the young Luther against the later Luther who always had the better judgment. Plass implies that Luther held to ‘religious intolerance and persecution when he says “But Luther continues…” (page 144).  Plass would say adultery is acceptable to punish by the state, but not blasphemous teaching against clear Scripture doctrine, at least not in our ‘modern state’. 
(See Am. Ed 13,59-6f and 46,22 for the references that Plass quotes of Luther on pages 144 and 145)
- (page 162) “ Now, even if the vicious deduction above mentioned [the Gospel demoralizes] were demanded by the rules of logic and psychology – a point which we are not at all ready to concede – it would have to be borne in mind that a proposition may be logically correct but theologically incorrect.”
Why does Plass hang onto logic and psychology? My logic does tell me that the Gospel would demoralize people.  Plass, like Spock in Star Trek, would tell me that’s illogical. Now it does not surprise me that today’s clergy do not warn against human reason and psychology – they rather defend them – leaving me to doubt veracity of Scripture!  Why would Luther have railed against human logic and reason so harshly?  Perhaps we need to listen to Plass’s second opinion (!).
- (page 206) “Thomas Carlyle wrote of the Reformer:”
Carlyle is a Rationalist.  – per Franz Pieper, pg 16, N. Dakota/Montana, 1921.  Plass does little to mention Carlyle’s false belief.
- (page 213) “We prefer to call it the naivete of a truly great personality.”
Naivete? Personality? NO! It was faith!
- (page 220) “It [Luther’s plain/coarse talk] is not so easy to account for …” 
The Bible uses language that would shock Mr. Plass – would he say same thing about it?
- (page 221) “We have no desire to adduce further illustrations [of Luther’s plain talk]…”
Plass is embarrassed at Luther
- (page 223) “It becomes apparent, then, that Luther’s language was a part of the social pattern of that age.”
This is Plass’s Luther – a child of his age who follows the social pattern of his age in spiritual matters!  This is not Luther! Go ahead, today’s LC-MS, take offense at Luther, for it is your lot!
- (page 224) “This is a subject upon which the sociologist, the student of the social and moral history of mankind, may exercise his diagnostic ingenuity.”
Plass reveals his attitude to modern studies, but Luther had a Christian judgment on these matters. He was highly irritated at earthly authorities which allowed the immodesty of Wittenberg in his later years. He almost left Wittenberg because of it. Was he too judgmental?! This is Luther!
- (page 224) “Attention has been called to the fact that also in Scripture expressions occur and language is at times used which it would be embarrassing to introduce today of one’s own accord, at least before a mixed audience.”
Plass only gives place to Scriptural defense as a last resort, only after all his logical ones have been exhausted.  The Scriptural defense is the main defense and the definitive one!
- (page 232) “With the causes of Melanchthon’s sickness, largely emotional and spiritual, we need not concern ourselves.”
Why would Plass say this? Is it because he is embarrassed at Luther’s involvement in Philip of Hesse’s second marriage? Maybe Plass thinks Luther has given him too much to defend! Plass omits a discussion of this topic – too hot to handle?
- (page 251) “… a more necessary and secure foundation for matrimonial happiness is mutual respect and esteem.”
This is Plass’s description – not Luther’s. Luther said ‘take pity on the deserted woman’ and ‘spite the Pope’. ‘Mutual respect and esteem’ does not say the same thing as ‘husbands - love your wives’ and ‘wives - submit to your husbands’.
- (page 255) “But his ‘Lord Kate’ was no such woman [termagant wife].”
But in the very reference Plass gives, P. Smith’s Life, page 180: “… when Katie gets saucy she gets nothing but a box on the ear.” Katie was a woman, a wife, one who would rather not bear being subject to a husband.”
- (page 256) “Luther … bore her foibles with the patient forbearance with which she bore his”.
Plass turns the tables in this statement – he makes Kate the forbearing one and not the wife who would rather not submit to her husband for which Luther must be patient.  Luther did not state the situation this way.
- (page 258) “ … many of his remarks reveal a surprising insight into human nature. In some of the Reformer’s remarks we discover anticipations of modern genetic psychology.”
‘Modern genetic psychology’ has nothing over Luther – Luther’s insight was from the Bible and by faith in it.
- (page 264) “But such severity [rather dead son than disobedient] never estranged the children from their father.”
Plass leaves open that Luther’s severity was too much.
- (page 264) H. Boehmer quoted: “ … he was anything rather than one of those unbending domestic patriarchs who cannot rest till they have turned their house into a kind of well-managed reformatory. … To the young people in his hostel he was more like an older friend than a strict disciplinarian.”
H. Boehmer does not comment on Luther’s strict discipline of his children – rather he overlooks it. Boehmer’s Luther is like Preserved Smith’s Luther.
- (page 272) “To this day one at times meets with the old view, completely exploded by many scholars, both Protestant and Catholic, that Luther was trying to rationalize his apostasy from monkery and that the strong sensuousness of his nature sparked his rebellion against Rome.”
Plass reveals his membership in modern LC-MS: modern Protestants and Catholics have learned and become able to discern truth, especially the scholars.  Rather, the truth is that Plass reveals the greatest downfall of the century – the LC-MS unionism!
- (page 275) “’Luther certainly stopped short of intemperance,” says Preserved Smith’”
It is not at all comforting to hear Preserved Smith quoted on this. It rather leaves one to wonder if there was reason to believe Luther’s ‘intemperance’.  Leave this to the Roman Catholics!
- (page 279-280) “We are not prepared to contend that Luther overdid matters in this respect and that he must be charged with improvidence; and we believe that H. Boehmer is going too far when he says: ‘Prudent calculation seems to have been inexcusably lacking in him.’”
But Plass, you just quoted H. Boehmer approvingly on page 264.
- (page 283) “But after Luther had been led from medieval perversions…”
Rather, it was papistical perversions.  ‘Medieval’ refers to an age, not doctrine.
- (page 284) “For hunting, it is evident, his heart was too tender.”
No, rather he was uninterested.  And the account of the little rabbit being bitten by dogs through his sleeve is NOT evidence of Luther being against hunting.  Although Luther describes hunting as more for the idle, yet Luther does not criticize hunting for the reason Plass imagines – killing of harmless animals.
- (page 285) “At the same time the Reformer did not frown upon the element of sex attraction in dancing.  On the contrary, he recognized as one of the legitimate purposes of the dance the creating of opportunities for the marriageable to become acquainted with each other under the supervision of chaperons.”
Plass knew this was a subject C.F.W. Walther had written on.  It seems Plass might think he has one on Walther.  Look out Plass!
- (page 285) “But even to secular drama Luther was sympathetic.”
Plass 2, Walther 0?  What is Plass’s main point in introducing Dance and Theater? Is it to confirm Walther’s teaching and warnings against them?  No. It is to say ‘the Reformer did not frown upon the element of sex attraction in dancing’ and that Luther was not against dramatic portrayal – secular or otherwise.
= = = = = = = = end of Part 1

See next post for part 2 of 2.

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