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Thursday, December 15, 2011

This Is Luther book by Ewald Plass – a book review (part 2)

See the previous post for Part 1 of this book review.  What follows is Part 2:

This Is Luther by Ewald Plass – A Book Review by BackToLuther
Part 2

- (page 297) “Martin Luther was a genius.”
Plass would hold up Luther very high for his mind.  But his doctrine?  His faith?
- (page 300) “This young professor evidently did his own thinking.”
Rather, Luther believed God.  This was the reason for his underlinings and marginal notes.
- (page 301) “… a profound personal conviction.”
Yes, Dr. Plass, but it was more.  It was the truth that Luther believed.
- (page 301) “… do not know the bigness of his character.”
Who could deny Luther’s ‘big character’?  But this is not the reason for his patience with his students.  It was his faith and patience from the Word of God.
- (page 301) “As the expositions continue, Luther finds himself and warms up to his subject.”
Rather, Luther found the Truth, the Way, and the Life – the doctrine of Justification.
- (page 302) “The centrality of the doctrine of justification by faith … gives the Lutheran body of doctrine a glorious consistency and coherence.”
Plass comes as close as T. Graebner here.  Theodore Graebner also spoke these same terms “justification by faith” as the central doctrine.  What Graebner was confused on was universal/objective justification.  Plass does indeed teach this on page 92. If only he would have admonished Graebner.  Perhaps he did but there is no record that I have seen.
- (page 307) “In urging the teaching and appreciation of religion, …” 
Plass had just quoted Luther speaking about the rule of Holy Scripture in education; now he paraphrases by saying religion.  The Catholics teach ‘religion’ also.
- (page 315) “Such passages indicate the ability of Luther to enter into the feelings of others…”
In 2 Corinthians 5:16, the apostle Paul speaks thus: “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.”  Luther knew men ‘in Christ’.  He knew men inside-out only by knowing whether they believed their sins forgiven for Christ’s sake.  Luther did NOT enter into the feelings of others.
- (page 318) “No doubt it is true that one ought to be careful not to ridicule what others hold sacred.”
What a statement by Plass who would present Luther to us!  It was Martin Luther who ridiculed/blasted/sneered/mocked/derided/jeered/taunted all that was held ‘sacred’ by the Roman Catholic Church!  Sometimes I wonder that Plass knew Luther at all!
- (page 323) “… and we recognize faith in it [salvation through faith in the Savior] as the very heart of Luther’s character.” 
If only Plass would have presented only this Luther!
- (page 323) “Eccentric, rugged old Thomas Carlyle, …”
Franz Pieper called Carlyle a Rationalist.  Pieper called a spade a spade and did not leave the weak wondering.
- (page 326) “…the Catholic historian Michelet, who, though unsympathetic to many of the Reformer’s fundamental views, exclaimed: ‘…reading Luther … I hope God will preserve to me until death.’”
Michelet denounced Luther’s justification by faith alone – the Gospel.  Plass is not like Luther who would not avoid polemics, and so would strengthen the weak.
- (page 338) “Since those days the beauty and power of Luther’s masterpiece have at times overcome the prejudice and the malice of Catholic scholars, …”
The praise of avowed Catholics for Luther’s translation of the Bible is the devil’s mask.  They do not believe the Bible. Plass treads on simple Christians who would wonder why there is separation between Lutherans and Catholics.  An honest Catholic is one who doesn’t hold to Catholic teachings.
- (page 339) “As the centuries of the Middle Ages wearily rolled on, the clergy found it increasingly easier and in certain particulars safer to edify the eyes of their auditors than to instruct their minds, …”
Rather, they began to confuse Law and Gospel and overturn the doctrine of Justification.  Plass shows his confusion in identifying Rome’s basic error. Although his next paragraph identifies “the centrality of justification by faith”, he neglects to put the “sola” or “alone” in the phrase, or add the powerful “without the works of the law”. The “Back To Luther” of Walter A. Maier (and Plass?) was an attempt to bypass Walther.  It doesn’t work.
- (page 344) “Although his text perchance did not refer specifically to God’s plan of salvation, …”
Plass uses the Reformed term of ‘plan of salvation’, a confusing term that leaves doubt on the already existing salvation -–the Gospel.
- (page 347) “If Luther as a preacher is to be faulted for anything, it may be his overoptimism.”
Plass need not have done this; as he relates a few sentences later - Luther pointed this out on himself.  So why would Plass judge Luther? ‘Luther continued to preach in spite of all unbelief…’  Should Luther have stopped because he was overly optimistic?
- (page 348) “…we must remember that the generation to which the early reformers preached was religiously ignorant to a degree that is difficult for us to appreciate.”
What is so difficult to understand that Rome blocked the true doctrine?  The Middle Ages or the medieval times can be explained in ONE way: ROME!
- (page 383) “Centuries later, after a clearer perspective had become possible, and without exposing himself to the suspicion of loving partiality, which naturally attaches to the judgment of a wife, the Scotchman Thomas Carlyle re-echoed the words of Catherine Luther and exclaimed: “I will call this Luther … one of our most lovable and precious men.””
Plass tramples on all pious testimony of Luther and instead gives credence to Carlyle!  TO HELL WITH CARLYLE! I will take Catherine’s testimony!  Cursed be the ‘clearer perspective’ of Dr. Plass!  Modernism!
- (page 383) Plass now quotes Preserved Smith, barely mentioning that he is not a Lutheran.  Smith: “(Luther’s) personality led and dominated his time as scarcely any other man has ever done…”
Blast it, Plass!  How could you quote Preserved Smith?!  It WAS NOT LUTHER’S PERSONALITY!  IT WAS HIS FAITH! IT WAS HIS DOCTRINE!
-(page 384) “Modern clothing covers hearts that are no different from the hearts that beat and ached in the sixteenth century.”
Now Plass puts on the old Missouri/Christian glasses and “admits” hearts today are covered with modernism and no different than the sixteenth century.  With this statement, he cuts down much of the basis for this book: to prove modern LC-MS is OK in doctrine and practice; to prove modern LC-MS can publish books, just like the rest of them, and that the world should read the LC-MS because they can write popular books.  Would to God Plass would have pointed to the ones who brought Luther to our age: C.F.W. Walther, Franz Pieper and the Synodical Conference!  They and they alone are the ones who can truly say:

This Is Luther

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
I have spent so much time with Plass because it seems he is one of the few (if not the only one in 1948) in Missouri that was looking back at the old paths of the Missouri Synod.  Who else mentions Walther’s name?  Carl S. Meyer huffed-and-puffed and tried to “defend” old Missouri, but the reality was that Meyer was only trying to justify a synod that had already left Walther/Pieper.

Plass does mention C.F.W. Walther one time.  What synod was Dr. Plass in? Oh, yes, the Missouri Synod!  But wasn’t Walther the father of the Missouri Synod who brought Luther’s doctrine to light against nearly the whole world’s blindness?  Plass would tell Walther: not so fast!  Surely the whole world isn’t wrong!  We must listen to the likes of Carlyle, Preserved Smith, Ranke, H. Boehmer, Michelet, etc.

Plass does not mention once the name of Franz Pieper.  It had only been a short 17 year period since this great teacher had died who so faithfully brought Luther to the Twentieth Century.  I knew there was more than a little to suspect with Plass when he judges Pieper in his “What Luther Says” book, page 1634.  He said there that Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics “does not discuss some of the more recent theological developments.”  Sad to say, Plass tried to straddle the fence on Modernism and fell off many times.

Plass mentions W.H.T. Dau once (page 142), and quotes him saying Luther was wrong in his language.  I cannot decide which to be more wary of: Dau or Plass.  I must grant Dau high marks for his 3 books on Luther’s life: Great Renunciation, Leipzig Debate, and Tribunal of Caesar. But Dau revealed in these books a similar deference to modernism and unionism.  And it was in the very year 1917 that Dau and Pieper went to St. Paul, Minnesota to attempt to get the Minority of the Norwegian Synod to forestall their merger based on doctrine.  Theodore Graebner was absent from this trip.

I cannot deny that Plass at times lets Luther come through and in words that comfort a Lutheran Christian.  However, at times, his words belie a deference to modernism and unionism.  Perhaps the modern LC-MS of his time felt they could show their protesting Synodical Conference brethren, that everything was OK with the LC-MS, especially after their discussions for church union.  But the question remains for Dr. Ewald Plass: Where were you when Dr. Theodore Graebner questioned the old Missouri for defending the doctrine of Universal Forgiveness/Justification against the Ohio and Iowa synods?  Where were you when the “Statement of the 44” was being promoted?  Where were you, Dr. Plass? You remained in today’s LC-MS. 

This fact overrides all others:
Plass must be read with great discrimination.

This Is Plass.

= = = = = = = end of book review from 1998 = = =
May this book review be a caution for all  those who search for true Christian teaching in the writings of the LC-MS since the death of Franz Pieper in 1931.  Even before his death, the storm clouds were gathering... better to read the materials I outlined earlier. Read Luther, Walther, and Pieper!  Read true Christian teaching, comfort, assurance, certainty!

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