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The Annotated Luther: Contributor Interview

See what select contributors have to say about their work on The Annotated Luther series!

Volume 1: The Roots of Reform

Dennis Bielfeldt, Institute of Lutheran Theology
Heidelberg Disputation, 1518

Q: What do you think makes this annotated and illustrated series of Luther's writings an important contribution to Luther studies today?
A:Sixteenth century texts are not easy for many contemporary readers to understand. However, Martin Luther's works have enduring value and are profitably read even in our time. The Annotated Luther presents Luther to readers that are not deeply at home in the sixteenth-century context. Its ample margins and illustrations make its reading facile. Abundant explanatory notes help readers grasp the issues and situate them in the texts' historical contexts. Translations of the texts have been updated for gender-inclusivity and have been rendered to be clearer.

Q: Why is it important to read Luther's writings in the twenty-first century?
A: Great texts are like great performances: they transcend the time and place of their origin and open their readers to enduring questions of meaning and truth. In The Annotated Luther, the reader will encounter classic texts of the Reformation, texts that have helped define the Western intellectual tradition.

Q: How do you envision The Annotated Luther series being used?
A: The Annotated Luther should find ample use in the college or university classroom. Any course on Luther or the Reformation could profitably employ these volumes. While accessible to the general reader, The Annotated Luther offers selections that scholars will also find useful.

Q: Name one or two things you hope students and others will take away from their study of your contribution to the series.
A: I want readers of my contribution on the Heidelberg Disputation to see that the disputation's philosophical theses are not disconnected from, nor arbitrarily attached to, its theological theses. Luther's critique of Aristotle proceeds from theological grounds into the regions of theology and philosophy respectively. Just as, theologically, human beings cannot on the basis of their own resources do what is necessary to attain God's favor, so can they not by their own resources know God and his creation. God grants his grace to sinners in the moral sphere, while giving the requisite forms to knowers within the epistemic order. Luther, however, does not criticize the philosopher Aristotle theologically, but upon theological grounds mounts a philosophical critique of The Philosopher. The problem, as Luther sees it, is simply that the late medieval tradition no longer understood Aristotle on his own ground. Luther knew his Aristotle quite well, and thus was very wary of any attempts to "Christianize" him. In making his points, Luther interprets Aristotle as more of a materialist than most other contemporary commentators.

Suzanne Hequet, Concordia University, St. Paul
The Proceedings at Augsburg, 1518

Q: What do you think makes this annotated and illustrated series of Luther's writings an important contribution to Luther studies today?
A: Luther's works are vitally important to me as a Lutheran scholar. I love reading and rereading the American Edition of Luther's Works. But when I saw the pages of this new edition—The Annotated Luther—I was quickly drawn into the context of the period through the illustrations. Then I was supported in my reading by the annotations and footnotes. This makes The Annotated Luther a key resource for anyone interested in Martin Luther and his work. To have visual context, annotations and footnotes together with key texts in a single set of volumes is truly a blessing!

Q: Name one or two things you hope students and others will take away from their study of your contribution to the series.
A: Students of Luther will find the updated texts "reader friendly." The introductions to each piece provide solid background, a real plus when reading Luther for the first time.

Dirk Lange, Luther Seminary
A Sermon on the Meditation of Christ's Holy Passion, 1519
Sermon on the Sacrament of Penance, 1519
The Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism, 1519
The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods, 1519

Q: What do you think makes this annotated and illustrated series of Luther's writings an important contribution to Luther studies today?
A: Language changes! The English translations in Luther's Works are, on the average, fifty plus years old. They are still valuable resources, but Martin Luther's voice needs to be heard in all its vibrancy in the twenty-first century. The new annotated and illustrated series, using new historical research and insights of the past fifty years has greatly contributed to our knowledge of these texts and the radical newness of Luther's language and theology.

Q: Why is it important to read Luther's writings in the twenty-first century?
A: Though the struggle of the church in Luther’s day is not our own, several questions remain the same. What is gospel today? How is gospel shaping the lives of people? Luther's writings open many windows for reflection on these questions and challenge us to apply them to our times. They continually invite us into reformation today!

Q: How do you envision The Annotated Luther series being used?
A: The Annotated Luther series will have multiple uses: in the classroom (college, seminary, university) and in the faith communities, whether parish adult forums, confirmation classes, or small house groups. The helpful introductions and the illustrations will help readers navigate the text itself.

Q: Name one or two things you hope students and others will take away from their study of your contribution to the series.
A: I hope that students will rediscover Luther's energy: his searching, his exploration, his risk-taking. In the writings of Volume 1, for example, we discover Luther forging a new language for his theological and spiritual insights. Students need to know this side of Luther: the reformer in action, even in his writings!

James M. Estes, Victoria College, University of Toronto
To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Improvement of the Christian Estate, 1520

Q: What do you think makes this annotated and illustrated series of Luther's writings an important contribution to Luther studies today?
A: The volumes provide 1) introductions and notes that are fully abreast of the current state of scholarship, and 2) translations that express clearly and accurately in modern English ideas that were formulated in Latin and German a long time ago.

Q: Why is it important to read Luther's writings in the twenty-first century?
A: It is no less important in the twenty-first century than it ever was to be well-informed about the past from which we have emerged. Luther's ideas are just as interesting and important as they ever were, and are now better understood than at any previous time.

Q: How do you envision The Annotated Luther series being used?
A: Carefully, attentively, and enthusiastically.

Q: Name one or two things you hope students and others will take away from their study of your contribution to the series.
A: A much better understanding of a text (To the Christian Nobility) that has been much misunderstood and misinterpreted.

Volume 2: Word and Faith

Wanda Deifelt, Luther College
A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospel, 1522

Q: What do you think makes this annotated and illustrated series of Luther's writings an important contribution to Luther studies today?
A: One of the richness of the material are the new and revised translations, paying more attention to inclusive language and attempting to situate Luther's writings in their own context. Also, the comments on Luther's original texts help readers see the connection with social, political, and historical events of his day, as well as the possible relation with current theological debates.

Q: Why is it important to read Luther's writings in the twenty-first century?
A: Although the subject matter addressed in the texts is timeless (the selections each volume highlights draw from classic writings by Martin Luther), this collection is contemporary in its methodological approach. The modern reader is not restricted to a linear reading but is offered the opportunity of opening different windows (in the form of annotations on the margin, footnotes, or illustrations) that help expand knowledge.

Q: How do you envision The Annotated Luther series being used?
A: Needless to say, it will be a great resource for students in college and seminaries. However, given this interactive/annotated approach, it is the type of resource that each Lutheran congregation should have. I imagine that church members will want to make use of it in adult education programs and more advanced confirmation classes. It will be a useful resource because it exposes readers to primary texts (written by Martin Luther himself) with the help of an experienced guide (who writes her or his comments on the margins).

Q: Name one or two things you hope students and others will take away from their study of your contribution to the series.
A: Luther's texts are not static—they have been translated and interpreted anew because each generation of believers longs to see the connection between the word of God and the life of faith. Luther's theology is a helpful partner in this process of discernment.

Kurt K. Hendel, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
The Smalcald Articles, 1538

Q: What do you think makes this annotated and illustrated series of Luther's writings an important contribution to Luther studies today?
A: Luther's corpus of writings is an extensive one. This series presents readers with a representative sample of some of the Reformer's most important, influential, and relevant works. The translations of those works have been carefully reviewed and updated, a significant number of scholarly annotations have been added in marginal comments and footnotes, and illustrations enliven the texts and their content. The series thus reflects current Reformation scholarship, and it is also visually attractive. These realities will facilitate both the scholarly and the personal exploration of Luther's theological insights.

Q: Why is it important to read Luther's writings in the twenty-first century?
A: I would highlight particularly three reasons for the continuing relevance of Luther's diverse works. First, Luther’s consistent focus on God's radical grace and love and his insistence that human beings are in a life-giving relationship with God because of God’s activity rather than their accomplishments continues to be freeing and comforting good news in our time, as it has been for centuries. Secondly, Luther was a biblical theologian. He sought diligently to mine the treasures of Scripture and to explore the scriptural message in his biblical commentaries, theological treatises, letters, and sermons. His study of Scripture convinced him that Christ and the gospel were God's ultimate good news addressed to humanity. Thus he sought to be a faithful, bold, and persistent witness of Christ and the gospel in his own writings. The Holy Spirit continues to create and nurture faith through the gospel. Hence, the proclamation of the gospel remains at the very heart of the church’s vocation. Luther's writings are, therefore, a creative and relevant resource for the community of faith and for individual believers as they seek to be faithful to God's mission. Thirdly, the Reformer was not only a biblical but also an experiential theologian. The gospel was the heart of the scriptural message for Luther, and it was also the radical good news through which God answered his own spiritual questions and brought peace to his troubled soul. The Reformer was convinced that this would be the experience of every Christian. His pastoral identity thus also inspired his witness of the gospel because he considered it to be essential for effective Seelsorge. Luther's pastoral perspective is an essential one in our time as well.

Q: How do you envision The Annotated Luther series being used?
A: I expect that the series will be a welcome resource, both in academic and parish settings. Seminary and university history and theology courses focusing on Luther's theology, the Reformation, systematic theology, and the Lutheran Confessions are the most obvious contexts in which a single volume or multiple volumes of the series can be assigned as required texts. The series will also be useful in confirmation classes and in adult forums. Individuals who have a personal interest in exploring diverse and representative examples of Luther's writings will surely find the series to be an attractive and useful collection.

Q: Name one or two things you hope students and others will take away from their study of your contribution to the series.
A: Luther considered The Smalcald Articles to be a confession of his own faith, a summary of chief doctrines of the Catholic heritage, and a critique of specific theological positions and practices of the Roman Church. Hopefully, those who study Luther's confession will be inspired to ask what their faith commitments are, what they consider to be defensible expositions of the scriptural heritage, and what it means to make a faithful confession at this particular historical moment. They may also be led to consider whether it is still appropriate to make truth claims, whether there is still a metanarrative, and whether it is still necessary to distinguish between truth and error in an ecumenical age and a time of interreligious dialogue. If they conclude that it is, they will need to ask how that can be done in ways that honor and nourish religious communities rather than furthering discord and division. Luther may well serve as a model of how and how not to do so.

Gordon Jensen, Lutheran Theological Seminary Saskatoon
Confession of the Articles of Faith against the Enemy of the Gospel and All Kinds of Heresies, 1528

Q: What do you think makes this annotated and illustrated series of Luther's writings an important contribution to Luther studies today?
A: As one who teaches reformation history and Luther's theology on a regular basis, I welcome this new Annotated Luther series. Not only are the new translations of selected writings by Luther fresh—and often easier to understand—but the general editors have selected the most pivotal writings to include in this collection. In my teaching, I am discovering that students of the reformation need clear and accurate background information to Luther's writings, to put them into the proper context. The historical introductions in this series are extremely helpful in this regard. This series should be the required reading for all who are interested in the reformation and Luther, since the writings selected lay the foundation for understanding the rest of Luther's corpus.

Q: Why is it important to read Luther's writings in the twenty-first century?
A: Despite the fact that many things have changed in our world since the sixteenth century, the "Copernican revolution of theology" introduced by Luther is still apropos for today. His insistence that theology must revolve around what God is doing "for us" and God's creation in the world, through grace, rather than what we must do to please God, is crucial in understanding Christianity. Equally important is Luther's definition of sin as "being curved in on oneself." While society's morals are different from the sixteenth century, we are perhaps dealing with problems created by this sin of "self-centeredness" in how we deal with such things as ecology, politics, and race relations, for example. Luther's call, picked up by Dietrich Bonhoeffer last century, for people to be "people for others," or a "neighbor for others," is just as pertinent today as it was five centuries ago.

Q: How do you envision The Annotated Luther series being used?
A: This is a series that I will be using as the standard textbooks for the many courses I teach on Luther. I will recommend that all our seminary students purchase the complete series as the core of their library. But this series is also well suited for congregational studies and for all who want to read a critical edition of Luther's seminal writings.

Q: Name one or two things you hope students and others will take away from their study of your contribution to the series.
A: I hope that after reading Luther's Confession of Faith, people will get a sense of Luther's mindset of being a part of a community of faith. He does not confess his "own" faith, but turns instead to the Creeds—the faith confessed by the whole church. He is not an "individualist" rebel but a pastor of the community. He wants the confession of the whole church on his lips when he dies. In his Confession of Faith, Luther makes clear that our most valuable asset or possession on earth is the faith shared with the whole church. As a pastor, he cannot tolerate anyone putting stumbling blocks or obstacles in the way of this faith that zeroes in on all the things that God does "for us."

Volker Leppin, University of Tübingen
The Bondage of the Will, 1525

Q: What do you think makes this annotated and illustrated series of Luther's writings an important contribution to Luther studies today?
A: Luther has become a foreigner—The Annotated Luther brings him closer to us, makes him understandable for those who are far from the sixteenth century.

Q: Why is it important to read Luther's writings in the twenty-first century?
A: Luther is one of the strongest spiritual thinkers in Christianity. In our days, we try to give sense to our lives on our own—and we will not come to an end with this. In this situation, there is no word more important than his doctrine of justification: there is nothing you can do for your salvation on your own, but it is God himself who endows us grace.

Q: How do you envision The Annotated Luther series being used?
A: By students and broader public.

Q: Name one or two things you hope students and others will take away from their study of your contribution to the series.
A: More historical understanding of Luther—and, by this, more insights in the way God is leading us.

Brooks Schramm, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg
How Christians Should Regard Moses, 1525

Q: What do you think makes this annotated and illustrated series of Luther's writings an important contribution to Luther studies today?
A: The Annotated Luther is not intended to supplant the American Edition of Luther's Works but rather complement and supplement it. The sheer number and diversity of scholars contributing to the project will give readers a strong sense of how lively the contemporary field of Luther studies is today.

Q: Why is it important to read Luther's writings in the twenty-first century?
A: Luther was one of the church's greatest thinkers. In seeking to understand him better within his own sixteenth-century context, we gain further precision in hearing anew the existential questions and problems that motivated his immense intellectual output.

Q: How do you envision The Annotated Luther series being used?
A: The series will clearly function well is a seminary or college classroom, but there is no reason why it cannot do the same in congregations that take seriously the ministry of Christian education.

Q: Name one or two things you hope students and others will take away from their study of your contribution to the series.
A: Perhaps more than anything else, Luther was a biblical scholar. My hope is that students and other readers of the series will come to recognize how central Luther's work on the Bible (in translating, in lecturing, and in commentating) was in the formation of his theological insights.