Monday, December 05, 2016

Moments with Martin Luther (Donald McKim) - Review

MOMENTS WITH MARTIN LUTHER: 95 Daily Devotions. By Donald K. McKim. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xvi + 105 pages.

                On October 31, 2017, we will observe the 500th anniversary of the launch of the Protestant Reformation. That is, if we assume as is traditionally done, that the Reformation began when a German Augustinian monk and professor of Bible nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” on the door of Wittenberg Castle. In the statements posted to the castle door on October 31, 1517, Luther laid his grievances regarding the doctrine and conduct of the Western Church, the church we now call the Roman Catholic Church. Numerous other reformers would emerge in the coming years, but Luther boldly set out a new path for Christians, aided to a great degree by the German princes who embraced his vision (or at least hoped to make use of his effort to gain control of church lands). Whatever your view of Luther, he left a significant legacy to all who followed.


In the spirit of this anniversary year, Donald K. McKim, a Reformed theologian and author, has authored a devotional book that will allow readers to reflect on Luther’s vision. This book, Moments with Martin Luther, features excerpts from Luther's writings together with his own reflections. Fittingly there are ninety-five daily devotions in the book. McKim offers this collection as a complement to an earlier devotional work featuring the work of John Calvin. This book is titled Coffee with Calvin: Daily Devotions (WJK, 2013).

                McKim writes in his preface that his goal for this devotional guide is to "draw insights from Luther that can be meaningful expressions of Christian faith and action for contemporary Christians" (p. xii). He divides the ninety-five devotions into two sections—"Believing as a Christian" and "Living as a Christian." This division is intended to reflect Luther's concern both for doctrine and Christian life. Over the course of the journey through these theses, one will explore doctrinal concepts like the Trinity, sacramental concepts such as the Eucharist, and the practical outworking of the faith, with special attention to Luther's concern for the centrality of forgiveness. 

                McKim isn’t trying to provide a deep introduction to Luther's thought. What he does is introduce us to the breadth of Luther's concerns, while offering spiritual wisdom for daily life. It is undertaken in the spirit of Luther's own commitment to Augustine's vision of the Christian life being one of "faith seeking understanding." McKim writes: "We study and reflect on Christian faith to gain understanding--of who God is, what God has done, and what God wants us to do. The study of Luther's work can enhance our faith and understanding during this five hundredth anniversary year . . . and beyond" (p. xiii). 

                As a church historian, I celebrate the decision to bring to our attention the thought of one of church history's most formative individuals. References are provided so that one can pursue if one desires the fuller piece from which the reference is drawn. The devotional guide is a good reminder that we have a richness of resources for spiritual growth, which are often hidden from view because we don’t think history has much to offer us spiritually. By drawing on Luther (and Calvin previously), McKim has taken us into the historical archives so we can consider Luther’s many spiritual insights. In this case, the resources can be found in the multi-volume set of Luther's Works, which has grown to eighty-two volumes. We can be thankful, therefore, for McKim’s willingness to mine these treasures for our spiritual growth.

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