It would have been easy simply to portray the areas where Luther, the Reformers, and Seventh-day Adventists agree and disagree. However, the editors and authors of this ambitious book take a step beyond the simple and easy. They provide an opportunity for a reappraisal of Luther and the Reformation as well as a new look at Adventist teachings in the context of the Reformation.
The book begins with an introduction by George Knight, “Why Luther Matters.” Knight affirms Luther’s relevance to Adventism as well as to the broader Protestant world. He argues that three of Luther’s ideas are still applicable in the current religious climate: a commitment to the authority of Scripture in the face of mere human authority, a biblical understanding of justification by faith, and the priesthood of all believers. The volume that follows highlights these three groundbreaking ideas.
The first essay, by Lutheran scholar Timothy J. Wengert, counters the myths that focus the Reformation on Luther’s guilt or on his anger. Wengert argues that Luther began the Reformation with a primary concern about bad teaching and bad preaching. He attests that the occasion for the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses was the exaggerated preaching of indulgences, and the foundation of indulgences was the theological idea that taught that the pope had a right to reduce penalties in purgatory. Luther posted his theses quietly to begin a theological discussion, but they were, in fact, a frontal assault on the medieval penitential system. Wengert maintains that the resulting conflict was theological, not personal. At the heart of the Reformation was Luther’s theological focus on grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone. Luther asserted that if this theology was appropriately preached, rather than indulgences, then the gospel would truly awaken faith and justify the sinner.
Subsequent essays compare Lutheran and Adventist understandings of sola Scriptura, the priesthood of believers, and justification by faith. These essays cover the relevant material and show the relationship between Lutheran and Adventist teachings. Along with some other essays in this volume, these topics could have been strengthened by a greater reliance on primary sources and fewer quotations from secondary sources.
One outstanding essay describes John C. Peckham’s new approach to understanding sola Scriptura. Peckham, an associate professor of theology and Christian philosophy at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, bases his essay on his recently published book, Canonical Theology: The Biblical Canon, Sola Scriptura, and Theological Method (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016). Taking seriously the human element in biblical interpretation, Peckham seeks to avoid the twin dangers of individualism and communitarianism, developing a method whereby individuals and communities continually submit all of their interpretations to Scripture.
Other essays in the volume address Ellen White’s portrait of Martin Luther, Luther’s understanding of the Decalogue and the Sabbath, Lutheran and Adventist understandings of salvation, and Luther’s complex view of the state of the dead. In addition, important essays deal with Luther’s understanding of missiology, state power, and Islam. There are also significant treatments of the neglected relationship between Anabaptists and Adventism.
Among the essays is a notable treatment of Luther’s understanding of righteousness by faith in the book of Romans. In it, Sigve Tonstad suggests that there are exegetical and historical reasons for a new interpretation of Paul’s understanding of righteousness by faith. Like those who advocate a new perspective on Paul, he suggests that the center of Paul’s thought has to do with the faithfulness of God rather than the faith of the believer.
Denis Fortin’s concluding essay details the surprising agreement between Lutherans and Catholics on justification and describes a pathway whereby the two communions could come to see each other as complementary opposites, expressing a oneness in diversity.
In short, this impressive volume is a thoughtful review of Seventh-day Adventist teachings in the light of Luther and the Reformation. Its most helpful contributions illuminate Adventist teachings in the context of Reformation and Anabaptist thought.