Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation

Course No. 6633
Professor Phillip Cary, Ph.D.
Eastern University
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Course Overview

He was only one man—a humble monk and Bible professor—yet he sparked a religious rebellion that changed the course of history. Who was Martin Luther? What made his theology so explosive in 16th-century Europe? Was it really his intention to start Protestantism, and with it a new church?

How did this late-medieval man launch the Protestant Reformation and help create the modern world as we know it?

And how should we think of him: hero or heretic, rebel or tormented soul?

Martin Luther is so interesting to study, Professor Phillip Cary believes, because he is so controversial. In fact, Luther may be more interesting to study today because the controversy surrounding him is more complicated—less black-and-white—than when he was alive.

Many Catholics today find things in Luther to respect and admire, while many Protestants reject aspects of his legacy as misguided, embarrassing, or even evil.

Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation will help you reach your own conclusions. This course explores Luther's theology, the circumstances surrounding his conclusion that the papacy was "antichrist," and major issues and events in the Reformation as it unfolded in Luther's life after he posted his famous 95 Theses on the door of the church of Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517.

Professor Cary presents Luther as a multifaceted human being, a man with extraordinary virtues and profound flaws. You will meet an inspiring religious thinker who presented the Christian Gospel as a message of comfort, joy, and freedom; as great good news for sinners and God's loving promise of salvation. And you will encounter a leader whose unswerving certainty about his doctrines led him to launch vicious attacks against those with whom he disagreed most infamously and malevolently—the Jews.

What makes this course so involving for students is that it is not intended to leave you with a neutral impression of Luther. Professor Cary wants you to use his lectures—supplemented by your own research and reading—to make your own judgments about Luther, the man and his teachings.

In addition, he encourages you to ponder some larger implications of Luther and the Reformation. How should we view argument and disagreement? Are they opportunities to prove we are right or ways to find the truth? Can we find ways to disagree that could improve relations between religions—between Catholics and Protestants, and between Christians, Jews, and Muslims—and strengthen the quest for faith in a post-modern world?

Luther's Compelling Theology: "Believe It, and You Have It"

This is an opportunity to take an in-depth look at the origin of the controversies associated with Luther: his distinctive doctrine about the power of the Christian Gospel. Throughout these lectures, Professor Cary carefully traces the often subtle and challenging thinking behind Luther's central theological doctrine of justification by faith alone.

You will see how Luther modified the traditional Catholic notion, derived from St. Augustine, of the relationship between God and man. In this Augustinian paradigm, the spiritual life was a journey in which believers drew near to God through a lifetime of expressing love and doing good works.

Luther felt at the bottom of his heart that his love and good works were never good enough. Schooled by medieval practices of penance and confession that arose long after Augustine, Luther could not escape the thought that he was a sinner who must eventually face the judgment of God, all the while incapable of meriting God's love and approval.

In the face of that terrifying thought, Luther believed the only possible comfort was the Gospel of Christ, which is not about what we do but about what Christ does. The Gospel, Luther taught, is God's promise of salvation in Christ (and as Luther insisted, "God doesn't lie"). Instead of works of love meriting God's approval, all that is required to be justified in God's sight is to believe this promise. As Luther often put it, "Glaubst du, so hast du": Believe it, and you have it.

You will see how this simple concept—to be justified simply by believing God's promise—exploded like a bombshell in late-medieval Europe. It offered certainty of salvation to ordinary people whose consciences tormented them with the thought of horrific punishment after death. It freed German Christians from financial exploitation by a Roman church that sold Masses, indulgences, and other means of warding off punishment in the next life, and used the profits to fight wars, build ostentatious churches, and keep mistresses.

In addition to this pivotal notion of justification by faith alone, Professor Cary surveys Luther's whole theology as it is expressed in such works as On the Freedom of a Christian, Treatise on Good Works, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Bondage of the Will.

You will follow Luther from his disturbing early view of justification through self-hatred; to his mature breakthrough in thinking of the Gospel as a sacramental promise; to his later and, once more, disturbing notion of unfree will and predestination, in which a "hidden" God (deus absconditus) chooses, in advance, which souls to save and which to damn.

Throughout, Professor Cary underscores the thought-provoking nature of Luther's theology by emphasizing not only its details, but its larger implications:

  • Why is so much of Luther's thinking based on the writings of one man: St. Augustine?
  • What strengths did Catholicism and Protestantism lose by their separation?
  • Why is the Bible—and certainty about what it means—so important to Luther and Protestantism, and how does that relate to Christian fundamentalism?
  • And, given recent ecumenical thinking, does Luther's theology still offer reasons why Catholicism and Protestantism should remain separate?

Medieval Background, Modern Consequences

This course will enable you to understand Luther in context—to grasp the medieval background and modern consequences of his life and thought. These include:

  • Circumstances surrounding Luther's break with the church: his 95 Theses, his trial at the Diet of Worms, and the Edict of Worms, which declared him not only a heretic but a criminal. You will explore a variety of issues that are often misunderstood. What was Luther's purpose in posting his theses? Was he already a rebel against the Catholic Church, protesting against it? Or was that label thrust upon him by his papal opponents?
  • Controversies within the Reformation: Professor Cary examines Luther's disagreements—on topics such as baptism, the Eucharist, and predestination—with other Reformationleaders: Andreas von Karlstadt, Huldreich Zwingli, and John Calvin. These comparisons will help you appreciate Luther's distinctive location in the Reformation movement, standing between the more conservative Catholic Church and the more radical forms of Protestantism.
  • The Lutheran impact on church and state: For his own protection, Luther aligned himself with local German princes against the authority of the pope. In addition, his "two kingdoms" theology assigned greater authority to the state in protecting the religious life of society. But states that protected rival forms of religion, Catholic and Protestant, were inevitably drawn into bloody religious warfare. The modern principle of separation between church and state emerged as a way for Europeans to stop killing one another in the name of Christ.

Good, Bad, or Somewhere in Between?

This course portrays Luther in a way that is simultaneously critical and sympathetic. Luther offers both wonderful good news and vicious attacks on his opponents. Professor Cary is interested in exploring the connections between these two sides of Luther.

You will learn about Luther the exceptional writer, who did for German what Dante did for Italian by making the deepest concepts of religion accessible to unlearned people in their own language. To translate the Bible, he listened to how ordinary Germans spoke, learning from butchers, for example, the names of animal parts used in biblical passages about animal sacrifice.

In addition, ordinary Christians identified with Luther's affirmation of the spiritual value of marriage and family life. He saw his own wife and children as gifts of God, even in hard times and bereavement; picking up his crying child, he could say, "These are the joys of marriage, of which the pope is not worthy."

On the other hand, Luther's commitment to the certainty of his own beliefs led him to the borders of wickedness and beyond. During the Great Peasant War of 1525, he used his theology to assure German nobility that they could destroy the rebels in good conscience. He refused to retract his views even after the repression led to the killing of women and children.

Luther was given to accusing anyone who disagreed with him, from other Protestant leaders to the pope, of speaking for the devil. He attacked their opinions in harsh and filthy language that his friend Philip Melanchton described as the "rabies theologorum," or the "rabid fury of the theologians."

Luther's fury was at its worst against the Jews, toward whom he was more violent than any other major Christian theologian. Offended that Jews did not recognize the Old Testament as bearing witness to Christ, he came to see them as liars and blasphemers. He called for Jewish synagogues to be burned and property to be confiscated (fortunately, the German authorities ignored him) and rationalized his views by projecting his own hatred onto his victims.

"Indeed, if the Jews had the power to do to us what we are able to do to them," Luther wrote, "not one of us would live for an hour." Imagine how unsafe Jews must have felt hearing that!

What should we make of all this? That's a central question for Professor Cary, for this course, and for you.

What Do Luther and the Reformation Mean to You Today?

In the last lecture, Professor Cary offers his own assessment of the effects of Luther and the Reformation on the modern and now post-modern world. How have they changed the relationship between religion and public institutions? How have they influenced the value we place on tradition? Can religion offer the certainty that Luther sought? Should it even try? And what can we learn from both the "good" and the "bad" Luther that can help religions argue with one another reasonably, without violence and bloodshed?

Then it's your turn. Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation asks you to evaluate its conclusions and reach conclusions of your own. How do you think Luther fits into the story of Western civilization, and was he in fact good, bad, or a complex combination of both?

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Luther's Gospel
    Luther's Gospel is essentially something all Christians believe: the story of Christ dying for us sinners. What was new and controversial is Luther's doctrine about the Gospel—about how we are changed simply by believing it. Professor Cary tells a parable to illustrate the experience of faith in the Gospel as Luther understood it. x
  • 2
    The Medieval Church—Abuses and Reform
    Clerical abuses, most of which involved money, were prevalent in Luther's time. At its worst, the late medieval church funded itself by claiming authority over individuals' consciences and exploiting their anxieties about the next life. x
  • 3
    The Augustinian Paradigm of Spirituality
    At its best, the medieval church promoted a broadly Augustinian notion of an earthly pilgrimage leading to eternal happiness. But late medieval Christians were tormented by a question that disrupted the pilgrimage: How can I stand before God's judgment? Luther's Gospel addresses this question. x
  • 4
    Young Luther Against Himself
    In his early doctrine of justification, Luther concluded that the way to become truly righteous is to hate oneself and wish to be damned, agreeing with the righteous God who condemns sinners. This promoted an experience of deep terror from which only the Gospel could rescue him. x
  • 5
    Hearing the Gospel
    For the mature Luther, the Gospel includes a divine promise of forgiveness that forbids us from regarding ourselves as God's enemies. In The Freedom of a Christian, Luther described this as a wedding vow that gives us a divine bridegroom, together with all that is his. Unlike Augustine's paradigm, Christ is not just the road we take, but is God coming to us and making himself ours. x
  • 6
    Faith and Works
    Luther distinguishes Law and Gospel: One is God's commandment telling us what to do, the other is His promise of what He does for us. Because salvation comes simply by believing the Gospel, a question arises: What need is there to do good works? Luther answered this in The Freedom of a Christian and in other writings such as his Treatise on Good Works. x
  • 7
    The Meaning of the Sacraments
    For Luther, the Gospel is an external word that gives believers what it promises. Like a sacrament, it is an outward sign that gives the inward gift it signifies. This sacramental concept of the word of God can be found in Luther's earliest treatises on the sacraments, dealing with penance, baptism, and the Eucharist. x
  • 8
    The Indulgence Controversy
    The Reformation began with the indulgence controversy, when Luther posted his famous 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. The controversy exploded when Luther's earliest papal opponent labeled him a heretic because he questioned practices approved by the pope. This turned an academic disputation about the theology of indulgences into a Europe-wide controversy over papal authority. x
  • 9
    The Reformation Goes Public
    Protected by his prince, Frederick "the Wise" of Saxony, Luther developed a program of reformation. His address "To the Christian Nobility" backed the German aristocracy in age-old complaints against the clergy. He was tried as a heretic on German soil at the Diet of Worms in 1521 before the emperor of Germany, not the pope of Rome. The Lutheran Reformation was ever afterwards tied to the protection of the state. x
  • 10
    The Captivity of the Sacraments
    Among the world-changing works Luther published in 1520 is The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. In it, Luther criticized the Catholic sacramental system. He recognized baptism and the Lord's Supper (and in a way, penance) as sacraments, but dismissed the rest of the traditional seven sacraments because they did not contain a sign and a divine promise. x
  • 11
    Reformation in Wittenberg
    The Reformation began in Wittenberg, Luther's hometown. This is where he learned to make the reforms work. This is also where his own life was drastically changed when he married an ex-nun named Katherine von Bora. We know a great deal about Luther's home life because his dinner guests often wrote down his table talk. x
  • 12
    The Work of the Reformer
    Luther left an indelible mark on German culture. He translated the Bible into German. He composed catechisms that are still used today. He wrote deeply sensitive letters of spiritual counsel. And he wrote music designed to fill people's hearts with the Gospel, including such famous hymns as "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." x
  • 13
    Against the Spirit of Rebellion
    Luther opposed both spirituality and rebellion, which he found often went hand in hand. Although sympathetic to peasant grievances, he was appalled by the Great Peasant War of 1525. In "Against the Robbing and Murdering Horde of the Peasants" he insisted that Christians in good conscience should "stab, smite, and slay" those rebelling against legitimate authority. x
  • 14
    Controversy Over the Lord’s Supper
    The differences between the Lutheran and Reformed wings of the Reformation are best understood by their views on the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. The leader of the Reformed, Huldreich Zwingli of Zurich, argued that the Eucharist symbolized Christ's body, but did not make it really present. Luther found this view literally devilish. x
  • 15
    Controversy Over Infant Baptism
    The Lutheran and Radical wings of the Reformation disagreed, above all, about baptism. Called by their opponents Anabaptists (i.e., rebaptizers) the radicals regarded infant baptism as invalid because infants could not believe, and therefore baptized only adults—even those already baptized as infants. The Anabaptist position forced Luther to explain how infant baptism, which he defended, was compatible with his emphasis on faith alone. x
  • 16
    Grace and Justification
    The doctrine of justification (how one becomes righteous before God) is the most characteristic legacy of the Reformation. Luther's position can be contrasted with both the Catholic doctrine of sanctifying grace and the Reformed emphasis on forensic justification. Luther's large commentary on Paul's letter to the Galatians (1535) is the gold standard on his mature doctrine of justification. x
  • 17
    Luther and the Bible
    Luther initiated the Protestant tradition of emphasizing the literal rather than allegorical sense of Scripture. To read the Bible literally, for Luther, is to find Christ in it. But as early as Calvin, critics wondered if Luther's biblical interpretation was too narrowly focused on the doctrine of justification. Luther's reading of Paul's writings in the New Testament is a test case for this kind of criticism. x
  • 18
    Luther and Erasmus
    Desiderius Erasmus, a contemporary of Luther's, was a famous humanist, renowned scholar, and the leading Christian moralist of his day. Though sympathetic to Luther's criticisms of the Catholic Church, he never joined the Reformation and ended up in a fierce controversy with Luther over the role of free will in salvation. x
  • 19
    Luther and Predestination
    How is it that the lovely notion of grace seems to turn into the horrifying notion of predestination? The deep concept here, as Calvin realized, is the doctrine of election; i.e., of God's choice to be gracious to some undeserving sinners rather than others. Theologian Karl Barth has argued that Augustine, Luther, and Calvin mistakenly made election into bad news, as if it meant some were chosen instead of others, rather than some for the sake of others. x
  • 20
    Luther and Protestantism
    Luther is more "Catholic" than most Protestants. The best way to see this is to clarify the anxieties characteristic of each theology. Catholics worry about mortal sin, Luther worries whether God aims to condemn him, and Calvinists worry whether their faith is true faith. x
  • 21
    Luther and Politics
    Like other Reformation theologians, Luther made a sharp distinction between the powers of church and state, which he described as "two kingdoms." This meant in practice that the Reformation sided with the state in its struggle for power against the church. The Reformation's appeal to the patronage and protection of Protestant rulers led to ongoing religious warfare, but eventually to an ideology of religious toleration. x
  • 22
    Luther and His Enemies
    Luther's abusive language toward his theological opponents is graphic and unforgettable. Did he simply become bitter in old age, or should we take him at his word that his fierceness was not about personalities but about the Gospel? This lecture suggests that only the latter interpretation makes sense of Luther's theological polemics. x
  • 23
    Luther and the Jews
    The most vulnerable targets of Luther's polemics were the Jews. In 1523, in "That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew," he argued that Christians should cease persecuting the Jews and be content to argue about Scripture with them. But two decades later, in treatises such as "On the Jews and Their Lies" (1543), he insisted that they were as devilish as his other enemies. x
  • 24
    Luther and Modernity
    The modern era can be traced to the split in Christendom that began with Luther's break from the pope. The Protestant tradition thus stands between the Catholic tradition going back to antiquity and the modern traditions of secularity and liberalism. But Luther's insistence on faith in God's word has much to contribute to Christianity even after modernity. x

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Your professor

Phillip Cary

About Your Professor

Phillip Cary, Ph.D.
Eastern University
Dr. Phillip Cary is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, where he is also Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College. After receiving his B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, Professor Cary earned his M.A. in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Yale University. Professor Cary is a recent winner of the...
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Reviews

Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 106.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Martin Luther - how Lutheran became a new religion I am Lutheran. I went through Catechism many decades ago. I wanted to know more about the differences between the Lutheran beiiefs and the Catholic beliefs. Why was an entire religion named after one person? This course will tell you Luther never wanted it that way. Just what were the 95 theses that caused such an uproar? All the answers are here, plus a few Lutheran hymns sung by the course Professor!
Date published: 2016-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stimulates thought and reflection This is an exhaustive biography of Martin Luther--describing his recognition as a monk the fraudulent selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church, and of the squandering of human fulfillment by the requirement of celibacy of Catholic nuns and clergy. He opposed these. However, as the Catholic Church began to prosecute Luther, he declared the papacy (not the sitting Pope) the anti-Christ. This led to the Reformation.. As the Reformation began to take-hold and spread, Luther came into conflict with the Swiss reformers over the Eucharist and the role of works in obtaining salvation. Was the Eucharist merely symbolic (Calvin and Zwingli), or was it transformation of bread and wine into the body of Christ? Could salvation be had by faith alone, or were good works required in addition to faith? Luther became increasingly truculent as he separated himself from the Catholic Church, and began to debate these issues of faith, works, and liturgy with his fellow reformers. I had read Martin Luther by Martin Marty, a highly acclaimed recent biography of Luther. However, it did not give the same insights into Luther and his role in the Reformation as this course. This course stimulated me to think and re-evaluate my Christian faith. With the many interpretations of the Old and New Testament by scholars of the First Century and the Middle Ages, is seems to me many of the ideas of the Christian faith are suspect.. Professor Cary proposes and endorses unification of the Catholic Chruch and Protestant churches based on common belief in the gospels. However, from this course, this seems impossible. There are so many divisions within the various Protestant faiths, unification is untenable.. Professor Cary is knowledgeable of his subject and presents it in a compelling way. I can recommend this course to anyone who wants to better understand the Protestant Reformation, and to understand the abuses of the Catholic Chruch tha tled to the Reformation. It should stimulate thinking and reflection.
Date published: 2016-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Favorite Lecture So Far This is my sixth Great Courses lecture series to listen to and is my favorite so far.
Date published: 2016-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview of Reformation-era Theology This was my third course with Professor Cary and, for me at least, he seems to get better and better. He speaks rapidly but clearly, and he provides a carefully balanced and well-considered assessment in this course of 16th century theological disputes that led to the Reformation with a focus on Luther. If you're interested in a broad history of the Reformation era, then you might select Brad Gregory's "History of Christianity in the Reformation Era" (which I enjoyed); this course strongly focuses on Christian theology with an initial emphasis on the Augustinian concept of grace and how Luther (and Calvin), heirs to that Augustinian tradition, re-interpreted this notion of grace, and compared it (critically) to the notions then prevailing in the late-medieval church. Professor Cary does provide sufficient social and political context in which these theological disputes are taking place. Having taken his "History of Christian Theology" course, I found a good deal of the theology familiar, but there were many interesting interpretations I found illuminating; however, there are times when (at least to this non-theologian) some of fine shadings of meaning discussed seemed to remind me of philosophers' "word definition" conflicts. Cary describes himself as an "Ecumenical Protestant", although he teaches at an Evangelical college, and although an admirer of much of Luther's theology, he regrets the split in Christianity that resulted from the Reformation. Of course, Christianity was already split into Greek and Latin branches almost five centuries earlier. As mentioned above, he provides a fair-minded presentation, and Cary reminds us that Luther and the Reformers were struggling against the late-medieval Roman Catholic Church which viewed time in Purgatory as hellish suffering, solicited money from relatives in the form of indulgences to reduce that suffering, and financially exploited much of Europe. The resemblance to the Catholic Church of later years, particularly the post Vatican II church, is much attenuated. Furthermore, Cary does not spare us from Luther's verbal vituperation, and strongly criticizes Luther's later-period condemnation of the Jews, which he says unfortunately crept into German culture. I believe that whatever your denomination (I'm neither Catholic nor Lutheran), a Christian could learn much from this course.
Date published: 2016-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Audio version - Learnt a lot about Luther I bought the audio version, and learnt a lot about Luther and the Reformation period. I am an ecumenically-minded Roman Catholic who has studied / participated in many Protestant thinking and discussions. I purchased this course series to understand further the genesis of the Protestant Reformation. I must say this course has illuminated me toward Luther and that period. What I found interesting and enjoyable about this course were: 1. The context behind the Reformation: The "tumultuous" Catholic papacy period preceding and during the Reformation era, including the "indulgence controversy", that triggered people like Luther to begin to challenge the establishment. 2. The "evolution" of Luther's thinking from trying to justify his own salvation through his own works and "self-hatred" toward reaching the "end of his self-effort" and toward a comforting gospel of justification by faith and grace alone through faith in Jesus' finished work. 3. The subsequent reformist views (including those of the Anabaptists, Calvinists etc.) after Luther wrote some of his most important work in the 1517-1521 period. 4. The "helicopter view" provided by Prof Cary of how all of these religious conflicts actually helped pave the way toward the separation of Church (religion) and State in political governance, all the way to today. 5. Professor Cary's discussion of "Esau vs Jacob" in terms of predestination (God loves Jacob from before their birth, and hated Esau), and how this "predestination" discussion helped drive some of the splits of the early Protestant movements. (e.g., Calvinist vs Lutheran). 6. Luther's influence on German culture including his translating the first German Bible, and his composing of a few hymns (he was a fan of music and its power and value). 7. Luther's ultra-focus on the Word (as opposed to "hearing (in) the spirits") 8. Luther's enigmatic "turnabout" of his attitude and writing against the Jews. He seemed to be developing some bitterness in his attitude and writings in his older age. What can this course improve on? I gave this course 4 stars, and I enjoyed the narrative of Prof Cary as well as the guidebook. I only have one recommendation: Sometimes I feel Professor Cary started each lecture at a good, clear pace and gradually spoke too fast toward the end (of each lecture). I had to go through the course guidebook after each lecture (or two) to fully understand what I just heard. But overally, a 4-star course!
Date published: 2015-12-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Primairly on Lutheran Theology I was interested to hear this course primarily for understanding how it came about that the Lutheran religious revolution played such a huge role in changing early modern history. As it turns out, this was not the main focus of the course. The course has primarily two major parts: the Lutheran theology, and the general Biography of Luther. Both parts were quite comprehensive in my opinion – at least they satisfied my own capacity; in fact I found the bits about theology to be at mild overdose values. It seemed like they were really more for the highly interested. Both Luther’s own biography and theology were well presented, however, and enabled getting a well-rounded and comprehensive understanding of this man and his teachings.The lecture devoted to Luther's attitude towards the Jews was extremely interesting and foretelling of things to come... This, in turn, is crucial for understanding early modern history. So the course was well worth the time and effort although some parts of it were a bit of a slog.
Date published: 2015-11-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Superficial and repetitive I was very disappointed with this series. Virtually every lecture had about 5 minutes worth of information that Prof. Cary stretched out to 30 minutes of disorganized, repetitive and rambling discourse. The main problem was that he assumed that his audience was one of not-so-bright college students instead of the sophisticated adult audience of the Great Courses. For example, his lecture on Luther and the Jews makes the obvious point that Luther's views on the subject were despicable. But he only presented a handful of quotes from Luther on the subject and spent most of lecture giving what amounted to a lengthy homily on the need for tolerance. Except for the American Nazi Party, who would disagree? I felt like I was in a high school civics class rather than a college-level course on Luther. Throughout the series, I had the impression that I was listening to a lecturer who thinks that his folksy presentation makes up for his lack of preparation. Philip Cary deserves a "D" for this course. Don't waste your money on this one.
Date published: 2015-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Informative This course covered an important turning point in history--The Reformation. I not only learned about Luther's views but some one the differences in theology of Protestant tenants. The course was interesting and informative with a number of illustrations to add to the course
Date published: 2015-08-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great topic, but the presentation was not so good. Professor Cary is a very enthusiastic teacher and has a good knowledge of the subject. I listened to the lecture a twice and repeated some portions a few times to make sure that I understood the teaching. I would not recommend this lecture for someone looking for a basic understanding of Luther and his teachings. How I wish that I could give this higher marks, however it seems to be unorganized and highly biased. It is unorganized in that the flow is not logical in some cases and the booklet does not always match the teaching in that in some places a great deal of time is devoted in the audio to a topic, however the booklet corresponding text might only be a sentence or two and conversely a sentence might be spoken of a topic and in some case a couple of pages of text is devoted to it. I also noticed that there were several times when a very important topic is discussed, but little or no text is found in the booklet. This is biased toward a Catholic's view throughout. A better title for this might be, A Catholics view of Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation. He would sometimes say that some saying or doctrine of Luther is "really a Catholic idea." I would repeat these portions of the lecture to make sure that I heard him correctly and even though it might align to a Catholic idea, it would miss the mark. The reason that Luther separated himself from the Catholic church was because of corruption in their practices at the time and his ideas were not to align himself with the doctrine of the church, but rather to challenge or even oppose its practices. I also have listened to Professor Cary's, The History of Christian Theology, and noticed the same bias, however there are still some good teaching there and likewise there are some good concepts that are taught here, however for me it is hard to ignore the bias and it detracts from what should have been an unbiased look at a very important figure in the church.
Date published: 2015-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Many good little known facts from writings of characters covered. Well researched and well presented.
Date published: 2015-03-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from One of the least attractive courses The course was too technical. I would have liked to see more information about the times and the man, than about the Lutheran religion.
Date published: 2015-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Meaning of Lutheranism Revealed I can't vouch for the accuracy of his facts but this series of lectures made me think more deeply about my Christian beliefs than anything i have read in many years. I am so thankful that Martin Luther had the courage to teach the gospel with such conviction. I am proud to be a Lutheran. I will share these DVD's with our Bible study group.
Date published: 2015-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Iconoclast, History and Theology Some TGC's stick more than others, some change the way I see things, some are quickly forgotten.. This one stuck and there are 3 reasons why: 1) I have a much deeper understanding of the 16th century struggle to reform Christianity and return to fundamentals of scripture. I was raised as a Catholic but I fully embrace Luther's idea that the Church should be "semper reformed", always reforming. In my mind he easily wins the historic debate vs the Rome of his time. I know I must thank Luther for many of the Catholic practices we have today, and especially for many of the ones we don't have.. 2) As much as I can admire the courage of the iconoclast and the intellectual rigor he displayed, I see Luther ultimately becoming a flawed extremist, intolerant of differing ideas. Illness, perhaps, as he aged, but not a man to be admired as he grew older. 3) I have a keener understanding for the basis of Western liberalism, the age of pluralism and tolerance that results from the fatigue of Catholic v Protestant religious wars. Luther triggered these conflicts, it took 200 years until the American Founders made religious tolerance a constitutional guarantee. I don't think Luther, the fire-brand, would have liked that! Great professor, I did the audio, paid about $40, highly recommend if this is in your area of inquiry.
Date published: 2014-08-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I guess it is my duty to inform the potential buyers that these "lectures" have absolutely and thoroughly nothing to do with knowledge, science and culture: they are preaching, plainly and simply. If you are interested in nonsensical sermons uttered in rapturous voice, filled with frequent exhalings and high pitched voice climaxes - not to mention quotations of prayers offered as "historical documents" and professionally declaimed as from a pulpit - this "course" is from you. If, on the other side, you're interested in petty, dry and boring stuff like knowing, understanding, learning, comparing concepts, principles and ideas, you may well end up being sorely disappointed. And maybe outraged by a sense of sheer betrayal of the mission of teaching (which is THE real sacred thing). I'm not against "participated", biased, hartfelt forms of teaching, but a line must be drawn, and in this case someone has gone well past it. I'm not against teaching religious topics either, rather the opposite: the long row of religion centered courses I bought from TGC so far speaks for itself. Topics as crucial and delicate as those concerning religion can be conveyed and presented in a number of nuances (and TGC teachers like A.J. Levine, I.M. Gafni, B.D. Ehrman offer significative examples) but no matter the different styles, prejudices and personal convictions of the teachers, some things should be respected in the first place: the intelligence of the listener, the value of information, the impartiality of knowledge. I quit listening this course on the third "lecture": this is unprecedented, despite the uneven quality levels (no real complaints though) of the 15+ courses I've listened to so far. And this is my first review for TGC also: like I wrote in the beginning of it, I felt it more like a duty rather than like a exercise in literary criticism.
Date published: 2014-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Luther I really enjoyed this course, because it was very well thought out, and answered some questions about Luther that I really wanted to know. He was fair and objective, and I will buy more of Prof. Cary's lectures because it was very well done, and NOT boring at all!
Date published: 2013-11-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A bit dense but worth it Based on other courses at the Teaching Company I expected this course to be more historical rather than theological. However, once I got over that I really got a lot out of Prof. Cary's thorough explanation of Luther's theological system. I will probably be selecting more of the professor's courses.
Date published: 2013-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Approach and Grasp of Luther in Totality I have listened to other lectures by TGC with Phillip Carey and by far he is the best professor TGC have in the religion section. This particular series on Luther discusses Luther as a complete individual not just his theology or his politics. Likewise Carey, who is a Lutheran, is not afraid to deal with some of the more controversial aspects of Luther. What I further appreciate about Carey is he does not "throw Luther under the bus" despite Luther's more controversial opinions. Carey does a masterful job presenting Luther, his theology and mindset with the life and times of his environment. In striking such a balance you will leave understanding Luther more than you have before. PROS: Excellent pace, Extremely informative, varied from personal, political and theological perspectives. CONS: The theological treatment of Luther is very dense. This is of no fault to Professor Carey rather it points to the challenge of presenting Luther's theology. You may have to listen to the Luther's specific theology more than once to get a firm grasp, which I suggest strongly because you will need to understand this moving forward into the lectures. Conclusion: If you want to understand Luther, the Reformation in its infancy and some of the Latin Orthodox doctrines and practices then you will appreciate this series. If you are looking for a liberal professor with a slanted liberal theological persuasion then you will be disappointed.
Date published: 2013-05-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from You'll Get Your Money's Worth It takes all sorts to make the world go ‘round, and this course proves it. Professor Cary demonstrates in every one of the 24 lectures that he is careful scholar with a world class command of his subject. It was an honor just to have participated at the electronic media level; how much more so to actually attend one of his classes. Cary somehow manages in just 24 lectures to expose the breadth and depth of the persona named Luther in the same way I would expect a first class biography of 1000 pages to do. Cary’s mastery and insight into this subject is so great, it seems as though he must do little else with his time than investigate, explore and seek to understand Luther, Moreover, when Cary revealed early on that he is a proud proponent of ecumenicism, I had concerns that his viewpoint would color these lectures in a way unpalatable to me. Nevertheless, Cary was true to his promise – he did not opine overtly or through insinuation on the content with his ecumenical views until the very last lecture. He delivered a consistently objective inventory of the facts and what reasonable scholarship can conclude from those facts. I do have two significant, and one less significant, objection to this course that I think anyone consuming these lectures should hear. The first is that in lecture 23 Cary was very severe with Luther for his writings about Jews, and squarely lays some of blame for the Holocaust at Luther’s feet. Moreover, Cary informs his final, and confessedly subjective, opinion of Luther, delivered in lecture 24, with Luther’s writings about Jews. The problem I have with this is I certainly understand, and increasing numbers of world class scholars understand, that Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection was probably the tool most effective for the Nazi’s in rationalizing to the masses the notion of persecuting the Jews. In fact, The Great Courses has many scientist/teachers who lionize evolution, and natural selection is the theorized agent of evolution – one species cannot “win out” over another unless it, via natural selection, lucks out with some superior feature that enables it to better adapt. Yet, how many scientists openly lay the blame, or any portion of it, for the Holocaust at Darwin’s feet? If acknowledgement of the linkage is anywhere mentioned, the scientist invariably blames the evil genius who twisted Darwin’s intellectual achievement, not Darwin himself. So then why, in this course, is Luther to blame for what Hitler did? Because Cary is not a scientist and therefore Cary is not subject to the same standard of truth as a scientist? Who believes that? The second objection is Cary’s opinion (clearly marked out as opinion) in lecture 24 that the need to understand the point of view of our neighbor – his “word” as Cary describes it – trumps the necessity for certainty that for Cary is a root of all evil; in other words, open-mindedness trumps being right. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying Cary’s view, as an ecumenically-minded person, he stresses the importance of everyone getting along. Cary should know better, because he discusses it academically, but I think he is a victim of the very thinking he analyzes, which is the tendency of modern humanity to see, falsely, religion as the primary source of conflict in the world. What I have found out about the world is this: that the same people who deride anyone who would shed blood over religion are likely to be the same people who would shed blood to see gay marriage legalized in America, or universal health insurance mandated, or abortion kept legal. I, for one, would be willing to fight and die over my right to bear arms. On this, and many other issues, I am implacably not interested in another person’s point of view. Why should someone who is willing to die over protecting the right to an abortion, not be willing to fight and die over the right for a woman to live free within Christian culture, versus in servitude in Muslim culture? The third, and less strident, objection I have is that Cary elected to offer a value judgment of Luther in the 24th lecture. How many biographies’s final chapter conclude with the scholar/author telling us what their personal opinion is of person they are writing about? Why does Cary, for whom not-being-certain is a virtue, not find it sufficient to let the student come to his or her conclusions, since nothing is certain anyway?
Date published: 2013-04-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction to Luther Professor Cary provides an excellent introduction to Martin Luther. Cary is a true expert in his field, and he presents well-prepared lectures. The course covers aspects of Luther’s life, the historical context of his times, his writings, and his theology, all with outstanding insight. Luther’s dependence on Augustine, his differences with Calvin and Zwingli, and Luther’s impact on the culture of his time and on our culture of 21st century Postmodernism are themes present throughout many of the lectures. Professor Cary is even-handed and balanced in his view of Luther, providing Luther’s negatives (and even the ugly, as Cary likes to say) along with the many positives. It is clear that Luther was, by no means, perfect during his ways on earth. Luther knew that, and in many ways this knowledge was crucial to the development of his theology. In several memorable lectures presenting Luther’s thoughts on Jews and Luther’s relationships with his theological enemies Professor Cary points out those areas where Luther was less than a perfect role model for theologians today. I doubt that Luther ever intended to be a perfect role model. Luther’s initial emphasis was on correcting abuses of the Church of his day. Cary presents this struggle in an excellent fashion, holding my interest throughout the 24 lecture course. This course may be tough listening for some Catholics as Cary describes, in some detail, the abuses of the Catholic Church in Luther’s time. Lutherans may also squirm a bit as Cary presents some of Luther’s more vitriolic verbiage aimed at those with differing theological views (even on somewhat minor points of doctrine). Cary finds fault with Luther’s search for not just the truth about God, but for his insistence on the certainty of that truth. When examined from the perspective of his time in the 1500’s this was not at all unusual for many (even most) theologians. In fact, the Reformation might not have taken the course it did if either side of the “debate” were willing then to consider opposing views in a respectful manner. Cary concludes the course with his own thoughts about the separation of the True Church into the various factions we have present in today’s time. Although thoughtful I am not sure his rather personal opinion belongs in this course devoted to Luther. I used the DVD version of this course. There are very few graphics to make use of the video mode of presentation. Professor Cary can be an excellent storyteller, but much of the time he seemed uncomfortable in front of the camera. The digital audio or CD version should be more than adequate. An excellent timeline, glossary, biographical notes, and bibliography are included in the course guidebook.
Date published: 2013-03-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I am sorry to write this review as I like some of Professor Cary's other courses very much. Martin Luther was one of history's great whistle blowing heroes. These people stand up to the autocracy of their time who are 'white collar criminals, corporate psychopaths and cover up bad people. This course has the flavour of an appologist from the PR department, still defending the indefensible. Sorry, not my cup of tea!
Date published: 2013-02-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Course DVD review: Dr Cary will stay in my memory for some time ~~ with his short-sleeved shirt that incredibly was UNchanged throughout ALL 24 lectures, plus his Amish/Islamic style of beard: he states that he is not a Mennonite, btw. Here in the UK, he would be taken for a convert to Islam. His frequent noisy, slurpy intakes of breath (like Alfred Hitchcock) were also memorable, disconcerting, a weird tic. Otherwise, his presentation was straightforward, not difficult to follow, but not charismatic or compelling; for me, the style and presentation of a lecturer are of key importance. It may be highly advisable to listen to these lectures in CD format, especially as the DVD version contains very few pictures or illustrations to enhance the presentation. The lectures trace in some depth the events and theological arguments leading up to the Reformation, including Luther's opponents. The critical matter of indulgences in the Catholic Church is not considered until lecture 8. Overall, for me, this was a slightly disappointing course, though it is certainly clear that Dr Cary has a powerful command of his subject. I had not known the extent of pettiness with Luther, the enemy of free will, as he stressed so many very fine points: a veritable obsessed man-on-a-mission. I doubt he'd be sucessful today as the head of a large corporation! I found lecture 19 on Luther & Predestination rather confusing; it seemed to go round in circles ~ fascinating, however. The comparison between Luther and Calvin also was intensely interesting. I enjoyed Dr Cary's contention that Calvin was "more Protestant" than Luther. Dr Cary's final 6 lectures in this course are his finest. I am compelled to recommend this 2004 series with Dr Cary owing to the content which is true to the promise of the course; you will come from the lectures with a good understanding of what Luther believed in and what he preached, including his anti-semitic leaning. I can't help feeling that it could have been covered in 12 lectures... with at least one change of shirt! As an aside, may I add that I'd enjoy hearing Dr Bart Ehrman's take on this subject.
Date published: 2013-01-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Professor repeats everything for no particular reason. This becomes annoying after a short while. We never learn much about Luther's detailed life in all these too many sessions. The most disappointing course for me thus far.
Date published: 2012-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great survey of Luther and his ideas This is the first TC course dealing with either religion or philosophy that I've taken; it's excellent. I bought this course because of my interest in history, wanting to go into much more detail about Luther as a person and as the originator of the Protestant Reformation that so greatly changed European history. Prof. Cary covers all of that well. He also does an excellent job clearly explaining Luther's ideas and how they evolved. This gets to be intricate (some might say hair-splitting) stuff in some cases, but Prof. Cary explains the fine points with clarity and enthusiasm.
Date published: 2012-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful and thought provoking I love all of Prof. Cary's courses, but this may end up being my favorite. Cary, in his usual engaging, lively presentation, does a great job introducing Luther and charting the course that led to his break with the Catholic Church. He presents the material in a way that is fair and does not malign either religious tradition. He then discusses Luther's view of the gospel and how it contrasts with both the Catholic view and Calvin's view. He finishes by examining Luther's horrific views towards his "enemies"--the theologians who disagree with him and also the Jews. These last lectures were very eye opening for me. His thesis is that it is Luther's need for certainty that leads him to label all who differ with his interpretation of Scripture as being "of the devil". He ends the lecture series by discussing how Luther's break with the Pope really is the beginning of Modernity, with its insistance on being certain. Through these lectures,I became aware of my own craving for certainty and have realized how I am a product of modernity myself. Cary wraps up by offering a path of postmodernism that recognizes the futility of finding certainty but does not reject the possibility of finding truth through discussion and argument and yes, looking back on Christian tradition,not in order to blindly accept it, but rather to learn from the wisdom of Christian thinkers of history.
Date published: 2012-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course I have bought many TGC lecture series and by far this was among the best. It was interesting, lively and highly informative. And best of all the content was exactly what I thought it would be. This is good stuff. I learned a great deal from this course and would love to see more like it. Simply a fantastic course.
Date published: 2012-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Course I bought this course out of a desire to gain a greater understanding a major religious tradition in our culture. I am not a Protestant, and am in fact not very religious. It was my assumption that I would only listen to a few lectures and become bored with the subject. In fact, I was riveted by the lectures and listened to them all. I recommend this course most highly. I do have two minor negative comments: The odd ‘modern comment’ thrown in by Professor Cary was distracting. Trying to understand the thinking of a 16th century thinker was difficult enough without the occasional ‘pot shot’. The extremely harsh criticism of Luther in regard to his view of Jews seems to be largely informed by events of the last century and appears to be very unbalanced. That Professor Cary find anti-Semitism to be abhorrent is great, but this is hardy an issue today where many intellectuals think otherwise.
Date published: 2012-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from one word - riveting He held my attention throughout. An excellent speaker.
Date published: 2012-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Theological study of the great Reformer This is a fine course for those who wish to explore the theological debates that led to the Reformation, and exactly what Martin Luther believed and taught about such things as justification and grace. It is not heavy on history, although enough of a framework is provided to allow the student to put the discussions into a timeline. The course book is one of the best I've seen, with detailed outlines and a very good glossary. What makes this glossary stand out is that most of the definitions also include a reference to which lecture included the term, allowing you to go back and check the content of the lecture. I bought the DVD version of this course, but I would probably recommend the audio-only version because there is not much visual content in this series. The professor never changes shirts in 24 lectures, spends most of each lecture leaning on the podium, and does not provide many visuals that couldn't be found easily online or in the guidebook. Although Prof. Cary is clearly knowledgeable about his topic, his delivery can be tiresome in long stretches (think of listening to Niles Crane from "Frasier"), and his post-modern theology colors many of the later discussions, which may be misleading to listeners not familiar with orthodox theology.
Date published: 2011-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Lecturer I could listen to Professor Cary on any subject. I have many of the courses from the Teaching Company and I consider him the best lecturer and that is saying a lot considering I think they all are fantastic. Cary voice is just soothing to listen to even in a noisy room but does not put you to sleep when you are driving or at bed time, when you are trying to stay awake. The thirty minutes fly by! I plan on purchasing all of his works..Great job...TGC
Date published: 2011-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course I would definitely recommend this course on Luther. The professor did an excellent job and I thoroughly enjoyed the course. It was fair and balanced.
Date published: 2011-11-20
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