Recent studies have increasingly downplayed, and in a few cases even wholly denied, the influence of Martin Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel on early English evangelicals such as William Tyndale. The impact of a late medieval Augustinian renaissance, Erasmian Humanism, the Reformed tradition, and Lollardy have all but eclipsed the more central role once attributed to Luther. In this text Michael Whiting examines these claims with a thorough reevaluation of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel in its historical context—spanning twenty-five years, something entirely lacking in all previous studies. Using extensive research of primary sources, paying acute attention to the larger historical narrative, and remaining in dialogue with secondary scholarship, Whiting argues that scholars have often oversimplified Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel. His argument continues that scholars have thus wrongly diminished Luther’s very significant, even principal, influence upon first-generation evangelicals William Tyndale, John Frith, and Robert Barnes during the English Reformation of the 1520s and 1530s.
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Martin Luther, the theological giant of the sixteenth century, has almost been written out of the English Reformation. Whiting’s book restores him to his proper place, not least by showing that Luther’s early English interpreters often understood his paradoxical theology better than modern commentators have done. He reminds us of what we should always have known: that a Reformation without Luther is simply unimaginable.
—Alec Ryrie, Durham University
Whiting’s fresh look at the works of three of the most significant inaugurators of the Protestant Reformation in English casts aside the prejudices of the previous generation of scholars and thus opens a new discussion of how the earliest English reformers read and digested Luther’s core insights within the framework of his distinction of law and gospel.. . . This book will command attention from the coming generation of interpreters of the Reformation in the wider European context and specifically in England.
—Robert Kolb, Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri
This excellent study shows how Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel greatly influenced the work of Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes. It examines the concept of the Tertius Usus Legis and traces its development in Luther’s own work. Michael Whiting has produced an extremely comprehensive, persuasive, and well-informed study, a high quality work which amply justifies careful attention.
—George Newlands, University of Glasgow
Michael S. Whiting has taught history of Christianity and the Reformation at Wheaton College and earned his PhD with his thesis: Luther in English.
“I am still amazed at the extent to which his anxious, some might even say narcissistic, quest for his own assurance of salvation did so dramatically impact religious thought and culture in Germany and beyond. Of course, it was Luther’s pastoral goal to provide all Christians with real assurance of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, but he was also very much aware of the dangers of an assurance that cheapens grace and muffles the call to repentance and to warfare against sin.” (Page xi)
“Thus, the concern of this book is to trace theological influences through an international connectedness, in this case between Germany and England, that contributed to a certain solidarity meriting the title of the ‘Reformation.’” (Page ix)
“It is important to state upfront that the evidence indicates that the explicit formula of a ‘third use of the Law’ did not originate with Luther but rather with Melancthon in the mid-1530s.” (Page 17)
“Melancthon then defines the second use of the Law as its power to ‘show our sin and to accuse, to terrify, and to condemn all men in this misuse of human nature.’20 This use of the Law, commonly known as the usus theologicus, spiritualis, or elenchticus, is what disposes the conscience toward the gift of the Gospel, for a knowledge of sin and the fear of God’s wrath is necessary for desiring the salvation promised in the Gospel. Melancthon considered this early on to be the Law’s primary use.21 He states that the Law is a ‘perpetual judgment which condemns sin in the entire human race’” (Page 22)
“Where the Formula of Concord stands in more direct contrast with Melancthon is in its explicit rejection of good works as necessary for salvation. In his 1535 Loci Communes, Melancthon stated that good works in the Christian life are necessary for salvation. In the 1543 edition, however, he did change his wording to emphasize that good works are necessary for ‘retaining our faith,’ stating that ‘the Holy Spirit is driven out and grieved when we permit sins against conscience … faith is cut off through sinful works.’” (Page 27)