Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer, Scott H. Hendrix (Yale University Press 2015, $35) 

Review by S. Craig Sanders

The approaching 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation will result in a deluge of scholarly and popular works examining the life and influence of Martin Luther. But I doubt none will be as freshly insightful as Scott H. Hendrix’s Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer, which paints a sympathetic portrait of the movement’s enigmatic founder.

In the spirit of Roland Bainton’s classic Here I Stand, Hendrix focuses on the Luther behind the polemics — in the contexts of personal relationships, cultural attitudes, and political movements. But you won’t find Luther’s “Here I stand, I can do no other” remark here; Hendrix instead uses sources carefully, quoting only what can be verified in Luther’s 2,600 extant letters and other historical documents.

Hendrix opens with Luther approaching death, noting how the Reformer persisted on dating all of his letters according to feast days on the church calendar: “For him, the reformation was not the beginning of a modern era that kept time with numbers, but a harbinger of the world’s end when time no longer mattered.”

Despite Luther’s global influence, Hendrix demonstrates how the man remained in a close circle of his wife, friends, and colleagues, and only once traveled outside of Germany. Yet his eventual success is seen in heroic efforts, most notably that Luther published twice as many theological pamphlets as all his Catholic opponents combined, writing in a lively German instead of the Latin inaccessible to many lay people.

Luther’s “more merciful Christianity,” Hendrix writes, resulted in “an astounding number of people” who “left behind the religion of their ancestors and rallied to his side.” As heirs of his movement, it’s never been more timely to learn about Luther. Read this book.

The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry, R. Kent Hughes and Sean O’ Donnell (Crossway 2015, $45) 

Review by James R. MacDonald

In The Pastor’s Book, veteran pastors R. Kent Hughes and Sean O’Donnell have crafted a close companion for the young minister, a thorough guide to almost every aspect of pastoral ministry outside of preaching. Focusing on tasks “that we feel are often neglected or overlooked, especially by the younger generation of pastors,” Hughes and O’Donnell demonstrate how to be biblical and God-glorifying in every detail of pastoral ministry, no matter how small.

In the hardest times, The Pastor’s Book will be there to assist you. In fact, as I was reading this book, I received two tough phone calls. The first informed me my grandmother had passed away. The second asked me to do the funeral. As a recent seminary graduate, having never done a funeral and with two days to prepare, The Pastor’s Bookbecame an indispensable resource.

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, John Frame (P&R 2015, $59.99) 

Review by S. Craig Sanders

Reformed theologian John M. Frame’s A History of Western Philosophy and Theology is one of those rare accomplishments — it looks and feels like a textbook but reads like an adventure. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown tired of poorly written theological and pastoral books, but Frame’s writing is always a breath of fresh air. With clarity and precision, Frame makes even the most difficult concepts alive and attainable, likely out of his pastoral conviction that Christians must be serious about philosophy.

“It is remarkable that Christians so readily identify the lordship of Christ in matters of worship, salvation, and ethics, but not in thinking,” Frame writes. This valuable resource — named one of R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s “Best Books for Preachers in 2016” — is worth the price, guiding readers through major eras and thinkers of Western philosophy and providing countless learning aids along the way.

From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research, Michael Kibbe (IVP Academic 2016, $12)

Review by S. Craig Sanders

This is a short review for a very short book, but I don’t want that to overshadow the fact that no book may be more important for the seminary student than Michael Kibbe’s From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research. This goldmine of an instruction manual, clocking in at 148 pages with the extra valuable appendices, provides step-by-step instructions for assembling a research paper.

Finding, processing, and communicating information are the essential skills in theological research, Kibbe writes, but the process entails moving from identifying a set of information (topic) to making an argument (thesis). Kibbe not only tells the reader how to get there, he also provides clear examples and warns against common mistakes. And if the book couldn’t offer more bang for the buck, Kibbe’s six appendices introduce the reader to specific research tools, like databases and citation managers.