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The Genius of Luther's Theology

A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church

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"This book has the makings of a classic. It is winsome, thorough, well-documented, tackles contemporary concerns, . . . and presents a credible account of Luther's views accessible for preachers and teachers. . . . We surely can be grateful to Kolb and Arand for this fine work."--Mark C. Mattes, Lutheran Quarterly 

While other volumes are available that introduce readers to the theology of Martin Luther, this volume from two eminent Lutheran professors offers a unique approach. Rather than surveying traditional theological subject headings, they focus on two central ideas that informed the basic conceptual framework of Wittenberg theology.

The first presupposition concerns Luther's anthropology. His well-known emphasis on justification by faith, or "passive righteousness," described God's grace. But Luther also emphasized a related aspect, the "active righteousness" of love that ought to shape and guide social relationships. The second presupposition concerns Luther's focus on the way God works in the world through his Word--creative, incarnational, and sacramental. Taken together, Kolb and Arand find that these ideas formed a matrix that shaped the theological reflections of Luther and his disciples.

Twenty-first century Christians face significant challenges to their proclamation of the gospel and to their existence as a faith community. Living in a tumultuous age, Luther faced equally challenging crises. His theological emphases, which are described and considered in this perceptive study, have much to offer contemporary pastors and theologians who seek to construct their own formulations of God's message for the present age.


"Aside from a few slogans and provocative quotes, Luther's theology is largely unknown in the land that Bonhoeffer called 'Protestantism without the Reformation.' Christianity in America desperately needs the wisdom and penetrating insight into gospel logic that is winsomely introduced in this rewarding volume."--Michael S. Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California

"This eminently readable volume marks a high point in theological reflection on Martin Luther's contribution to today's church. Eschewing standard topical analyses that have often distorted Luther's thought, the authors--in essays focusing on God's twofold righteousness and God's powerful Word--have uncovered the very core of Wittenberg's theological revolution in a winsome, nondefensive manner. They thereby provide a radically new perspective on contemporary Christian faith and witness. This book is an invaluable tool for preaching, teaching, and learning the faith."--Timothy J. Wengert, Ministerium of Pennsylvania Professor of the History of Christianity, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia

"Kolb and Arand have provided a great service to all who seek a deeper understanding of reformational theology. The Genius of Luther's Theology is a fresh and innovative examination of the heart of Luther's theology. This book makes Luther more understandable and thus more usable for readers of all levels."--Jack Preus, president, Concordia University, Irvine, California

"Stressing Luther's theological anthropology and his view of the living and active Word of God, Kolb and Arand have given us a useful, pertinent, and contemporarily significant introduction to the genius of the great reformer's thought. This book is a valuable contribution to Luther research."--Lawrence R. Rast Jr., professor of historical theology and academic dean, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana

The Authors

  1. Robert Kolb
    Tony Carosella

    Robert Kolb

    Robert Kolb (PhD, University of Wisconsin) is Mission Professor of Systematic Theology Emeritus at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including The Genius of Luther's Theology, Luther and the...

    Continue reading about Robert Kolb

  2. Charles P. Arand

    Charles P. Arand

    Charles P. Arand (ThD, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis) holds the Waldemar and June Schuette Chair in Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the author of That I May Be His Own: An Overview of Luther's Catechisms and...

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"The book's strong, clear twofold thesis helps readers navigate dense theological language and ideas. First, the authors argue that Luther's notion of justification by grace has been emphasized at the expense of his equally important idea of the human response to that grace through our acts of love. They hope to resurrect Luther's neglected 'anthropology' and bring it to bear on 21st-century discussions of human identity and ethics. Then they focus on how Luther's emphasis on God's 'Word' can be understood creatively, incarnationally, and sacramentally--an interesting corrective to evangelical Protestantism's emphasis on sola scriptura."--Publishers Weekly

"[This book] offers a unique approach to the theology of Martin Luther, focusing on two central ideas that informed the basic conceptual framework of Wittenberg theology. . . . Luther's emphases, as discussed in Kolb and Arand's study, are relevant for today's challenges of proclaiming the Gospel and existence as a faith community, allowing contemporary pastors and theologians to utilize Luther's theological emphases as they formulate God's message for the 21st century."--FOCUS Magazine (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis)

"Kolb and Arand offer the reader some thoughts on how the riches of the Lutheran tradition might be used in contemporary church life. Both men are well qualified for the task. . . . Here, these two outstanding Lutherans have pooled their considerable resources and offer to the church a fine example of how a historic tradition can yet be of relevance today. . . . The authors also demonstrate in brilliant fashion how righteousness and Word connect with each other. . . . This is an excellent book, well written, and fascinating. I have not enjoyed reading something so much for a long time."--Carl R. Trueman, Modern Reformation

"[A] marvelously accessible volume. . . . This book is unique . . . in audience, purpose, and scope. . . . Discoveries unearthed in the mines of academia have been made accessible to all. . . . Time and again the authors bridge their analysis of Luther's core theological convictions into today's church. . . . A helpful emphasis throughout [is] Luther's persistent preaching of the goodness of creation. This emphasis on creation provides a refreshing corrective to an unfair stereotype of Lutheranism as concerned only with justification by faith in the life of an individual sinner. . . . The Genius of Luther's Theology holds tremendous cash value for church leaders. This would be a marvelous book for a pastor to work through with his staff, or, in a theologically conscientious church, for use in the context of a small group study. For seminary and Bible college professors, at the same time, this book could join hands with either a more comprehensive study of Luther's theology . . . or a biography . . . in a course on Luther or Reformation theology. All the foregoing strengths make this book worthwhile, but a . . . final strength contains, to my mind, the key to its significance and timeliness. If hundreds of pastors all over the English-speaking world were to read and digest the message of The Genius of Luther's Theology, Christianity could, under God, experience another Great Awakening."--Dane Ortlund, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"The authors' well-seasoned expertise as Luther interpreters . . . is unassailable, as is their burden to demonstrate the contemporary significance of one whose profundity of insight into the gospel and its implications has been matched by precious few in the church's history. Serious students of Luther should count this book among the indispensable, comprehensive overviews of his thought. . . . Evangelical pastors, seminarians, and informed laypersons--Lutheran and non-Lutheran alike--should find The Genius of Luther's Theology to be an estimable aid for learning, living, and teaching the faith."--John C. Clark, Trinity Journal

"Kolb and Arand, two of the most-respected theologians of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, ably demonstrate that Luther's approach to the gospel fills [the] need ['for a new approach to living that satisfies and fulfills the deep-seated longing for wholeness that God has planted in all people']. This theological duo offers a better approach to Luther than most other introductory texts. . . . This book has the makings of a classic. It is winsome, thorough, well-documented, tackles contemporary concerns, . . . and presents a credible account of Luther's views accessible for preachers and teachers. . . . We surely can be grateful to Kolb and Arand for this fine work."--Mark C. Mattes, Lutheran Quarterly

"This book is sure to provide a most interesting, insightful, and often penetrating insight into the gospel logic of the Wittenberg reformers and the ensuing Lutheran tradition. It will prove invaluable to many who wonder how the gospel 'functioned' for Luther and equally valuable to students and preachers interested in the contemporary relevance of Luther's thought for the church. It is hoped that the readership of this volume extends far beyond denominational lines. . . . Perhaps through works such as this the rich theological tradition of Luther and his colleagues will begin, and continue, to shape their evangelical progeny. This book is written in a lucid and cogent style and is highly recommended for pastors, students, laypeople, and scholars alike."--Marcus Johnson, Calvin Theological Journal

"This succinct volume is an intelligent and intriguing effort to offer access to Luther's theology without using code words that may attract or repel. Rooted in the authors' broad and deep knowledge of Luther's theology, it presents Luther as a 'conversation partner for twenty-first-century Christians.'. . . The prose is elegant and simple. Chapters are clearly and logically organized and neither exhaust with detail nor frustrate with lacunae. The book is an appropriate length for what it seeks to be--an inviting introduction. . . . It includes considerable historical background but you will find no chapter or section on 'medieval background to Luther's theology.' Rather, this information is carefully interwoven at appropriate places where it is most needed to clarify the insights of Luther. A helpful bibliography of primarily English language resources is included. Undergraduates, seminarians, adult classes in congregations, and readers of all kinds will profit from this book. It is a thought provoking work for anyone seeking to grapple with the Christian faith today."--Mary Jane Haemig, Concordia Journal

"[An] important book. . . . [The] dynamic between Luther's understanding of the human and Luther's understanding of God's Word energized the Wittenberg Reformation. Kolb and Arand make a compelling case that such an understanding could energize the church for its mission in the 21st century."--William R. Russell, Trinity Seminary Review

"[A] compellingly written work. . . . The study must be commended for several . . . features. The first is the historical precision of the book. . . . [It] gives much good historical background to Luther's theological judgments. This is of course helped by the fact that both authors have proven themselves in the past to be outstanding Reformation scholars. Secondly, part of the consequence of this attention to historical detail is the recognition on the part of the authors that Luther was not simply a lone theological genius. . . . Thirdly, because the authors are willing to see continuity between Luther, the other Wittenberg reformers, and the Lutheran Confessions, they refuse to drive unhelpful theological and historical wedges between the teaching of the confessional writings and Luther. . . . Lastly, both authors write in a very clear and lucid style. . . . . This work is highly recommended. It is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in studying Lutheran theology. It would also serve well in an adult education, college, or seminary course regarding Luther or the Lutheran Confessions."--Jack Kilcrease, Logia

"This book will not only be helpful for Lutheran seminarians, it is a wonderful introduction into the very essentials of Luther's theology presented in a clear and understandable format."--David M. Whitford, Religious Studies Review

"Kolb and Arand synthesize a good deal of recent scholarship on Martin Luther with an eye toward offering historians a glimpse into Luther's continuing relevance for today's world and also to show that Luther's key theological insights remain important for the contemporary church. . . . Arand and Kolb are to be commended for producing a very readable volume of reliable work on Luther's thought. . . . Readers interested in the life of Christianity in the present day will learn much about how Luther's theological program differs from the default (and in the authors' view, gravely deficient) approaches now dominant. They will better be able to intuit a certain way of thinking by, as Kolb and Arand put it, inhabiting the 'nervous system of Wittenberg theology.'"--Derek R. Nelson, Sixteenth Century Journal