October 2017 will mark 500 years since Luther published his famous 95 Theses, which are often said to have kicked off the Protestant Reformation. A recent children’s biography on Luther by Simonetta Carr provides a delightful way to introduce the early German Reformer to children.
This volume is the latest edition in the series, Christian Biographies for Young Readers, which is published by Reformation Heritage Books. It is a beautifully illustrated, full color volume, that is likely to delight the reader even as it instructs.
Often children’s biography falls into the trap of hero worship. Obviously, a publisher like Reformation Heritage views the Protestant Reformation in a positive light. Thus it stands to reason they would celebrate Luther’s life and contribution to Church History. Carr, however, manages to avoid the pitfall of hagiography by presenting Luther’s story with its good and bad points.
This book critiques Luther for his coarse language and diatribes against the Jews later in his life, but it does not let those real, yet unfortunate failings diminish the impressive and exciting story of the monk turned Reformer. Roman Catholics or others who view the Protestant Reformation as a tragedy, and thus see Luther mainly negatively, will likely balk at the generally positive view Carr presents of his life and work. However, for most Protestant Christians, this volume strikes the proper note.
In recounting the life of Luther, Carr celebrates the recovery of the gospel from the twisted medieval traditionalism espoused by the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. Unlike many histories, this volume rightly argues that indulgences were the presenting problem, but the deeper issue was the loss of the gospel in the regular teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. That is why Luther’s ministry was so important; he was not dividing the universal church, he was seeking to preserve the gospel and was subsequently attacked by the traditionalists who elected to remain in error.
Some biographies work best if told as a story. Because of Luther’s wide range of activities and overall significance, Carr chose to tell his story in roughly chronological, but mostly topical chunks. There are seven chapters with 4-7 pages each. The chapters discuss his early life, clerical training, desire for reform, alienation from Roman Catholicism, attempts at Reform, marriage and family life, and broader ministry. The volume also includes a timeline, a collection of interesting facts about Luther, and a selection from Luther’s Short Catechism. Even young readers will walk away with a sense of the importance of Luther and an understanding of his life and work.
Much like other biographies in this series, Carr’s book about Luther is full-color throughout. Carr combines new illustrations from Troy Howell with historical engravings and paintings, along with photographs of some of the sites as they appear now. This breaks up the text and makes the book as a whole a feast for young eyes. (Older eyes will appreciate it, too, and may have to be reminded this book is for the kids.)
Whether you are looking for a gift for a child, seeking a volume for homeschool history, or simply building your library, this volume is worth purchasing. It is historically accurate, delightfully illustrated, with an appropriately critical tone. It represents both a celebration of the recovery of the gospel with a recognition of the pervasiveness of human sin, even among our heroes. Reformation Heritage Books should be applauded for continuing the series and publishing excellent children’s volumes like this one.
NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews with no expectation of a positive review.