The Oxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther

3 Volume Set

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Derek R. Nelson, Paul R. Hinlicky
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , May
     2240 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and there has been a deluge of publications on and about Martin Luther (1483-1546). From biographies and histories to theological and confessional works, there is a veritable cornucopia of literature to inform and stimulate the reader and scholar of this epochal era. One such work that stands out for its immensity of size and importance is this three-volume encyclopedia on Luther. Although there have been a few other exemplary reference works published lately on Luther and the Lutheran tradition, they are dwarfed by the breadth and depth of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther. Editors in Chief Derek Nelson and Paul Hinlicky argue in the preface that this work is not merely a stereotypical encyclopedia, but also an attempt to break up the hard ground of fixed views, interpretations, and conclusions on Luther that have accumulated over the centuries, and put in its place a fresh perspective on Luther for our contemporary contexts and cultures.

This work, however, is not simply a theological encyclopedia, rather it is a multi- and interdisciplinary work that draws upon such disciplines as social history, sociology, linguistics, philosophy, cultural studies, and their various sub-disciplines. This approach was chosen in order to foster critical dialogue between the traditional theological approach to interpreting Luther and the newer social scientific approaches that attempt a more holistic and sometimes subversive interpretation. Thus, the articles do not merely summarize Luther’s thought and historical interpretations; they also generate further constructive discussion on Luther and his thought for this and further generations. Moreover, the list of contributors is highly inclusive of both seasoned and junior Luther scholars drawn from twelve different countries.

Because this encyclopedia is part of the larger Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, the reader may also access an online version where the articles may be slightly different since they are updated as research progresses. Another unique feature is that this encyclopedia should be accessed regularly because its dialogical format is meant to provoke constructive criticisms. The most unique feature, however, is that the topics are categorized into four parts: Luther’s social and intellectual context; genres in which Luther worked; Luther’s theological-ethical writings; and the historical reception of Luther’s thought. Although the articles are arranged alphabetically throughout the three volumes, the reader is also provided in the first volume with a topical outline of the articles conforming to these four categories, should they wish to study a topic thematically in relation to other topics. In this way, the reader can see how a particular topic or issue regarding Luther is viewed from multiple perspectives and disciplines.

As would be expected from an encyclopedia on Martin Luther’s life and thought, there are many familiar articles such as baptism, the cross, faith, justification, law and gospel, preaching, reason and philosophy, vocation, and works. Some of the more surprising topics are arts, Christian Hebraism, eschatology, Islam and the Ottoman Turks, magic and the occult, Pentecostalism, theological aesthetics, and world Christianities. Not all articles are of the same length, but all authors provide at the end of their article a bibliography for “Further Reading” along with endnotes showing their citations and sources.

Derek Nelson and Paul Hinlicky have assembled a diverse and able group of scholars to produce the standard reference work on the life and thought of Martin Luther. Whether someone reads one article at a time, or reads the cluster of articles pertaining to one of the four topical categories, this work will surely incite them to ask new, critical questions of Luther and how his thought has been historically received. Although the price of the set may be prohibitive for an individual scholar, this encyclopedia should be found in colleges, graduate schools, and seminaries where Luther is studied. My only issue with this work is that the title is slightly misleading, because not only Luther, but also the reception of Luther’s thought, particularly in northern Europe and Scandinavia, is discussed in certain articles.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Bradley M. Penner is adjunct professor of theology at Briercrest College and Seminary.

Date of Review: 
November 22, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Derek R. Nelson is professor of religion and Stephen S. Bowen Professor of Liberal Arts at Wabash College. He is the co-author of Resilient Reformer: The Life and Thought of Martin Luther (Fortress, 2015) and the author or editor of eight other books in the history of theology.

Paul R. Hinlicky is Tise Professor of Lutheran Studies at Roanoke College. He is the author of many books in systematic and historical theology, including Beloved Community: Critical Dogmatics after Christendom (Eerdmans, 2015).


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