I Love Martin Luther
As a proud Protestant, I cannot help but love Martin Luther. Not only was he a great reformer and theologian, but he was truly instrumental in recovering the gospel from works-righteousness salvation and the sale of indulgences. One of my favorite podcasts, Fighting for the Faith is hosted by a confessional Lutheran who promotes the gospel prolifically in every episode. It has proven to be a priceless gift in fixing my false views of the gospel and finding joy in Christ Jesus in a way that resembled Martin Luther himself. All this being said, I was a bit disappointed after watching the movie Luther for a number of reasons.
Luther was Not That Respectful
Martin Luther was known for many great things, but by no means was one of them respectfulness. Early on, Luther was sincerely interested in reforming the Roman Catholic Church, but as he was excommunicated and exiled, he began calling the Papists “dogs” and made a lot of humorous and disrespectful criticisms of them. The Luther of the movie seemed a lot more temperate and level-headed than the Martin Luther we have read about in history.
Luther was More Concerned with the Gospel
Considering that Luther’s most significant contribution to the church was the recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works, I am floored that the movie never once explains or even mentions justification by faith alone on account of Christ. The focus is overwhelmingly against the sale of indulgences to escape purgatory, but not for the gospel of salvation by faith alone. The Martin Luther of the movie is even found saying gushy platitudes about seeing Christ in you when you serve your neighbor, utterly unlike the real Martin Luther who is far more concerned with repentance from sin and to Jesus.
Luther was More Involved with the Peasant’s War
In the movie, Luther is isolated from the world while translating the Bible to German, and only when he leaves his study does he witness the Peasant’s War, which he tries to break up. The next few scenes involve Luther walking though the carnage weeping and laying his coat on a crippled child who survived. In history, Martin Luther viewed the rebels as criminals and advised the authorities, “Therefore let everyone who can, smite; slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel.” (Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, Luther). Definitely one of Luther’s low points and certainly over-stated, but historical. If the director was worried that people may come out with a bad opinion of Luther based on the Peasant’s War, he should have just skipped covering the Peasant’s War altogether, considering that many other historical events in Luther’s life had to be skipped in order to make the film. To those who know his true involvement in the incident, the theatrical portrayal seems like damage control for Martin Luther’s reputation.
Liberties Not Liberality
In every movie depicting historical people and events the director will have to take some creative liberties. In Luther, these liberties contradict the biographical intentions for the movie’s creation and result in a Martin Luther that is made for Hollywood, but bears little resemblance to the Martin Luther of the Reformation.