This current blog series on Reflections is intended to encourage Christians to read more vigorously by providing a beginner’s guide to some of the Christian classics in such fields as theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Hopefully a very brief introduction to these important Christian texts will motivate today’s believers, as St. Augustine was called to in his dramatic conversion to Christianity, to “take up and read” (Latin: Tolle lege) these classic books.
This week’s book, Luther’s Small Catechism, was written by the man known as the father of the Protestant Reformation. More than merely a Lutheran text, however, Martin Luther’s brief theological work reflects a timeless—and in many ways a universal—classic of historic Christian education.
Why Is This Author Notable?
Martin Luther (1483–1546) is widely considered the greatest theologian of the Protestant Reformation. His fresh reading and reflections from Scripture served to birth a new branch of Christendom in the sixteenth century. His writings and the major events of his life mark him as one of the most influential Christian leaders of all time. For more about him and his accomplishments, see my article “Christian Thinkers 101: A Crash Course on Martin Luther.”
What Is This Book About?
Written in 1529, this book was the result of Luther’s visit to various churches in which he found the congregations to be poorly educated in the essential teachings of historic Christianity. Thus Luther’s Small Catechism (German: Der Kleine Katechismus) was intended as a popular guide or handbook for basic instruction in the faith. Over the centuries the catechism has been used to refresh the faith of older Christians, to instruct adult converts, and to teach children the basic truths of Christianity. Luther purposely utilized a Q&A format so that teachers and parents could educate the youth.
Luther’s basic manual of Christian faith includes discussion of such biblical and theological topics as the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or communion). The work also includes formal morning and evening prayers as well as a brief dictionary of key biblical and theological terms. While there are clearly places in the catechism that reflect a distinctive Lutheran theological perspective, for the most part this book serves as a general introduction to basic Christianity. So Christians from various theological and denominational backgrounds could significantly benefit from reviewing this clear and careful work of historic Christian thought.
Here is a brief sampling of the catechism reflecting its Q&A format:
Q. Who is Jesus Christ?
A. Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary.1
Why Is This Book Worth Reading?
Martin Luther was a prolific author who wrote a number of theological works that deeply influenced Christian history. And while he wrote Luther’s Large Catechism for the advanced instruction of pastors and teachers, it is Luther’s Small Catechism that emerged as one of his most influential works. The appeal of this volume is found in the simple and clear way that it introduces the basic truths of the historic Christian faith. Every Christian can benefit from reading this remarkable doctrinal primer written by one of Christendom’s greatest and most influential theologians.
October 31, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, so now is a good time to begin reading about Protestant Christianity with Luther’s Small Catechism.
- Although there are many renditions of the work available, I recommend this one: Luther’s Small Catechism: A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism—A Handbook of Christian Doctrine by Martin Luther.
- For an outstanding biography of Luther, read Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton.
- I highly recommend the 2003 film Luther in which Martin Luther is portrayed by actor Joseph Fiennes.
- Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism: A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism—A Handbook of Christian Doctrine (St. Louis: Concordia, 1965), 102.