Thursday, February 28, 2013

In Review: The Bondage of the Will

Well then, what is my opinion on Dr. Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will?  It is a theme on this blog, so apparently, I am in favor of it!  Indeed, I am.  Martin Luther uses humor, wit, and scripture through out his entire book.  Who would have thought you could chuckle and grin so many times whilst reading a theological book?  If you read this book, you will too.

I will now include some of his humorous words, wit, and dare I say it, sarcasm!-in which he used in his rebuttal to Erasmus's Diatribe.

"So that it seems even superfluous to reply to these your arguments, which have been indeed often refuted by me; but trodden down, and trampled underfoot, by the incontrovertible Book of Philip Melancthon 'Concerning Theological Questions:' a book, in my judgment, worthy not only of being immortalized... in comparison of which your Book is in my estimate, so mean and vile that I greatly feel for you for having defiled you most beautiful and ingenious language with such vile trash; and I feel an indignation against the matter also, that such unworthy stuff should be borne about in ornaments of eloquence so rare; which is as if rubbish, or dung, should be carried in vessels of gold and silver." Pgs. 9-10

Who else but Luther might give compliments and stinging blow upon the ego all at once, with such elegance and colorful language?

"Do you think the Diatribe could be sober or in its right sense when it wrote this?  For I cannot attribute it to malice or iniquity: unless it be that it designed to effectually wear me out by perpetually wearying me, while this, ever like itself, it is continually turning aside to something in a matter so important, then I will be pleased to expose its voluntary fooleries publicly." pg. 196


"Wonderful!  Surely the Diatribe does not speak this out of its own head, but has taken it out of some paper or other, sent or received from another quarter, inserted it in its book!  For it certainly can neither see nor hear the meaning of these words!" pg. 176


"And thus the Diatribe explodes itself." pg. 167

Haha! Favorite!

"May I perish if the Diatribe itself knows what it is talking about."
pg. 160

"Only observe, I pray you how many evasions and ways of escape a slippery mind will invent, which wold flee from the truth, and yet cannot get away from it after all."
pgs. 155-156

And I ask you, dear reader, how could you resist to engage in such a book with such gems sprinkled through out?  These are but a few in the latter half of the book.  I started highlighting some of these grin inducing remarks alongside the thought inducing remarks made.  I trust you are entirely diverted by such grand writing.

Now, as a serious thought on the book, in many ways I found it to be over my head.  Which is great!  How can one grow in knowledge if you only read books you fully comprehend?  I can say with confidence that though I learned a great deal from reading this book, there is still room for numerous more readings of this one work in the future.  Many times over.

For the heart of the matter, this is a book about the Free-will of man concerning salvation, and the refutation thereof.  It is manifestly clear to Luther, proven by the scriptures, that man possesses no such will.  A good quote from the book sums up why:

"We know that man was constituted lord over those things which are beneath himself; over which, he has a right and a Free-will, that those things might do, and obey as he wills and thinks.  But we are now inquiring whether he has a 'Free-will' over God, that He should do and obey in those things which man wills: or rather, whether God has not a Free-will over man, that he should will and do what God wills, and should be able to do nothing but what He wills and does.  The Baptist (speaking of John) here says, that he 'can receive nothing, except it be given him from above.'-Wherefore, 'Free-will' must be nothing at all!" pg 234

In essence, it is God has Free-will over man VS Man has Free-will over God, in regards to salvation.  Luther is really put out by all the contradictions the Diatribe has, for in one place it declares man cannot gain salvation or do good without the grace of God, then in another place it labors to declare man has the free-will to endeavor after good. Here he says,

"that which was aimed at to be proved, that is, the PROBABLE OPINION; by which, 'Free-will' is defined to be that impotency, 'that it cannot will anything good without grace, but is compelled into the service of sin; though it has endeavour, which, nevertheless, is not to be ascribed to its own powers.'-A monster truly! which, at the same time, can do nothing by its own power, and yet has an endeavour within its own power: and thus, stands upon the basis of a most manifest contradiction!"
pg. 110

Luther is asserting in diverse places, that it is a contradiction to say "free-will" can't do good, but at the same time say it can apply itself unto eternal salvation!  He also brings forward this problem: If God does not foreknow and will all things immutably, not contingently, how can anyone trust his promises?

"For if you doubt, or disdain to know that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe confidently, trust to and depend upon His promises?  For when He promises, it is necessary that you should be certain that He knows, is able, and willing to perform what He promises; otherwise, you will neither hold Him true nor faithful; which is unbelief, the greatest wickedness, and a denying of the Most High God"
pg. 30

Be it said, that Luther is replying to another book, and so this is not a book that just picks up the topic and explains it from scratch.  For all his sarcasm and his fierce devotion the scriptures, he is not lacking grace toward Erasmus.  In his closing he says,

"We must mutually pardon each other in these things; for we are but men, and there is nothing in us that is not touched with human infirmity."
pg 199

I enjoyed reading this.  The first half of the book has notes galore and lots of places highlighted where I liked his points, arguments, and explanations.  This made for more laborious reading, and thus, I quickly got behind in my reading schedule.  So I was content to ease up on my notes and to content myself with a quick highlighting of important things to note.  The latter half will be filled with my thoughts via the margins the second reading, perhaps.  I would make mention of the fact that this book is written in a style that is not commonly used in modern writing and makes it "harder" to read, but I recommend it none the less.  Let it be a challenge. Perhaps the excerpts I shared will whet your appetite.

I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic of "Free-will" vs "Enslaved Will" who has never delved into the topic before, I might direct them toward someone like Dr. R.C. Sproul first.  (Which, one of his books is on my reading list in this year).  But I do recommend this book whole-heartedly!  I appreciated this copy by Watchmaker Publishing translated by Henry Cole (1823) because of his helpful footnotes.  There is some theology in it in which he contrasts what John Calvin would say on the same topic, or further clarification in the Westminster Confession of Faith.  I would be interested to obtain the copy with which Packer gives the introduction.  Needless to say, I liked this book and found it very informative, and appreciated Dr. Martin Luther's loyalty to the Holy Scriptures, and his being stalwart in his devotion to God's word above man's opinions and good feelings.

I forgot to add my rating.  It gets the big FIVE star.  5) being, found enjoyable, challenging, useful in many ways, would highly recommend with no holding back, over all EXCELLENT book. Need to read again!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

How To Read a Book: In Review

Month one and book one are complete.  It is a nice feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment to know I am on track on completing my over all goal, by meeting this small goal.

I decided to share a few thoughts about each book after I complete them, and as a spur of the moment decision, give my own rating.  What will my ratings be?  A scale of 1-5 (Subject to change upon my own whim and will).

1) being, complete waste. Why did I finish it?
2) being, minimally thought provoking/entertaining. Won’t read it again.
3) being, borderline useful/wasteful. mild usefulness in instruction about the faults in it/mildly entertaining; Enough good to be challenged, grow a little in thought. Might read it again.
4) being, a really great book, useful to instruct, thought provoking/good entertainment, very challenging, growth as a reader, way more good than bad, would recommend. Worth reading again.
5) being, found enjoyable, challenging, useful in many ways, would highly recommend with no holding back, over all EXCELLENT book. Need to read again!


So, what is my rating for "How To Read a Book"?  I would give it a 4.  I plan to read it again sometime in the future.

One of the main points it made is if you understand a book you can some it up in one sentence (or a few if it's a long book), if you can't, you need to re-read it to understand.  So my one sentence is also an attempt to be witty:

How To Read A Book, is an instructional piece of literature that is meant to be exhaustive, and applied exhaustively.

Now, if you read the book you *might* catch the humor, or you may think my wit was not at all witty... in any event, I will explain.  It instructs that you must be a demanding reader, which means a myriad of steps, but the essence is that you must be engaged in reading using only your mind to come to understand the book (which is exhausting), and to exhaust all the information you can.  Exhaust the resource, and the mind.  (This review sounded so much better in my head... I need to work on reviews obviously).

I felt the book was owed a demanding critique of a review due to the content, and if I didn't, then I would be forsaking this new knowledge by not applying it on it's own work.  But honestly? I'm exhausted! (; Seriously.  It deserves praise for it is a tutor presenting knowledge and helpful tips, tricks, and rules to educating yourself and pulling yourself up above the status quo by teaching you how to be a demanding reader.  Books over your head are but a challenge to read to learn and grow as a reader and a person.

The information I obtained will be immensely helpful in reading the difficult works ahead of me. (I tremble to think of John Owen's The Death of Death... eek!) Also, I need to work on my understanding of grammar.

So yes, I do recommend reading this book, stat.  Make it your next book project.  The only major problem I have is that it is a secular work and the authors do not acknowledge Christ as Lord, and thus some of their worldview is vastly different.  I disagree on a few points, but a mature reader will take note and look past it.

This is my rough review. Edits might come later. Until then, I am off to drink passion tea and read Luther.