I am no longer surprised that there are excellent Christian books in larger, secular libraries. I have long been interested in Martin Bucer, along with Luther and Melancthon, one of the earliest Reformers, known for his irenicism. I had previously skim-read Lugioyo’s Martin Bucer’s Doctrine of Justification at one point in research for chapter three in Is There Anything Good About Hell? and was intrigued by the figure. This is the first biography I have read of his life, however.
The book, written by historian Martin Greschat, and translated by Stephen E. Buckwalter, is well-written, accessible, and for me, strikes a beautiful balance in its weight. It is 271 pages, but the typeface is larger, and with good (if flowerless) writing, it moves along quickly and reads more like 200 pages.
The author does a wonderful job sketching the historical, political, and cultural mileu in which Bucer lived and he delves into these aspects just the right amount to situate Bucer and explain his actions and thoughts, without it stealing away from the “title character”. I learned much from the book, and it helped me build out my understanding of the Reformation and the political theatre in which it developed. I was also unaware that Bucer spent the last few (and frankly, spent) years of his life in England,
A few key take-aways for me in response to the book. Firstly, I appreciate Bucer’s thought that Scripture, theology, and doctrine is for all of life with the goal of love. Touching on this point: “The tension between God’s law governing all of life and the freedom bestowed by the Holy Spirit, a tension that pervades Bucer’s entire thought and ministry, also dominates this work [De Regno Christi]… [Believers} will naturally and and self-evidently behave in congruence wiht how God originally disposed his creation: they will love their fellow human beings; they will live for others and not for themselves.” (p241)
This ideal, for Bucer, effected how he engaged with others, the afore-mentioned irenicism for which he was known as he tried to build unity among Protestants and even, as much as possible, with Roman Catholics, but also in community, both on a national and international level, as he engaged politically, and on a church level, as he promoted church discipline and a practical application of the priesthood of all believers.
Bucer spent many years of his life trying to build unity within the church. A helpful note for me is that he was often vilified for doing so, from both sides! At various points both Luther and Melancthon considered him a traitor to the cause of the Reformation. Note that a pursuit of unity necessarily involves dialogue and argument, and that these things are fraught with the possibility of misunderstanding. Bucer gives me encouragement to keep striving for unity in love, without ever betraying doctrinal convictions.
As so many great men of that age were, Bucer was prolific. It is simply staggering to consider the volume of his writing. On one hand, his example propels me forward in writing and work, generally. On the other hand, it is almost certainly the case that his very hard labours early in his life, led to the failing of his health and a reduction of fruitfulness later on. Note: work hard and extend yourself to continue to grow in capacity, while at the same time minding the Sabbath principle and that God himself grants fruitfulness. Like Bucer, I often feel that time is of the essence. In reality, what is important, crucial or timely, may seem different years in the future.
For a good and more thorough (if still concise) review of the book, see this: Review,Martin Bucer: A Reformer and His Times,Martin Greschat – Presbyterians of the Past
Martin Bucer: A Reformer and His Times, Martin Greschat. Trans. Stephen E Buckcwalter. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville 2004.