Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lecturer or preacher? It is difficult to review this course, because it was quite abstruse and difficult to follow. The content was back to front where the final 5 lectures should have appeared at the start. The lecturer meanders and waffles quite a bit. He talks to himself, obscuring key words by mumbling them. He seemed to be delivering a series of sermons, not lectures, and refers to things like the "feudal system -- which you already know". But what if I didn't? He introduces very little, and it is a big challenge to keep up with him.
Date published: 2020-12-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Probably the worse lecture series from The Great Courses that I have purchased. Cary was hard to follow, he jumps around and made Luther more difficult to understand which was opposite from what I had hoped. Often spoke too fast. Sorry but I would not recommend.
Date published: 2020-12-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Waste of Time I purchased this course sometime ago, I have only just got around to feel calm enough to write a revue. This is the worst course I've ever had from the great courses. I purchased the course to learn more about the man and the times. This wasn't achieved. In the end I threw the course away as I felt too disappointed to put the effort into returning it. Utter rubbish.
Date published: 2020-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In Depth, Informative, Engaging The in instructor’s knowledge of Luther was candid, passionate, detailed and balanced. There was plenty here that I had not been exposed to in such depth before. I found the course enlightening and very engaging.
Date published: 2020-06-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Painful I had enjoyed professor Fix's talks on The Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Rise of Nations, and particularly his discussion of Luther, so I chose this course to learn more. Unfortunately the speaker for this course is a very poor communicator. There is a lot of fast talking and a huge amount of repetition. When he gets on a roll he speeds up even more and repeats things again and again in different ways. What could have been an interesting course turns out to be unpleasant to listen to, and surprisingly boring. I got the impression he was showing off rather than conveying information. I found it was too painful to continue listening beyond the first few lectures. Judging by these first few lectures this is the worst course of the 80 or so I have listened to.
Date published: 2020-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phillip Cary is excellent I've read scores of "reformation" books, heard many lectures (I'm a seminary grad w/ a Th.M. & D.Min.) but what Dr. Cary covers is amazing. Wish I had been under his teaching years ago. I sent the link to several friends.
Date published: 2019-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb coverage of Luther Great insight into the era and the context of Luther and his relationship with God and the Catholic Church,
Date published: 2019-06-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Presenter speaks too fast. I listen to GCs while driving, and found the speaker's pace of speech to be distracting.
Date published: 2019-06-08
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Luther's Gospel
1: Luther's Gospel

Luther's Gospel is essentially something all Christians believe: the story of Christ dying for us sinners. What was new and controversial is Luther's doctrine about the Gospel—about how we are changed simply by believing it. Professor Cary tells a parable to illustrate the experience of faith in the Gospel as Luther understood it.

33 min
The Medieval Church—Abuses and Reform
2: The Medieval Church—Abuses and Reform

Clerical abuses, most of which involved money, were prevalent in Luther's time. At its worst, the late medieval church funded itself by claiming authority over individuals' consciences and exploiting their anxieties about the next life.

30 min
The Augustinian Paradigm of Spirituality
3: The Augustinian Paradigm of Spirituality

At its best, the medieval church promoted a broadly Augustinian notion of an earthly pilgrimage leading to eternal happiness. But late medieval Christians were tormented by a question that disrupted the pilgrimage: How can I stand before God's judgment? Luther's Gospel addresses this question.

30 min
Young Luther Against Himself
4: Young Luther Against Himself

In his early doctrine of justification, Luther concluded that the way to become truly righteous is to hate oneself and wish to be damned, agreeing with the righteous God who condemns sinners. This promoted an experience of deep terror from which only the Gospel could rescue him.

31 min
Hearing the Gospel
5: Hearing the Gospel

For the mature Luther, the Gospel includes a divine promise of forgiveness that forbids us from regarding ourselves as God's enemies. In The Freedom of a Christian, Luther described this as a wedding vow that gives us a divine bridegroom, together with all that is his. Unlike Augustine's paradigm, Christ is not just the road we take, but is God coming to us and making himself ours.

31 min
Faith and Works
6: Faith and Works

Luther distinguishes Law and Gospel: One is God's commandment telling us what to do, the other is His promise of what He does for us. Because salvation comes simply by believing the Gospel, a question arises: What need is there to do good works? Luther answered this in The Freedom of a Christian and in other writings such as his Treatise on Good Works.

30 min
The Meaning of the Sacraments
7: The Meaning of the Sacraments

For Luther, the Gospel is an external word that gives believers what it promises. Like a sacrament, it is an outward sign that gives the inward gift it signifies. This sacramental concept of the word of God can be found in Luther's earliest treatises on the sacraments, dealing with penance, baptism, and the Eucharist.

31 min
The Indulgence Controversy
8: The Indulgence Controversy

The Reformation began with the indulgence controversy, when Luther posted his famous 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. The controversy exploded when Luther's earliest papal opponent labeled him a heretic because he questioned practices approved by the pope. This turned an academic disputation about the theology of indulgences into a Europe-wide controversy over papal authority.

30 min
The Reformation Goes Public
9: The Reformation Goes Public

Protected by his prince, Frederick "the Wise" of Saxony, Luther developed a program of reformation. His address "To the Christian Nobility" backed the German aristocracy in age-old complaints against the clergy. He was tried as a heretic on German soil at the Diet of Worms in 1521 before the emperor of Germany, not the pope of Rome. The Lutheran Reformation was ever afterwards tied to the protection of the state.

31 min
The Captivity of the Sacraments
10: The Captivity of the Sacraments

Among the world-changing works Luther published in 1520 is The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. In it, Luther criticized the Catholic sacramental system. He recognized baptism and the Lord's Supper (and in a way, penance) as sacraments, but dismissed the rest of the traditional seven sacraments because they did not contain a sign and a divine promise.

31 min
Reformation in Wittenberg
11: Reformation in Wittenberg

The Reformation began in Wittenberg, Luther's hometown. This is where he learned to make the reforms work. This is also where his own life was drastically changed when he married an ex-nun named Katherine von Bora. We know a great deal about Luther's home life because his dinner guests often wrote down his table talk.

31 min
The Work of the Reformer
12: The Work of the Reformer

Luther left an indelible mark on German culture. He translated the Bible into German. He composed catechisms that are still used today. He wrote deeply sensitive letters of spiritual counsel. And he wrote music designed to fill people's hearts with the Gospel, including such famous hymns as "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

31 min
Against the Spirit of Rebellion
13: Against the Spirit of Rebellion

Luther opposed both spirituality and rebellion, which he found often went hand in hand. Although sympathetic to peasant grievances, he was appalled by the Great Peasant War of 1525. In "Against the Robbing and Murdering Horde of the Peasants" he insisted that Christians in good conscience should "stab, smite, and slay" those rebelling against legitimate authority.

30 min
Controversy Over the Lord’s Supper
14: Controversy Over the Lord’s Supper

The differences between the Lutheran and Reformed wings of the Reformation are best understood by their views on the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. The leader of the Reformed, Huldreich Zwingli of Zurich, argued that the Eucharist symbolized Christ's body, but did not make it really present. Luther found this view literally devilish.

31 min
Controversy Over Infant Baptism
15: Controversy Over Infant Baptism

The Lutheran and Radical wings of the Reformation disagreed, above all, about baptism. Called by their opponents Anabaptists (i.e., rebaptizers) the radicals regarded infant baptism as invalid because infants could not believe, and therefore baptized only adults—even those already baptized as infants. The Anabaptist position forced Luther to explain how infant baptism, which he defended, was compatible with his emphasis on faith alone.

31 min
Grace and Justification
16: Grace and Justification

The doctrine of justification (how one becomes righteous before God) is the most characteristic legacy of the Reformation. Luther's position can be contrasted with both the Catholic doctrine of sanctifying grace and the Reformed emphasis on forensic justification. Luther's large commentary on Paul's letter to the Galatians (1535) is the gold standard on his mature doctrine of justification.

31 min
Luther and the Bible
17: Luther and the Bible

Luther initiated the Protestant tradition of emphasizing the literal rather than allegorical sense of Scripture. To read the Bible literally, for Luther, is to find Christ in it. But as early as Calvin, critics wondered if Luther's biblical interpretation was too narrowly focused on the doctrine of justification. Luther's reading of Paul's writings in the New Testament is a test case for this kind of criticism.

31 min
Luther and Erasmus
18: Luther and Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus, a contemporary of Luther's, was a famous humanist, renowned scholar, and the leading Christian moralist of his day. Though sympathetic to Luther's criticisms of the Catholic Church, he never joined the Reformation and ended up in a fierce controversy with Luther over the role of free will in salvation.

30 min
Luther and Predestination
19: Luther and Predestination

How is it that the lovely notion of grace seems to turn into the horrifying notion of predestination? The deep concept here, as Calvin realized, is the doctrine of election; i.e., of God's choice to be gracious to some undeserving sinners rather than others. Theologian Karl Barth has argued that Augustine, Luther, and Calvin mistakenly made election into bad news, as if it meant some were chosen instead of others, rather than some for the sake of others.

31 min
Luther and Protestantism
20: Luther and Protestantism

Luther is more "Catholic" than most Protestants. The best way to see this is to clarify the anxieties characteristic of each theology. Catholics worry about mortal sin, Luther worries whether God aims to condemn him, and Calvinists worry whether their faith is true faith.

31 min
Luther and Politics
21: Luther and Politics

Like other Reformation theologians, Luther made a sharp distinction between the powers of church and state, which he described as "two kingdoms." This meant in practice that the Reformation sided with the state in its struggle for power against the church. The Reformation's appeal to the patronage and protection of Protestant rulers led to ongoing religious warfare, but eventually to an ideology of religious toleration.

31 min
Luther and His Enemies
22: Luther and His Enemies

Luther's abusive language toward his theological opponents is graphic and unforgettable. Did he simply become bitter in old age, or should we take him at his word that his fierceness was not about personalities but about the Gospel? This lecture suggests that only the latter interpretation makes sense of Luther's theological polemics.

31 min
Luther and the Jews
23: Luther and the Jews

The most vulnerable targets of Luther's polemics were the Jews. In 1523, in "That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew," he argued that Christians should cease persecuting the Jews and be content to argue about Scripture with them. But two decades later, in treatises such as "On the Jews and Their Lies" (1543), he insisted that they were as devilish as his other enemies.

31 min
Luther and Modernity
24: Luther and Modernity

The modern era can be traced to the split in Christendom that began with Luther's break from the pope. The Protestant tradition thus stands between the Catholic tradition going back to antiquity and the modern traditions of secularity and liberalism. But Luther's insistence on faith in God's word has much to contribute to Christianity even after modernity.

31 min
Phillip Cary

In many ways, Plato was the founding figure of Western philosophy; although there were philosophers before him, his writings were the first that founded a lasting Western philosophy.


Yale University


Eastern University

About Phillip Cary

Dr. Phillip Cary is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, where he is also Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College. After receiving his B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, Professor Cary earned his M.A. in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Yale University. Professor Cary is a recent winner of the Lindback Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching at Eastern University. He has also taught at Yale University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Hartford. As the Arthur J. Ennis Post-Doctoral Fellow at Villanova University, he taught the nationally recognized undergraduate Core Humanities seminars on ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern thought. As a scholar, Professor Cary's specialty is the thought of Augustine, but he has also published scholarly articles on Luther, the doctrine of the Trinity, and personal knowledge. His most recent books include two on Augustine, Inner Grace and Outward Signs, both published by Oxford University Press in 2008, as well as a commentary on the book of Jonah, also in 2008, published by Brazos Press.

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