Rev. Langerak is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Martin Bucer: A Reformer and His Times, by Martin Greschat. Tr. Stephen E. Buckwalter. Westminster John Knox Press (2004). ISBN: 978-0664226909. Paper. Reviewed by David J. Engelsma.
This is a fine, well-written, and authoritative account of the life, work, and theology of the important, if secondary, Reformer Martin Bucer. Bucer was an early convert of Martin Luther, an instructor in important respects ofJohn Calvin, and a Reformer in his own right. Greschat’s work, originally published in German in 1990, is the first biography of Bucer in seventy years.
The author, a leading Bucer scholar, does justice to the fascinating life and important work of the Strasbourg Reformer. Bucer lived and worked at the center of the developing sixteenth century Reformation of the church. The book examines Bucer’s prominent role in the reform at Strasbourg, his influence upon Calvin, his deep involvement in the controversy among Protestants over the Lord’s Supper, his efforts on behalf of the unity of the church, and his work in England at the end of his life to bring about the kingdom of Christ there.
To follow Bucer in this book is to come into close contact withalmost every major figure in all the churches, to attend virtually every important conference, and to plunge into every controversy, during the early, heady, crucial days of the Reformation.
Bucer’s distinctive theology is outlined. Sharing the gospel of salvation by grace alone with all the Reformers, Bucer had his own emphases, including the law as the demand for love of one’s neighbor and the pervasive work of the Holy Spirit in church and state to build the kingdom of Christ.
Regarding Bucer’s grievous faults and sins, the author is uncritical, if not sympathetic. These include Bucer’s compromise of the truth for the sake of outward church unity and his atrocious doctrine of the lawfulness of divorce and remarriage for almost any reason. According to Bucer, husbands and wives may divorce if they are not happy in their marriages. John Milton seized on this teaching to justify his own divorce as an escape from an unhappy marriage. Greschat sees in Bucer’s doctrine of marriage the influence of Erasmus.
Bucer showed his love for Luther, as well as his own commitment to the gospel of grace that Luther proclaimed, in his comments on Luther’s death. Despite the fact that Luther had violently condemned him for his doctrine of the Supper and for his readiness to compromise, as well as having notoriously referred to him as “a chatterbox” on account of his garrulousness, Bucer wrote the finest obituary of Luther I have ever read.
I know how many people hate Luther. And yet the fact remains: God loved him very much and never gave us a holier and more effective instrument of the Gospel. Luther had shortcomings, in fact, serious ones. But God bore them and put up with them, never granting another mortal a mightier spirit and such divine power to proclaim His Son and strike down the Antichrist. If God so accepted him and drew him near to Himself in spite of his being a sinner—a sinner, of course, who abhorred evil like no other—who am I, a wretched servant and miserable sinner who shows so little zeal in pursuing justice, to reject him and turn him down on account of his failings, which we, of course, should not condone? Do we not often ask others to tolerate even greater failings in ourselves? (pp. 207, 208).