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Luther and the Stories of God

Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living

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"Kolb shows how Luther's spirituality is rooted in the metanarrative of God's words and deeds conveyed through the sacred Scriptures. A major contribution both to Luther studies and to spiritual theology."--Timothy George, Beeson Divinity School; general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture
Martin Luther read and preached the biblical text as the record of God addressing real, flesh-and-blood people in their daily lives. He used stories of the faithful as depicted in biblical narratives to drive home his vision of the Christian life, a life that includes struggling against temptation, enduring suffering, praising God in worship and prayer, and serving one's neighbor in response to God's callings and commands. Against the backdrop of these stories--which reveal God's action to reclaim and restore his fallen human creatures--Luther cultivated a life of repentance based on trust in God as he has revealed himself in Christ.

With both depth and clarity, leading Lutheran scholar Robert Kolb explores how Scripture undergirded Luther's approach to spiritual formation. Professors and students in theology and Reformation courses, pastors, and readers interested in narrative theology and nurturing a faithful Christian life will value this work. 

Introduction: Luther the Storyteller and His Cultivation of the Christian Life
1. The Whole Life of a Christian Is a Life of Repentance: Luther's Metanarrative
2. Luther the Storyteller: The Reformer's Use of Narrative
3. Fearing, Loving, and Trusting in God above All Things: Defining the Core of What It Means to Be Human
4. Suffering Builds Faith and Calls to Repentance: Affliction as Part of Daily Life
5. The Life of Faith in Hearing and Reading God's Word and Responding in Prayer and Praise: Active Obedience in the Sacred Realm
6. The Life of Faith in Serving the Neighbor: Luther's Ethic of Callings and Commands
7. Living Well Leads to Dying Well: The Completion of the Christian Life


"We think of Martin Luther as a great reformer, preacher, theologian, and writer of oceanic breadth and depth. But he was also a compelling master of the spiritual life. In this engaging study, Robert Kolb shows how Luther's spirituality is rooted in the metanarrative of God's words and deeds conveyed through the sacred Scriptures. A major contribution both to Luther studies and to spiritual theology."

Timothy George, founding dean, Beeson Divinity School; general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture

"Martin Luther was a great church leader and storyteller. Robert Kolb is a great Luther scholar and churchman. Here we have the dream combination, as Kolb offers an interpretation of Luther's theology that brings the Reformer's thought into dialogue with contemporary theology and church life. A must read for all who, like me, have learned so much from both men over the years."

Carl R. Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary

"Robert Kolb has provided a thoughtful and engaging survey of how Luther used biblical narrative to understand Christian life and to admonish, encourage, uplift, and direct his listeners and readers. Luther is revealed as a theologian whose importance lies not only in his breakthrough on the doctrine of justification, but also in his careful and thorough consideration of the implications of this doctrine for ordinary life. Kolb broadens and deepens our knowledge of Luther as theologian, exegete, and pastor."

Mary Jane Haemig, professor of church history, Luther Seminary

"Robert Kolb has once again written a superb study of Luther that opens new avenues for understanding the thought of the Reformer. Grounding his study in Luther's own text and carefully reviewing the relevant scholarship, Kolb presents Luther as a preacher and teacher whose address to Scripture was framed by a metanarrative extending from creation to the eschaton. The book is sensitive to current analyses of narrative theology and profoundly immersed in the thought-world of Martin Luther, adding significant insight to the discussion of themes in Luther's theology such as Law and Gospel and the two kinds of righteousness."

Richard A. Muller, P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary

"Written by one of the foremost Luther scholars of our day, Luther and the Stories of God provides an expert and engaging account of how the Wittenberg reformer sought to cultivate a rich sense of Christian identity in his contemporaries through narrative, in both his teaching and preaching of the Word of God. Kolb masterfully shows how Luther invited his hearers and readers into a conversation with the speaking Creator God, a conversation that was to define them as human beings and sustain them as they faced the vicissitudes of life in a fallen world. Valuable for historians, theologians, and literary scholars alike, Luther and the Stories of God contains much that will be of interest and inspiration to anyone who wishes to engage in the same divine conversation today."

Ronald K. Rittgers, Erich Markel Chair in German Reformation Studies, professor of history and theology, Valparaiso University

"In this fine book Robert Kolb outlines an approach to the moral life that is neglected in Luther studies: that Luther employed biblical storytelling as a way to form the moral imagination and thereby strengthen and enrich the Christian life."

Robert D. Benne, director, Center for Religion and Society, Roanoke College

"With one eye on the current philosophical and theological interest in narrative, Kolb depicts Luther's theology as his own version of the Christian metanarrative. To 'live a Christian life' means finally to fashion one's personal story so that it merges seamlessly with this metanarrative. Luther used the Bible's rich trove of stories to teach people how to do this. A creative and yet profoundly faithful restatement of what Luther's project was really about."

Denis R. Janz, Provost Distinguished Professor of the History of Christianity, Loyola University New Orleans

"As a student and minister of God's Word, Luther understood that Scripture contains stories and is itself a story about creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Robert Kolb has given us a skillful and delightful introduction to Luther's reading, preaching, and pastoral application of God's stories."

R. Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology, Westminster Seminary California

The Author

  1. Robert Kolb
    Tony Carosella

    Robert Kolb

    Robert Kolb (PhD, University of Wisconsin) is Mission Professor of Systematic Theology Emeritus at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including The Genius of Luther's Theology, Luther and the...

    Continue reading about Robert Kolb


Awarded the Hermann-Sasse-Preis by the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany

"At times, Lutheran and Presbyterian theology seem to rely almost on an intellectual apprehension of unmerited grace, but Kolb's book goes far toward restoring a narrative and almost biographical focus in the creation of a personal spirituality. . . . A thoughtful corrective to what Kolb views as prevalent misconceptions in Protestantism, this book will serve academic libraries, seminaries, and pastors."

Library Journal

"Luther as a preacher has received relatively little attention from Luther scholars or those interested in the history of preaching. . . . And yet scholarly attention to the act of preaching generally has undergone a relative revival in the last thirty years. So too has an understanding of narrative and metanarrative. It is into this gap between research on narrative and preaching and the lack of study of Luther that Robert Kolb steps. . . . This is an interesting small book. It could fit equally well in a class on the history of preaching as it could in a class on the culture of persuasion in the Reformation in that what we see in Luther's preaching is an attempt to bring what he understood as the core aspects of the Reformation to nonelite members of his society. Kolb has also provided an excellent apparatus to the book that will make it beneficial to both the student and the scholar. Though there is still much to be uncovered in Luther's preaching, Kolb has provided an excellent roadmap to ways in which one might further explore Luther's preaching legacy."

David M. Whitford,

Renaissance Quarterly

"Preaching was a key to the Lutheran Reformation and Martin Luther was exemplar par excellence of great preaching! Robert Kolb has drawn together a vast collection of quotations from the sixteenth-century Reformer into a practical guide for Christian living in the twenty-first century. Kolb's ability to make seemingly esoteric scholarship uniquely accessible to the general population is peerless. . . . As recent Luther scholarship moves beyond the basic historical reconstruction or reinterpretation of historic events, Kolb models an approach to sixteenth-century studies that connects the disciplines of history, literary criticism, theology, and pastoral practice in an exemplary way. . . . Sixteenth-century scholars will find Kolb's historical material rooted in solid research. His integration of current literary studies propels his analytical method to the fore of historical analysis and synthesis."

Timothy Maschke,

Sixteenth Century Journal

"Kolb sets out to fill a void in Luther research by exploring the ways that the reformer used biblical stories to drive home his theological perspective. . . . This is an important contribution to the field of Luther studies. . . . Now that Kolb has provided us with a 'sketch' of Luther's narrative proclamation, we have a framework for taking seriously Luther's use of narrative in greater detail. This is a great gift."

Philip Ruge-Jones,

Word & World

"Kolb's ability to make seemingly esoteric scholarship uniquely accessible to the general population is peerless. The depth of Kolb's historical research in sixteenth century preaching and the breadth of his engagement with twentieth century literary scholarship make this book a necessary read by every Lutheran pastor and seminarian. . . . Kolb draws upon the rich images and solid biblical applications which the great Reformer used in his proclamation of God's grace in Christ. Kolb models an approach to homiletic studies that connects the disciplines of history, literary criticism, theology, and pastoral practice in an exemplary way. This is the kind of book that pastors will read and to which they will return again for encouragement and support and ideas to enhance proclamation for many years to come. I highly commend it."

Timothy Maschke,

Concordia Theological Journal

"Luther and the Stories of God takes the reader on a carefully crafted tour of Martin Luther's basic insights into the gospel and its hermeneutical significance when attending to the narratives of Scripture. Readers could not hope for a better tour guide than Robert Kolb. The maturity of his long handling of Luther yields a confident sense of the whole as the reader moves through large swaths of Luther's preaching and lectures on biblical narratives. Kolb brings these practices of Luther into conversation with current 'narrative' approaches. The result . . . is a helpful point of entrance for those trying to navigate the difficult terrain of preaching, teaching, and understanding biblical narratives as a living Word. . . . Readers are indebted to both [Kolb and Luther] for the gems presented in this volume."

Mark S. Gignilliat,

Southeastern Theological Review

"[The book] successfully and winsomely presents Luther as a creative, effective teacher of the Christian life through the use of narrative. . . . The book is the work of a seasoned, balanced, career-long student of Luther's theology. The author engages literally dozens of Luther specialists in this study, sharing their insights in helpful ways and occasionally noting where and how he digresses from several of them. His treatment is informed, thoughtful, and evenhanded. As a result, the book instills confidence and appreciation. It is a durable, reliable depiction of an important side of the Reformer. The translations of Luther's writings in both shorter and longer citations read very well. They are polished, lucid, and contemporary; they invite reading more widely in the Luther corpus. . . . The book and it indexes are excellent resources for sermons on passages and the main dimensions of Christian living handled here."

James A. De Jong,

Calvin Theological Journal

"Respected Luther scholar Robert Kolb explores the reformer's use of biblical narrative and, in the process, sheds new light on both Luther studies and modern narrative theology. . . . The book is an engaging and valuable study of Luther's thought and historical context. It should find appeal among historians, theologians, hermeneutical scholars, and preachers seeking to use biblical narrative as a means to cultivate spirituality in their hearers."

Seth D. Osborne,

Southern Baptist Journal of Theology

"[A] most delightful and readable work. . . . [It] is suitable for seminary students, pastors, and interested lay people, as well as courses in the Reformation, history of exegesis, and hermeneutics, and serves as a helpful bridge between the history of biblical interpretation and contemporary hermeneutics. Luther and the Stories of God is a welcome and necessary resource for the church today."

André A. Gazal,

Trinity Journal

"Luther and the Stories of God presents an impressive account of Martin Luther's use of biblical narrative to inform daily Christian living. . . . Kolb has offered an integrated study which embodies a truly multifaceted Luther as it unveils aspects of the Reformer that do not always enjoy the most attention in the broader evangelical community such as his pastoral theology, his role as a preacher, and his passion for not only faith in the Christian life, but also for holiness through daily repentance. Luther and the Stories of God is a thorough, yet practical book by a seasoned scholar which pictures Luther as ever the pastor-preacher regardless of whether the lectern or the pulpit upholds his copy of the Scriptures."

Billy Marsh,

Southwestern Journal of Theology

"Kolb reminds us that we still have a great deal to learn from Luther about how to engage Christ's people with Scripture. . . . Kolb is one of our foremost living experts on Luther. His scholarship is impeccable. We could hardly hope for a better guide to Luther's thought."

David A. Booth,

Ordained Servant Online

"A fascinating and intriguing study of Luther's ministry to the every-day person, with a particular focus on Luther as story-teller."

Matthew Barrett,

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