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As a student of theology, writer and occasional preacher, I loved reading Martin Luther talking about learning theology, and about the “little books” some of us write and the little sermons we preach. Sometimes the reformers really make you smile. Luther writes:

I want to point out to you a correct way of studying theology.

First, you should know that the Holy Scriptures constitute a book that turns the wisdom of all other books into foolishness, because not one teaches about eternal life except this one alone. Therefore you should straightway despair of your reason and understanding. With them you will not attain eternal life, but, on the contrary, your presumptuousness will plunge you and others with you out of heaven (as happened to Lucifer) into the abyss of hell.

But kneel down in your room and pray to God with real humility and earnestness (as David did), that he through his dear Son may give you his Holy Spirit, who will enlighten you, lead you, and give you understanding.

Second, you should meditate not only in your heart, but also externally, by actually repeating and comparing oral speech and literal words of the book, reading and rereading them with diligent attention and reflection, so you may see what the Holy Spirit means by them. Take care you do not grow weary or think you have done enough when you have read, heard, and spoken them once or twice, and that you then have complete understanding.

You'll never be a particularly good theologian if you do that, for you will be like untimely fruit which falls to the ground before it is half ripe. God will not give you his Spirit without the external Word.

If you study hard in accord with [David’s] example, then you will also sing and boast with him, "The law of thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (Ps. 119:72).

And it will be your experience that the books of the fathers will taste stale and putrid to you in comparison. You will not only despise the books written by adversaries, but the longer you write and teach, the less you will be pleased with yourself. When you have reached this point, then do not be afraid to hope that you have begun to become a real theologian, who can teach not only the young and imperfect Christians, but also the maturing and perfect ones.

If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it—if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears.

Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, “See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.”

Luther's Works, Vol. 34, edited by Lewis W. Spitz 1960 (Muhlenberg Press)

Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching biblical truth and drawing attention to the needy and how to help them. Before starting EPM in 1990, Alcorn for 13 years co-pastored Good Shepherd Community Church outside Gresham, Oregon. He has ministered in many countries, including China, and is a popular teacher and conference speaker. Randy is a best-selling author of over 30 books including Heaven, The Treasure Principle, and the 2002 Gold Medallion winner, Safely Home. 

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Brad Brucker

commented on Sep 19, 2013

Wow! Awesome! Thank you! I'm wondering what new bells I can hang on my ears today! :-)

Robert Kratzer

commented on Sep 19, 2013

Now that did make me smile very much so... and examine myself to see where i stand... And i do not stand where i would have liked to have thought.

Alan Montgomery Hutchens

commented on Sep 19, 2013

I fear that I can associate all too closely with the words of Brad Brucker and Robert Kratzer before me. I needed to read this! Thank you, Randy Alcorn. And, oh, me! Martin Luther! I must continually be on the decrease -- and Christ continually be on the increase!

Prasannakumar Komera

commented on Sep 19, 2013

I was always looking for and enjoying being talked about my long ears with unworthy silly bells. Now i want hide.

Ronnie James

commented on Sep 20, 2013

Unfortunately few popular books or television documentaries on Luther go into detail about Luther's anti-Jewishness, or even mention that he had a hatred for Jews at all. This has resulted in a biased outlook towards Martin Luther and Christianity. This unawareness of Luther's sinister side, while honoring his "righteousness" leads to a ratcheting promotion of Luther which supports a "good" public image while also transporting his Jewish beliefs to those who carry the seeds of anti-Semitism. This will present an unwanted dilemma for many Christians because Luther represents the birth of Protestant Christianity as well as the genesis of the special brand of Jewish hatred that flourished only in Germany. Although Luther did not invent anti-Jewishness, he promoted it to a level never before seen in Europe. Luther bore the influence of his upbringing and from anti-Jewish theologians such as Lyra, Burgensis, (and John Chrysostom, before them). But Luther's 1543 book, "On the Jews and their lies" took Jewish hatred to a new level when he proposed to set fire to their synagogues and schools, to take away their homes, forbade them to pray or teach, or even to utter God's name. Luther wanted to "be rid of them" and requested that the government and ministers deal with the problem. He requested pastors and preachers to follow his example of issuing warnings against the Jews. He goes so far as to claim that "We are at fault in not slaying them" for avenging the death of Jesus Christ. Hitler's Nazi government in the 1930s and 40s fit Luther's desires to a tee.

Wm. John Boyer

commented on Sep 21, 2013

it is hard to believe that "everything I believe is all wrong", but it happens often. john

Wm. John Boyer

commented on Sep 21, 2013

it is hard to believe that "everything I believe is all wrong", but it happens often. john

Nancy Magaba

commented on Sep 20, 2013

Thank you very much. I am greatly inspired and informed with this timely message.

Stefan Burton-Schnüll

commented on Sep 20, 2013

For those who like to read it in the original tongue:

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Sep 20, 2013

It is a shame Martin did not dump more of the stuff in Catholicism in the Reformation and that he has such a crazy attitude towards Jews. After all Christ is a Jew as was Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles. It shows the complexity of men who deal with their devils as they seek to walk with the Lord. Luther has a right theology about all things now including how Jews are to be viewed and treated.

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