Movie Review—Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer, by Stephen McCaskell
In the new documentary, Luther, Stephen McCaskell brings us an exceptional, educational, and accessible tool that churches can use to celebrate the Protestant Reformation in its 500th year.
The documentary vividly tells the story of how God used a zealous and flawed monk, Martin Luther, to recover the light of the gospel and change the world. I appreciated the variety of means this film uses to capture the context and nuances of Luther’s reformation, in particular its first-rate cinematography, narration, and interviews with respected experts. Luther has the rare ability in a documentary to balance education and entertainment, making it accessible to a wider audience. The last portion of the film, which challenges the church to continue the work of the reformation today, was also helpful to spark additional dialogue. As an added bonus, there are some quotable lines throughout this film from R. C. Sproul, Carl Trueman, and others that are worth the cost of the film itself.
USEFUL FOR CHURCHES
But how might we utilize Luther in our churches? If your church is anything like mine, chances are most members normally wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about studying the Reformation. Sure, we’ll get the eager and astute few to gobble up the church history we teach, but the majority of our people will struggle to see much relevance and value for their everyday lives.
However, with the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation upon us we have a unique opportunity to pique the interest of our church members.
At my church, we’re planning a Luther movie night that will kick off a nine-week Reformation survey in our Sunday morning education hour. For additional emphasis and expertise, we’re bringing in some local seminary and Bible college professors as guest teachers along with our pastors and lay teachers.
You might also consider using Luther as a teaching tool in a small group study, leadership training, or Sunday school class. The four segments of the film divide nicely into any Reformation curriculum. “Before the Fire” gives historical context for Luther’s work. This segment would be a great launching pad to discuss pre-Reformers, the state of the church in Luther’s day, and why reformation was necessary. “The Monk who Changed the World” surveys Luther’s life including his conversion, his holy discontentment with the Roman Catholic Church, and further details of the Reformation. This is the meat of the film, so you may want to break this up into several sessions for teaching and discussion.
“The Untamed Tongue” explores Luther’s flaws. This segment could be used to segue into a discussion on God’s sovereign use of imperfect people, the reality of sin, and pursuing personal holiness. “The Fire Still Burns” briefly challenges the church today to continue the work of bringing the light of the gospel in the midst of growing hostility. This may be the most practically important session for discussion in the life of the church.
At the same time, Luther is good enough that you could easily use it for a “one-off” session. If you do it this way, I recommend having discussion questions prepared for follow-up and a recommended book list for further study.
May we keep the fires of the Reformation alive in our churches for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God!
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Editor’s note: You can stream this documentary here.