Fortress Press

Face to Face: Martin Luther's View of Reality

Face to Face

Martin Luther's View of Reality

Robert Kolb (Author)


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This overview of Luther's thought proceeds from the perspective of his use of the Latin preposition coram, "face-to-face with." Preeminent Luther scholar Robert Kolb proposes that under Luther's use of dominant ancient concepts of reality in his day, he placed the foundation of relationships. These relationships included the fundamental relationship of the Creator with every person and thing he made, along with all those relationships stemming from ordering his creation by his creative Word. With Luther's emphasis on the personal nature of the Creator, who continues to re-create by speaking in the absolution of sinners, he taught that believers experience life's realities in relationship (1) to the hidden God; (2) to sin, death, and Satan; (3) to the revealed God as Trinity and incarnate; (4) to the revealed God who becomes present in believers' lives through oral, written, and sacramental forms of his Word; (5) to their own self; (6) to the world both as God's creature and as perverted tempter; and (7) to individual human beings in the context of their callings.

Chapters touching each of these relationships explore Luther's thinking and his practice of the faith based on his trust in the Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier and love in service to the neighbor. Individual chapters explore these topics within the context of contemporary treatments of various aspects of Luther's thought. A special focus of the study critically examines the ontological proposal of Tuomo Mannermaa and his students in Finland, offering as an alternative a better text-based assessment of what Luther's views can mean for the church today.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506498324
  • eBook ISBN 9781506498331
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 300
  • Publication Date May 28, 2024


In Face to Face, the dean of North American Reformation scholars makes a succinct but profound presentation of Luther's theology in terms of coram relationships. Taking constructive account of other modern interpreters, Dr. Kolb offers his own compelling reading of Luther in historical context for the benefit of contemporary proclamation.

Dr. Christopher B. Brown, associate professor of church history, Boston University School of Theology

Of all of Robert Kolb's recent books, this one looks like a theological and devotional classic. It seems that Luther's ontology of Word is the perfect toolbox to reimagine our relationship with God, with creation, and toward ourselves. This book is like a theological antidote, like devotional soothing balm against self-centered ideological politicization of Christian faith, written as a long, pious meditation against the narcissistic superficiality of our paranoid times.

Rev. Dr. Boris Gunjević, tutor in philosophy of religion and Christian doctrine, Westfield House, Cambridge, Cambridge Theological Federation

The Latin word coram cannot be used for today's popular worldview "facing reality." For the author, it means first and foremost "facing God," then "facing creation." It is not just a belief or a down-to-earth teaching for Christians, but a warning to all rising powers.

Rev. Dr. Pilgrim W. K. Lo, professor emeritus of systematic theology and Luther studies, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Hong Kong

Bob Kolb is one of the most authoritative and trusted guides to the theology of Martin Luther in the English-speaking world. In this volume, he explores the Wittenberg reformer's relational view of reality and its foundation in the conversing God, who summons all of creation into loving relationship at every moment. Kolb invites the reader to come face-to-face with this God, even as Martin Luther did. A fascinating and important book that draws on a lifetime of scholarship and Christian discipleship.

Dr. Ronald K. Rittgers, professor of the history of Christianity, Duke Divinity School

The face is one of the key things that separates humans from all other animals: in a mysterious sense, we are our faces, and face-to-face encounters with others are always personal and relational. In this creative and ingenious work, Robert Kolb explores the significance of the face, and of the language of face-to-face encounter, in the theology of Luther. In so doing, he brings to life and to relevance the greatness of the reformer's thought in a new way that is of real significance for our contemporary discussions of what it means to be human, and especially to be human before God.

Dr. Carl R. Trueman, professor of biblical and religious studies, Grove City College

With this book, which is sharp-sighted and convincing throughout, Robert Kolb once again presents a magisterial work on Luther's theology. Kolb leads us right into the core of Luther's understanding of the Christian religion: the assumption of the immediacy of the God-human relationship. Immediately addressed by God's law and gospel, man shapes his relationship to the world and fellow human beings--and to himself. Kolb thankfully elaborates this highly momentous basic idea of Luther in all its richness of facets and its existential implications. A great read as well as an inspiring one!

Dr. Christian V. Witt, professor of Reformation History and director of the Institute for Late Middle Ages and Reformation, University of Tübingen