“Since 2007, the English Wikipedia page of Martin Luther has received more than 15,367,261 page views. His biography is available in 173 different languages on Wikipedia … Martin Luther is the 4th most popular religious figure … the 4th most popular biography from Germany and the most popular German Religious Figure.”
That’s from the Pantheon website, “which uses biographical data to expose patterns of human collective memory.”
Pantheon, applying the same popularity criteria, lists Muhammad (#1), Jesus (#2) and Moses (#3) ahead of Luther.
What explains the enormous interest in Martin Luther?
Is it only Lutherans who are interested in Luther? I don’t think so, because there aren’t that many Lutherans. Is it only Christians who are interested in Luther? Possibly. But why would they be almost as interested in Luther as they are in Jesus?
I think the interest lies in the fact that Luther’s considered the father of the Reformation.
What’s the Reformation? The Reformation is the beginning of the rejection of the Roman Catholic church as the sole voice of Christians. And the emergence of “Protestant” Christianity
In 1517, the Roman Catholic church condemned Luther as a heretic. Luther was a polemicist who considered Roman Catholic teaching and practice dangerous. He set out to attack them. And he was very successful at it.
Why was Luther very successful? Because he had a gift for putting things in very striking words. The internet is full of quotes attributed to him. Here’s one example:
“My dear pope, I will kiss your feet and acknowledge you as supreme bishop if you will worship my Christ and grant that through His death and resurrection, not through keeping your traditions, we have forgiveness of sins and life eternal.” [This is the kernel of “the doctrine of justification,” which is foundational for Lutheran/Protestant belief and practice; more below.]
Why was Luther very successful? Because princes saw in him a means to curb the power of the church. His teaching helped them break free from subjugation to the church.
Why was Luther very successful? Because he believed the Bible was the word of God for all and should be translated and made available to all. He translated the Bible into German and published it. His work was so good, it set the standard for German.
Why was Luther very successful? Because he believed everyone must be educated. How else could they read the Bible? Education was no longer for the elites.
Why was Luther very successful? Because his teaching was accessible, not academic. I do not know of any other Christian leader in whose name there is a publication like Luther’s Table Talk – a selection of what he said at his dinner table:
It was compiled from collections of notes taken by at least eleven different guests who were present at intervals during the last fifteen years of Luther’s life.
Why was Luther very successful? Because he explained how the Bible, God’s word, teaches that we can be ‘safe’ in the presence of God who is holy. Our safety comes not through any good works we do, not by any gifts we give to the Roman Catholic church, but “by the grace of God in Christ.”
We Protestants, children of the reformation, sum up our doctrine (teaching) in “the five solas:” sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola scriptura (scripture alone) and soli deo gloria (To the glory of God alone). Not just Lutherans. Even Baptists espouse it.
As I said above, the doctrine of justification is foundational to Lutheran understanding of the relationship between God and man. This doctrine was one of the main reasons for the breach with the Roman Catholic church. Yet, in 1999, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation reconciled. They wrote:
In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.
This article is a fruit of my reading Scott Hendrix’s Preface to his 2015 book “Martin Luther, Visionary Reformer.” Stay tuned for more on Luther.
 Scott H Hendrix. Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer. Yale University Press (New Haven). 2015. Page 12