An astounding 34,000 mini Martin Luther action figures were sold out within the first 72 hours of availability. The smiling Reformer toy made by Playmobil was created as a kitchy keepsake for German tourist boards and Bavarian Lutherans to mark the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.
“I’m used to Luther the first modern man, Luther the rebel against overbearing church authority, Luther the anti-Semite, Luther the destroyer of the unity of Western Christendom — but Luther the action figure is a new one,” the Rev. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, told Thunderstruck.
“However distorted the image of Luther remains in Euro-American consciousness, the fact is that 500 years later he hasn’t been forgotten and still looms large in the cultural imagination,” said Wilson, editor of Lutheran Forum. “I’m grateful that the Playmobil people made him holding the Bible instead of the 95 Theses.”
Of course, United Methodists have a warm hearted connection to the leader of the Reformation since John Wesley’s own new birth experience occurred at Aldersgate in 1738 while listening to a reading of Martin Luther’s preface of the Epistle to the Romans.
Professor Wilson and her colleagues launched the Luther Reading Challenge (www.lutherreadingchallenge.org) as a way of encouraging a wider exploration of Luther’s thoughts than simply the history-making and polemical 95 Theses. Writing in First Things, Wilson explains that that the program highlights a fuller portrait of Luther: “the pastor concerned with the care of souls, the exegete, the friend and prolific letter-writer, the husband and father, the hymnist….”
“It was a natural step to merge the desire to improve knowledge of Luther with the desire to give Christian people permission not only to feed others but to nourish their own souls as well,” concludes Professor Wilson. “And that is our invitation: read Luther — not to take sides, and certainly not to justify yourself or your church or the compromised history that all Christians share — but to meet a sinner of ages past who knew and loved and constantly wrote about the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Steve Beard is the founder/creator of Thunderstruck.