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Eric Metaxas' latest book about Martin Luther turns some centuries-long legends upside down

A statue of 16th-century theologian Martin Luther stands on Marktplatz square in Wittenberg, Germany. On Oct. 31, 1517, Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a door of the nearby Schlosskirche Church. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Martin Luther's 95 Theses have been considered for centuries as the young German monk's most thunderous act of defiance toward the Roman Catholic Church, but author Eric Metaxas shakes up some of the old legends with new discoveries about Luther in his latest book, "Martin Luther, The Man who Rediscovered God and Changed the World."

"Luther was the most influential person in 2,000 years aside from Jesus," said Metaxas, who lives in New York City.

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther's 95 Theses, which were pinned Oct. 31, 1517, to the wall of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, sparked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. In 1517, Luther spoke out against various practices of the church, including the purchase of indulgences that replaced confession and allowed people to buy their forgiveness of sin. It was Luther's love of the church that inspired him to speak out against its leaders, according to Metaxas.

The 95 Theses questioned religious authority and common practices. Luther argued that Scripture is the source of religious authority rather than the leaders of the Catholic Church.

In 1518, Luther was summoned before an imperial diet and ordered to defend his teachings to Cardinal Thomas Cajetan.  However, Cajetan defended the church's authority and use of indulgences. One year after the 95 Theses were presented to the church, the first papal commission found Luther's teachings to be scandalous and offensive. Eventually, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church. This forever divided the Catholic Church and is believed to be the beginning of Reformation.

During a recent phone interview with TheBlaze, Metaxass added that many beliefs surrounding Luther are distorted.

What new information did Metaxas discover about Martin Luther?

• Luther was trying to help, not divide, the church by questioning some of its practices.

• He was a "loving and obedient son of the church."

• Luther was funny and "such a wild man" that readers will find themselves "laughing out loud."

• The 95 Theses were almost certainly not pinned by Luther to the church wall on Oct. 31, 1517. It's likely that someone else was sent to do it for him. Also, at that time, placing messages on the wall of the church is how people shared information with each other.

• Luther was believed to have been poor, but he was not. His father was a wealthy and successful businessman in mining. Luther attended the finest schools.

Why did Metaxas write this book?

Two of Metaxas' friends came up with the idea for the book and told him he was "the one" who should write it. At first, he resisted the idea, but they kept talking about it.

After doing some research, Metaxas realized Luther was a wildly funny man and it inspired him to write the book.

The history of Luther is something "everyone in America should understand," according to Mataxas.

"There's a direct line from Luther and the gospels to what we today call freedom of religion and American-style government," Metaxas said, adding that he hopes mainstream readers as well as "not serious Christians" will be attracted to reading the book that was released earlier this month.

Unlike the character in his New York Times best-selling book, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr Prophet, Spy" Metaxas told TheBlaze he had a lot of fun bringing this entertaining character to life.

Anything else to add?

"The main thing to understand is the Reformation didn't have to happen this way," Metaxas explained. "The Vatican handled it [Luther's 95 Theses] dramatically."

Read an exclusive excerpt from “Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World” by Eric Metaxas, published on Oct. 3 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Eric Metaxas, 2017.

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