‘Why the Reformation Still Matters’ by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester

Why the Reformation Still MattersFive hundred years ago this October 31st, a young Augustinian monk, disturbed about the Roman Catholic Church’s many pastoral abuses and doctrinal aberrations, nailed to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, a list of topics he wanted to debate with the local religious authorities. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” would serve as the catalyst for a theological and ecclesiastical upheaval within Europe that would transform churches and whole communities around the world. By returning to the Scriptures as the fount of divine knowledge and rediscovering the doctrine of justification by faith, Martin Luther and those who followed in his footsteps opened a gateway of truth and life to those who had long walked in error and death.

Celebrating Our Heritage
This year we celebrate the Reformation’s Quincentennial. We celebrate the Reformation, not as something to be praised as the mere work of men, but as a means God used to re-establish the truth of the gospel among His people and around the world. Luther’s rediscovery of the Bible and of the doctrine of justification gave birth to churches and leaders who, in turn, sought to spread this life-giving doctrine as far and wide as possible.

I am grateful to serve in a church that is the fruit of the Reformation and the Spirit-empowered labor of pastors and theologians who gave their lives to defending and proclaiming vital Reformation truths. Our doctrines of Scripture, salvation, and God’s sovereignty, in particular, all have their roots in the Christ-centered theology that was re-discovered in Europe ve centuries ago.

But to really appreciate our spiritual heritage and the doctrines that the Reformers bequeathed to us, we need skilled teachers to walk us through the history and, most importantly, the theology that transformed Europe in the sixteenth century. I consider Michael Reeves and Tim Chester to be such teachers. In their latest work, Why the Reformation Still Matters, Reeves and Chester focus on ten doctrinal distinctives of the Reformation: justification, Scripture, sin, grace, the cross, union with Christ, the Spirit, the Sacraments, Church life, and vocation.

Doctrine In Its Historical Context
These distinctives are each discussed in their own chapter and within their specific historical contexts. We find Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others wrestling with the Scripture against the backdrop of Roman Catholic theological aberrations in order to establish true doctrine among the edging churches in Germany, Switzerland, and elsewhere in Europe. Because truth is often understood better and appreciated more when it is contrasted with error, studying these important doctrines in their biblical and historical context is especially illuminating.

For example, we see the necessity of a full-orbed doctrine of sin as Luther debates with Erasmus; we recognize the fullness of divine grace as Calvin upholds our union with Christ as the basis of our justification and sanctification; and we rejoice in the freedom granted by the gospel as both Luther and Calvin recapture a biblical vision of work over-against the Roman Catholic’s overly spiritualized clergy-laity divide. By stepping into the history of the Reformation, we are better equipped to enjoy the theology of the Reformation.

Rich, Readable, and Edifying
Although this is a theologically rich and historically astute book, Reeves and Chester have made sure to keep their survey of Reformation history and doctrine accessible to the ordinary Christian. This is no small feat. Reeves and Chester have distilled the Reformation into its most basic distinctives and presented vital biblical doctrines within their historical context in a way that is informative and interesting, accurate and accessible, educational and edifying. The final product is a book, a little over 200 pages, that will feed the soul of Christians who are already well grounded in Reformation history, and inform the minds of the believers who only recently heard the word “Reformation” for the first time.

Death the Intruder, Christ the Victor

Death is an intruder. And everything that leads to death—sickness, pain, old-age, heart-attacks, high-blood pressure, brain aneurisms, and cancer—are also all intruders. We live in world that is not the way it’s supposed to be.

But even before any of these intruders entered our existence there was a more primal intruder: sin. It was sin against God that brought about not only physical suffering like cancer and migraines, but inter-personal and social trouble as well. Broken relationships, divorce, hate, murder, racism, bitterness, family disputes, bullying, and betrayal all flow from the same source: sin. What happened? Continue reading “Death the Intruder, Christ the Victor”

Scripture, Tradition, and the Question of Authority

We affirm that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is subordinate to that of Scripture.

 We deny that church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.

The second article of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) deals specifically with the issue of Scripture’s authority. Article II affirms that the Scriptures are the “supreme written norm” to which human conscience is bound, while other written documents, although important, do not possess authority equal or superior to that of the Scriptures. Continue reading “Scripture, Tradition, and the Question of Authority”

Why Should Christians Seek Assurance of their Salvation?

I remember a conversation during college in which a friend confessed to me that he did not think it was necessary, or even possible, for a believer to gain assurance of their salvation. I was surprised by his comments, especially because we were attending a Christian college that emphasized all the biblical truths related to assurance of salvation: election, grace, faith, repentance, substitutionary atonement, the fully deity and humanity of Christ, and eternal security.

As it turns out, this was not an isolated incident. Over the past several years as I’ve wrestled personally with the issue of assurance and had opportunity to speak to others about it, I’ve found that many Christians do not rightly understand the biblical basis or importance of this doctrine. Assurance is essential to genuine Christianity and central to the New Testament’s theological framework, yet plenty of Christians are content to walk through life without the sure knowledge that they belong to Christ. There are, of course, those who claim assurance who have no right to; but it seems that there are an equal number of professing Christians who have either resigned to the fact they will never have assurance or that they don’t really need it. Continue reading “Why Should Christians Seek Assurance of their Salvation?”

With Christ in the Cambodian Killing Fields

In the spring of 1975, the Communist Party of Kampuchea–more popularly known as the Khmer Rouge–took official control of Cambodia. Pol Pot, a Marxist driven by intended-for-evilvisions of a pure socialist state and his desire to rebuild his country, led a revolutionary army into unlikely power and immediately began to implement his plans for a better Cambodia. For the next four years, Pol Pot would pursue his socialist utopia by establishing a strictly agrarian economy and removing any possible signs of capitalist influence from the country.

That’s putting it lightly.

Pol Pot’s aim to create a “New Socialist Man” who was “dedicated only to the collective,” required that he eliminate any trace of the old society. Les Sillars explains,

Pol Pot’s goal was to create a new society that was purely socialist and purely Khmer. First, the regime had to crush the old society and everything connected to it: religion, free markets, private property, schools, political and economic institutions, as well as traditional ideas of morality, sexuality, and family (67). Continue reading “With Christ in the Cambodian Killing Fields”

Let Us Have Peace with God? Reflections on Romans 5:1 and Dealing with Bible Difficulties

Encountering difficulties in the Bible can be troubling for the young believer and the seasoned saint alike. Yet, when we are confronted with hard passages or apparent discrepancies in the biblical text, we don’t want to ignore the difficulty or pretend it doesn’t exist. Out of an unwillingness to do a little hard work, lack of acquaintance with the available resources, or the mistaken assumption that faith shouldn’t require any mental effort, we may indulge the temptation to shuffle quickly past difficult passages in order to avoid intellectual and emotional discomfort. Continue reading “Let Us Have Peace with God? Reflections on Romans 5:1 and Dealing with Bible Difficulties”

All Things Richly: God and the Good Things of Life

When it comes to the matters related to physical life and how Christians should think about earthly enjoyment, the Church has rarely found herself securely balanced between the extremes of severe asceticism and unrestrained indulgence. Even the New Testament gives the indication that there has always been pressure to move toward one of these two poles. In Ephesus, there were lovers of pleasure; in Colossae, there were rigorous ascetics. In the early church there were those, like Augustine, who (personal reasons notwithstanding) rejected marriage and sought the pseudo-spiritual environment of a monastery. There were the hedonists and the Epicureans. Today we have the legalists and the health, wealth, and prosperity teachers. What we need a theology of enjoyment. Continue reading “All Things Richly: God and the Good Things of Life”