Five 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.