Abandon the Reformation, Abandon the Gospel

So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where he is there I shall be also!”

— Martin Luther

Four Hairs from the Head of Mary

There they sat. Relics. Lots of them. There was a cut of fabric from the swaddling cloth of baby Jesus, 13 pieces from his crib, a strand of straw from the manger, a piece of gold from a Wise Man, three pieces of myrrh, a morsel of bread from the Last Supper, a thorn from the crown Jesus wore when crucified, and, to top it all off, a genuine piece of stone that Jesus stood on to ascend to the Father’s right hand. And in good Catholic fashion, the blessed Mary was not left out. There sat three pieces of cloth from her cloak, four from her girdle, four hairs from her head, and better yet, seven pieces from the veil that was sprinkled with the blood of Christ. These relics and countless others (19,000 bones from the saints!), stood ready to be viewed by pious pilgrims. These relics were the proud collection of Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, Martin Luther’s prince. And they sat in the Castle Church at Wittenberg, prepared and ready for showing on All Saints Day, November 1, 1517.

But in the midst of this fanfare was the essential ingredient, namely, the procurement of indulgences. Veneration of these relics would be accompanied by indulgences reducing time in purgatory by 1,902,202 years and 270 days. An indulgence, the full or partial remission of punishment for sins, was drawn from the Treasury of Merit, which was accumulated not only by the meritorious work of Christ but also by the superabundant merit of the saints.

The Coin in the Coffer Rings

Needing funds to build St. Peter’s basilica, Pope Leo X began selling indulgences. But not any indulgence would do. He needed an indulgence for the full remission of sins, one that would return the sinner to the state of innocence first received at baptism. Even the horrors of years in purgatory would be removed. Not even a sin against the Divine Majesty would outweigh the efficacy of these indulgences. In short, if you had enough money, repentance was for sale!

There was no one so experienced as the Dominican Johann Tetzel to market such a once in a lifetime opportunity. Going from town to town with all the pomp of Rome, Tetzel laid the guilt trip on heavy: “Listen to the voices of your dear dead relatives and friends, beseeching you and saying, ‘Pity us, pity us. We are in dire torment from which you can redeem us for a pittance. . . . Will you let us lie here in flames? Will you delay our promised glory?'” And then came Tetzel’s famous jingle, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” With just a quarter of a florin you could liberate your loved one from the flames of purgatory and into the “fatherland of paradise.”

100 – 5 = 95 Theses

Martin Luther had enough. One year earlier, Luther preached against indulgences. This time, however, he would put his objections in writing. In 95 theses Luther exposed the abuse of indulgences. When finished, the theses were posted to the Castle Church door. Luther biographer Roland Bainton summarizes the 95 theses for us: “There were three main points: an objection to the avowed object of the expenditure, a denial of the powers of the pope over purgatory, and a consideration of the welfare of the sinner.”

Despite his protest, Luther was simply trying to be a good Catholic, reforming the Church from abuse. In fact, at this point, no mention is made of justification by faith alone, sola Scriptura, and other Reformation doctrines that would eventually evolve. Nevertheless, the seed had already been planted.

The Synagogue of Satan

But evolve they would. While Luther’s theses were written in Latin for academic debate, others translated them into the vernacular and spread them throughout Germany. Suddenly, Luther’s protest was the talk of the town.

Tetzel was the first to erupt, calling for Luther to be burned at the stake as a heretic. Next was Cardinal Cajetan in October 1518 at the imperial Diet at Augsburg. Luther was interrogated for three days and commanded to recant, which Luther would not do. Luther wrote, the cardinal “produced not one syllable of Scripture” but rather depended on scholastic church fathers. Declared a heretic by Cajetan, Luther returned home fearful for his life.

But Luther’s greatest challenge would come in June 1519 with the Catholic debater Johann Eck, whom Luther called “that little glory-hungry beast.” Eck brought the real issue to the table: who had final authority, God’s Word or the pope? For Eck, Scripture received its authority from the pope. Luther strongly disagreed and in doing so was quickly classified with the forerunning heretics John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. At first Luther denied such an association, but during a break in his debate Luther realized that Hus had taught exactly what he believed. Eck returned to Rome reporting his findings to the pope, and Luther left the debate only to become further convinced that Scripture, not the pope, was the sole and final authority. Additionally, Luther realized that if the pope was always to have authority over Scripture, then reform from within was impossible. As Michael Reeves explains, “The pope’s word would always trump God’s. In that case, the reign of the antichrist there was sealed, and it was no longer the church of God but the synagogue of Satan.”

Justification by Faith Alone

But it was not only Luther’s understanding of the authority of the pope that would change. His view of salvation would undergo a revolution as well. Luther once again returned to the book of Romans, specifically Romans 1:17, where Paul speaks of the righteousness of God. Luther writes of what happened next:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.”‘ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.

Suddenly, the gospel became good news. Previously Luther understood the righteousness of God as God punishing sinners in his justice and avenging anger. God’s righteousness was bad news, condemning Luther no matter how many good works he did. Luther, therefore, hated God. However, Luther came to realize that the righteousness of God referred to in Romans 1:17 is revealed in the gospel, for the righteous will live by faith. God’s righteousness was no longer to be feared but a gift to be received by faith in Christ, that sinners, even the worst of sinners, might be counted righteous before God.

Moreover, the righteousness that God demands is not something we can earn; rather, it has been earned for us in Christ. We need not a righteousness of our own but an alien righteousness, imputed or credited to us by God. Here lay what Luther understood as the “joyous exchange.” Christ has taken our sin while we have received his righteousness. As Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). And again Paul states in Philippians 3:9, my hope is to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Therefore, Luther now knew that we are justified not by our works and merits but rather by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide).

With this breakthrough, Luther would write like a madman in 1520. First, he published To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, calling into question the authority of the pope, as well as the pope’s exclusive right to interpret Scripture and call a council. Second, Luther published The Babylonian Captivity of the Church where he argued that God’s gift of righteousness is received by faith and therefore Rome is in error to claim that divine grace only comes through the priest’s distribution of the sacraments (which Luther argued were limited to two rather than seven). Third, Luther published The Freedom of a Christian, dedicated to Pope Leo X, whereby he positively put forth the sweet exchange, namely, that our sin is given to Christ while Christ’s righteousness is credited to us.

Here I Stand

In 1520 the pope issued a bull (decree), calling Luther’s teaching a “poisonous virus,” demanding that Luther recant in 60 days or be excommunicated. After 60 days Luther publicly burned the pope’s bull, exclaiming, “Because you have confounded the truth of God, today the Lord confounds you. Into the fire with you!” Luther had declared war. The pope responded with a second bull, excommunicating Luther and his followers.

Typically, at this point, Luther should have been handed over for execution. But Friedrich the Wise demanded a hearing before a German court. In 1521 Luther was summoned to Worms for an imperial council before Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. At Worms, on April 17, 1521, Luther was told he must recant. After thinking it through for a day, Luther returned and declared:

Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, plain and unvarnished: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. May God help me. Amen.

The next day the verdict was out; the emperor determined that Luther was indeed “an obstinate schismatic and manifest heretic.” On his voyage home, Luther was suddenly kidnapped by men with swords and bows. Was Luther murdered? The German painter, Albrecht Dürer grieved in his diary, “O God, if Luther be dead who will proclaim the holy gospel so clearly to us?” But Luther had been kidnapped by friends, not enemies. Friedrich the Wise had orchestrated Luther’s safe escape to the Wartburg Castle. Nevertheless, Dürer’s words demonstrate that nothing less than the gospel itself was at stake in Luther’s stand before the emperor, and this same gospel would now change Christianity forever.

Does Reformation Theology Matter Today?

Does Reformation theology matter today? Absolutely. It is tempting to think of the Reformation as a mere political or social movement. In reality, however, the Reformation was a fight over the gospel itself. The reformers argued that God’s free and gracious acceptance of guilty sinners on the basis of the work of Christ alone is at the heart of the gospel. While the political and social context has changed since the 16th century, nevertheless, this issue remains at the forefront. Much could be said as to why, but here are two reasons as to why the Reformation matters today.

First, for Luther justification by faith alone is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today, however, many question and outright reject the centrality of justification. Take the late Clark Pinnock, for example, who attributes Luther and subsequent Protestants’ hangup with justification to fear of a wrathful God. Consequently, Pinnock says, “the legal dimension has dominated our thinking about salvation” (Flame of Love, 155). While the legal dimension is important, it is “not necessarily the central motif.” Justification is just one step on the way to transformation. Therefore, it “is not the principal article of all Christian doctrine, as Luther claimed.”

What is Pinnock’s alternative proposal then? “Being saved is more like falling in love with God.” In fact, Pinnock says, “legal thinking  and the doctrine of justification are not as prominent in the Bible as we have made them.” And here is the kicker: “Luther’s rediscovery of justification was important for himself and for 16th-century reforms, but it is not as central for us, and not even for an astute interpretation of Paul’s theology.”

But God’s justification of the ungodly is at the very center of Paul theology (Rom. 4:5). This is why the gospel is such good news! The news is so good because not only has Christ died and risen again (Acts 2:22-36), but now we have the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). No wonder Paul can say that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for “in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” Therefore, Luther’s awakening after reading Romans 1:17 was essentially a gospel awakening. To divorce justification from the gospel is to ignore our basic human predicament: how are we, as guilty sinners, to find favor before a holy God? Clearly this was the question in Paul’s mind when he concluded, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

Second, there is a strong push in our present day either to return or join with Rome. The most notable example of returning in our present day is Francis J. Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, who resigned from his presidency in 2007. While stating that he hopes his Catholic brothers will resist triumphalism, he unequivocally stated, “I, of course, believe that Catholicism is in fact true in all its dogmatic theology, including its views of scripture, ethics, church authority, ecumenical councils, etc.” (Return to Rome, 12).

Others argue that evangelicals and Catholics, while remaining distinct, can now join together in light of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Joint Declaration on Justification. Many believe the rift between Protestants and Catholics has been at least substantially resolved. Hence Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s book, Is the Reformation Over?. (See Scott M. Mantesch, “Is the Reformation Over? John Calvin, Roman Catholicism, and Contemporary Ecumenical ConversationsThemelios, August 2011.)

But as Michael Horton has recently argued (and R. C. Sproul before him), the Reformation is far from over. “There has been no material change in the Roman Catholic position on the issues that led to the excommunication of the Reformers. Even the Joint Declaration overcame the central doctrine of controversy only by embracing a Roman Catholic definition of justification as forgiveness and actual transformation (i.e., sanctification).” Rome continues to reject the evangelical affirmation of justification by grace alone through faith alone. I agree with Horton when he states that it is not about Luther; it is about the gospel.

While many other challenges to Reformation theology could be identified, these two examples sufficiently demonstrate that Reformation theology continues to be at the center of discussion. Many younger evangelicals are embracing Reformation theology today. But the challenge we will face lies in how to defend Reformation theology to light of new ideologies that seek to undermine its credibility. I believe that the linchpin in the effort to defend and apply Reformation theology today can be found in the simple truth made so clear by Luther himself—namely, that the gospel itself is at stake, just as it was in the 16th century. To abandon Reformation theology is to abandon the gospel.

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  • http://theologiansinc.wordpress.com/ Joshua

    ‘To abandon Reformation theology is to abandon the gospel.’

    You have got to be kidding. The Gospel is not Reformed theology – Reformed theology contains the gospel, just like any other theological system.

    • http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

      Read the quote you cited again, Joshua. I don’t think anyone has ever called Luther a Reformed theologian—at least not accurately.

  • George Claud

    No one said “Reformed Theology” as in Calvinism. This article is on “Reformation Theology” – Any Christian whose faith descends from Protestantism believes in the basic Theology of the Reformation. By Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone, with Scripture alone, to the Glory of God alone.

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  • John

    I’m with Josh on this one. I read the article because of that phrase being used in the tweet pertaining to the article.

    I’m growing more and more weary of our Reformed camp. “Gospel” is becoming a trend more than a reality, anything non reformational all the sudden becomes a black or white gospel issue as if the two were one in the same, etc..

    The movement has garnered too much momentum from the young and restless and has since begun to act as such.

    • Gabe

      Spot on.

  • Jim


    Reread the article and then reread the comments above: This is about Reformation doctrine and not REFORMED doctrine. I.e. all Reformed theologians accept Reformation theology, but not all adherents of Reformation theology (protestants) necessarily accept Reformed theology.

    • John

      I understand. It is particularly bad in the reformed circle, indeed. However, though there is most certainly a difference between reformed and reformational, very few who aren’t in the former know much about or tout the latter.

      you don’t hear the charismatic movement talking about us needing to head back to the purity of reformational theology. the methodist circles don’t do it either. the ones who do are generally the reformed baptists and presbyterians.

      the starkness of the final statement of the article seems to do nothing less than completely ostracize our catholic brethren and certainly a few others in the process—and by ‘ostracize’ i mean remove them from the gospel family, aka damn them.

      • Benjamin Ledford

        I’m afraid the break has already been made. At the council of Trent our catholic brethren denied justification by faith and declared that any who disagreed would be anathema, aka damned them.
        They also declared that their doctrines were henceforth unreformable, and they have never repented for or retracted that statement.
        When they declared that those who teach and believe the gospel of grace and disagree with the church would be damned to hell, and that their position can never change, they removed themselves from the gospel family.

        • John

          benjamin, thanks for the response.

          the fact that they play that game doesn’t necessitate us to. the catholic church has hence backpedaled, at least in some ways, on that stance. their ecumenical efforts in recent years has seemingly been much more thorough—one could say also say gospel-esque—than our own.

          further, there is quite a fine line between a deep (and right!) desire to get the understanding of justification as right as possible and necessitating that accuracy by tethering it to actual inclusion within the body of Christ.

          getting it right is hugely important, but making it so primary makes us completely wrong in the process

          • http://justaftersunrise.wordpress.com Stan McCullars

            making (understanding of justification) so primary makes us completely wrong in the process.


            If a correct understanding of justification is not of primary importance, please tell us what is.

            • John

              seriously, stan. i’m not sure why it’s so surprising that people may not equate the entirety of the gospel into a word/concept that is a means of describing a portion (albeit a crucial portion) of the gospel. it is a part of the whole, not the gospel itself. we can’t conflate all salvific pictures, concepts, and points into justification and then use it synonymously with the gospel.

            • http://justaftersunrise.wordpress.com Stan McCullars

              You acknowledge that justification is a crucial portion of the gospel and that getting it right is hugely important.

              Sounds like you would agree that getting it wrong would result in a different gospel.

              In my judgment it does and thus it is something of primary importance.

              For the record, I have never heard anyone suggest that justification by faith is the entirety of the gospel.

            • John

              stan (couldn’t reply any further in the thread), what i’m getting at is that there are gradations of error. outright rejection of a justifying God and a people in need of justification puts a person on thin ice at best. but what that doesn’t mean is that people who aren’t completely precise or accurate with their articulation are now ousted from saving grace. sovereign grace is just that, despite precision. undoubtedly the further off someone is the more it could be seen/argued that grace wasn’t there to begin with.

              even so, my point is that saying “to abandon Reformation theology is to abandon the gospel” is, in my estimation, extremely unhelpful. it’s not as if no one up until the reformation didn’t have the gospel. it’s not as if those who don’t know of the reformation don’t therefore know the gospel. “to abandon major tenants of the reformation” would perhaps be a better (albeit less attention grabbing for purposes of drawing a crowd to the blog :p) way of putting it.

              this then inevitably means that even those with a different understanding of justification (such as our catholic friends) can be included in God’s family, since, after all, “justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone,” we say; not “by faith alone in ‘justification-by-faith-alone.'”

              busy at work, can’t continue the discussion. blessings to you stan, and to all-

            • http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

              You probably know, John, that the Reformers were keen students of the Church Fathers. Luther found Augustine to be a particularly helpful guide as he discerned the meaning of Romans 1:17. The world is never without the witness of Christ. However, the Church as represented institutionally in Rome during Luther’s day—for that matter, any churches in our own day—are certainly and sadly capable of losing the insights into the gospel that Luther rediscovered.

            • http://justaftersunrise.wordpress.com Stan McCullars

              I disagree with you as does Rome.

              Rome understands the difference between justification as taught by Rome and Protestants to be of such an extreme that both camps cannot be in the Kingdom. Rome thinks Protestants are damned. I think they have it backwards.

            • http://levmarcinko@hotmail.com Lev

              Luther did rely on church Fathers, but unfortunately it was only the Western Fathers. He should’ve reviewed the totality of the historical Church on the matters he sought to reform. Eastern Christians had rejected Roman Catholicism 500 years before Luther. Luther should’ve moved further East in his thinking on justification. Followers of the tradition Luther helped father and followers of the pope may damn one another, but that doesn’t mean either necessarily understands justification.

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  • Susana

    For those of us who are no longer terribly young, tired of being restless, and realizing that “reformed” carries a lot of extra-biblical cultural baggage, I highly recommend anything by Kevin Vanhoozer, and Richard Twiss’s One Church Many Tribes as an example of Vanhoozer’s “catholic principle.”

  • Steven Tyra

    Did Luther teach a purely forensic doctrine of justification? An increasing number of scholars, including many Lutherans, don’t think so. You’ll search in vain for the sharp division between sanctification and justification in his writings. Justification is about union with Christ, out of which both legal remission and positive growth in Christlikeness flow. Luther declines to construct an ordo salutis which demarcates sharply between the two, as the Reformed tradition does.

    Which begs the question: Can we really talk about one Reformation “theology?” The truth is, there are Reformation theologies. Which means there’s a spectrum of acceptability.

    Luther has been caricatured by the Neo Reformed. Fortunately, the strawman can’t withstand sustained engagement with the actual texts.

    Moreover, you can’t talk about Luther’s view of justification without placing it in its sacramental context. The justifying act by which you take hold of Christ is the real presence in the Lord’s Supper. Luther would (and did) condemn the Reformed understanding of the Gospel as satanic, precisely because the Zurich theologians failed to grasp the intimate connection between sacrament and justification. By the way, he was also certain that those who denied baptism to infants were Satan’s ministers, again because they failed to understand the article concerning justification–its wholly gracious character, which extends even to those who are not fully conscious of it yet.

    If you don’t subscribe to Luther’s view of the sacraments, then you are not fully an heir to his doctrine of justification. You may claim influence. But to appeal to one Reformation “theology” apart from the sacramental context is a farce. Luther himself, if he were here, would repudiate Baptists and most Reformed churches in America today (those that essentially have a Zwinglian view of the sacraments).

    As for penal substitution, an interesting quote from the Tischreden:

    “‘The devil slays us all, for the Scripture states that he causes death and is the author of death. Satan put God’s son to death.’

    The doctor’s wife said, ‘Oh no, my dear Doctor! I don’t believe it!’

    ‘Then the doctor said, ‘Who would love our Lord God if he himself had a mind to kill us? He won’t be a murder because he commanded, You shall not kill. If our Lord God wanted to kill me, it wouldn’t matter inasmuch as I can expect good neither in heaven nor on earth… Everything that God makes he creates for life. He created things that they might be, and called into being things that didn’t exist, as if they did. This means that life belongs to God’s purpose.'” (Luther’s Works 54: 146).

    • http://theologiansinc.wordpress.com/ Joshua

      Good points RE the Sacraments and the divisions between justification and sanctification. I’ve actually been talking to an Eastern Orthodox believer about these very things – I reject imputed righteousness completely, for what it’s worth, as well as penal substitution as the main point of the Gospel, and also the satisfaction theory of the atonement that goes with that, so I doubt I’ll find too many like-minded folks here. Although Lutheranism isn’t too terribly far from a lot of Eastern Orthodox thought, which is cool, since I’m going to a Lutheran church right now (though I’m not Lutheran).

      • Steven Tyra

        I mean, is this purely forensic language?

        Commenting on Galatians 2:20, “Nevertheless, I love; yet not I, but Christ lives in me”:

        “I as a person distinct from Christ, belong to death and hell. This is why he says, ‘Not, but Christ lives in me.’… Living in me as he does, Christ abolishes the Law, damns sin, and kills death; for at his presence all these cannot help disappearing. Christ is eternal peace, comfort, righteousness, and life, to which the terror of the Law, sadness of mind, sin, hell, and death have to yield. This attachment to him causes me to be liberated from the terror of the Law and sin, pulled out of my own skin, and transferred into Christ and into his kingdom, which is a kingdom of grace, righteousness, peace, joy, life, salvation, and eternal glory. Since I am in him, no evil can harm me. Meanwhile my old man remains outside and is subject to the Law. But so far as justification is concerned, Christ and I must be so closely attached that he lives in me and I in him” (Luther’s Works, 26: 167).

        Only if you have presupposed that Luther MUST teach only a forensic doctrine could you ignore the strongly participationist and ontological language here. We are justified through union with Christ. There is certainly a legal aspect, but that aspect does not exhaust the mystery of the Unio cum Christo at the heart of Christian life–guaranteed to us by the sacrament of his body and blood.

  • http://levmarcinko@hotmail.com Lev

    I think we could toss out the Reformation from history entirely and still the gospel would remain. Neither Luther nor the Catholics, nor the two combined, represented all of Christian thought in 1520. In fact, Eastern Christians had rejected Catholicism 500 years before Luther. Sadly, Luther was largely ignorant of Eastern Christianity.

    Scripture says, “man is justified by works and not by faith alone,” in the book of James. I personally find it hard to believe that someone who literally believes that has “lost the gospel.” That is so ridiculous even Luther couldn’t bring himself to believe it. However, he instead effectively removed the Christian book of James from Holy Scripture! (not a good move!)

    The truth, I believe, is that Paul only taught that we are justified through faith apart from works of the law. “The law” he referred to is the old testament regulations, what Paul calls the “written code.” Paul never taught that justification is apart from any and all actions. Almost no one taught that until about, well, 1520.

    • http://levmarcinko@hotmail.com Lev

      P.S. – That being said, despite its monumental failings in the “Sola Fide” department, on the positive side of things the Reformation did bring a lot of needed attention to doctrines surrounding the sufficiency of Scripture. All Christians throughout history, it seems, have shown an enormous tendency to create their own rules and elevate the too highly in their ethos. Ironically, even many churches in the “Reformed tradition” have fallen down the same path. For instance the Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and other “conservative Protestant” regulations that have sprouted up around alcohol, dancing, sex and whatever else throughout the years.

  • http://christusvictoratonement.wordpress.com Ryan Mahoney

    There is a problem with your contention that the legal metaphor of justification is the center of the gospel. Prior to Luther the church simply did not have this understanding and interpretation of gospel and justification. The fourth century was dominated with a theosis model of salvation and gospel, and it was this understanding that drove them to the particular Christological formulation of Chalcedon that I am sure you hold as at least minimally helpful in your theology.

    Augustine would certainly would have had much to say to Luther about his conception of justification as well. You may not consider Augustine’s opinion worthwhile but Luther and Calvin sure did, even as they parted ways with him on this issue.

    While Pinnock may not have a fully satisfying account, others in the modern period are adding to or correcting a purely Luther/Calvin interpretation of gospel/justification. See McKnight’s latest release “The King Jesus Gospel” as an example.

    • http://theologiansinc.wordpress.com/ Joshua

      Well, most of early Christianity was focused on the narrative form of Scripture and understanding it in that context, as opposed to trying to pin everything down to doctrines – the Orthodox Church still doesn’t really have lots of tight doctrines pertaining to justification, simply because they never had the problems the western church had. Maybe they have it right…

    • Steven Tyra

      I agree. I would only add (See my post above) that there is a difference between the Luther of history and the Luther of the current polemics. He is a much more complex figure than many realize. I’m writing my ThM thesis on him at the moment, and keep turning up Latin and German sermons in the Weimar Ausgabe that make me stop and say, “Wait, that’s Luther?!” Great men often get caricatured by history. Reducing Luther to a purely forensic understanding is one such caricature.

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  • Jacob Rodriguez

    A few thoughts regarding Reformation and/or Reformed theology in relation to the rest of Historical Christianity:

    The Reformers did draw heavily from the Church Fathers. Granted, Luther drew mainly from the Western sources, but Calvin also interacted with Chrysostom, the Cappadocian Fathers, and others. It is also very important to note that Erasmus’ translation of Irenaeus rediscovered an apostolic father who had gone relatively unnoticed for more than 500 years. Calvin and the other Reformers drew heavily from Irenaeus, and covenantal theology can be found in seed form in Irenaeus. Also, the crucial distinction between God’s essence and God’s energies is a key theological position that Reformed theology gleaned from early Eastern Christianity.

    Thus, Reformation theology interacted with several currents of Historical Christianity (Western and Eastern). The Reformers’ articulation of the gospel is a gift to the Church. They set a good example for us by going back to the sources (Hebrew OT, Greek NT), learning from those who have gone before (apostolic, ante-nicene, post-nicene), and maintaining a humble epistemology (distinguishing between God’s essence and energies). The Reformers are not the only ones in Church history who have properly articulated the gospel. But their work had a compiling, summarizing, correcting, and reviving effect, such that we enjoy the fruits of their labors today whenever we hear the gospel properly preached. When one hears the gospel preached in a Wesleyan, Methodist, Pentecostal, Mennonite, or any other tradition that does not claim heritage in the “Reformed” camp, they are still in some way indebted to the work that the Reformers did, just as the Reformers were indebted to those who came before them (to be fair, the eastern streams of Christianity–Ethiopian Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox–etc., are expressions of Historical Christianity going back to Nicea, yet they have no influence from Reformation theology).

    In view of this history, I think Christians in the “New Reformed” camp can legitimately rejoice in what the Reformation did for the sake of the gospel, and those outside the camp should recognize this. However, those within the New Reformed camp should always be careful of tribalism and should follow Calvin’s example of interacting with other streams of Historical Christianity. In my personal journey, I have been sincerely blessed by TGC’s revival of Reformation sources–this has given the millenials a biblically-centered gospel core to cling to, and it has connected us to a Church movement that goes beyond the past 200 years of our American evangelicalism.

    In summary, if the gospel is preached anywhere, let us rejoice! Abandon the Reformation’s commitment to biblical truth and the gospel essentials passed down through Church History, and yes, you abandon the gospel.

    P.S. I have found Vanhoozer’s and Horton’s works very helpful in the area of grasping Reformation theology while interacting with other Christian streams.

    • http://christusvictoratonement.wordpress.com Ryan Mahoney


  • JJ Sherwood

    And that would be…?

  • Philip

    I liked the article but the last sentence (To abandon Reformational theology….”) was fingernails on a chalkboard. I’m a layman raised in deep Pentecostalism, who’s ventured to dispensational revivalism, then to reformed theology. Everyone’s comments have been very helpful to me by highlighting theology from a broad Historical Christianity context from its many streams, while still appreciating the contributions of specific streams. The symphony orchestra sounds much richer than just the woodwind section.

  • JJ Sherwood

    Anyone know the source of the Luther quote at the beginning of this post?

    • http://levmarcinko@hotmail.com Lev

      Martin Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel, ed. & trans Theodore G. Tappert (Philadephia, 1955), pages 88-89.

      • JJ Sherwood

        Thank you Lev

        • http://levmarcinko@hotmail.com Lev

          Thanks. Good question.

          • JJ Sherwood

            Lev, I have actually come across that this is a quote from the Luther movie, which is adapted from a quote, but not the actual original. I looked up your source on Google books, but that must be a different publisher. Thoughts?

            • http://levmarcinko@hotmail.com Lev

              Yeah, I saw a lot of people saying it was from the Luther movie too. However, a commenter on one Christian site I found in the depths of the interwebs gave the above citation. I verified that the book exists at google books. However, the “preview” ended at page 87, just before the page cited, so I couldn’t actually verify it 100%. I apologize if it is incorrect; I don’t own the book myself.

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  • Michael Swart

    The great Methodist hymn writer, Charles Wesley, articulated what the Reformation rediscovered, the Gospel of God’s grace, in a magnificent hymn:

    And can it be that I should gain
    An interest in the Savior’s blood?
    Died He for me, who caused His pain—
    For me, who Him to death pursued?
    Amazing love! How can it be,
    That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
    Amazing love! How can it be,
    That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

    When I think of the rest of this hymn and of the Reformation, I would certainly not wish to go back to the time before the Reformation with its tragic ignorance of the Scriptures and neglect in preaching the Gospel.

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