4 MYTHS THAT KEEP COLLEGE STUDENTS FROM JOINING A CHURCH

4 Myths that Keep College Students from Joining a Church; 10.19.2017

by Jim Davis; 9 Marks Ministry

It’s more than a month into the semester and some first-year college students are narrowing down their church search. If that’s you, you’re in a small minority of college students, so well done!

Most church-going college students never join a church during their time away, electing either to retain membership at their old church or not join anywhere. The question they ask is this: If I have community, am mentored, receive Bible teaching, and am engaged in mission, then why do I need to join a church?

If you’re asking that question, then you’re believing some combination of these four myths.

Myth #1: There’s no real benefit in church membership.

Church membership isn’t simply a name on a piece of paper—and if that’s how your church views membership, it’s time to look for a new church. Church membership is clarifying to the leaders of the church who it is that God has placed in their care. Hebrews 13:17 teaches church leaders that they have a special responsibility for those in their care, a responsibility for which they will be held accountable.

Now, local churches should certainly want to care for anyone inside their relational circles, especially those who are suffering. But the responsibility toward church members is different. For one, it’s not just a reactive caring, but a proactive one. If you’re a member of a church, you’ll have people proactively walking with you and thinking about ways you can be equipped for a lifetime of following Jesus.

At our church (and others in our town), the college students who join will be known, prayed for regularly, and equipped in a way that we simply can’t do with everyone. Not to mention the free meals and career advice!

Myth #2: Membership at my church back home is enough.

Simply put, 99% of the time your home church can’t care for you the way a church in your college town can. How can they when they don’t see you for months on end?

I appreciate the emotional attachment many students (and parents) have for the church in which they grew up, but I’m almost certain your pastor back home will agree with me: You should join a church where you live.

Myth #3: I get everything I need from my campus ministry.

I was in campus ministry for nine years, and the church I pastor now was started by Cru staff. I have a deep appreciation for campus ministry. I know the student ministry leaders at our local university and can say with 100% assurance that they agree with me in saying that their ministry is no substitute for the local church.

Campus ministries are vital to universities. If they were to disappear tomorrow, churches would hopefully act quickly to recreate them. They provide students with Christian friendships, tools to engage the campus well in evangelism, and contextualized teaching at a crucial juncture in life. But they don’t connect you to the larger, more diverse body of believers.

The church’s goal is to equip college students to be fruitful in the post-college world. While plugging into a campus ministry can be a vital part of that mission, it’s never the whole part. A campus ministry doesn’t baptize, serve communion, or practice church discipline—or at least it shouldn’t. College students need to be around people younger than 18 and older than 25. After all, while it’s great to be invested in by an upperclassman, the advice you’ll get from someone in their 20s is quite different than someone in their 40s, 50s, and older.

On top of that, the local church loses out if we don’t have you. College students bring life into a church. They bring energy, excitement, world vision, and optimism that would otherwise be lacking. If you believe Myth #3, then we both suffer.

Myth #4: I’ll worry about that after college.

Here’s the main problem with this: you won’t. Overwhelmingly, students who are plugged into a campus ministry but not a church don’t go on to join a church after graduation. At least not until they have children.

The habits we develop in college are often true for the rest of our lives. Church is no different. The reasons students don’t join a local church during college are the same reasons they don’t join after graduation. But there’s one big difference: there aren’t any campus ministries and their spiritual lives begin a downward spiral.

Students who appreciate the local church will become graduates who appreciate the local church. They’ll also be on the fast track to becoming leaders in their churches and making the difference they dreamed of in college.

CONCLUSION

I recently had the pleasure of leading a new member class with college students and will be introducing them soon to our church as new members. Each time we recognize a college student as a new member, the maturity of that decision is seen, felt, and greatly appreciated.

Do you want to faithfully follow Christ during your college years? Then join a church.

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WHO SHOULD TEACH YOUR CHILDREN-HARVEY OR HILDEBRAND by Carl Trueman

As the Harvey Weinstein scandal rumbles on, it is clear that no amount of money donated to liberal causes will purchase him a “get out of jail free” card. Even in an amoral age such as ours, sexual assault can prove an unforgivable sin.

There is, of course, an irony in this. Hollywood has done as much as any cultural institution to demystify sex and turn it into a recreational activity. That is the consistent message of many of its movies. Yet in the Weinstein debacle, Hollywood’s most powerful players are implicitly acknowledging that they have promoted a lie, because sex is more than a game.

It is not just the lack of consent that makes Hollywood types, and all the rest of us, regard sexual assault as so heinous. We instinctively know that to slap someone’s face without their consent, unpleasant as that may be, is not as traumatic as to rape them. Sexual assault is deeply significant because, pace Hollywood, sex is deeply significant, and intrinsically so—and no amount of pop-culture trivialization can remove this stubborn fact. We can be grateful that Hollywood’s great and good are now acknowledging it. Whether it will make any difference to their future products remains to be seen, but I have my suspicions.

While one expects Hollywood to have a naïve and reductionist view of sex—that’s what sells, after all—it is worrying that the same appears more and more true of conservative Christians. Over the years, I have had many pastoral conversations with traditional Protestant and Evangelical friends, which demonstrate that they generally understand sex to be something reserved exclusively for a man and a woman joined in matrimony. So far, so good. But the conversation then frequently turns to something like this: “You’re a pastor. So if we’re married, what do you think we can get away with?”

That question is a poker tell, revealing a whole philosophy (or lack thereof) of sex. It helps explain the disastrous success among Evangelicals of Mark Driscoll’s ghastly book on marriage, with its advocacy of various forms of sexual deviance. To frame such a question is to show that one has bought into the wider world’s view of the matter. Such people do not really disagree with the culture’s view of what sex is. They merely quibble over who can engage in it and with whom. Sex is for them, as for their secular friends, a form of recreation. Yes, the rules for Christians are that the game can only be played by two people who are joined in a lifelong bond. But other than that, the game is the same as you find in the culture that surrounds us.

In the long term, this is disastrous. First, it makes sexual ethics arbitrary and therefore unstable. The question of why the game should be restricted to just two players, and that for life, becomes impossible to answer with any degree of conviction or coherence. Second, it highlights the great weakness in much thinking (or lack thereof) relative to sexual ethics: The nature and meaning of the act is treated in isolation from much broader questions. The question of what sex is for cannot be divorced from questions about what the body is for, and questions about what the body is for cannot be divorced from the deepest question of all: What are people for?

Dietrich von Hildebrand set these questions at the heart of the lectures now published as In Defense of Purity. Reading these lectures, one realizes how much of later Christian thinking about sex finds its source here, in the distinction between the body’s unitive and procreative aspects. And one realizes how much we have lost in our perennial concern with symptoms rather than deeper causes. We lament the trivialization of sex but fail to see that it derives from the collapse in our understanding of purity. And as Hildebrand argues, purity is a positive virtue, not to be confused with chastity or celibacy. Purity is life lived out in the conscious reverence of God and all that he has created. In such a life, sex is not a human right but rather the unique act that binds one man together with woman before God alone.

In our day, however, Hildebrand’s work poses another challenge. He took it as basic that sex is both significant and mysterious. As noted above, even in our “sex as recreation” era, its significance is still acknowledged in the fact that sex crimes are considered by society to be among the most heinous. If any good has come from the crimes of Weinstein, it is in the fact that the champions of sex as recreation are being forced to contradict the philosophy of their own artworks.

The mystery is now all but lost, as many teenage boys have today seen more naked female bodies than their grandfathers saw in a lifetime. How is it to be restored? That is the question that faces us today and to which it would appear there are no obvious answers.

One way, of course, would be for the movers and shakers in our world—the Hollywood moguls, for example—to use their influence to reshape popular mores, to stop presenting sex as mere recreation and then hypocritically lamenting the fact that people like Harvey Weinstein apparently believe they can act on what they preach. Perhaps, however, a more hopeful way would be to start local, for parents to model the beauty of marriage before their own children, to show forth the mystery of that true love which is not dependent upon looks or youth and which lasts throughout the years, constituted by selfless and sacrificial self-giving to another. That is the love that provides the context for pure sex. The question, “So what can we get away with?,” becomes irrelevant.

Hildebrand’s book sets before us a beautiful vision of how true sex is pure sex and can only be understood as such when set within the broader framework of life as a whole. The alternative? Outsourcing sex education to whoever succeeds Harvey Weinstein, I guess. Which, in a sane world, would result in a report to the Child Protection Agency.

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Carl R. Trueman is William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion in Public Life at the James Madison Program at Princeton University.

WHY THE REFORMATION STILL MATTERS by Michael Reeves

Why the Reformation Still Matters

None of the goodness or relevance of the Reformation’s insights have faded over the last five hundred years.

Written by Michael Reeves | Friday, October 20, 2017

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Europe had been without a Bible the people could read for something like a thousand years. Thomas Bilney had thus never encountered the words “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Instead of the Word of God, they were left to the understanding that God is a God who enables people to earn their own salvation.

Last year, on October 31, Pope Francis announced that after five hundred years, Protestants and Catholics now “have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” From that, it sounds as if the Reformation was an unfortunate and unnecessary squabble over trifles, a childish outburst that we can all put behind us now that we have grown up.

But tell that to Martin Luther, who felt such liberation and joy at his rediscovery of justification by faith alone that he wrote, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Tell that to William Tyndale, who found it such “merry, glad and joyful tidings” that it made him “sing, dance, and leap for joy.” Tell it to Thomas Bilney, who found it gave him “a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy.” Clearly, those first Reformers didn’t think they were picking a juvenile fight; as they saw it, they had discovered glad tidings of great joy.

Good News in 1517
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Europe had been without a Bible the people could read for something like a thousand years. Thomas Bilney had thus never encountered the words “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Instead of the Word of God, they were left to the understanding that God is a God who enables people to earn their own salvation. As one of the teachers of the day liked to put it, “God will not deny grace to those who do their best.” Yet what were meant as cheering words left a very sour taste for everyone who took them seriously. How could you be sure you really had done your best? How could you tell if you had become the sort of just person who merited salvation?

Martin Luther certainly tried. “I was a good monk,” he wrote, “and kept my order so strictly that I could say that if ever a monk could get to heaven through monastic discipline, I should have entered in.” And yet, he found:

My conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, “You didn’t do that right. You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.” The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more daily I found it more uncertain, weaker and more troubled.

According to Roman Catholicism, Luther was quite right to be unsure of heaven. Confidence of a place in heaven was considered errant presumption and was one of the charges made against Joan of Arc at her trial in 1431. There, the judges proclaimed,

This woman sins when she says she is as certain of being received into Paradise as if she were already a partaker of . . . glory, seeing that on this earthly journey no pilgrim knows if he is worthy of glory or of punishment, which the sovereign judge alone can tell.

That judgment made complete sense within the logic of the system: if we can only enter heaven because we have (by God’s enabling grace) become personally worthy of it, then of course no one can be sure. By that line of reasoning, I can only have as much confidence in heaven as I have confidence in my own sinlessness.

That was exactly why the young Martin Luther screamed with fear when as a student he was nearly struck by lightning in a thunderstorm. He was terrified of death, for without knowledge of Christ’s sufficient and gracious salvation—without knowledge of justification by faith alone—he had no hope of heaven.

And that was why his rediscovery in Scripture of justification by faith alone felt like entering paradise through open gates. It meant that, instead of all his angst and terror, he could now write:

When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.”

And that was why the Reformation gave people such a taste for sermons and Bible reading. For, to be able to read God’s words and to see in them such good news that God saves sinners, not on the basis of how well they repent but entirely by His own grace, was like a burst of Mediterranean sunshine into the gray world of religious guilt.

Good News in 2017
None of the goodness or relevance of the Reformation’s insights have faded over the last five hundred years. The answers to the same key questions still make all the difference between human hopelessness and happiness. What will happen to me when I die? How can I know? Is justification the gift of a righteous status (as the Reformers argued), or a process of becoming more holy (as Rome asserts)? Can I confidently rely for my salvation on Christ alone, or does my salvation also rest on my own efforts toward and success in achieving holiness?

Almost certainly, what confuses people into thinking that the Reformation is a bit of history we can move beyond is the idea that it was just a reaction to some problem of the day. But the closer one looks, the clearer it becomes: the Reformation was not principally a negative movement about moving away from Rome and its corruption; it was a positive movement, about moving toward the gospel. And that is precisely what preserves the validity of the Reformation for today. If the Reformation had been a mere reaction to a historical situation five hundred years ago, one would expect it to be over. But as a program to move ever closer to the gospel, it cannot be over.

Another objection is that today’s culture of positive thinking and self-esteem has wiped away all perceived need for the sinner to be justified. Not many today find themselves wearing hair-shirts and enduring all-night prayer vigils in the freezing cold to earn God’s favor. All in all, then, Luther’s problem of being tortured by guilt before the divine Judge is dismissed as a sixteenth-century problem, and his solution of justification by faith alone is therefore dismissed as unnecessary for us today.

But it is in fact precisely into this context that Luther’s solution rings out as such happy and relevant news. For, having jettisoned the idea that we might ever be guilty before God and therefore in need of His justification, our culture has succumbed to the old problem of guilt in subtler ways and with no means to answer. Today, we are all bombarded with the message that we will be more loved when we make ourselves more attractive. It may not be God-related, and yet it is still a religion of works, and one that is deeply embedded. For that, the Reformation has the most sparkling good news. Luther speaks words that cut through the gloom like a glorious and utterly unexpected sunbeam:

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. . . . Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.

Once Again, The Time is Ripe
Five hundred years later, the Roman Catholic Church has still not been reformed. For all the warm ecumenical language used by so many Protestants and Roman Catholics, Rome still repudiates justification by faith alone. It feels it can do so because Scripture is not regarded as the supreme authority to which popes, councils, and doctrine must conform. And because Scripture is so relegated, biblical literacy is not encouraged, and thus millions of poor Roman Catholics are still kept from the light of God’s Word.

Outside Roman Catholicism, the doctrine of justification by faith alone is routinely shied away from as insignificant, wrongheaded, or perplexing. Some new perspectives on what the Apostle Paul meant by justification, especially when they have tended to shift the emphasis away from any need for personal conversion, have, as much as anything, confused people, leaving the article that Luther said cannot be given up or compromised as just that—given up or compromised.

Now is not a time to be shy about justification or the supreme authority of the Scriptures that proclaim it. Justification by faith alone is no relic of the history books; it remains today as the only message of ultimate liberation, the message with the deepest power to make humans unfurl and flourish. It gives assurance before our holy God and turns sinners who attempt to buy God off into saints who love and fear Him.

And oh what opportunities we have today for spreading this good news! Five hundred years ago, Gutenberg’s recent invention of the printing press meant that the light of the gospel could spread at a speed never before witnessed. Tyndale’s Bibles and Luther’s tracts could go out by the thousands. Today, digital technology has given us another Gutenberg moment, and the same message can now be spread at speeds Luther could never have imagined.

Both the needs and the opportunities are as great as they were five hundred years ago—in fact, they are greater. Let us then take courage from the faithfulness of the Reformers and hold the same wonderful gospel high, for it has lost none of its glory or its power to dispel our darkness.

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© 2017 Tabletalk, the magazine of LIGONIER MINISTRIES.

WHERE DOES ULTIMATE AUTHORITY LIE ? by R. C. Sproul

Where Does Ultimate Authority Lie?

FROM R.C. Sproul Oct 18, 2017

 

There is a science in theology and in biblical studies that we call hermeneutics. It is the science of biblical interpretation. It teaches objective principles and rules that govern our treatment of the text, lest we turn the Bible into a piece of clay that we can shape and form for our own desires, as the Pharisees did. At the heart of the science of hermeneutics in Reformed theology is the regula fidei, or “the law of faith,” which says that no portion of Scripture must ever be set against another portion of Scripture. The first assumption here is that all of Scripture is the Word of God. The second assumption is that God does not speak with a forked tongue, that what He reveals in His Word is always consistent. It is sometimes said consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. If that adage is true, we have to say that the tiniest mind to be found is the mind of God. However, I believe consistency is the sign of clarity of truth, and God’s Word is consistent with itself.

For a glaring example of pitting one portion of Scripture against another, we need look no farther than Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. When Satan tried to seduce Jesus, he quoted Scripture to Him. He took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and dared Him to leap off, saying, “He shall give His angels charge over you,” a quotation from Psalm 91:11 (Matt. 4:6). He was saying to Jesus: “Throw Yourself down. Nothing bad will happen because God has promised that His angels will catch You.” But Jesus replied, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God’ ” (Matt. 4:7; Deut. 6:16). Jesus said: “Satan, you’re violating the rule of faith. You’re operating with a poor hermeneutic. You’re setting Scripture against Scripture. The Bible says I am not to tempt God. If I am to be obedient to that dictum, I cannot acquiesce to your suggestion.” He did not allow Satan to tempt Him to act on one verse of Scripture ripped from the context of the entire Word of God.

That is the kind of thing Jesus was dealing with in His dispute with the Pharisees and scribes. Their traditions were opening all kinds of loopholes to permit people to get out from under the clear teaching of the truth of God. For this reason, He said, they were “making the word of God of no effect through [their] tradition” (Mark 7:13).

The biggest theological controversy in church history was the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. On the surface, it seemed as if the whole controversy was about one doctrine—justification by faith alone, which is the gospel itself. When Martin Luther was brought into disputes with the princes of the church, they reminded him that his understanding of justification was not the traditional understanding, that the church long had explained justification in different categories. But Luther simply said: “Here is what the Bible says. My conscience is held captive by the Word of God. I must submit to Scripture, not to man-made traditions.” So, the secondary issue was the question of authority.

Where does ultimate authority lie? Is it in the Scriptures alone or is it in the Scriptures and tradition? If it is in both Scripture and tradition, tradition trumps everything by giving the binding interpretation of Scripture. So, for all practical purposes, there are not really two sources of authority, Scripture and tradition, but one, tradition, which becomes more important than the Word itself.

I do not understand how any sentient creature could read the New Testament teaching, particularly Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans about justification, and draw from it anything that resembles the Roman Catholic doctrine, which is based on tradition. But it is not only Roman Catholics who fall prey to this problem. We all do. We all tend to give our traditions more weight than Scripture. It is easy for us to look back and say, “Shame on the Pharisees,” “Shame on the rabbis,” or “Shame on the medieval theologians of Rome.” But we need to look no farther than our own hearts. The final arbiter of all theological and moral debates must be the Word of God.

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This excerpt is adapted from the Saint Andrew’s Expositional Commentary on Mark by R.C. Sproul.

 

THE TRAUMA OF HOLINESS by R. C. Sproul

The Trauma of Holiness

This holy God inspires far greater trauma in those whom He encounters than any natural disaster

Written by R.C. Sproul | Saturday, October 14, 2017

“Martin Luther and the other Reformers understood the holy character of this God. For them, the recovery of the gospel was such good news because they knew the trauma of holiness and that the only way to endure the presence of this holy God’s judgment is to be covered in the holiness and righteousness of Christ.”

As we read the works of nineteenth-century atheists, we find that they were not particularly concerned to prove that God does not exist. These atheists tacitly assumed God’s nonexistence. Instead, they said that after the Enlightenment, now that we know there is no God, how can we account for the almost universal presence of religion? If God doesn’t exist and human religion is not a response to the existence of God, why is it that man seems to be incurably homo religiosus—that man in all of his cultures seems to be incurably religious? If there’s no God, why is there religion?

One of the most popular and famous answers was the argument offered by Sigmund Freud. As a psychiatrist, Freud knew that people are afraid of lots of different things. Such fears are understandable, as there are all kinds of things in our world that represent a clear and present danger to our well-being. Other people can rise up individually in anger and try to murder us, or they may unite and attack us on a grand scale in warfare. But in addition to the human sphere of fear and danger, there’s also the impersonal realm of nature, particularly in previous ages when people did not have the protection against the natural world that we enjoy in this world of modern technology. Though natural terrors still strike us with fear at times, in the past people were exposed in a greater way to storms, famines, and floods. When diseases such as cholera or the plague could wipe out entire populations, life seemed more fragile and nature seemed more threatening.

Today we perceive that science has the responsibility of somehow taming the unruly forces of nature such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and fires. And in many ways, science has been successful in helping us prevent natural disasters from doing their worst and in helping us recover quickly after nature assaults us. But, Freud said, the ancient man’s dilemma was how to deal with these things when their destructive impacts were much worse and harder to recover from. You can talk to a human attacker, sign a peace treaty with a foreign power, or otherwise negotiate your safety with people who might threaten you, but how do you bargain with disease, storms, or earthquakes? These forces of nature are impersonal. They don’t have ears to hear. They don’t have hearts to which we can appeal. They have no emotions.

So, Freud argued, religion emerged as humans personalized nature and made it something they could negotiate with. Human beings invented the idea that natural disasters were inhabited by personal spirits: a storm god, an earthquake god, a fire god, and gods related to various sicknesses. These gods wielded natural forces to cause disaster. Having personalized these dangers, human beings could apply the techniques that we use to negotiate with personal hostile forces to the impersonal forces of nature. We could, for example, plead with the storm god, pray to the storm god, make sacrifices to the storm god, repent before the storm god in order to remove the threat. Eventually, human beings consolidated all the gods into one single deity who was in control over all these forces of nature and then pleaded with him.

I’m fascinated by Freud’s argument because it’s a reasonable explanation for how people could become religious. It is possible, theoretically, that there could still be religion even if there were no God. We know that we are capable of imagining things that don’t really exist. In fact, the Bible is replete with criticism of false religion that invents idols.

Yet there’s a difference between possibility and actuality. That what Freud said is possible doesn’t mean that it actually happened that way. The major hole in his theory is this: If Freud’s theory is true, why, then, was the God of the Bible “invented”? This holy God, we see in Scripture, inspires far greater trauma in those whom He encounters than any natural disaster. We see, for example, how even righteous Isaiah was completely undone by meeting the God of Israel face-to-face (Isa. 6:1–7). Well-meaning Uzzah was struck dead when trying to steady the ark of this holy God (2 Sam. 6:5–10). Peter, James, and John at first saw the revelation of Christ’s deity and their hearing of the Father’s voice not as a blessing but as a terror (Matt. 17:1–8).

Why, to redeem us from the threat of trauma, would we invent a God whose character is infinitely more threatening than anything else we fear? I can see humanity inventing a benevolent god or even a bad god who is easily appeased. But would we invent a holy God? Where does that come from? For there is nothing in the universe more terrifying, more threatening to a person’s sense of security and well-being than the holiness of God. What we see throughout the Scriptures is that God rules over all of the threatening forces that we fear. But this same God, in and of Himself, frightens us more than any of these other things. We understand that nothing poses a greater threat to our well-being than the holiness of God. Left to ourselves, none of us would invent the God of the Bible, the being who is a threat to our sense of security more primal and more fundamental than any act of nature.

Martin Luther and the other Reformers understood the holy character of this God. For them, the recovery of the gospel was such good news because they knew the trauma of holiness and that the only way to endure the presence of this holy God’s judgment is to be covered in the holiness and righteousness of Christ. Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation, the church desperately needs men and women who understand the trauma of God’s holiness, for in understanding that holiness we see that the gospel is the only thing that can give us confidence that when we meet this God face-to-face, His holiness will embrace us and not cast us into eternal judgment. May God in His grace grant to all of us a renewed vision of His majestic holiness.

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This article first appeared in TABLETALK magazine.

 

10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY by Scott Swain

10 Things You Should Know about Systematic Theology

October 08, 2017

by: Scott R. Swain

 

  1. Systematic theology exists because the God who knows and loves himself in the bliss of the Trinity is pleased to make himself an object of creaturely knowledge and love through holy Scripture.

 

Theology in its essence is “wisdom”—a knowledge that is ordered to love (practical wisdom), and a love that rests in knowledge (contemplative wisdom). More specifically, theology is wisdom about God and all things in relation to God.

This wisdom exists first and foremost in God: God knows and loves himself in the bliss of his triune life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 11:27; 1 Cor. 2:10–11). This wisdom exists secondarily and derivatively in creatures because God is pleased to make us happy by making us friends in the knowledge and love of himself (John 10:14–15; 15:15; 17:3; 1 Cor. 2:12).

Though not the only source for the knowledge and love of God (see Psalm 19; Rom 1-2), holy Scripture is the supreme source for the knowledge and love of God in this life (see 2 Peter 1:16–21). Therefore holy Scripture is the supreme source and norm for the “systematic” study of theology.

 

  1. Systematic theology is a way of studying the Bible that attends to the full scope of biblical teaching.

 

As a discipline devoted to studying and teaching holy Scripture, systematic theology seeks to give heed to the full scope of biblical teaching. Systematic theology does not content itself to focus upon a single biblical author—say, Isaiah or Paul—or a single biblical theme—say, the doctrine of justification. Systematic theology is a discipline that devotes itself to “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

The only way the church truly submits to the Bible’s doctrinal and moral teaching is by submitting to the full scope of the Bible’s doctrinal and moral teaching. Failure to attend to the whole counsel of God “leads to one-sidedness and error in theology and pathology in the religious life” (Herman Bavinck).

 

  1. Systematic theology is a way of studying the Bible that attends to the unity of biblical teaching.

Because God is the primary author of holy Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16), and because God is a God of truth (Titus 1:2), systematic theology seeks to discern the unity, harmony, and beauty of biblical teaching. Systematic theology seeks to coordinate the teaching of various biblical authors across various redemptive-historical epochs and literary genres, and across the Bible’s two testaments, in a way that does not mute or flatten the diversity of biblical teaching but allows it to shine forth in its multi-splendored richness.

Furthermore, systematic theology seeks to coordinate the teaching of holy Scripture with that which may be learned outside of holy Scripture through general revelation, recognizing that, because the Bible is the supreme source of wisdom about God, it plays the role of adjudicator and judge in relation to all lesser sources of wisdom about God.

  1. Systematic theology is a way of studying the Bible that attends to the proportions of biblical teaching.

While systematic theology is a “comprehensive science,” treating God and all things in relation to God, John Webster reminds us that systematic theology is not “a science of everything about everything.” The Bible emphasizes certain things and says very little about other things. The Bible has matters of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3) and matters of secondary importance (Matt. 23:23).

Systematic theology cannot afford to neglect matters of primary or secondary importance (Matt. 23:23). But it must seek to reflect the Bible’s own emphases and priorities in its attention to and presentation of biblical teaching.

 

  1. Systematic theology is a way of studying the Bible that attends to the relationships of biblical teaching.

Systematic theology’s concern with the Bible’s doctrinal and moral teaching includes a concern to grasp the connections or relationships between the Bible’s various doctrinal and moral teachings. Systematic theology seeks not only to understand what the Bible says about “salvation” or “good works.” It also seeks to understand the relationship between “salvation” and “good works” (Eph. 2:8–10). Confusion about the relationships between various doctrines inevitably leads to confusion about the doctrines themselves. The supreme relationship that systematic theology considers is the relationship between God and everything else.

God’s theology—his wisdom regarding himself and all things in relation to himself—is simple and eternal.

  1. A well-ordered system of theology is governed, primarily, by a God-centered organizing principle.

The doctrine of God is the primary doctrine to which systematic theology devotes its attention and to which systematic theology seeks to relate all other doctrines. Systematic theology is God-centered biblical interpretation.

Systematic theology, in this regard, adopts a disciplinary protocol that corresponds to the nature of reality: “all things,” the Apostle Paul instructs us, are “from him and through him and to him” (Rom. 11:36). Systematic theology does not pretend to grasp anything unless it can grasp it in relation to God as Alpha and Omega.

The doctrine of God is therefore not simply the first doctrine in a series of doctrines in systematic theology. The doctrine of God directly informs every topic within a well-ordered system of theology. There is a sense in which every doctrine in systematic theology is part of the doctrine of God. Systematic theology is not so much about creation, providence, salvation, and consummation as it is about God creating, God providentially governing, God saving, and God consummating creation to be the temple of his triune glory. Systematic theology “describes for us God, always God, from beginning to end—God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name” (Herman Bavinck).

 

  1. A well-ordered system of theology is governed, secondarily, by a historical or dramatic organizing principle.

Because systematic theology is concerned with God, it is also concerned with the works of God. “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Ps. 111:2). Systematic theology follows the course of God’s works from his creation of all things out of nothing, through his providential government and care of all things, to his redemption and perfection of creation through the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit.

In its task of tracing the course of God’s works in nature, grace, and glory, systematic theology follows a historical or dramatic organizing principle. Within a well-ordered system of theology, each doctrine is not only traced to God as its author and end. Each doctrine is also coordinated with other doctrines on a dramatic-historical axis from creation to the consummation of the kingdom of God. Systematic theology is God-centered, redemptive-historical biblical interpretation.

 

  1. Systematic theology’s necessary interest in historical theology is more than mere historical interest.

God’s theology—his wisdom regarding himself and all things in relation to himself—is simple and eternal. Our theology—our wisdom regarding God and all things in relation to God—is social and historical. One generation commends God’s works to another, and declares his mighty acts (Ps. 145:4).

For this reason, systematic theology has a necessary interest in historical theology, the study of theology as taught and transmitted through time. Systematic theology cares about the early fathers of the church and the creeds which are the fruit of their ecclesiastical labors. Systematic theology cares about the medieval doctors of the church and the various ways in which by faith they sought to understand the mysteries that God has revealed in his Word. Systematic theology cares about the Protestant Reformation and its confessions and about Protestant orthodoxy and its magnificent systems of doctrinal and moral theology. And systematic theology cares about the Enlightenment and its aftermath, with which it is still coming to grips.

In each instance, systematic theology’s interest in historical theology is not merely a matter of historical interest. Systematic theology’s task is primarily prescriptive rather than descriptive. It is concerned with teaching what the church must believe and do, not simply what the church has believed and done. However, because the church is a social and historical reality, and because the history of theology is also the history of biblical interpretation (Gerhard Ebeling), systematic theology cannot teach what the church must believe and do unless it attends to what the church has believed and done.

The church cannot know what it must confess in our day and age on the basis of holy Scripture unless it knows what the church has confessed in other days and other ages on the basis of holy Scripture.

 

  1. Systematic theology serves practical ends.

The systematic study of God and God’s works as revealed in holy Scripture serves a number of practical ends. By providing a summary form of scriptural teaching, systematic theology makes us better readers of holy Scripture (recall John Calvin’s stated purpose in writing his Institutes of the Christian Religion).

Furthermore, by teaching us to contemplate God and all things in relation to God, systematic theology furnishes the Christian mind with principles for action. Systematic theology informs our faith, teaching us to apprehend God and all things as they really are and to receive all things as gifts from God’s fatherly hand. Systematic theology informs our hope, teaching us to anticipate the fulfillment of God’s eternal kingdom in accordance with God’s promise. And systematic theology informs our love: directing faith and hope to their object in God, we find a light to navigate our path out of the misery of Adam’s race into the bliss of Jesus’s eternal kingdom and to awaken fitting forms of devotion, adoration, and admiration for God, neighbor, and world.

 

  1. Systematic theology also serves contemplative ends and thereby prepares us for our chief end, which is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Though systematic theology serves a number of practical ends, systematic theology’s ends are not exclusively practical. Systematic theology also serves contemplative ends.

As a species of practical wisdom, systematic theology directs love to prudential action in the world. As a species of contemplative wisdom, systematic theology directs love to its supreme and final resting place in the knowledge of God: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). By teaching us to contemplate God and all things in relation to God, systematic theology teaches us to trace all things from, through, and to God, enabling us to give him all the glory (Rom. 11:36), and it directs us to the one in whom alone our thirst for happiness is quenched (Ps. 42:1–2; John 6:35). Systematic theology thus assists us in realizing the chief end of man, which is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

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This post is part of our 10 Things You Should Know blog series.

 

Scott R. Swain (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) serves as president and James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando Florida.

25 BOOKS ABOUT MARTIN LUTHER AND THE REFORMATION

25 books about Luther and the Reformation

by Marvin Olasky October 28, 2017

With the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation coming up on Oct. 31, the hour just before midnight has been my time to read books on Martin Luther and what he accomplished. That timing seemed appropriate because Luther came to understand that Europe, facing internal demoralization and external assault from Islam, faced a very dark night unless beliefs and culture changed.

That time and ours are both different and similar. A powerful and corrupt church no longer dominates Europe. A powerful and corrupt European Union does. Muslim armies are no longer at the gates of Vienna, as they were in 1529. Now, terrorists are within the gates. Most European children no longer die before the age of 5 years. Many die in the womb before the gestational age of 5 months.

 

My goal here is twofold. First, which biography of Martin Luther, from among the many published since January 2015, will give you a sense of the whole person and his key ideas? Second, which books will help you go deeper than the specific flashpoint of “indulgences” that pushed Martin Luther to publish his 95 Theses? This main story highlights 12 biographies, and I’ll explore quickly in sidebars a baker’s dozen of dives into Reformation history and its relevance today.

One of my three favorites among new biographies is Scott Hendrix’s Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer (Yale, 2015), which shows how “separating religion from moralism was Luther’s revolutionary innovation.” Moralistic religion meant designating holy ground, building temples as places to make sacrifices, creating ceremonies, and going through procedures that, when checked off, would guarantee eternal rewards. But Luther said, “True religion demands the heart and the soul, not deeds and other externals, although these follow if you have the right heart. For where the heart is, everything else is also there.”

Hendrix shows that Luther did not want us to feel holy through extra-Biblical ritual. In 1530 he listed 94 practices and customs in a “pretended” church, and particularly criticized feast and fasting days celebrated with special masses, processions, abstentions from food or other activities, and the wearing of ornate vestments. Hendrix shows how Luther’s marriage to former nun Katharina von Bora was a great blessing to both, but did not guarantee happiness for their children: Martin Luther Jr. studied theology but apparently became an alcoholic, boozed with his buddies, and died at age 34.

Hendrix sometimes gets abstract, but Luther’s earthiness does not let him stay above ground level for long. Once, to a friend marrying a woman also named Katharina, Luther wrote, “When you have embraced your Katharina in bed with the sweetest kisses, think also to yourself: ‘My Christ has given me this person, this very best creature of my God; to him be praise and glory.’ I will predict the day on which you receive this letter, and that night in the same way I will love my Katharina in memory of you.”

Another good biography, Heinz Schilling’s Martin Luther: Rebel in an Age of Upheaval (Oxford, 2017), spotlights the importance of a change in Luther’s name. After November 1517 he began signing letters to close friends “Eleutherior,” which means “the free one”—one who had been liberated and would liberate. Like Saul becoming Paul, Martin Luder (the family name) became Martin Luther.

Schilling explains Luther’s most famous two words, “Sin boldly.” Essentially, the more sin, the more trouble and “the sooner one will be ready to place all hopes in Christ alone. … Without awareness of sin there can be no salvation, for without awareness of sin there is no knowledge of grace.” Schilling also makes Luther human: In 1521, as he arrived in Worms and faced the most crucial debate of his life, Luther informed friends back in Wittenberg, “The Lord has afflicted me with painful constipation. The elimination is so hard that I am forced to press with all my strength, even to the point of perspiration, and the longer I delay the worse it gets.”

Schilling’s one flaw is a tendency to mind-read. Regarding Luther in 1517: “The idea that he might be taking on the authority of the pope would not even have crossed his mind.” Regarding Archbishop Albrecht of Brandenburg: “It would never have crossed Albrecht’s mind to respond to the theological content.” Later, “The thought of leading a popular movement … would not have crossed Luther’s mind.” Maybe yes, maybe no, but historians are not mind readers.

Eric Metaxas has just come out with the third of my favorites, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017). It also suffers from mind reading in regard to both Luther and modern readers—“It’s impossible to think that Luther didn’t wonder” or “we can hardly doubt”—but more than makes up for that with delightfully rollicking sentences: “a series of six popes at once so comically bungling and tragically scandalous that it was almost as though this sextet had deliberately placed their collective corruptions in a paper-mache monster, hung it from a tree, and begged an Augustinian monk to take a dozen or so good whacks at it.”

Metaxas also employs metaphors that summarize well the position of Luther’s opponents: They were “unmoored from the rock of the Scriptures … blithely floating down the river toward a great cataract and didn’t seem to notice that they had ever moved. Luther sincerely hoped that somehow he might waken them from their reveries and get them to see their danger so they might paddle to shore before it was too late.” Metaxas is the best storyteller among the Luther biographers.

For those who want a quick introduction, Thomas Kaufmann’s A Short Life of Martin Luther (Eerdmans, 2016) offers truth in titling: Its 146 pages, translated from the German by Peter Krey and James Bratt, belie the rumor that German theology professors always write stuffy tomes. Kaufmann shows the importance of Luther’s writing style: “The pre-Reformation translations of the Bible into German typically imitated Latinate styles, [but Luther said,] ‘We do not have to inquire of Latin letters how we are to speak German. … We must inquire about this of the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common man in the marketplace. We must be guided by their language, the way they speak, and do our translating accordingly.’”

Three other new biographies have more flaws. Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (Random House, 2017) has the vivid and earthy writing Luther himself prized. (Her last sentence provides an example: “He was a man who retained a healthy mistrust of Reason, ‘the whore.’”) Roper emphasizes that Luther “was no killjoy” and “his religiosity had nothing saccharine about it,” but she uses him as a weapon against fundamentalists (as she sees them). Still, I suspect Luther would have enjoyed having her as a dinner guest, preferably roasted.

Brad Gregory’s Rebel in the Ranks (HarperOne, 2017) shows how Luther’s own experience “led him to believe that human beings can’t be the agents of their own moral improvement.” Gregory, though, assumes that Reformation distrust of our own reasoning makes it “hard to see where any persuasive answers about morality and meaning, purpose and priorities can come from.” Actually, it’s not hard to see, and Gregory himself offhandedly offers the answer in three words: The key is to live by what’s “revealed by God.” Modernism emphasized reason, postmodernism is anti-reason, and Christianity offers revelation. Luther knew that we should accept no substitutes.

Craig Harline’s A World Ablaze: The Rise of Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation (Oxford, 2017) has some lively writing but sometimes seems off theologically. For example, Harline writes that Luther was sure “from his own reading of Paul that your nature never changed at all, even after you were justified by God’s grace.” That oversimplifies both Paul and Luther. The Reformer compared justification to receiving a certain remedy for a fatal illness: At that point the Holy Spirit begins to work in us a slow rehabilitation process called sanctification, which leaves us more and more able to resist sin (but never completely, in this life).

Two worthwhile books concentrate on segments of Luther’s legacy. Andrew Pettegree’s Brand Luther (Penguin, 2015) looks at how Luther reformed publishing: “In an age that valued prolonged and detailed exposition, complexity, and repetition, it was astonishing that Luther should have instinctively discerned the value of brevity. Luther in effect invented a new form of theological writing: short, clear, and direct.” Statistics display the explosion. From 1502 to 1516 Wittenberg printers published only eight books a year, all in Latin, most very small. From 1517 to 1546 they published 91 per year, most of them written by Luther or his colleagues and followers.

Richard Rex’s The Making of Martin Luther (Princeton, 2017) focuses on the few years surrounding Luther’s excommunication by Pope Leo X in 1521. At a time when other intellectuals, like Erasmus, were growing more confident about their ability to perceive reality accurately, Luther warred on “arrogant self-reliance” within which a person might think his will is fallen but his intellect was not.

Peter Endig/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP
Tourists stand in front of the doors of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where Luther posted his 95 Theses on Oct. 31, 1517. (Peter Endig/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP)

I’ve concentrated on new publications, but two older ones are particularly helpful and one is not. Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Abingdon, 1950) is vivid, accurate, and still in print many decades after initial publication. Robert Kolb’s Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith (Oxford, 2009) is concise and accurate: Its 256 pages show how Luther abandoned the standard allegorical method of Scripture exegesis and replaced it with a “literal-prophetic” approach. Kolb explains well the connections of law and gospel, passive and active righteousness, and Luther’s theology of the cross. Erik Erikson’s Young Man Luther (Norton, 1962) arrogantly puts Luther on a psychoanalytic Procrustean couch that reduces the Reformation giant to pygmy length.

Up close and personal
After some heavy theological reading, readers wanting a change of pace will enjoy Michelle DeRusha’s Katharina & Martin Luther (Baker, 2017), which takes us into Luther’s marriage. Luther was realistic: “Only one in one thousand could truly and joyfully live a celibate life.” Later, he changed that estimate to 1 in 100,000. In his 1520 treatise To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Luther argued that a pope should “not have the power to prohibit [sex] just as he does not have the power to prohibit eating, drinking, natural secretion or becoming fat.”

Two years later Luther wrote, “Nature does not cease to do its work when there is involuntary chastity. The flesh goes on creating seed just as God created it to do. … Unless there is terrific hunger or immense labor or the supreme grace, the body cannot take it.” So at age 42 Luther married former nun Katharina, 26, and said sex was fine as long as a person “does not make a manure-heap and a sow-bath out of it.” He also helped other nuns to escape from their cloisters, even though abetting the escape of nuns was a capital offense. (German authorities in 1524 beheaded a man for this crime.)

The Luthers’ marriage was complementarian: He wrote and talked while she washed clothes on the banks of the Elbe River and cooked everything from scratch, using almost every part of animals, including the pancreas and thymus glands for sweetbreads. One lunch favorite was “morels,” made by boiling a calf’s lung, dicing it into chunks, and deep-frying in lard.

Luther suffered from many maladies, including kidney stones, chronic ear infections, asthma, dizziness, shortness of breath, and alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation. Katharina nursed him with medieval cures: Ointment of pigeon dung and honey applied warm to painful areas when Luther had kidney stones, but he complained in one letter in 1537, “Your skill doesn’t help me, even with the dung.”

Katharina also handled the household finances, and Luther once wrote, “In domestic affairs I defer to Katie, otherwise I am led by the Holy Ghost.” He had an enormous flow of visitors, and Katharina was in charge of making them feel at home. DeRusha’s summary: “For the 21 years she was married to Martin Luther, Katharina worked 17 hours a day.” As did he. —M.O.

Ten more Reformation books
Here are quick mentions of 10 more books, starting with Reformation 500, edited by Ray Van Neste and J. Michael Garrett (B&H, 2017). Its fine essays include John Wilsey’s “Rembrandt van Rijn: Painter of the Reformation” and Hunter Baker’s “Martin Luther and the Question of Political Quietism.”

Martin Luther in His Own Words, edited by Jack Kilcrease and Erwin Lutzer (Baker, 2017), shows Luther’s anti-ritualism, as in his 1520 work, On Christian Liberty: “It will not profit the body if it is adorned with sacred vestments, or dwells in holy places, or is occupied in sacred offices or prays, fasts, and abstains from certain meats.” Penguin Classics has just come out with a handy Martin Luther: The Ninety-Five Theses and Other Writings, translated and edited by William Russell.

I wonder about the starting point of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s All Things Made New: The Reformation and Its Legacy (Oxford, 2016). He claims, “The old Western Church was not in the terrible state of decay which has formed the foundation of traditional Protestant narratives of the Reformation. … It satisfied most people.” MacCulloch does not provide solid evidence for that statement, nor does he deal with the decay exemplified in Pope Leo X himself. (Luther noted “how openly and shamelessly the pope and the cardinals in Rome practice sodomy.”) For an overall look, Erwin Lutzer’s Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation (Baker, 2016) is much better.

Essays in The Legacy of Luther, edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols (Reformation Trust, 2016), analyze the Reformer’s strengths and weaknesses. Nichols points out Luther’s understanding that our problem is sin, not “sins in the plural. … If sin is quantified, then we look to merits or graces as the remedy.” Steven Lawson shows how Luther’s 1525 tirade Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants was even worse than sticks and stones: At the Battle of Frankenhausen soldiers of nobles allied with Luther slew 5,000 peasants, 300 of them by beheading. David Calhoun rightly bemoans the aged Luther’s “extreme language” in several polemics, including one that reversed young Luther’s welcoming attitude toward Jews: Nazis made murderous use of his late work.

The biggest Luther book of 2017 looks to be the Encyclopedia of Martin Luther and the Reformation—941 large pages edited by Mark Lamport (Rowman & Littlefield). At $250 for the two volumes, its main buyers are likely to be university libraries and large Lutheran churches, with scholars and pastors finding it useful particularly for its biographies of Luther’s colleagues and contemporaries: Some WORLD readers can identify the Reformational roles of Martin Bucer and Heinrich Bullinger, but who among us knows about another half-dozen B’s—Beckman, Berquin, Blarer, Brenz, Budny, and Bugenhagen?

Lots of older books are worthwhile. Carl Trueman’s Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 2000) shows that Reformers emphasized “the identity and action of God,” while “one of the elements which most marks contemporary evangelical piety is the obsession not so much with God as with self.” Testimonies are helpful as long as they emphasize “what God has done for sinners in Christ,” and “Bible studies which never rise beyond the question of what a particular passage means to me or how it has affected my life” are shallow.

I’d also be remiss not to mention a concise book with great writing published in 2010, Michael Reeves’ The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (B&H). For an excellent defense of the key Reformation insight of sola scriptura, the Bible alone, turn to Matthew Barrett’s God’s Word Alone (Zondervan, 2016). And—apologies to the authors whose books I’ve missed. —M.O.

Theologians of the cross vs. theologians of glory
Carl Trueman’s Luther on the Christian Life (Crossway, 2015) depicts Luther as “bombastic, bull-headed, and brilliant,” and emphasizes Luther’s distinction between two kinds of theologians: “The theologian of glory will ultimately not be able to make any sense of this world, for this world ultimately ends for each of us in physical decline, weakness, and death. … The theologian of the cross knows that … life leads inexorably to the grave; … pain and mortality have ironically become the means of strength and power. … The greatest evil that can be inflicted on the body—death—is simply the pathway to resurrection.”

Prosperity gospel preachers are among our contemporary theologians of glory, and Trueman rightly says, “The theologian of glory is always doomed in the end to despair because death is unavoidable and deep down inside he knows that.” So are legalists: Trueman shows how a little Biblical knowledge can be dangerous if it pushes “people to more and greater acts of self-righteousness, as exemplified by the religious orders of Luther’s day. Yet all this activity can ultimately lead only to deeper and deeper despair [until] Christ comes into view and declares forgiveness and freedom.”

Luther also understood the secret of good preaching and counseling when he explained why the Reformation took root: “I did nothing. The Word did everything.” Trueman writes how “the woman whose marriage is falling apart might well think that she needs to go to a church where the sermon series is on ‘putting your marriage back together.’ Luther would disagree. … The most important thing one can hear on a Sunday is not some pep talk on how to have a good marriage. … The most important thing is to understand what God has done in Christ.”

Another book that helps us apply Luther to today is Michael Reeves and Tim Chester’s Why the Reformation Still Matters (Crossway, 2016). They explain that no one tried harder than Luther to earn his own salvation, but he had to learn that “you do not know God because you were cleverer than other people or have greater spiritual insight or spend more time in contemplation. You know God because he has graciously revealed himself to you in the message of the cross. It is an act of grace. … Sunny stories of how basically good we are, so attractive in their cheeriness, are actually terrible, enslaving lies.”

Reeves and Chester point out that in Catholicism “our natural knowledge is supplemented by grace. In modern thought grace is not required. Natural reason alone is sufficient. But the theology of the cross takes sin seriously. Sin has corrupted our reason. We are still rational beings. We are still capable of discovery and invention. But our reason is captive to our sinful desires. … Reason leads us astray because the God revealed in the cross is contrary to human expectations.”

They stress, “Knowledge of God is not found through human wisdom, human powers, or human achievements. It is found in the foolishness of the cross. … Sometimes God assaults us in order to break us. In this light suffering can be seen as a gracious divine gift.” If we try to shelter ourselves or hide from pressures, we have less opportunity to “sin boldly” and less opportunity to learn about our desperate need for God’s grace. —M.O.

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion.