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Reformation Studies: A Rediscovery of the Gospel

Greg Strand – September 15, 2017 2 Comments

October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses

There are a number of excellent resources that have been published in conjunction of this anniversary. I include a couple of those resources below, which you ought to consider using if you are interested in pursuing the Reformation further for adult Sunday school classes or small groups.

Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths That Shape the Christian Life (six-week video series with an accompanying workbook/study guide)

Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths That Shape the Christian Life is a new Bible study examining the five core truths that came from the Reformation—often called the solas. Group members will explore these essential convictions of the faith and emerge more immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The solas include:

• Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone)
• Sola gratia (by grace alone)
• Sola fide (through faith alone)
• Solus Christus (through Christ alone)
• Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

Ideas That Changed the World: The Four Key Gospel Truths and People of the Reformation (four-week video series with accompanying workbook/study guide)

Around 500 years ago a momentous change was spreading across Europe—a change that has become known as the Reformation.

At the heart of the Reformation were four ideas and four leaders. The ideas: faith alone, grace alone, Bible alone and Christ alone. The leaders: Luther, Calvin, Tyndale and Cranmer.

In this course we will travel together to Wittenberg, Geneva, London, Antwerp and Oxford to see the massive impact of the four key Reformation ideas: that we are saved by grace alone (by God’s gracious initiative in Jesus); that salvation is made available to us through faith alone (not by us being good enough); that we know God through the Bible alone (and not through any church authority); and that we can pray to the Father through Christ alone (and not through the saints).

This was the topic/theme of last year’s Theology Conference: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA

2017 is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, what traditionally is known as the beginning of the Reformation. We join the celebration in giving thanks to God for this rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our emphasis will be on the theology of the Reformation and its ongoing historical legacy, with a specific focus on the biblical gospel of grace, rediscovered by the Reformers (Luther referred to himself and the movement as Evangelicals, not Protestants), and its impact historically on the EFCA.

I encourage you to consider using these excellent resources as well. Ask someone to join you in this study. Listen to the messages individually, and then come together to discuss them. You can do this with one other, or consider doing it as an elder board.

In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is sponsoring an international conference devoted to the Reformation and the Ministry of the Word on its campus on September 14-15.

The Reformation was a dynamic renewal movement unleashed by God’s powerful Word that changed the face of western Christianity. The conference will explore the Bible’s transformative impact on the theology and ministry practice of Protestant churches then and now.

Speakers include Timothy George, Kevin DeYoung, Michael Horton, David Dockery, Jung-Sook Lee, David Luy, Scott Manetsch, and Michael Haykin.

All are welcome and warmly invited. For more information and registration, please see here.

As we inform you of this excellent conference at TEDS, it also provides another opportunity to remind you of our EFCA Theology Conference earlier this year in which we also focused on the 500th anniversary of the posting of Luther’s 95 theses: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA All of the recordings of messages and other resources are located on the website.

I encourage you to consider using these resources in order to learn about and to prepare for the celebration of the Reformation. One option is to listen to them and learn. Another option is to listen to the messages with others and then share and discuss what you learned or what was challenging to you. This would also be a great resource for an elder study this fall.

The heart of the Reformation, Protestantism, Evangelicalism, and the EFCA is found in Theses 1 and 62:

Thesis 1: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.

Thesis 62: The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is foundational to everything. And the first manifestation of the gospel in one’s life is repentance and humility.

Although the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville is history, the implications of the rally have carried on. Ripples and reverberations have continued. In the wake, many questions have been raised, and many have been awakened or reawakened to the racism that still exists. This was blatant. This event has also caused one to ask the question about whether or not there is implicit racism within, and what must be done about that in light of the one new humanity in Christ created by the gospel.

I stated a couple of weeks ago, if people were unfamiliar with the alt-right before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, most now know. The alt-right exemplified blatant racism, consisting of white nationalists, white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis, and other racists. As I wrote then, I repeat again: the alt-right is anti-God and anti-gospel.

Below I have compiled some of the specific responses to the alt-right, along with a brief summarizing quote from the author. The first and third resources explain who and what the alt-right is. Carter’s, the first, is a brief FAQ, while Ashford’s, the third, is a helpful and insightful four-part series.

The second listed resource is a 30 minute interview Mark Galli, CT, has with George Hawley, the author of the forthcoming book, Making Sense of the Alt-Right.

The fourth, and final, resource consists of the specific statements made in the SBC Resolution “On The Anti-Gospel Of Alt-Right White Supremacy.”

I read an article today in which the author, who has followed the alt-right for some time and written about it extensively, claims that the alt-right “seems to have changed irrevocably after the parade of Nazis and the killing of an anti-racist protester in Charlottesville, Virginia.” Although the author does not state what has “changed irrevocably,” I assume the movement, as little as it is, was seen for what it is, and most have been repulsed by its message and behavior. It would be a good thing, a gift from the Lord, if it would cease to exist. Our prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) reflects that reality.

I include these resources because it is important to be educated, informed and equipped to respond to these kinds of movements that undermine and deny basic biblical truths and the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Joe Carter, The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About the Alt-Right

The alt-right—short for “alternative right”—is an umbrella term for a host of disparate nationalist and populist groups associated with the white identity cause/movement. The term brings together white supremacists (e.g., neo-Nazis), religious racialists (e.g., Kinists), neo-pagans (e.g., Heathenry), internet trolls (e.g., 4chan’s /pol/), and others enamored with white identity and racialism.

The alt-right seems to have a particular disdain for gospel-centered Christianity. . . . Some on the alt-right (such as Vox Day) claim that Christianity is a “foundational pillar” of the movement. But what they mean by Christianity is often a heretical form (Day rejects the Trinity) a racialized version of the faith (e.g., the Kinist movement), or “religion as culture” (Spencer says he is both an atheist and a “culture Christian.”). The true religion of the alt-right is white identitarianism, which is why the SBC accurately considers it an “anti-gospel” movement.

At the core of the alt-right movement is idolatry—the idol of “whiteness.” In building their identity on shared genetic traits the alt-right divides humanity and leads people away from the only source of true identity: Jesus Christ.

The alt-right is anti-gospel because to embrace white identity requires rejecting the Christian identity. The Christian belongs to a “chosen race” (1 Peter 2:9), the elect from every tribe and tongue (Rev. 7:9).

CT’s Quick to Listen Podcast (30 minutes), What the Alt-Right Tells Us About Christianity and Politics

“The alt-right is now mostly ignoring the religious question,” said George Hawley, the author of the forthcoming book, Making Sense of the Alt-Right. “That sets it apart from earlier far-right movements. Obviously, the KKK presented itself as an explicitly Protestant movement. … The alt-right seems to be of the view that Christianity is becoming marginally irrelevant, at least in American politics, and as such, it seems to be largely avoiding the subject.”

Hawley joined assistant editor Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli on Quick to Listen this week to discuss the true influence and popularity of this community, its connection—or lack thereof—with Christianity, and what role the church could play in fighting its message.

Bruce Ashford’s four-part series, An Evangelical Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right

[This] serves as a sort of evangelical conservative’s guide to the alt-right. The series summarizes alt-right ideology, profiles its leadership, answers frequently-asked questions, provides a theological critique of the alt-right, and applies that critique to American politics.

The alt-right movement is neither Christian nor conservative, but it claims to be conservative and often claims to be Christian. That fact, taken together with its emergence as a significant voice in American politics and public life, should cause Christians to educate themselves about the movement and be prepared to give a gospel-centered response. I hope this four-part series will be helpful toward that end.

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 1): Introduction to Alt-Right Ideology

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 2): A Profile of 5 Alt-Right Leaders

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 3): A Response to FAQs about the Alt-Right

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 4): An Evaluation of the Alt-Right

We should fight racism tooth and nail, from the pulpit, the press room, and the public square.

In his wisdom, God caused his Son—our Savior—to be born in a Middle Eastern Jewish body. Christianity sprouted in the Middle East, but from there, Christianity exploded into Asia and North Africa, and to Europe and North America, and now, finally, across the face of the earth. One day our Savior will return to consummate his reign as the righteous king. He will be worshiped by a vast multitude of humanity, unique in their ethnic heritages but unified in their religious identity as children of the King.

Until that time, the church’s task is to serve as a preview of that coming kingdom. We can do so by recognizing that our primary identity is religious (referring to Christ, the object of our worship) rather than racial (referring to our ethnic heritage, or combination of ethnic heritages); by affirming that God creates all people in his image and likeness; by declaring that God’s Son shed his blood on behalf of the whole world; and by loving and valuing our “neighbor” even when our neighbor is ethnically different.

SBC Resolution: On The Anti-Gospel Of Alt-Right White Supremacy

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

On this date, July 26, 1833, three days before William Wilberforce died, friends informed him that a bill to abolish slavery had passed its second reading in Parliament, which meant it would pass.

Wilberforce, in reply, stated, “Thank God, that I should have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give twenty millions sterling for the abolition of slavery!”

Wilberforce had virtually given his entire life in Parliament working for the abolishment of slavery in the British Empire, 40 years and up until his retirement in 1825. When he retired, his goals had come short. He would have to wait another 8 years to experience its abolishment.

Lessons: (1) Gospel-centered ministries and missions are right, and they are worth giving our lives to. (2) Although all gospel-centered ministries are right, some are called and gifted to lead the way as theses ministries are undertaken, while all are to be engaged in one way or another. (3) Many of the ministries to which God calls us will live long after we have completed our ministries, and some long after we have been ushered into glory, which means it is important we are and remain grounded in the gospel, and we have a longer view of God’s work in the world.  

Wilberforce had not always been opposed to slavery. His conversion was the ground of this change. In fact, after his conversion he wondered if politics was the best arena in which to serve the Lord. Through the help and guidance of others, including John Newton, he believed it was indeed a place he could and would serve the Lord. Although slavery was not the only issue he took up in Parliament, it was one of the most important.

Lessons: (1) Being given new life, one receives a new heart, which results in new loves – loving what God loves – and new hates –hating what God hates, new passions and new callings. (2) Although the vocational calling may be the same as prior to one’s new spiritual birth, the motivation changes. It is no longer personal kingdom building. Instead, everything one does is done in the power and strength God provides, and it is done by his grace and for his glory, leaving an aroma of Christ. (3) When we both give and receive counsel, remember God calls first to himself, captures the converted, and then pours them out to serve in his name and for his glory. For Christians there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, as everything one does is as onto the Lord, all done in his name, by his grace and for his glory, which includes vocational ministry in the church and vocational ministry outside the church.

One of those providing counsel to Wilberforce was John Wesley. In 1791, a mere week before his own death, he counseled Wilberforce regarding the call, cost and compulsion to work toward the abolishment of slavery, writing,

Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Encouragement and Exhortation: May we commit and recommit to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News, and may we also commit and recommit to its entailments, racial reconciliation, a manifestation of the gospel.

“He is risen!,” exclaims one. “He is risen, indeed!, responds another.

This is a traditional Christian greeting. One exclaims the glorious statement of fact, a truth that has gripped and transformed them, “He is risen!” This is followed by a response from another that reflects the same glorious transformation, “He is risen, indeed!”

This greeting is grounded in the historical truth of Jesus’ resurrection. The hope that this expression exudes is grounded in Jesus’ first words to the gathered disciples, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:19). Before explaining the significance of this expression, which is both theologically rich, and experientially life-transforming, it will be helpful to recount the events of this “first day of the week” (the day after the Jewish Sabbath, and a statement which reflects this is an early account of the resurrection, since after the resurrection, this day was referred to as “the Lord’s Day,” cf. Rev. 1:10), this day on which Christ was raised, the day we know as Sunday.

  • Early in the morning, a few women discover the empty tomb (Matt. 28:1-7; Mk. 16:1-7; Lk. 24:1-7; Jn. 20:1).
  • The women depart from the garden and inform the disciples (Matt. 28:8-10; Lk. 24:8-11; Jn. 20:2).
  • Peter and John run to the tomb and discover it is empty (Lk. 24:12; Jn. 20:3-10).
  • Mary returns to the tomb and meets the resurrected Jesus (Jn. 20:11-18).
  • Jesus appears to Cleopas and another with him on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35).
  • That evening, Jesus appears to the disciples, minus Thomas, in a house in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:36-43; Jn. 20:19-23).

In recounting what occurred on this day of Jesus’ resurrection, John describes these events. It began “early” with the discovery of the empty tomb (Jn. 20:1-10) and Jesus’ appearance to Mary (Jn. 20:11-18). And then “on the evening of that day” Jesus appeared to the disciples (Jn. 20:19-23). Because Thomas was not with the disciples at this time, and when informed of this appearance of Jesus by the other disciples, he would not believe. John records that “eight days later” when the disciples were gathered, this time with Thomas, Jesus appeared to them again (Jn. 20:24-29). This led to Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28)!

With this larger context of John’s recounting of the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection in mind, I return to the evening of the day in which Jesus was raised. John writes, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (Jn. 20:19). This word is key in this first encounter with Jesus. Jesus reiterates this statement, saying “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (Jn. 20:21). And then, “eight days later,” when Thomas is now with the other disciples, not having been with them in their first meeting with Jesus, he, once again, meets them in a similar manner and says, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:26). In light of the disciples’ fears on the evening of this resurrection day, Jesus’ words of peace refer immediately to their present situation. He reassures them in the midst of certain and real fear of the Jews, they ought to be at “peace.” This is not the first time Jesus mentions peace.

Earlier in the Gospel, John records Jesus saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). Jesus gives peace unlike any peace offered by and experienced in the world. Based on the peace Jesus offers, our hearts are not to be troubled or afraid. Jesus reiterates this teaching post-resurrection. Later, Jesus declares, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Once again, Jesus promises to them peace – peace in the midst of tribulation. The reason is because he has overcome the world. Now when Jesus meets with the disciples on the evening of the first day of the week, the day in which Jesus resurrected, his first words are “Peace be with you.” Not only are they uttered as a culmination of Jesus’ previous teaching. They are also filled with meaning because of his death-burial-resurrection.

Jesus last words from the cross and the first words to his disciples are connected. It only makes sense that the last words of Jesus, “It is finished,” which reflect the completion of the earthly work Christ came to accomplish, are followed immediately after the resurrection with “Peace be with you.” The death-burial-resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ground by which sin, our defiance and rebellion against God, is addressed (Gen. 2:16-17) and his wrath is propitiated (Rom. 3:21-26). Faith is the means by which this completed, finished work of Christ is received in our lives. That is, if we truly understand Jesus’ final words from the cross, we then ought to expect that Jesus’ first words to the disciples would be “Peace be with you.”

G. R. Beasley-Murray, a New Testament scholar, captures the essence of this truth in the following statement:

It is well known that that was (and still is) the everyday greeting of Jews in Palestine – ‘Shalom to you!’ But this was no ordinary day. . . . Never had that ‘common word’ been so filled with meaning as when Jesus uttered it on Easter evening. All that the prophets had poured into shalom as the epitome of the blessings of the kingdom of God had essentially been realized in the redemptive deeds of the incarnate Son of God, ‘lifted up” for the salvation of the world. “His ‘Shalom!’ on Easter evening is the completion of ‘It is finished’ on the cross, for the peace of reconciliation and life from God is now imparted. ‘Shalom!’ accordingly is supremely the Easter greeting. Not surprisingly it is included, along with ‘grace,’ in the greeting of every epistle of Paul in the NT.

It is finished . . . Peace be with you. These two historical statements are rich with theological truth, and essential for our new life in Christ. The peace pronounced and accomplished by Jesus in the New Testament is the fulfillment of the shalom promised in the Old Testament.

Shalom, according to one, is “one of the key words and images for salvation in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound. In the New Testament, shalom is revealed as the reconciliation of all things to God through the work of Christ. . . . Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being – physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows form all of one’s relationships being put right – with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.” Although there is some overlap with how this term is understood outside of Christianity, there is a unique use of the term due to the death-burial-resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In essence, what makes this unique, concludes one, is “the offended party (God) initiates the process of reconciliation with his enemy. It is not humans who approach God to make peace, but God who reaches out to humanity. . . . it is by means of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ that peaceful relations between God ad humanity can be effected.” It is emphasized in the Aaronic blessing/doxology in the Old Testament, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Num. 26:24-26), and the person and work of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, “he himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).

On this day in which we remember and celebrate this peace we have received, we ultimately worship the One who brought this peace, Jesus Christ, who is the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), and is himself our peace (Eph. 2:14ff). Here are a few implications of Jesus’ completion of his earthly work (“it is finished”) and the peace he brings (“peace be with you”).

First, we have peace with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).

Second, we have peace with one another. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:14-17).

Third, we live lives marked by the peace of God and the God of peace. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. . . . What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me– practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:5b-7, 9).

Finally, we live with the certainty of future, ultimate peace (shalom). “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20).

Dear friends, on this day we remember and worship Christ, confessing he is “My Lord and my God!”

Peace be with you!