On The Reformers

MartinLuther-2400pxI’m not a big Reformation nerd or anything; I don’t have a “Happy Reformation Day” t shirt, I’ve never dressed up as Martin Luther, and I haven’t read The Institutes. I’m like…the king of reading selections.

But I’ve read enough to be acquainted with these guys, and with what they did. For me, initially discovering and reading the Reformers came at a time when I really needed someone to speak to what they spoke to. So really, my love for the Reformers is largely an autobiographical thing, and I wanted to just pay a small tribute to how much they have helped and encouraged me. And whenever I recommend reading this stuff, it’s with a hope for this to happen to others.

I first started reading Luther and Calvin in about 2003, because I had started to wrestle with some deeper theological questions: the problem of evil, God’s sovereignty VS man’s will (and how “free” our will is), how does someone actually get saved from their sin…a lot of the typical toughies. And I was on a trajectory at the beginning of all this, toward a rejection of anything Reformed in nature, and to an embrace of an Arminian soteriology.

I had a good friend at the time, a newer believer, who had been wrestling with the same questions, and had been directed by someone else to read Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and some others (Van Til, Bahnsen…some of the newer guys too) right away. We worked together too at the time, and he started coming in, asking things like, “Have you read Luther?? He talks about this…” and he’d have a printout of the excerpt.*

So if it wasn’t for that friend, and if it wasn’t for the Reformers he brought in for us to read, I really don’t feel like I would’ve been able to answer those questions at that critical time. Luther, Calvin, and others came in at the clutch moment, with voices very much alive from five hundred years ago, to build on our faith. And they helped us see new depth in Scripture – that was the best thing. Truly, I think of Luther and Calvin and I think of what they point out in Scripture, not of what they themselves were all about.

And as I read these guys along with a freshly ignited study of Scripture in my college years, I loved the sense of theology happening  in the midst of, and as a necessary part of real life and real struggles. You read Luther’s Commentary on Galations or Calvin’s Institutes, and you have deep theological study that really, really matters to the lives of the writers. They have real stakes in the game. It’s not just heady scholasticism for them; they’re writing pastorally and with urgency, because their study of God and Scripture matter for everything. It’s life or death for them. And that helps me love studying God and Scripture too, because this study is always life or death.

Lastly, on an even more personal note. Luther and Calvin let me to read Knox, whose writing is aflame with Gospel-urgency and joy as much as the others. And these all brought me later to Spurgeon, who is probably the pastor/writer from the past who is most dear to me. We named our son Haddon, after Charles Haddon Spurgeon, which I hope stands as a testimony to the line of God’s good providence running through our family’s story. God has used these reformed writers to drive my wife and me to Scripture, and whom, in spite of prominent imperfections, edify in their example of adoring and trusting Christ. We talk about “always reforming,” or “semper Reformanda,” which, if done in a truly helpful way, simply means calling each other to return over and over again to the pure Gospel. The Reformers, read rightly, really only care about this.

But anyway, enough for now. Listen to Luther bringing us to Christ in his Galations commentary:

“On the question of justification we must remain adamant, or else we shall lose the truth of the Gospel. It is a matter of life and death. It involves the death of the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world. If we surrender faith in Christ, as the only thing that can justify us, the death and resurrection of Jesus are without meaning; that Christ is the Savior of the world would be a myth. God would be a liar, because He would not have fulfilled His promises. Our stubbornness is right, because we want to preserve the liberty which we have in Christ. Only by preserving our liberty shall we be able to retain the truth of the Gospel inviolate.

“Some will object that the Law is divine and holy. Let it be divine and holy. The Law has no right to tell me that I must be justified by it. The Law has the right to tell me that I should love God and my neighbor, that I should live in chastity, temperance, patience, etc. The Law has no right to tell me how I may be delivered from sin, death, and hell. It is the Gospel’s business to tell me that. I must listen to the Gospel. It tells me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me.”

 

*I have to credit Monergism.com here, without which in 2003 my buddy and I wouldn’t have had a place to find so many grand works from the Reformers all collected in one place. There will be a special reward in Heaven, I think, for whoever started that website.

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Read And Listen To Biographies – It’s Biblical

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

About a month ago I finished Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, which gave me a fresh reminder of how important biographies have been for my faith. I was thinking to myself that I really haven’t read many biographies in book-form – just a handful. And I wondered why I haven’t read more, since I always get so much from them. But as I was thinking about it I realized I also needed to lump all of the John Piper biography lectures I’ve listened to into the group. Which got me thinking about how much those have formed me over the past 6 or 7 years.

Someone told me about Piper’s biographies about 7 or 8 years ago, sometime in the year before my wife and I got married. These things weren’t as popular as they are now, and not as many people knew they were all online for download. I think the first one I listened to was Piper’s talk on John Calvin – it hooked me, and I had to listen to these as often as I could.

I’ve listened to most of the lectures at this point (except for a couple), and some are better than others. But I have to say, I remember quite a bit from all my listens. Piper’s lectures taught me how the grace of God has worked in the lives of all of these great figures of the Church – how they all read the same Scriptures, and knew the same triune God, and how they went through the same trials and griefs of the Christian life. And the importance of getting to know biography and history from the Church can’t be understated. Hebrews 11 lists describes the lives of saints who have gone before us, and for the same reasons. The writer of the book tells us that since we’re surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, run the race with intensity. We’ve seen God work so faithfully and prove Himself sure and true so many times, we press on to the day Christ comes for His Church with full assurance and joy. Even through the blasting fires of suffering.

I love knowing so many faithful saints have gone before, and that they prove God’s promises to always hold onto His people. A good Christian biography should put all the emphasis on God’s faithfulness, not our own. And it’s good to build up and strengthen our faith by knowing the lives of other saints, to build that strong foundation for when God ordains suffering for our own lives.

So I thought I’d list off the couple Piper biographies that have really been  a special help to me, and why. I hope you have a chance to give them a listen.

John Newton

1. John Newton

I’ve listened to this one all the way through about 5 or 6 times at least, at home, at the gym, on runs, and in the car. This lecture is great for 2 big reasons:

  1. The intense, aggressive way God worked His grace in the life of Newton. His life makes me appreciate afresh God’s saving grace that came to me too.
  2. What it means to be a shepherd, and to be both tender and tough as we lead and minister in the family of God. Newton had a great balance of these two things.

2. Charles Spurgeon

I’ve been listening to this one over and over at the gym currently. Spurgeon is called the “Prince of Preachers,” and was such a great pillar of the Faith, but he dealt with severe slander from others, and intense depression and sickness. But he had a joyful, Calvinistic outlook on his trials. He believed that the good that God worked in his life because of trials was incalculable. It’s so helpful to know other great men and women of the faith dealt with the same difficulties we do, and worse.

J. Gresham Machen

3. J. Gresham Machen

Machen was a Calvinist who came to this theological position in some unique ways, and had some really unique things to say about it. And Machen stood firm as a biblical, Calvinistic, Doctrines of Grace type of Christian when Modernism was taking over Western culture, and seeping into the Church. This one’s very relevant for our current trends in American culture.

Thomas Cranmer’s Scripture-Centered Corporate Worship

Today is the 546 year anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, a saint burned at the stake in Oxford England. You can read a great article about him over at The Gospel Coalition here.

I’ve read about him in a few different places, and to commemorate the day, here’s a quote by Mark Ashton,  about Cranmer’s faithful, Scripture-centered ministry:

“[Cranmer] put the Bible at the center of church services in order to change lives. It is the task for latter-day Anglicans [and all Christian pastors] to follow in the footsteps of Cranmer by creating church services that reach out to our contemporaries as effectively as his services did.”

And how do we reach out to our contemporaries? Not by being flashy personalities, by adapting the hottest new technology in our church services, or by being tolerant of sin. We reach out to our contemporary culture by “putting the Bible at the center of church services.” We stay committed to being people of the Word, because only the Word of God will change us and others.