It’s Reformation Day: Trick or Treat?

On All Hallows’ Eve, October 31, 1517, a lowly priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  He ended up with more than he bargained for.

Next October 31 will be 500 years.

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15 Responses to It’s Reformation Day: Trick or Treat?

  1. Jon Hughes says:

    It’s definitely time for a new Reformation 😉

    • TC Robinson says:

      Jon,
      While there have been movements here and there, nothing quite like the Reformation. I wonder why?

      • Jon Hughes says:

        TC,

        It’s less dramatic than 1517, but the Reformation that is currently taking place, certainly within evangelicalism, concerns the question of how we view Scripture itself – and the story it tells – without getting bogged down in the stale modernist arguments about fundamentals, propositional truth, and inerrancy. Peter Enns and N.T. Wright are influential (and controversial, just like Luther!) Reformers here. The gatekeepers will continue to protect boundaries, but I don’t think the momentum of this Reformation can be halted. As the 21st Century progresses, evangelicals will increasingly live with mystery and have less (smug) certainty in doctrinal matters. As opposed to the Reformation 500 years ago, this one will hopefully help to bring the great Christian traditions together.

        By the way, isn’t it ironic that Luther’s Reformation was about justification-by-faith-alone when the only time in Scripture that the words “faith” and “alone” appear together is in James 2:24, which informs us that a man is justified by works and *not* by faith alone? Of course, the great man considered this an epistle of straw and relegated it to an appendix at the back of his translation of the Bible. Suddenly, Enns and Wright don’t seem quite so heretical after all 😉

  2. TC Robinson says:

    Jon,
    I get what you’re saying, but as a student of church history, when we start taking a “low view” of Scripture, we tend to lead to serious liberalism – all of a sudden every doctrine of Scripture is up for discussion and we become amorphous. Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to the creedal and confessional. 😉

    • Jon Hughes says:

      TC,

      The highest view of Scripture is to seek to understand it on its own terms. Peter Enns is right to say that the Bible simply doesn’t behave itself when we try to systematize it and squeeze it into a box. I think “high view” / “low view” terms are misleading, as is the much-maligned term “liberalism”. As a student of church history, you will also know that the way in which Christians have interpreted and understood the Bible has changed quite dramatically on various occasions, not all of it bad. You also know that virtually every doctrine of Scripture is “up for discussion” even among those who *are* committed to inerrancy, which tells its own story.

      Personally, I think it’s time for the shackles to come off.

      • TC Robinson says:

        Jon,
        What shackles?! Consider this: even as interpreters and thinkers have rethought every possible doctrine of Scripture through the centuries, we still can point to those fundamentals that they kept coming back to, concluding that we need these to define who we are. So again, What shackles are you talking about?

  3. Jon Hughes says:

    The shackles of the ‘inerrancy’ of Scripture. I’ve gone into it enough in recent posts not to bore you with it again. It works both ways. Either on the one hand we take it to a ridiculously introspective level in adhering to it – a case in point being the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland that Colin referred to and their scriptural understanding of the Sabbath as articulated in the Catechism – or on the other hand, while still claiming to believe in an infallible Bible, we reject parts of it when it doesn’t suit us (as Martin Luther did with that ‘epistle of straw’, James). As far as I’m concerned, these sorts of examples prove that ‘inerrancy’ is unhealthy and unworkable.

    I’m with you on the essentials of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, etc, but regarding that vast and glorious collection of documents that we call the Bible, let’s tell the story that it tells without flattening it out, explaining parts of it away, and losing our sense of wonder and imagination in the process.

  4. Jon Hughes says:

    Hi TC,

    Let’s put it to the test: Do you agree with Luther on justification by faith alone, or with Scripture that a man is justified by works and *not* by faith alone? Remember, Luther didn’t explain away James like modern expositors do – he knew it was problematic. So, depending on your answer, you will either reject the inerrancy of the canonical Scriptures, or you will reject the very hinge upon which the Reformation turned.

    I rather suspect that you will resort to the kind of explanation that I read about in commentaries that seeks a both/and solution. But considering that James 2:24 is the only place in all of Scripture that mentions “faith” and “alone” together (ESV and NRSV) it’s surely far more honest to say that the Bible does not teach justification by faith alone.

    The Christian who doesn’t feel the need to constantly defend inerrancy and make everything fit is burden-free.

    • TC Robinson says:

      Jon,
      First, before Luther, many were already saying that a person is justified by faith alone. Second, when it comes to the doctrine of justification, Luther is not the place to begin. That’s a mistake. Third, Paul and James are not at odds. I don’t know why you insist on this? So really, your either/or argument doesn’t apply here.

      Fourth, if we’re basing a doctrine on how many times a word appears or doesn’t, then a number of key doctrines are in question here. I don’t take that approach. We don’t need “alone” in a text to conclude that a person is justified by faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone.

      Now, if you’re teaching that a person is justified by faith plus works, what does that look like? James 2?

      • Jon Hughes says:

        Hi TC,

        I never said that Paul and James are at odds. Paul’s beef was with the works of the law; he had plenty to say about good works in general. What I’m at odds with is the flattening out and systematising of God’s Word. That’s the only point I’m trying to make in these posts. Whether Paul and James were at odds with one another or not, there are certainly parts of Scripture that seem to be at odds with other parts of Scripture – is it not a text in travail, and wonderfully so?

        As for faith and works, I just don’t believe that the standard evangelical demarcations are as clear-cut in Scripture. For example, in Matthew 25, the “righteous” don’t even sound like Christians (“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?”, etc). I’m grateful to C. S. Lewis for this observation – can’t remember which book.

        As for Luther, you and I can agree that he certainly did believe that Paul and James were at odds with one another, siding with the former against the latter. Does it seem a light thing to you that he rejected James theologically, relegating it to an appendix at the back of his New Testament? Or will that simply be irrelevant to next year’s celebrations?

  5. TC Robinson says:

    Jon,
    If you believe that one has to work their way to heaven, based on James 2, then I say you’re putting James at odds with Paul. I do not believe Paul anywhere teaches works-salvation. It’s the very thing he was opposing.

    I’m equally aware of tensions throughout Scripture. I also believe that’s why there’s enough room for some systematizing. We have to. Even Paul can be seen systematizing in his Letters (Galatians is a great place to start on the matter). Peter also warns of mishandling Scripture (2Peter 3).

    Regarding faith and works, I ask, Do you hold to the assurance of one’s salvation? Or how much works does a person needs to accomplish? And how do they know that they have accomplished that “quota”?

    • Jon Hughes says:

      TC,

      I hold to universal reconciliation, so don’t get bogged down with these sorts of questions, knowing on the one hand that salvation is all of grace, and on the other that everyone will be salted with fire. To pit faith against works is like pitting justification against sanctification – both are necessary, and both are inevitable. Therefore, I have a hopeful assurance of everyone’s salvation, and am in good company – e.g. Gregory of Nyssa, one of the architects of the Nicene Creed. It’s another example of those tensions in Scripture – i.e. will all be saved, or will most be lost? I can give you an abundance of prooftexts for both. (Not so many prooftexts for most saved, but not all, by the way!)

      But once again, Scripture simply doesn’t fall in line with the demarcations that we insist on. Absolutely, getting to heaven is going to involve some work. Paul says, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” (Romans 2:7)

      • TC Robinson says:

        Jon,
        We both know that the early church fathers and theologians were never monolithic, not unlike today. So I’m not surprised (and I’m cool with that ;-))

        Universal reconciliation makes little sense to me, given the way things are framed in Scripture. Call me old school, but I believe in some kind of eternal separation.

        Moreover, both justification and sanctification were obtained by Christ, so no disagreement from me. This is clear from Paul (1 Cor. 1:30ff).

        Regarding Romans 2:7 and holding to analogia fidei and analogia scripturae, believing that we must consult other parts of Scripture and do theology, I see Philippians 2:13ff as the HOW of Romans 2:7. After all, I’m a convinced Calvinist. 😉

  6. Jon Hughes says:

    You’re a gracious man, TC. God bless you.

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