Friday, November 11, 2016

Book Review: Rescuing the Gospel

Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation. Erwin W. Lutzer. 2016. Baker Books. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence (from chapter one): Christianity can survive without the gospel. Let me clarify. There is a form of Christianity that developed in medieval times that has survived to this day without the gospel. It is, of course, a powerless Christianity that cannot give people the assurance of salvation, nor does it lead to lives of holiness—but it is still called Christianity.

Premise/plot: Lutzer takes readers on a journey through the Reformation. (It's an illustrated journey too!) There are many stops along this journey.

In chapter one, readers get a history lesson on the church--the Roman Catholic Church--in the middle ages. This is important for several reasons. But the biggest reason, of course, is context. Before readers can understand what all the fuss was about, why any one would want to reform the church, need to protest against the church, one HAS to understand the basic workings of the church at the time. And, I hope one realizes from reading this history that one did INDEED need to do something. For whether you agree or disagree with the doctrines of the Catholic church then or now, there were corruptions, horrible corruptions in church practice at this time.

In chapter two, readers meet John Wycliffe (1331-1384) and John Hus (1369-1415). (Wycliffe is nicknamed the "Morning Star," John Hus is nicknamed "the Goose," and Martin Luther is nicknamed "the Swan.") In this chapter, Lutzer dwells on those men who got the Reformation started. Wycliffe, for example, believed strongly in church reform, in exposing and correcting corruptions within the church. Above all else, he believed that the Scriptures should be translated into English so that they could be read and studied by the people. His followers were called Lollards. The next reformer we meet is John Hus (from Prague). He preached reform, reform, reform. He preached against relics and indulgences. He paid the ultimate price for his beliefs--becoming a martyr for the faith.

Lutzer devotes ten chapters (chapters 3-12) to Martin Luther: his life and death, his teaching and preaching, his written works, his opponents, etc. Of course, the focus isn't exclusively ON Martin Luther. The chapters keep everything in context, with plenty of historical and theological detail. (I believe it is these chapters that finally clarified to me what the Thirty Years War was all about.)

One chapter is devoted to Zwingli. One chapter is devoted to the Anabaptists. One chapter is devoted to John Calvin. One chapter is dedicated to the "legacy of the Calvinists." And the very last chapter of all is focused on answering the question, "Is the Reformation Over?"

The book sets out to answer a LOT of questions.
Do only good people go to heaven? If so, how good do we have to be? Do priests and pastors have special privileges in the sight of God that are not accessible to ordinary believers? What is the nature of the church? Should we have a regional church that encompasses all who live in a geographical area, or should it be limited to those who have personally trusted in Christ? To what extent should we accept tradition into our church life and belief system? Is all tradition bad? If not, what should we keep, and what should we discard? What does it mean to say that Christ is “the head of the church”? And how does your answer impact whatever church you happen to attend? When you participate in the Lord’s Supper, are you literally or symbolically eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood? And is infant baptism the means of entry into the Christian life? And perhaps most important, we will answer the question, “Is the Reformation over?”
My thoughts: This one focuses more on HISTORY and LEGACY than it does on theology and doctrine. (Whereas Michael Reeves' Why The Reformation Still Matters focuses almost exclusively on the doctrines--the five solas of the Reformation--with a minimum of history, this one does the opposite.)  

One thing I loved about it is that Lutzer writes with such clarity. He doesn't oversimplify the Reformation. But all the complex details are written about with such clarity that instead of being intimidating and overwhelming, the book is reader-friendly. It is packed with a lot of information.

The book provides a great overview of the Reformation. I've read other "introductory" books on the Reformation in the past, but none as good as this one.

“The Reformation” refers to a spiritual rebirth that took place in Europe back in the sixteenth century. Many of us believe that it is, by all accounts, the most important recovery of the gospel since the days of the New Testament. When the Reformers were forced to define their faith in the crucible of controversy and hot debate, their conclusions had ramifications that shook their world—and we can still feel their influence. Look around the evangelical world today and you’ll agree that we have to rediscover these same truths if we want our own churches to be all they can be for the glory of God. Many people ignore the fundamental beliefs of the Reformation, thinking that there might be a better way to rescue our nation from the assault of secularism, pagan spirituality, and the proliferation of false religions. Others are unaware of what the fundamental issues of the Reformation really were, much less appreciate their relevance for today’s world. The doctrinal apathy among many Christians in our nation is deserving of tears. Nearly all of the conflicts of the Reformation are still ongoing today, albeit with different players and in a different context. ~ Alistair McGrath

The gospel must always be defended, and sometimes it must be rescued. ~ Erwin Lutzer
Wycliffe’s greatest contribution to reform was to popularize the Bible. In those days, for the most part only Latin translations were available, which were inaccessible to most people; they were kept in churches and read by the clergy, who were supposed to translate the text and teach people its contents. Wycliffe believed that if the common people had a Bible in their own language, the few who were able to read could then read it to others, and the gospel could be rediscovered. Most interesting for our study, Wycliffe believed that the Scripture was complete—it contained the whole of God’s revelation. Thus canon law, church tradition, and even the papacy had to be judged by Scripture. There was no need for unscriptural traditions, nor did the church need a pope to rule over it. Christ was the only head that the church needed. So he wanted the Bible to be read by as many people as possible—clergy and the common people alike. Keep in mind that this was before Gutenberg’s printing press, so all the Bibles were hand copied. It took one scribe ten months to copy a Bible, so we can imagine that making hundreds of them needed the work of hundreds of people. The fact that there are still 170 of Wycliffe’s Bibles in existence today proves that many were copied, and thankfully, the ecclesiastical powers did not find all of them. ~ Erwin Lutzer
It’s chilling to think of how different the history of Christianity would be if Luther had buckled under pressure. ~ Erwin Lutzer
Luther spent his life trying to clarify the Scriptures, especially those that were crucial to the doctrine of salvation. He said that studying the Bible should be like going on a journey full of surprising discoveries. Comparing his scriptural studies to a sojourn through the forest, he said, “There is hardly a tree in this forest that I have not shaken and obtained apples or picked berries from.” The devil’s battle against Christ makes this walk through the woods essential. Luther believed that laypeople had to be knowledgeable of the Bible because, after all, they had to see for themselves what they believed. “Whoever wants to read the Bible must make sure he is not wrong, for the Scriptures can easily be stretched and guided, but no one should guide them according to his emotions, he should lead them to the well, that is to the cross of Christ, then he will certainly be right and cannot fail.”~ Erwin Lutzer
Zwingli said, “I did not learn my doctrine from Luther, but from God’s Word itself.”
The starting point of theology for Martin Luther was the doctrine of justification by faith. His great motto was “Thou art forgiven!” For John Calvin, it was “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Luther also believed in God’s sovereignty in the affairs of human beings, but his central teaching was the wonder of redemption, whereas Calvin emphasized the certainty of God’s purposes. ~ Erwin Lutzer
Martin Luther had to rescue the gospel from the distortions of Catholicism; in some sense, our task is more difficult than his. We must rescue the gospel from Catholicism along with a host of other movements, such as fraudulent, so-called evangelicals whose entire television (or internet) programs are dedicated to “health and wealth” theology with special “breakthroughs” promised to those who send them money. We have to rescue it from theological liberals who deny the supernatural character of the Christian faith. We have to rescue it from false religions that compete for the allegiance of men and women. We must rescue it from the cults who come to our doorsteps; we must rescue it from all who think that it is up to them to contribute to their salvation and that they must make themselves worthy to receive it. We must remind the world that the gospel of the New Testament is for the spiritually needy who have nothing to offer God; they come not to give but to receive; they come not just to be helped but to be rescued. Their contribution to salvation is their sin; God’s grace supplies everything else. The apostle Paul knew that every era had to be vigilant. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert. . . . And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:28–32) This is our task in every age. ~ Erwin Lutzer

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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