One of the most important things we do in my Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs class is to identify scripture passages on which a hymn is based and examine how they are used. As is evident from a comparison of this hymn text with Psalm 46, Luther chose not to paraphrase the whole of that Psalm. Instead, he focused on the flood scenes in the first three verses and the cosmic battle in the latter part of the Psalm, where Yahweh shows himself victorious over the rebellious nations of the earth.
Luther’s original contribution in this Psalm paraphrase is a vivid, near-cinematic depiction of the battle in which the “flood of mortal ills” and a “world with devils filled” (both lines recalling the Psalm’s opening images of rising torrents) are at war with the armies of the living God. Particularly gripping is his portraiture of the “ancient foe” and the victorious Christ. The unifying refrain found at the middle (46:7) and end (46:11) of the Psalm, “The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge,” resonates throughout Luther’s hymn in spirit if not in exact wording.
It may seem a bit presumptuous to try to improve upon the theme song of the Reformation, or even its venerable 1852 English translation by Frederick H. Hedge, the one still sung by most American Protestants. Incidentally, his is hardly the only translation available. The version by Scottish essayist, social commentator, and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) has long been the accepted translation in England, according to the late leading hymn scholar Erik Routley, and still holds that place in many British hymnals.1 Since German is my first language, and since I grew up hearing this hymn from my parents first in German, I wanted to attempt a fresh version that might clarify a few obscure spots in the English text. It appears in italics below, one line at a time, with my annotations and translation notes.2The Fortress and the Foe (stanza 1)
A massive fortress [fortification] is our God. What exactly are we looking at here? The adjective fest means strong.3 A Burg is a castle, a Festung is a fortress, a Festungsanlage is a military fortification.4 In medieval Europe these three were often rolled into one; if anyone needed to be protected in the case of enemy attack, it would be the king. The medieval Festung in Salzburg, for example, is a stunning fortified castle in the Austrian Alps built high up directly into the face of a mountain, a massive stone structure overlooking the city. Like ancient Jerusalem, there’s a strong wall around it (about six feet thick). I love that mental picture for God as our refuge. Never a worry of floodwaters here.
A strong defense and weapon. This phrase neatly covers both offensive and defensive warfare.
He alone helps in all the needs / That have us overtaken. Contrary to one transliteration I’ve seen, frei in the phrase Er hilft uns frei does not mean “He helps us free,” which makes no sense. It means “singlehandedly, without a single other means, agency, or crutch;” that is, he alone rescues and delivers us from every spiritual attack and any devastation which has overtaken us.”5 Carlyle used the phrase, “He’ll help us clear” for frei−a Victorian wording that I think does not communicate well to American congregations today. The message is: Spiritual victory is accomplished by Christ alone, period.
Our ancient, vicious foe / aims to seek and destroy. Satan is on a seek-and-destroy mission and Christ-followers are in his cross-hairs. He hates Christians to death, is hell-bent on their destruction. The word jetzt (“now”) seems to carry special weight, as if to say the battle has just gotten fiercer and he has pulled out his biggest guns, now employing deadly force.
And armed with might and lies, / he wars and terrifies. The German here says: “Great might and deceit are his cruel, dread armor”−and arms, I would add. Hedge’s couplet, “His craft and power are great / and armed with cruel hate,” is perfectly accurate. “Craft” here indicates deceitfulness.
And none on earth can match him. No one, no power on earth. A cautionary note to both lead pastors and worship leaders: Never, never end this congregational hymn after the first stanza in the interest of time or anything else. Why would you want to send your congregation home with a stanza about the enemy’s might instead of Christ’s?The Man Whom God Has Chosen (stanzas 2-4)
In our own power we’d only fail, / we would be lost forever. This couplet was hard for me to write because I dearly love the concision, force, and economy of “Did we in our own strength confide.” I’m a huge fan of subjunctive case, which can speak powerfully in few words, and “confide” is a strong verb. The bottom line here, intensified by Luther’s use of both superlative and sharp contrast, is that our strongest strength is only weakness. We would be quickly swept out to sea by the floods of sin and evil if we were trusting in ourselves. You’ve seen it happen.
But fighting for us is the Man / Whom God himself has chosen. I regretted having to drop the word “right” here (“rechte Mann”) in order to fit the line meter. The point is: Jesus is the Man, not in the gangsta sense of being the coolest, but in the sense of Ecce homo (“Behold the Man”), the words spoken of Him by Pontius Pilate at Christ’s trial (John 19:5). So the word “right” is still clearly implied.
You ask who that might be? / Christ Jesus is His name,6 / Captain of heaven’s hosts.
I wanted to convey here the biblical title of heaven’s Commander-in-Chief, the true meaning of the title “LORD Sabaoth” in the refrain of Psalm 46. Chris Tomlin’s release of 2013, “Whom Shall I Fear?” [“God of Angel Armies”], is one of the few recent worship songs to honor Christ with this name. In Hebrews 2:10, speaking of the redeemed, Jesus is called the “Captain of their salvation.” The translation in the current Lutheran hymnal7 uses the title “Champion” here for Christ.8 We should praise him as such! This is Luther’s moment of greatest intertextuality in the hymn.
Weaving together Old and New Testament truths, he first asks the rhetorical question, then answers it dramatically with an emphatic declaration: The Old Testament God of armies, the LORD of Hosts who journeyed with His people, is Christ Jesus himself. This picture of Jesus as Commander of the heavenly hosts also points forward to his return, vividly reminding us that, to quote one Bible teacher, at Christ’s next appearance he will “have a sword coming out of his mouth and a tattoo on His thigh, and will be meting out judgment on His enemies.”9
There is no God but He, / and He will hold the field [or: He must win the battle]! Hedge injected here “From age to age the same” to emphasize that Jesus is not only ancient but eternal. This is a great line but is not found in the hymn. Luther is saying here, in the words of Peter’s famous sermon, “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus has to win, will win, will hold the battlefield and never give up an inch.
And though this world were full of fiends [or: Though evil spirits filled this world] / all trying to devour us. This is not far from the truth, though it sounds like hyperbole. Jesus said the thief’s mission is to steal, kill and destroy. In Hedge’s version the German meaning is muted; the verb verschlingen really does mean to devour, as a carnivorous animal does. I Peter 5:8 is clearly the basis of this line: “Be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.”
[We know] we do not have to fear, / Our God will still empow’r us. We need not live in fear. The original states: “We still would succeed.”
The ruler of this world, / however much he roars. The actual verb is, “grimaces.” Demonic powers can terrify. Carlyle uses the title here the “ancient prince of hell,” which may sound authoritative and vaguely goth but is completely unbiblical and is found nowhere in Scripture. When Jesus calls Satan “the prince of this world” in John 14:30 he is describing a temporal, temporary situation; Satan will not be ruling anything in hell, he’ll be tormented there forever.
He can do us no harm, / he is already judged. I had always envisioned Hedge’s phrase, “One little word shall fell him” to mean felling Satan as in bringing down a tree. Actually, fällen also means to hand down a verdict, to pronounce a sentence, in this case, a death sentence, to bang the gavel.10 Satan’s death sentence has been pronounced, his ruling has been handed down. We’re not chopping trees here. One little word or, better, one single word that we speak from the Word of God condemns him to death row. Thus Hedge’s phrase, “Lo, his doom is sure,” gets us back on track.
That Word no powers of hell can touch, / It stands, though demons swarm us. It stands, despite their raging, though evil powers rage.
God with His Spirit surrounds his church, / with holy gifts he arms us11. He is filling and equipping the church today for what she needs to face, just as he equipped believers at Luther’s time to meet their hour.
At the end comes the hardest part—the fourth stanza. Who of us in the West, with our homes, networks, accomplishments, aspirations, or positions, can sing these lines? Another question related to this stanza would be: Whatever happened to honor (Ehre), which used to mean everything for a man or a woman? Today personal honor receives less attention than someone’s reputation, buzz, and numbers of Facebook friends and Twitter followers.
While the previous stanza is about God’s giving lavish gifts to his church through his Spirit, this stanza is about our giving up, our losing everything for him, though it cost us our lives.
Though they [men] may take our lives,
goods, honor, children, wives,
Nothing will they have won,
His kingdom still will stand;
It must endure forever.The Final Word
Through the truth of God’s Word, the spiritual Zion will be established; the church of Christ, Augustine’s “city of God,” will be unstoppable. As Paul wrote in his chains: “I suffer . . . but the word of God is not bound.” (2 Tim. 2:9) We as his followers may die, Luther wrote, yet that for which we will have given our lives, the truth of Christ’s gospel, will not die, but must move inexorably forward until his righteousness covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ.
This abiding truth alone−not the adulation of an historic leader who though used by God beyond description remained frail and sinful to the end−the gospel’s final Word is cause for the church’s lasting, eternal joy evoked by the title of another great hymn of his, that on justification. Beloved by Lutheran congregations worldwide, although not nearly as universally known as his greatest hymn, its first stanza reads:
Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice, . . .
Proclaim the wonders God has done,
How His right arm the vict’ry won,
What price our ransom cost him!12
A massive fortress is our God,
A strong defense and weapon.
He alone helps in all the needs
That have us overtaken.
Our ancient, vicious foe
Aims to seek and destroy,
And armed with might and lies,
He wars and terrifies,
And none on earth can match him.
In our own pow’r we’d only fail,
We would be lost forever.
But fighting for us is the Man
Whom God Himself has chosen.
You ask who that might be?
There is no God but He −
Christ Jesus is His name,
Captain of heaven’s hosts,
And He will hold the field.
And though this world were full of fiends
All trying to devour us,
We know we do not have to fear,
Our God will still empow’r us.
The ruler of this world,
However much he roars,
Can do our souls no harm;
He is already judged,
One word of God condemns him.
That Word no powers of hell can touch,
It stands, though demons swarm us.
God with His Spirit surrounds His church,
With holy gifts He arms us.
Though men may take our lives,
goods, honor, children, wives,
Nothing will they have won,
His kingdom still will stand;
It must endure forever.
–E.R. Crookshank, transl.
Esther Crookshank is Ollie Hale Chiles Professor of Church Music at SBTS and is director of the Academy of Sacred Music.
1 Erik Routley, Panorama of Christian Hymnody, expanded and edited by Paul A. Richardson (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2005), 288. For Carlyle’s full text see “A safe stronghold our God is still,” https://hymnary.org/text/a_safe_stronghold_our_god_is_still, accessed October 26, 2017, 3:20 p.m. This is the comprehensive, scholarly online resource for texts, tunes, and biographical and publication information.
2 While not a perfect singing translation, I preserved the German line meter nearly throughout.
3 Also “solid, tight, tough, firm, strong, fixed, firmly established.” “Fest. Adj.,” The Concise Oxford Duden German Dictionary, Rev. Ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997), 915:3-916:1. To put this into a regional colloquial English expression, “Ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
4 “Burg, die,” Oxford Duden Concise, 833. “Festung, die,” ODC, 916. “Festungsanlage, die,” ibid. “Anlage” is a structure, complex, or installation, as in a military installation or military base. “Anlage, die,” ODC, 743:2-3. Altogether rather hefty images.
5 I don’t use “befallen” here, since nothing is accidental to God, and Satan’s attacks on the church are in no sense an accident like falling into a ditch.
6 I have borrowed only this line from Carlyle’s version, the rest of which, although richly poetic, is dated in its language.
7 Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg; Philadelphia: Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1978), 228, 229.
8 “Champion” evokes for me also Psalm 19:4, where that word is used to personify the sun in its strength with Christological overtones, according to many commentators.
9 Westte Williams, “Lecture on Exodus” (Adult Bible class, Cedar Creek Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky), October 1, 2017.
10 Einen Schiedsspruch fällen means “to make a ruling.” “Fällen, tr. V.” ODC, 909:2.
11 Or: “With charismata arms us.”
12 “Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice!” Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 299. The German title is, Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein.
The post A Fresh Look at Martin Luther’s ‘A Mighty Fortress’ appeared first on Southern Equip.
The 16th century church was in dire need of a Reformation. What about today, a half millennium later? Is the 21st century church due for another Reformation, a Re-Reformation? Professor Williams shares his thoughts ...
About half the world is made up of women. Books such as Half the Sky (Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn) and Half the Church (Carolyn Custis James) highlight how important it is for the Evangelical church to consider God’s vision both locally and globally for women. In the light of the Gospel, the church during the Reformation also wrestled with women’s place, in the church, marriage, and society. While the Protestant Reformers did not set out to define women’s roles, as they fleshed out their theological convictions of sola Scriptura and the priesthood of all believers, they were faced with addressing the question of how women are to participate in the church and the world as both receivers and conveyors of the Gospel. Did the Reformers’ responses result in “constraining” women by moving their ministry from the convent to the home (as Jane Dempsey Douglass argues), or did it provide them with “new dignity” (as Stephen Nichols suggests)? The answer to that question is complicated ...
As a philosopher, I love ideas. I poke and prod them all day long, in class with students, in writing during research, in the margins of books in study. Ideas are important. They have consequences, as philosophers like to say. But ideas are not all that matter. Images do too. So do the things we make, if Andy Crouch is right.
We often forget that ideas and images, reason and the imagination, work together to lead one to the truth. Consider C.S. Lewis, who in describing his pre-conversion mindset, portrays how the imaginative and rational parts of his mind were pulled in opposite directions:
The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest conflict. On the one side a many-island sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow “rationalism.” Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.
Lewis longed for a certain kind of story, a story nourished through the imagination, that was filled with beauty, mystery, longing and transcendence. The intelligentsia of his day, like the new atheists in our own, told him that there is no deep story of the world. But his mind refused to settle for a kind of cold rationalism; his imagination sustained his longing for a story that was alive and true. Christianity, Lewis eventually discovered, is the perfect blend of reason and romance, ideas and imagination. Christianity is “true myth”: a story that is both true to the way the world is and true to the way the world ought to be.
One question that continues to animate me as a Christian who is a philosopher is this: How can we help others see the truth, goodness and beauty of Jesus and the Gospel? Some think Christianity is implausible or unreasonable. Science, they say, is the prophet, priest and king of modernity, ushering man into a new age of progress, peace and prosperity. Others think Christianity is undesirable. Christianity, they say, is oppressive and antiquated; a kind of slave morality that sucks joy out of life.
Philosophers tend to argue for the reasonableness of Christianity, and rightly so. I’ve come to realize, however, that arguing for reasonableness of Christianity alone is not enough. We must also argue for Christianity’s desirability. One way to do that, I suspect, is to utilize that aspect of man that was foundational in Lewis’ own story—the imagination.
So, while I’m more comfortable defending sterile propositions safely tucked within deductive arguments, to help others see and understand the Gospel, I realize I must learn how to argue with imaginative reason. Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s notion of man as sub-creator, I decided to make something that might reveal through image, rhythm and story the beauty and brilliance of the Gospel. Taking a step of faith, I gathered together some of my artistic friends—spoken word poets—and we got to work. Could we write a story that awakened longing in others and pointed to the Gospel as both true and alive?
The result of our effort is the spoken word poem linked at the bottom of this article. What did I learn from this exercise in imaginative reason? I learned that making art is hard, as all creating must be (nor is it ever perfect). I also learned that it is fun; there is joy in the hunt for beauty and truth; there is a special bond that is forged as Christians work together to make something beautiful. Most of all, my own imagination was stirred: in cultivating—yea, even creating—beauty, the curtain pulled back, even for a moment, and I caught a glimpse of the divine.
As followers of Christ, we are part of a story that is alive and true. The story of God’s pursuing love ought to move us to share this love with others (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). The Gospel story is the greatest story ever. It is more, even. It is the greatest possible story. It understands you. And it is true. We must, in this age of cynicism, disenchantment and despair point others to the truth and beauty of Jesus and the Gospel. May we learn to cultivate our imaginative reason so others might find rest and forgiveness in this God who pursues.
Andy Crouch, Culture Making (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008).
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt, 1955), 170.
Consider the atheist physicist Lawrence M. Krauss, who tells us that science, not the Bible, provides us “the greatest story ever told” (The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far [New York: Atria Books, 2017], 2). What is the story of our existence according to science? It is that “there is no obvious plan or purpose to the world we find ourselves living in. Our existence was not preordained, but appears to be a curious accident” (ibid., 4).
When considering why God might allow evil and suffering, Alvin Plantinga suggests “perhaps all the best possible worlds contain incarnation and atonement, or at any rate atonement.” See Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 59.
Twenty years ago, Reformed Theology made landfall on the shores of my life with the force of a category 5 hurricane.
I had been in ministry only a few months, had preached a few times, when God, in his kind mercy, put a few good men in my path who gently and patiently guided me toward sound doctrine. They introduced me to Augustine and his Confessions, Luther and his Commentary on Galatians, Calvin and his Institutes, the five solas, the TULIP, Bunyan and Pilgrim’s Progress, Spurgeon and his steel backbone in the Downgrade Controversy, Lloyd Jones and his Romans series.
Consistent with the Reformed way, I hadn’t been looking for a big God theology—it found me.
Soon, through a relatively new invention called the internet, I began to order and read books by Tom Nettles, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, Timothy George, and John Piper. I found sermons by these men and others of like doctrine. God’s grace was claiming new ground in my life it seemed every hour. I must have read 200 books and pamphlets those first couple of years as I weighed the biblical veracity of these sublime propositions.
And like the landscape after such a massive hurricane, my mind, my heart, and my ministry have never been the same.
I’ve been a pastor for the past several years and my ministry has been deeply shaped by the Reformation, it’s key figures, its theology, and those who have followed in its tradition such as the Puritans and our Particular Baptist fathers. Space and perhaps reader patience would fail me were I to list all the ways the Reformation has shaped my life and ministry, but here are eight.1. The five solas have built a strong gospel foundation beneath my feet and if I preach them faithfully, I will always be relevant.
At its most fundamental level, the Reformation was a recovery of relevance because it was a recovery of the gospel. The gospel, purely preached in terms of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as found in Scripture alone, done to the glory of God alone is relevant in every single age. And God’s Word is powerful “out of the box.” I don’t need to revise it, improve it, mold it, or update it. Scripture comes equipped with its own affirming power and if I proclaim it faithfully both to the lost and the found, it will do its work through the Holy Spirit’s power.
A recovery of the gospel was the heart of the Reformation and keeping the gospel front and center will always be the heart of faithful gospel ministry. Michael Reeves said it well in a recent article, “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.” In my exegesis, my exhortation, my application, in my own life and leadership in both the home and the church, I must always be moving toward the gospel.2. I don’t have to search for a silver bullet for growth in godliness, God has already given it to me in his Word
The formal principle of the Reformation, sola Scriptura, is all we need. Indeed, Luther summed up his massive contribution as the unwitting founder of Protestantism in this fashion: “I did nothing, the Word did everything.” As a faithful minister of God’s Word, it is enough for faith and life in the church. God’s Word provides us with the inspired framework for the pure worship of God, for discipleship, for evangelism, for counseling.
God has a people and he is sovereign, which is to say, he will certainly save and sanctify sinners when we preach His Word. Yes, we must do evangelism and missions if we would obey Scripture. Yes, we must take the gospel to our neighborhood and the nations with compassion and zeal. But we must trust the Word, that it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. We press for repentance and faith, but the Word does everything in converting a sinner, we do nothing.3. God has told me how to interpret his Word and how he expects to be worshiped
Jesus makes clear in Luke 24 that we are to interpret the Old Testament as finding its fulfillment in him. Thus, the New Testament writers tell us how to interpret the Old Testament in terms of the person and work of Jesus. In the Institutes, Calvin helped set this in stone as the Reformed tradition’s bedrock method of interpreting and exegeting the sacred text:
“It follows that the Old Testament was established upon the free mercy of God, and was confirmed by Christ’s intercession. For the gospel preaching, too, declares nothing else than that sinners are justified apart from their own merit by God’s fatherly kindness; and the whole of it is summed up in Christ. Who, then dares separate Jews from Christ, since with them, we hear, was made the covenant of the gospel, the sole foundation of which is Christ? Who dares to estrange from the gift of free salvation those to whom we hear the doctrine of the righteousness of faith was imparted? Not to dispute too long about something obvious—we have a notable saying of the Lord: ‘Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad (John 8:56). And what Christ there testified concerning Abraham, the apostle shows to have been universal among the believing folk when he says, ‘Christ remains, yesterday and today and forever’ (Heb. 13:8). . . . If the Lord, in manifesting his Christ, discharged his ancient oath, one cannot but say the Old Testament always had its end in eternal life.” (Inst. 2:10:4)
Intrinsic to God’s Word is also a complementarity between law and gospel. The moral law of God as summarized in the 10 Commandments demonstrates God’s holy character, exposes man’s sinfulness, his need of a mediator, and provides a guide to sanctification. The law breaks us, but the gospel heals us. The law says “run,” the gospel gives us legs. You need both to properly understand either.
In addition to graciously giving us an inspired hermeneutic, God has also given us a regulative principle for worship in his Word. God knows best how he is to be worshiped as I argue in this article. It is an often-neglected Baptist doctrine that stands in need of recovery in local credobaptist churches. Chapter XXII of The Second London Confession of Faith, “Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day,” in Article I summarizes my point well:
“The Light of Nature shews that there is a God who hath Lordship, and Soveraigntye (Sovereignty) over all; is just, good, and doth good unto all; and is therefore, to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the Heart, and all the Soul, and with all the Might. But the acceptable way of Worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself; and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations, and devices of Men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way, not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.”
The regulative principle is by no means a straight jacket, but opens the entire Bible to us.4. Knowledge of God and knowledge of self are the pathway to genuine wisdom
Calvin’s opening words in the Institutes represent an accurate summary of biblical anthropology and theology and are irreducible pillars for life and ministry. When I see myself as a great sinner and Christ as a great Savior, then my thinking is ordered rightly. God is holy, I am not, and because of this, I need his holiness, power, strength, and wisdom every moment both as a follower of Christ and a leader in his church.
This critical truth has profoundly shaped both my devotional life and my preaching. Without knowledge of God, there is no knowledge of self. As Calvin wrote,
“It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating hi to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy—this pride is innate in all of us—unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. . . we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured.5. I need older, wiser (living) mentors to help me along the way
In short, I need dead mentors, too. Being my own pastor has always felt a bit schizophrenic. Every pastor needs a pastor. Timothy had Paul, Augustine had Ambrose, Luther had Von Staupitz, Calvin had Bucer, Beza had Calvin, Whitefield and Wesley had each other, Sproul had Gerstner.
I need at least one seasoned godly mentor, too, one who is able to guide, direct, chasten, and encourage me in the things of God, one who is positioned to keep a close watch on my life and doctrine.6. I need to engage the past and allow it to inform the present and shape the future
We do not stand alone. As is often said of church history, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We were not the first to tread this territory, and we certainly will not be the last. Therefore, we need the insights of Scripture-saturated, God-entranced church leaders from the past to help affirm, amend, or correct our interpretation and application of Scripture. While history does not play a magisterial role for us, it can and should play a ministerial role in our lives and ministries both through the figures and doctrines from our rich evangelical heritage.
Not only do I need a living mentor, I also need heroes from the past. These men come with one benefit that living heroes do not: the final chapter of their lives has been written, and we know how they turned out. Though they are flawed like our living mentors, neither Twitter, Facebook, nor lurid locations on the internet will topple their ministries.7. Proclaiming God’s Word will not make me popular
John the Baptist’s declaration in John 3:30 ought to be that of every faithful gospel minister: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Faithful preaching of God’s Word will make enemies both in the church and in the world. It will make enemies in the church because every congregation—even those who hold fast to regenerate church membership—is a mixture of wheat and tares. It will make you enemies in the world because Paul told the Corinthians that the gospel is offensive to the natural man (1 Cor. 1:18).
The sacred desk is no place for the theological hobbyist, the intellectually curious, the trafficker in homespun yarns, the wise-cracking hipster, the weak of backbone or him who seeks a laid-back middle-class living. As the lives and ministries of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, the Puritans, Edwards, Spurgeon, and thousands of other sons of the Reformation have proven, gospel ministry is a death sentence for self-love and the craving for rock star status. There is no crown without a cross.
As Luther put it, there are ever and always two theologies warring for supremacy within our hearts: a theology of glory vs. a theology of the cross. A call to follow Christ is a call to lay down our glory, take up a cross, and walk the Calvary road for his glory alone. Theology properly begins above, not below.8. Reformation continues until Jesus returns
The battle for the Bible was not over when Protestantism germinated and blossomed in Luther’s train. It was not over in the Southern Baptist Convention when key offices at last bulged with conservative evangelicals. It is not over in local churches. Our cry will always be “semper reformanda”—reformed, always reforming (according to Scripture).
Our hearts are prone to wander from orthodoxy, thus in every age we must reaffirm and guard our confessional integrity and our submission to God’s inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word. I’m not as young or restless as when this journey in grace began, but I will always be reforming—both in my heart, in my family, and in my congregation.
Praise God that it pleased him to work through ordinary men like Luther and Calvin to unleash afresh an extraordinary gospel to work in all its grace-driven power in my life and in the lives of countless millions of other believers and pastors through the centuries. I am deeply grateful for 500 years of its leavening power in the church. Every evangelical, no matter the denomination, is deeply indebted to Luther, Calvin, and those who courageously followed in their wake.
Until Jesus returns, may it please God to continue building his church through the sin-killing, life-transforming gospel of the reformers, which is nothing other than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!
The phrase or hashtag #MeToo became viral in social media in recent days. “Me Too” is not a new phrase; the African-American social activist Tarana Burke started using it ten years ago, but it became a media trending topic recently. This phrase represents a public acknowledgement that a person (although women are sadly the vast majority) has been sexually harassed or assaulted. It has been heartbreaking to read the countless testimonies of people who had the courage to share their abuse stories—many of them for the first time—with openness and frankness ...
La frase o “hashtag” #metoo (yo también) se ha hecho viral en las redes sociales en los últimos días. No es una frase nueva porque desde hace 10 años la activista afroamericana Tarana Burke intentó hacerla pública, pero no ha sido sino hasta estos días que su uso se ha convertido en una tendencia social. La frase indica un reconocimiento público que una mujer, principalmente y en su gran mayoría aunque también incluye hombres, ha sido víctima de cualquier tipo de acoso sexual o incluso violación. Ha sido desgarrador leer los innumerables testimonios de personas que han tenido la valentía de contar sus historias y hablar de frente, en muchas ocasiones por primera vez, sobre el abuso que sufrieron ...
Justin Brierley is the host of " Unbelievable?" the UK-based apologetics radio/podcast show (which is one of my personal favorites!). I have had the privilege of being on the program twice to discuss the martyrdom of the apostles and talk about why I am a Christian with Ryan Bell, the pastor-turned-atheist.
For over ten years, Justin has been leading discussions between Christians and atheists, and yet he still believes in God. This Thursday he releases a new book Unbelievable? which I had the privilege to endorse. In the UK, it is available here: www.unbelievablebook.co.uk. Brierley offers some lessons from his conversations as well as the evidence he finds most compelling. Check out this interview and consider ordering a copy of his excellent book ...
... Thanks for your question, Raef! I don’t think I’ve ever taken a question from Jordan before!
In determining what sort of being a morally perfect being would be, we must consult our moral intuitions. Is it better to be fair rather than prejudiced? Is it better to be a caring person rather than indifferent? Is it better to regard other persons as ends in themselves rather than as mere means to be used for one’s own ends? Usually, we can answer such questions by thinking about how people ought to treat one another or how we think others ought to treat us ...
It is well known that the Reformation entailed a recovery of core New Testament doctrines regarding salvation and worship. Did it also involve a recovery of the Great Commission? In one sense, no. The Roman church had been involved in a variety of missional enterprises throughout the Middle Ages.
But in another, much deeper sense, yes—the Great Commission did have to be recovered because medieval missions all too frequently involved forcible conversions like those of the Saxons by Charlemagne in the ninth century and the Albigensian Crusade in the early thirteenth century.
And yet, it has been maintained that the sixteenth-century Reformers had a poorly-developed missiology and that overseas missions to non-Christians was an area to which they gave little thought. Yes, this argument runs, the Reformers rediscovered the apostolic gospel, but they had no vision to spread it to the uttermost parts of the earth. What should we think of this?
Possibly the very first author to raise the question about early Protestantism’s failure to apply itself to missionary work was the Roman Catholic theologian and controversialist, Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621). Bellarmine argued that one of the marks of a true church was its continuity with the missionary passion of the Apostles. In his mind, Roman Catholicism’s missionary activity was indisputable and this supplied a strong support for its claim to stand in solidarity with the Apostles. As Bellarmine maintained:
In this one century the Catholics have converted many thousands of heathens in the new world. Every year a certain number of Jews are converted and baptized at Rome by Catholics who adhere in loyalty to the Bishop of Rome. . . . The Lutherans compare themselves to the apostles and the evangelists; yet though they have among them a very large number of Jews, and in Poland and Hungary have the Turks as their near neighbors, they have hardly converted so much as a handful.
But such a characterization fails to account for the complexity of this issue. First of all, in the earliest years of the Reformation none of the major Protestant bodies possessed significant naval and maritime resources to take the gospel outside the bounds of Europe. The Iberian Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, on the other hand, who were the acknowledged leaders among missions-sending regions at this time, had resources aplenty. Moreover, their missionary endeavors were often indistinguishable from imperialistic conquests.
It is noteworthy that other Roman Catholic nations of Europe like Poland also lacked sea-going capabilities and evidenced no more cross-cultural missionary concern at that time than Lutheran Saxony or Reformed Zurich. It is thus plainly wrong to make the simplistic assertion that Roman Catholic nations were committed to overseas missions whereas no Protestant power was so committed.
Second, it is vital to recognize that, as Scott Hendrix has shown, the Reformation was the attempt to “make European culture more Christian than it had been. It was, if you will, an attempt to reroot faith, to rechristianize Europe.” In the eyes of the Reformers, this program involved two accompanying convictions. First, they considered what passed for Christianity in late mediaeval Europe as sub-Christian at best, pagan at worst. As the French Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) put it in his Reply to Sadoleto (1539):
The light of divine truth had been extinguished, the Word of God buried, the virtue of Christ left in profound oblivion, and the pastoral office subverted. Meanwhile, impiety so stalked abroad that almost no doctrine of religion was pure from admixture, no ceremony free from error, no part, however minute, of divine worship untarnished by superstition.
The Reformers viewed their task as a missionary one: they were planting true Christian churches.
In what follows, I offer an ever so brief examination of the missiology of John Calvin, which shows the error of the perspective that the Reformation was by and large a non-missionary movement.The victorious advance of Christ’s Kingdom
A frequent theme in Calvin’s writings and sermons is the victorious advance of Christ’s kingdom in the world. God the Father, Calvin says in his prefatory address to Francis I in his theological masterpiece, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, has appointed Christ to “rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the ends of the earth.” The reason for the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost, Calvin notes further in a sermon on Acts 2, was in order for the gospel to “reach all the ends and extremities of the world.” In a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:5–6, one of a series of sermons on 1 Timothy 2, Calvin underlines again the universality of the Christian faith: Jesus came, not simply to save a few, but “to extend his grace over all the world.”
From that same sermon series, Calvin can thus declare that “God wants his grace to be known to all the world, and he has commanded that his gospel be preached to all creatures; we must (as much as we are able) seek the salvation of those who today are strangers to the faith, who seem to be completely deprived of God’s goodness.” It was this global perspective on the significance of the gospel that also gave Calvin’s theology a genuine dynamism and forward movement. It has been rightly said that if it had not been for the so-called Calvinist wing of the Reformation many of the great gains of that era would have died on the vine.Calvin’s prayers for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom
Calvin was convinced that God “bids us to pray for the salvation of unbelievers” and Scripture passages like 1 Timothy 2:4 encourage us not to “cease to pray for all people in general.” We see this conviction at work in Calvin’s own prayers, a good number of which have been recorded for us at the end of his sermons, thanks to the labours of the stenographer Denis Raguenier, who was appointed to record Calvin’s sermons by the Company of Elders who labored with the French Reformer.
Frequently, we hear Calvin praying for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each of Calvin’s sermons on Deuteronomy, for instance, ends with a prayer that runs something like this: “may it please him [i.e. God] to grant this [saving] grace, not only to us, but also to all peoples and nations of the earth.” In fact, in the liturgy Calvin drew up for his church in Geneva, there is this prayer:
We pray to you now, O most gracious God and merciful Father, for all people everywhere. As it is your will to be acknowledged as the Saviour of the whole world, through the redemption wrought by Your Son Jesus Christ, grant that those who are still estranged from the knowledge of him, being in the darkness and captivity of error and ignorance, may be brought by the illumination of your Holy Spirit and the preaching of your gospel to the right way of salvation, which is to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
This article was originally published in the 9Marks Journal.
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I present these thoughts from the perspective of someone who grew up in and is familiar with the academic and spiritual situation on the European continent. My observation is that many of the trends that have eroded a robust Christian influence on European culture are very much active in the Evangelical world of the US in the current situation as well ...
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When my father died, I grieved. My father died on a Sunday morning, early. His hospital roommate told us that Dad had spent his last night—the whole night—praying softly for his family, person by person, before dying peacefully in the early morning. Even though we’d known that he would die soon from bone cancer, and knew that he was eager to be home with the Lord, it was still a shock. It was still too soon.
Death is like that: it always surprises us and it interrupts our lives. We stop, and we grieve.