Most of the time, when you hear about someone joining a college faculty, it’s a thoroughly happy occasion. For Melissa Tucker, though, it was mixed with tragedy.
Tucker’s mother died after battling cancer for several years. The loss of her mother brought her home. As Tucker prayed about moving, she said she “began asking God where I could go in Kentucky and teach from a biblical worldview, get into an elementary classroom, go on mission trips, and train teachers.” Boyce College was the answer to those prayers, she said.
Before she started kindergarten, Melissa Tucker knew she wanted to work in a classroom someday. She grew up in Pulaski County, Kentucky, and attended Nancy Elementary School. From first to fourth grade, Tucker learned from several teachers who influenced and encouraged her dream of teaching.
Today, with more than 15 years of teaching experience, Tucker enjoys spending time in both the college and elementary school classroom, investing in students’ minds and hearts.
“I love it when they ask a question and I don’t know the answer and we have to figure it out together. I think those make the best teaching moments,” she said in a recent interview.
Throughout high school, Tucker’s dream to teach never waned. She graduated and moved to Virginia to attend Liberty University. After three and a half years of college, Tucker moved back to Pulaski County to complete her student teaching at Nancy Elementary. While working in the Pulaski County school system, she developed a systematic writing curriculum for schools to implement in classrooms, providing a new opportunity for students to learn how to write both creatively but also with structure and guidelines, something the school system had never done before.
In addition to teaching, Tucker knew she wanted to spend time serving overseas, so she began praying about opportunities to travel and serve. While teaching at Nancy Elementary, a friend called her to ask about her interest in moving to Podolsk, Russia, because they needed a teacher to join their team. Tucker approached her superintendent about the opportunity to leave Nancy Elementary for the year, and what her job would look like when she returned. The superintendent gave her leave, committing to hold her job for when she returned to Kentucky.
Once in Podolsk, Tucker worked with a small church, starting a women’s ministry, children’s ministry, and watched as the church grew from less than five families to more than 60. In addition to working with the church, Tucker found opportunities to teach within the school system in Podolsk. During this time, village priests interviewed potential teachers for their local primary schools before they allowed Americans into classrooms. When she interviewed with the priest, he told Tucker to come teach, but also told her that the village school did not provide their own books.
Because she moved with a missions team, Tucker stored more than 30 Bibles in her apartment. She told the priest she had books to use to teach students English, and took children’s Bibles into the local school and taught 11th and 12th grade students English.
After her year in the local school, though, the priest asked Tucker not to return because her methods of teaching included Scripture and sharing the gospel with students, and at that point her team returned to the United States. Tucker returned to Pulaski County to teach for another year, but spent most of her time trying to figure out how to return to Russia. Around the end of the school year, Hinkson Christian Academy called Tucker about a teaching position in a fourth grade classroom – her favorite grade. Hinkson Christian Academy is an English-language primary and secondary school in Moscow, Russia. Tucker interviewed for the job over the phone, accepted it, and went another time to talk with her superintendent, who granted her another year in Russia while keeping her teaching position at Nancy Elementary. This allowed Tucker to move to Russia again with the security of a job when she returned a year later.
“I can see how the Lord has used every step of the way to lead me to this place,” she said.
Tucker believes her training in the classroom, on the mission field, and as a professor prepared her to join the Boyce College faculty in a pivotal time for the Teacher Education Program. Teachers need to love teaching, she said, and “The best teachers in higher education for education are teachers who really want to be back in the classroom. That’s my heart’s desire,” she said. “But I can do that here and I can do that in a larger fashion than I could before.”
Teaching at Boyce allows Tucker to combine her passion for teaching, missions, and training teachers into one job that she loves.
“It’s a job that everyday I sit back and think, ‘I can’t believe I get to be in this place at this time doing this work,’” she said. “And everyday God reminds me that as long as I lean on him, he’s going to allow me to keep doing the things that are my heart’s desire.”
Greek For Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek (Baker Academic 2017, $19.99) by Robert L. Plummer and Benjamin L. Merkle
In seminary culture, most students are intimidated at the task of mastering the biblical languages. It takes hours of memorizing vocabulary, paradigms, and the exceptions to the rules. However, for a Christian, the goal of learning Greek and Hebrew is to be able to read Scripture in its original language without needing to rely on outside commentaries or dictionaries. Greek For Life has this goal in mind and provides readers with practical tools to, as its title says, help someone “learn, retain, and revive” their New Testament Greek.
“The study of Greek is not an end in itself,” the authors write. “The goal of learning Greek is first and foremost born out of a desire to behold unhindered the grandest sight: God himself.”
From the first page the authors set up the goal of learning Greek as “to know the God who has revealed himself through his Word.” One could argue that is the same goal of their book: To point readers to have a greater passion and understanding of God. Secondary goals are to encourage readers to be faithful in their ministries and to recognize the privilege of learning Greek. Each chapter is filled with testimonials and quotes from students and historical figures in order to act as cheerleaders and encouragers for readers not sure if working on their Greek is worth it.
Studying Greek takes discipline and commitment. This book combines teaching experience and research about habits and tips for better studying methods. While it is practical in nature, it provides support through facts and experiences. Plummer and Merkle recommend a self-assessment for each reader — including tracking habits and internet use.
“Perhaps one of the benefits of assessing our time is to cause us to face up to what we really love,” the authors write. “We say we wish we had more time to read the Bible and pray, but it is what we actually do that shows what we want to do.”
In a culture of instant gratification and information overload, it is easy to blame our distraction on outside forces, but each reader makes a choice about how to use each minute of each day. With this in mind, readers are encouraged to take specific steps to battle distraction including “unfollowing persons or feeds” that do not discuss matters of eternal value and “install a software program or smartphone app” that allows you to control and monitor your internet use. Such apps include Moment, Freedom (for iPhone), and Checky, Quality Time, and Focus Lock (for Android).
In addition to fighting distractions, the book also provides tips for better review strategies. Among them includes the advice to use as many senses as possible while review. This includes our eyesight as we read, our hearing as we speak and listen to vocab words, our hands as we write, and even singing.
A major help for those retaining and reviving their Greek is to have a community to study with, challenge them, and to hold them accountable in setting attainable goals and working toward them.
“God created us to live in community. How foolish we are to attempt life or ministry alone, or to think that we can persevere in Greek by ourselves,” they write.
For readers seeking to “revive” their Greek, the authors point them back to understanding why they should work to recover their Greek. This vision casting points back to the main goal of learning Greek: to know God.
“Shame and regret do not provide lasting motivation, so take those emotions to the Lord in prayer,” they write. “Be infected with a burning passion to be as close as possible to the Spirit-inspired words of the apostles.”
Book Reviews: ‘Living Life Backward’; ‘Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church’; ‘Only a Holy God’; ‘Luther: A Spiritual Biography’
Living Life Backward by David Gibson (Crossway 2017, $17.99)
Review by Sean Corser
What do you get when you blend commentary of one of Scripture’s most complex books (Ecclesiastes) with practical and biblical applications for everyday living? Living Life Backward by David Gibson.
Gibson begins each chapter with the passage of Ecclesiastes to be examined, then follows with the message of the chapter, and concludes with a set of questions to be examined. Gibson writes that the message of Ecclesiastes should not only understood, but applied.
Similar to the style of Ecclesiastes, Gibson uses many illustrations and metaphors to further drive home the message of the preacher. He writes: “There is a wonderful richness to the poetry that is worth lingering over.”
Gibson, using a firm understanding of the Preacher and the intention of his writing, unfolds the story of Ecclesiastes in a short yet compelling manner. But, as with the Preacher, Gibson intends for Living Life Backwards to be read with the hope of answering the question “How then should we live?”
Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church by Keith and Kristyn Getty (B&H 2017, $12.99)
Review By Miles Morrison
Keith and Kristyn Getty’s Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family and Church is part theological primer and part practical guidebook for the fundamental role of singing in the life of the believer. The Gettys start with the biblical foundation for singing and then work toward giving applicable advice for how to lead our churches and homes to do this well. Their hope is that “as you wake each day, and as you walk through your day, we pray that the lyrics and melodies of your faith will ring around the spaces where you live your life.”
The Gettys point to God’s design in creation as an emphasis for the important place of singing in our lives, “when we sing God’s praise, we join with the tune of the cosmos.” Singing even has an embedding effect on our hearts, so that our songs “reach the inner corridors of our soul in a way that other things cannot.” Ultimately, the Gettys’ primary aim is “that you would sing truth and sing it as though it is true” and it’s this narrowed focus that sets Sing! apart from other similar worship leadership books. “God has formed our hearts to be moved with depth of feeling and a whole range of emotion as the melody-carried truths of who God is and whose we are sink in,” they write.
Only a Holy God by City Alight (City Alight Music, $9.90 on iTunes)
Review by Matt Damico
Last December, Australian group City Alight released their album, “Only a Holy God.” The group has a sound that may remind listeners of another, larger Australian church known for its music, but that should not be cause for pause. These songs are theologically rich, poetically satisfying, and musically enjoyable and accessible.
Some highlights include “Christ Is Mine Forevermore,” a beautiful modern hymn that searches the idea of pain and suffering in the Christian life with a simple melody and a soaring refrain at the end. The album’s title track – with a question-and-answer structure akin to Sovereign Grace’s “Behold Our God” – is the most anthemic song of the bunch, with a melody both singable and climactic.
“Only a Holy God” is an excellent and well-executed collection of congregational songs. For churches looking for music that combines a contemporary sound with robust, trustworthy lyrics, this album has a number of songs to offer.
Luther: A Spiritual Biography by Herman Selderhuis (Crossway 2017, $30.00)
Review by Gabriel Reyes-Ordeix
“Luther was a problem.” These are the first words to the new spiritual biography of the German reformer by Herman Selderhuis. A contemporary reformer said of him, “This is how God gave him to us, and this is how we will have to use him.” Luther’s work in the gospel and his legacy of Protestantism were never separated from his unique persona, lack of self control and obstinate drive at times, but they by no means got in the way of God’s plan for the church through the reformer’s ministry.
Selderhuis’s work presents the life of Luther divided in 10 chronological stages—from a “soul snatching Devil”-fearing childhood to a monastic life prompted by St. Anna’s help; from a Romans-heavy tenure in Wittenberg to becoming the embodiment of a disputation against the Catholic Church in the very same place years later; and from a German Bible-translation pioneer to getting married to a former nun.
After the 95 Theses, in a threatening situation between the Catholic Church and those who identified with the reformer, his response was that “People should stop using my name, and instead of calling themselves Lutheran, they should be willing to be called Christian. What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine. And I have not been crucified for anybody. … How could I, a bag full of maggots, come to the point that people, the children of Christ, call themselves after my unwholesome name?”
In spite of his temperament, frequent lack of humility and quick exasperation, it is the common opinion that Luther is to be thanked for the church’s return to the Word. John Calvin, in agreement with this, wrote,“We must, and we will take him the way he is, because it was Luther who gave the gospel back to us.” Furthermore, he says that if everyone were to call Luther a devil, even then he would have honored him as a unique servant of God.
Luther was convinced that he had not sought the role of reformer. Rather, he presented himself as “Without being aware of it, God pushed me into working with the gospel. … The wisdom of God is greater than that of people. He simply blinded me as you would put blinders on a horse who must run on a racetrack. … I told him in my little cell that if he wanted to play a game with me, he should do that for himself. … He has powerfully heard this prayer.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, Robert L. Plummer, professor of New Testament interpretation, talks with Towers writer Annie Corser about his new book, Greek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek.
AC: How did this book come about?
RP: This book, like most books I’ve written, was not necessarily planned. My good friend Ben Merkle who started the Ph.D. program here with me in 1997, asked me specifically, “Would you like to co-write this book with me?” So it’s not something I really had on the radar, but we both love teaching Greek. We started teaching Greek together in 1997 as Ph.D. students. We love seeing students ignited with the passion for learning Greek. We like to make it fun. So it just seems like whenever Ben asks me to do something with him, it’s hard to turn down. So we did it, and it’s a little different from other books I’ve written. It’s very conversational. It very much reads more like a magazine or a newspaper. My most recent description of it to try to explain it to people quickly is it’s like your life coach for the Greek language. So you may be taking a class, you may be studying Greek on your own with a textbook, but you sort of need someone to come in, your wingman, your life coach, who’s going to say, “Okay, this is how you can learn this quickly, these are the things that are going to distract you. Here’s how you stay in it for life. Don’t forget this is important. Here’s a devotional. Knowing Greek really matters. Here’s an inspiring quote from John Calvin. Here’s what John Piper has to say. Here’s from a student five years ago.” We also included a chapter for those who have left Greek and have abandoned it. It includes inspiring stories of Dan Wallace and how he got encephalitis and forgot all of his Greek and had to relearn Greek from his own textbook as he was teaching it. A lot of pastors I run into are ashamed that they got so busy that some of their knowledge of Greek or much of it has slipped, and they don’t want that to be the case, but they don’t really know how to get back. So this book is intended for the beginning student to really learn how to learn it and keep it. It’s intended for the current student because we even have a chapter on what to do in your summer and winter breaks to make sure you don’t lose it and you progress. It is for the graduate who either wants to stay in it and is at a good place now, or (more frequently) has moved away and is trying to bring it back.
AC: You said pastors you talked to are ashamed of losing their Greek, how do you see that shame affect them?
RP: I’m a Greek professor, so when I meet our graduates 10 years later, I’ll sometimes say kindly, “Are you staying in the Greek text?” or something like that. Or people, through the Daily Dose of Greek, people I’ve never met will email me and say, “I graduated from seminary and I took Greek, but I got so busy in pastoral ministry I let it slide and I didn’t know how to get it back. But I found this and I just do a little every day and I’ve been doing it two or three years, and I can read Greek. I’m so excited. It wasn’t a waste!” I think part of it is when people first go into pastoral ministry, they’re often overwhelmed by the new lifestyle, preparing weekly messages and getting to know the people. So the tyranny of the urgent takes over and if they haven’t developed good habits, they sometimes lose what they really value. We live in a distracted society, and the book speaks about how our brains are wired to respond to new information, so with people there’s this sort of self-reinforcing neurological loop, where people get into checking Facebook and looking at Instagram or these kinds of things and really wasting a lot of time that they don’t realize. Part of the book is looking at some of this research and thinking about how to bring structure into your life to choose to do the things you value most for the long haul.
AC: Do you notice current students also battle that same guilt and shame?
RP: It’s less common because they have the assistance of external structures. They have the structure of classes and the structure of curriculum that often is guiding them through, but you do sometimes find students who allow the demands of other classes crowd out their Greek and Hebrew habits, and I tell students it really doesn’t take that much. Honestly, if you’re in Greek five or 10 minutes a day, you can maintain a really good working knowledge. But for the same reason people can’t floss their teeth regularly or exercise regularly, I think quite honestly a lot of this has more to do with habit and distraction than knowledge of Greek, so that’s why much of the book deals with how to develop habits, how to avoid distractions, and how to think critically about how we’re spending our time. With the limited time we have, how do we use that effectively?
AC: How important are communities of accountability and how can students pursue that?
RP: I think that’s very important. Obviously, the model we are given in Scripture is that we should not forsake assembling of ourselves together. The author of Hebrews says we should join together regularly in fellowship, and Jesus founded the church through his apostles. The vision we have for the Christian life is a vision of community, and I think that’s true academically as well. We need other people. We help pull each other along. This is why people pay a lot of money for personal trainers: They can’t exercise like they want on their own. They need someone to help them. Why do people join exercise classes? Why do people find Bible studies so beneficial? Not only for the accountability but also for the insights from other people. It’s never been easier to have these communities digitally, electronically, remotely. There are Facebook groups mentioned in the book. There’s Daily Dose of Greek. There are other means of remaining in fellowship with people even if you’re on the other side of the world where you’re kept in Greek together, you’re journeying together, but obviously here on campus, there are student reading groups. I think few people can succeed in the long run of staying in their Greek and Hebrew unless they have some way of journeying with others through that.
AC: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
RP: I hope the book helps people, ignites them with a passion for lifelong reading of the Greek New Testament. That includes increased skills, ease in learning, inspiring stories, vision for where they want to go and how to get there, so again, like a personal trainer for an exercise program, this is your personal trainer for Greek. You may know, “Well, I’d like to be in shape, I’d like to go to the gym. Why don’t I do it?” So this is a book that says, “Hey, let’s get you where you need to be with Greek for the trajectory of the rest of your ministry.”
AC: What is the purpose of the quotes?
RP: In my own study of Greek, I’ve always found quotes from historical figures, and not only for Greek but almost anything, to be enduring in my memory. So when Martin Luther talks about the value of the languages, or Calvin, or Wesley, there’s a richness and a depth to their perspective. So for years I’ve collected these, and I know other people who have collected these quotes. We got a big file from Peter Gentry that he had collected and some from other friends. I asked former students to give feedback on what was helpful, so you’ll see a few of them in there. So I think it’s just surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We also included devotionals at the end of each chapter where there’s a text and the purpose of that is to say, “Hey, knowing the Greek and studying the text really makes a difference.” It’s a constant reminder that this is worth doing, because you can’t engage in theological questions at the deepest level until you’re looking at the original text.
In the late 1880s, the church historian Philip Schaff (1819–1893) noted that the “Reformation was a republication of primitive Christianity, and the inauguration of modern Christianity. This makes it, next to the Apostolic age, the most important and interesting portion of church history.”1 And central to the Reformation in its beginnings is its pathfinder, namely, Martin Luther (1483–1546). One might well ask why Luther, in particular, is seen as the central figure of the Reformation when there are other good choices available — Huldreich Zwingli, for example, or John Calvin. It was Luther’ rediscovery of a central doctrine of the New Testament, justification by faith alone, that sparked the Reformation. Although this doctrine had not been totally lost in the Middle Ages — French pre-Reformer Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (1455–1536) was preaching it before Luther — it was Luther’s experience that gripped the hearts and minds of a generation. Luther rightly viewed the obscurity into which this key doctrine had fallen in the Middle Ages as having had detrimental effects on the health of the church of his day. For Luther, justification by faith alone is “the principal doctrine of Christianity” and its opposite — the idea that one can be approved by God on the basis of one’s faith and good works — is the “fundamental principle” of the world and the devil.2 “Whoever departs from the article of justification,” Luther plainly said, “does not know God.”3 And as he concluded more than 20 years after this experience of rediscovering the truth of justification by faith alone: “if this article [of justification] stands, the church stands, if it falls, the church falls.”4‘Walled around with the terror and horror of sudden death’: Luther’s early experience
There were various voices raised in protest at the spiritual darkness caused by the loss of the doctrine of justification by faith alone — John Wycliffe (c.1330-1384) and the Lollards, for example, or Jan Hus (d.1415) and the Hussites — but a lasting Reformation did not occur until Martin Luther was raised up as a pathfinder of reform in the second decade of the 16th century.
Luther was born in Saxony in 1483, the eldest son of a fairly successful businessman, Hans Luther, who was the owner of several mine shafts and copper smelts. Hans wanted a better life for his son than he had. So he sent him, when he was of age, to Erfurt University, where Martin graduated with a M.A. in 1505. His father encouraged him to go on to get a master’s degree in law, but on July 2, 1505, Martin had an experience that changed the entire course of not only his own personal story, but also the history of the Church. He had been home for the summer and was returning to Erfurt on foot, when, about half a mile from the city gates of Erfurt a storm broke. In the words of John M. Todd:
Thunder clouds had built up, and suddenly the lightning flashed, a bolt striking right beside Martin who was knocked to the ground, though unhurt, in terror he shouted out: “Beloved St Anne! I will become a monk.” St. Anne was the patron saint of miners; Martin had heard prayers to her throughout his childhood perhaps more than to any other saint. …In later years he described himself at the moment when the lightning struck as “walled around with the terror and horror of sudden death.”5
Twelve days later, on July 17, 1505, Luther knocked at the gate of the Augustinian order in Erfurt and asked to be accepted into their monastic ranks. When he later told his father Hans of his decision, his father was quite angry that his son was not continuing with his studies.
He asked Martin, “Do you not know that it is commanded to honour father and mother?” Luther’s response was that his terror in the thunderstorm and St. Anne’s saving him from death had led him to become a monk. “I hope it was not the devil!” his father replied.6
And so Luther became a monk, a member of the Order of Augustinian Eremites, one of the strictest monastic orders in Europe. He entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt to find spiritual peace and salvation. But for nearly 10 years genuine peace eluded Luther. He feared God might have predestined him to destruction. He often imagined Christ sitting in judgement over him at the Last Day. In fact, at Wittenberg, where Luther was now studying, there was a stone carving of Christ as Judge with two swords coming out of his mouth. Because of its terrible severity, Luther could not bear to look at this image, and would hurry past it on his way to daily prayer shielding his eyes with his hand.
To find peace with God, Luther zealously confessed every sin he could think of. He would confess every day, sometimes up to six hours a day. Luther had been taught that the moment the priest whispered in the confessional “I now absolve thee,” all of his sins were forgiven. But Luther was never certain that he had been fully forgiven. Always present was the fear: Have I confessed every sin? Then came a discovery even more distressing to Luther—there are sins which people commit that are not even known to them. But how could these be confessed if they were not known? Luther re-doubled his efforts and threw himself into all-night vigils, great bouts of fasting — all to find forgiveness and peace with God. As he once said:
I was indeed a pious monk and kept the rules of my order so strictly that I can say: If ever a monk gained heaven through monkery, it should have been I. All my monastic brethren who knew me will testify to this. I would have martyred myself to death with fasting, praying, reading, and other good works had I remained a monk much longer.7
Luther sought to find peace with God through such works, but he was troubled
by an overpowering fear of God’s judgement:
…My conscience could never achieve certainty but was always in doubt and said: “You have not done this correctly. You were not contrite enough. You omitted this in your confession.” Therefore the longer I tried to heal my uncertain, weak, and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more uncertain, weak, and troubled I continually made it.8
In plainer language Luther later stated: “If I could believe that God was not angry with me, I would stand on my head for joy.”9‘A passive righteousness’: Luther’s discovery of a merciful God
By 1514, Luther obtained a doctorate and had been installed as professor of biblical theology at the relatively young University of Wittenberg. During that year, the academic year 1514–1515,10 he was teaching a course on the Psalms. In his lectures and studies he came to Psalm 71, and was struck by the psalmist’s cry in verse two, “Deliver me in your righteousness, and cause me to escape.” Now, for Luther, the righteousness of God spoke of God’s awesome holiness and his judgment of sinners, not deliverance. Mystified by the psalmist’s language, Luther decided to study what the Scriptures have to say about this phrase, “the righteousness of God.” He was led, in God’s providence, to Romans 1:16–17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” Here is Luther’s testimony:
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I turned to… the following words: “In it [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous live through a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: The righteousness of God which is revealed by the gospel, is a passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.11
Now what was Luther’s discovery? Namely this: The righteousness of God mentioned in Romans 1:16–17 is not an attribute of God, but that righteousness, namely the righteousness of Christ that he achieved in totally fulfilling the law of God, which God imputes to the person who puts his or her trust (fiducia) in Christ. And it is on this basis of this imputed righteousness that God declares such a person to be righteous. In other words, the decisive discovery of the Reformation was “Christ our righteousness.”12 Prior to this experience Luther knew that he could never obtain the righteousness that God demanded in his law, and that one day he would be bound to face the withering wrath of God. By this experience, though, Luther realized that salvation was not at all a matter of his attaining the perfect standard of righteousness which God demanded, but simply, by faith, relying upon Christ’s righteousness. Christ alone among men and women has never sinned; he alone has lived a life of perfect righteousness, and he alone has perfectly fulfilled the law and its righteous demands.13
What makes this discovery so powerful is that 500 years later, in a very different world culturally, politically, and technologically, we find ourselves needing the same saving grace, for we, like, Luther, are sinners in need of a merciful God.
1 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Repr. Eerdmans Publishing, 1980), VII, Preface.
2 Stephen Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters (William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1988), 4.
3 Cited R. C. Sproul, “Introduction” to Francis Turretin, Justification, trans. George Musgrave Giger and ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (P&R Publishing, 2004), viii.
4 Cited Philip H. Eveson, The Great Exchange: Justification by faith alone in the light of recent thought (Day One Publications, 1996), 174.
5 John M. Todd, Luther. A Life (Hamish Hamilton, 1982), 25–26.
6 Hans J. Hillerbrand, The Reformation. A narrative history related by contemporary observers and participants (Repr. Baker Book House, 1978), 24.
7 Hillerbrand, Reformation, 24.
8 Cited Westerholm, Israel’s Law and Church’s Faith, 7.
9 Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart (Doubleday, 1992), 315.
10 There are some scholars who date this discovery a few years later.
11 Cited Todd, Luther, 77–78.
12 Alan Torrance, “Justification” in Adrian Hastings, The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (Oxford University Press, 2000), 363.
13 See, for instance, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Fifteen years ago in Paris, I had a conversation with a young existentialist who said something as unflattering as it was memorable: “Whatever the world does the church does ten years later and worse.” My new friend was talking about Christian music, describing a decade lag factor, a slowness to recognize and adapt to cultural changes that, in his estimation, rendered the church musically irrelevant ...
Students who have taken my Christian Home class are familiar with a diagram I draw on the board each semester. In this diagram, I visually depict the difference between polygamy and polyamory—two marriage arrangements that contrast monogamy. I then tell my students that such arrangements will most likely be legal in the United States in just a matter of years and that the church will need to be prepared to address them.
The time frame for normalization of these alternative marriages may have accelerated in recent months, as a series of articles have been published touting the advantages of various forms of multiple marriage. It is important for us to understand what these are and to critique them from a biblical perspective.
The Marriage Alternatives
Until the last couple of years, laws in the United States only recognized marriage to be between one man and one woman. The 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges opened the door to same-sex marriage. Now we see a push for different types of marriage that infringe upon monogamy.
Polygamy is a marriage arrangement where one individual is married to multiple partners. Historically, this is primarily a man married to multiple women. This form of marriage is the one most clearly set up for legalization through the Obergefell decision.
Polyamory literally means “many loves” and describes “consensually non-monogamous relationships [where] there is an open agreement that one, both, or all individuals involved in a romantic relationship may also have other sexual and/or romantic partners.” Polyamory differs from polygamy because all partners can be in multiple marriage-like relationships. While a recent Christian blogger has stated that polyamory is not about sex, the basic premise of this type of relationship is that the various partners are in multiple intimate, romantic, sexual relationships.
Open marriage is the third alternative in the marriage battleground. This arrangement involves couples in the marriage being open to romantic, sexual relationships outside the context of their own marriage. In some respects, this is similar to polyamory, although the outside relationships may not be formalized as marriage. Proponents of open marriage argue that as long as both spouses are in agreement with the arrangement then it does not break the fidelity of the marriage bond.
The Battle Ahead
Are these marriage alternatives really going to become mainstream? Numerous articles have appeared over the last year promoting these different marriage arrangements. New York published an article promoting consensual nonmonogamy. The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed philosopher Carrie Jenkins about her new book What Love Is and What It Could Be in which she promotes polyamory. NPR even ran a story about the cultural moment for polyamory stating, “Lately, I’m seeing ‘polyamory’ everywhere. It’s not a new word or concept of course, but it seems to be having a cultural moment.” Polygamy is popularized on the television shows Sister Wives and Polygamy USA.
From a Christian perspective, progressive Christian blogger Chuck McKnight is currently publishing a series of blog posts promoting polyamory and open marriage based on a “love-based ethic” in which our ethical actions are judged by only the question of whether they are loving. McKnight believes that polyamory can be loving and therefore not biblically prohibited.
The Christian Response
In response to the cultural push for acceptance of these marriage alternatives, Scripture gives us a couple of clear ideas about marriage.
Scripture communicates a consistent message about the monogamous nature of marriage. Beginning in Genesis, we see that God’s design for marriage is a comprehensive, covenantal relationship between one man and one woman. Genesis 2:24 provides this divine commentary on the nature of marriage:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
God designed that the man (singular) would be joined to his wife (singular) in marriage. All subsequent descriptions of marriage relate the ideal of monogamy. While there are examples of polygamists in the Old Testament (for example, Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon), their polygamy is not depicted as ideal. In fact, their polygamy is the source of great strife and conflict in their homes. Despite the presence of such polygamy, the overwhelming testimony of Scripture points to monogamy as the standard. Both Jesus and Paul affirm the monogamous standard. In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 and then describes two becoming one flesh. He never inserts a third or fourth individual into the marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul states, “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Paul clearly communicates the idea of monogamous marriage here. The message is consistent throughout Scripture.
Any departure from monogamous marriage is a form of sexual immorality. Scripture consistently condemns adultery, but two specific passages come to mind in response to the current challenges to marriage. In Romans 7:3 we read, “So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress….” Paul describes a standard monogamous marriage (a wife with one husband) and equates any union with another man as adultery. In addition, the author of Hebrews tells us, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).
If Scripture depicts God’s design for marriage to be monogamous, and if any departure from monogamous marriage is equated with adultery, then the various alternative marriage arrangements—polygamy, polyamory, and open marriage—are all forms of adultery that are subject to the judgment of God. Therefore, Christians should not endorse these forms of “marriage,” nor should they tolerate them within their midst. Just as Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for tolerating the man who had married his father’s wife, we too should rebuke those who promote and tolerate such distortions of God’s design for marriage.
Rhonda N. Balzarini, et al., “Perceptions of primary and secondary relationships in polyamory,” PLoS ONE 12 (2017).
Chuck McKnight, “What Polyamory Is Not,” Hippie Heretic (September 11, 2017).
Drake Baer, “Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love,” New York (March 6, 2017).
Moira Weigel, “‘I Have Multiple Loves’: Carrie Jenkins makes the philosophical case for polyamory,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 3, 2017). Carrie Jenkins, What Love Is and What It Could Be (New York: Basic Books, 2017).
Barbara J. King, “A Cultural Moment for Polyamory,” NPR (March 23, 2017).
I will never forget the time as a teenager when I first told my parents that I felt called to missions. Their response was both encouraging and measured. They expressed initial happiness but also cautioned with the words, “Let’s wait and see.”
Years later, now as a former missionary, people will occasionally share with me their own desire to serve overseas. They sense that God is calling them into ministry and wonder what they should do next. In many ways, I want to respond like my parents, affirming such a wonderful calling while also tempering their excitement. I also want to give some practical advice.
What follows is my general counsel for prospective missionaries. More could be said, to be sure, with specificity depending on the situation. But these suggested first steps represent a broad perspective, with a clarity that comes from both mistakes made and lessons learned.1. Take your time
Missionaries are passionate people. They are often Type-A go-getters who don’t like delay. From the moment they’re called they are ready to storm the gates of hell. But, in such cases, perhaps the greatest need for them is to tap the brakes. Take your time. Slow down. Breathe. There is incredible urgency in the world, but you must also sense the urgency which is within. You must realize the need to clarify ahead of time theological convictions and ministry priorities. You must be aware of your potential to do incredible harm to yourself, your hearers, and even the gospel if you are not well-prepared. Many a missionary has made shipwreck of his family or his ministry in the name of haste. So, please, take your time. Jesus and the Apostle Paul didn’t start right away. Chances are, neither should you.2. Master the Scriptures
A large component of your preparation should be theological. Again, those in a hurry to reach the lost may want to bypass traditional theological education. They think it takes too much time. But if you are to be a minister of the gospel you need to master the scriptures. There is no shortcut here. The mission field is strewn with shallow missionaries and, almost by default, shallow churches. False teaching and a lack of theological clarity are the blight of the global church. How are you going to address that need with a thimble full of a Bible knowledge? And what will be your ballast when swirling around you are the winds of methodological innovation? What we need now more than ever are missionaries who are grounded in the word of God and who can rightly handle it in any context.3. Become more relational
It would be easy to say that is enough. But acquiring a body of knowledge never qualified anyone for ministry. Knowledge without love is nothing. What that means for most Westerners is that we will need to learn how to love. More specifically, we need to learn how to communicate love in other cultures. Typically, Eastern and Southern cultures around the world are far more relational. They expect impromptu visits. They enjoy chatting with neighbors and strangers. They want to talk about everything and about nothing. Meanwhile, we in the West are often task-oriented and time-conscious. We have lost the art of conversation in our tech-driven society. But if you are going to serve people, you need to have certain relational and conversational acumen. You should, beginning now, seek experience meeting with people for extended periods of time, even people very different than you. You need to learn how to ask questions, how to draw out their desires or their pains. You need the kind of demeanor that turns a preacher into a pastor. In short, you need the compassion of Christ.4. Learn a marketable skill
What skills and experience do you have? I cannot count the number of times I was asked that question as a missionary candidate. And I rarely had a good answer. But such ignorance and ambivalence will get you almost nowhere. If you want to serve as a missionary, secular expertise is critical. More and more countries in the world (even traditionally-open countries) are closing their borders or tightening immigration. Fears of global terrorism and the swell of nationalism are combining to squeeze out opportunities for religious worker visas. Which means, if your heart is to go to the unreached nations of the world, a Bible college degree will not likely suffice. In fact, it may be more of a scarlet letter. So I would encourage anyone considering overseas missions to pursue or enhance their current marketability. Learn a trade. Earn a degree. At the very least, become certified as an English teacher. Do anything. But whatever you do, do something to enhance your access to the nations.5. Serve where you are
Professional development, however, is not enough. You should be taking advantage of this time to gain vocational experience as well. By that I mean you need ministry experience. You need to be serving right where you are, finding opportunities to meet needs in your current context. You should be evangelizing the lost, now. You should be pursuing relationships with internationals, now. You should be volunteering in your church, now. Don’t wait until you reach the field. Train yourself in the art of witnessing. Grow in your ability to serve others with hospitality. Gain experience teaching the Bible—even if that’s to Kindergarteners. So often I’ve seen prospective missionaries living for what’s next and missing what is now. But flourishing where God has you in the present is key to future fruitfulness.6. Depend on your local church
Missionaries are also notorious for going it alone. But they, perhaps more than anyone else, need the local church—and not just for financial support. Early on in the process they need guidance from the elders and confirmation in their calling. They will likely need help selecting a sending agency or a field of service. While on the field they will benefit from regular encouragement and prayer from the body. Times may come when they need specific direction or even correction. But it’s almost impossible to create those relationships and paths for communication after landing on the field. Far better for you to develop meaningful and deep connections before departure. You’ll be glad you did.
For the past three years I have been helping my father update his classic book Evidence that Demands a Verdict. There is no doubt that the evidence for Christianity has grown substantially since the book first released in 1972 ...
The post Greenway discusses appointment to the SBC’s Evangelism Task Force appeared first on Southern Equip.
he Protestant Reformation was a time of great discovery, and rediscovery, of essential biblical truths lost or muted for centuries. Intense and passionate people like Martin Luther (1483-1546) rediscovered the biblical gospel, which freed them from the anxiety they had about whether or not they had done enough good works to merit their salvation. The justification of a sinner before the holy God sola fide (“by faith alone”) was the great pastoral insight of the Protestants of the 16th century. As a result, ordinary Christians as well as vocational ministers could know in their heart of hearts they were in a right relationship with God. They could have assurance that in the final judgment they would be received into God’s presence because of Christ’s completed work on their behalf.
Luther spoke movingly of the reality of justification in this way:
Faith unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. As Paul teaches us, Christ and the soul become one flesh by this mystery (Eph. 5.31-32). And if they are one flesh, and if the marriage is for real—indeed, it is the most perfect of all marriages, and human marriages are poor examples of this one true marriage—then it follows that everything that they have is held in common, whether good or evil. So the believer can boast of and glory of whatever Christ possesses, as though it were his or her own; and whatever the believer has, Christ claims as his own. Let us see how this works out, and see how it benefits us. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The human soul is full of sin, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them. Sin, death, and damnation will be Christ’s. And grace, life, and salvation will be the believer’s.1
All of Christ’s benefits were given to a believer by faith alone.
It is for these reasons that historians often call justification sola fide the “material principle” of the Reformation. It is the central facet of the theology of the Reformation, the teaching which secures how one is made right with God. It secures our salvation. Indeed, without it there is no Christian faith.
But below and behind justification sola fide stands a second facet of the Reformation, sola Scriptur (“Scripture alone”), which gives shape and form to the doctrine of justification. To answer the question, How can I be made right with God?, first I have to determine by what authority I will come to my conclusion. Is it my experience, what seems to work for me? Is it the tradition of the church, or maybe its teachers, who tell me how to be in a saving relationship with the Lord? Or is it the Bible? Luther believed that Scripture—which alone was the breathed-out inerrant Word of God—was the only infallible source to answer weary souls’ questions about their salvation. Sola Scriptura is thus the “formal principle” of the Reformation, guarding the conviction that the Bible alone was able to give shape to our doctrine, especially our theology of the justification of a sinner before the holy Judge. Matthew Barrett defines it as the belief that “only Scripture, because it is God’s inspired Word, is our inerrant, sufficient, and final authority for the church.”2
Martin Luther believed this. This German monk is significant for us since “The Reformation is Luther and Luther is the Reformation.”3 In his quest to find solace before the holy God, Luther became an Augustinian monk. Then he proceeded to exhaust himself and his confessor with the number of hours he would spend every day (as a monk) recounting his sins of commission and omission, what he thought about as well as what he feared he might have thought while asleep. It was decided that Luther needed something else to do to take his mind off himself. So, against his will, Luther was made to get a doctoral degree in theology and was appointed lecturer of the Bible, one whose teaching career was spent working through biblical books with his students at the University of Wittenberg.
The church didn’t know what a lion they had let loose when they told Luther to study and teach the Bible. Luther was not easily satisfied with others’ answers to his deepest questions, so he studied, and meditated, and studied more, until finally he was able to see that the Bible taught that one is made righteous not by doing good works or by submitting to the teaching of the Church. No, one is made righteous through faith in Jesus. He studied and taught these books: Psalms (1513-1515); Romans (1515-1516); Galatians (1516-1517); Hebrews (1517-1518); Psalms again (1518-1519). It’s remarkable that Luther (who decided what books of the Bible he would study and teach) chose these particular books to study in depth. You couldn’t arrive at a better I-want-to-become-a-Protestant curriculum of study. And through studying these books, and in his subsequent ministry, Luther became committed to the idea of sola Scriptura.
Sola Scriptura never meant that human reasoning was irrelevant or that the church’s tradition of doctrinal understanding shouldn’t be taken into account. In other words, Luther never promoted nuda Scriptura. Instead, humility should lead us to consider the church’s historical understanding of Scripture as we seek to come to our own conclusions. But sola Scriptura did mean that the Bible was the sole authority in the ultimate determination of our doctrine and our practice. It was the norma normans non normata (the “norm of norms that cannot be normed”), the alone guide to truth. Other avenues of truth were useful, but they all had to sit below the one authoritative source of truth, the Bible. Sola Scriptura is indeed the “formal principle” of the Protestant Reformation.
Luther came to an understanding of sola Scriptura in the midst of his disagreements with the Catholic Church. When he began his debate with Rome over indulgences with his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, what did he begin with? The Bible. The first thesis says,
1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Aided by Desiderius Erasmus’s 1516 publication of the Greek New Testament, Luther understood that the Catholic doctrine of penance was built on an unbiblical foundation because of a mistranslation of Jesus’ words into a Latin rendition reading “do penance” instead of “repent.” No, said Luther, the Bible—not even church tradition spanning over a millennium—must determine our doctrine and practice.
The Roman Church did not take kindly to Luther’s implicit attack on their source of authority. In fact, they said so plainly, pointing out that “He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic.”4 Things soon came to a head when Luther debated the Catholic theologian, Cardinal Cajetan, in 1518 at Augsburg. Cajetan stressed that the pope was the final arbiter of the meaning of Scripture, to which Luther responded, “His Holiness [i.e., the pope] abuses Scripture. I deny that he is above Scripture.”5
The next year (1519) Luther debated Johann Eck, another Catholic theologian, at Leipzig. Eck kept pressing Luther to submit to the tradition of the Church in its conciliar decisions and canon law, much of which he quoted from memory. Luther responded by quoting from memory what he knew best—the Bible! Eck concluded that Luther erred by his unwillingness to submit to the pope’s infallible interpretation of Scripture and said the German monk was no different than the heretic Jan Hus (1369-1415), who had put his own interpretation of the Bible above the papacy’s. After considering this accusation that evening, Luther shocked the assembly the next day by declaring, “Ja, Ich bin ein Hussite” (“Yes, I am a Hussite”), thus showing his allegiance at the point of scriptural authority with a man who’d been burned as a heretic by the church. The church’s response was swift and decisive. In January 1521 Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, condemned as a heretic.
A few months later at the Diet of Worms (April 1521) Luther was charged with being a heretic by the Holy Roman Empire. Asked to recant of the numerous errors in his several books, Luther defiantly took his stand on the authority of the Bible, memorably declaring,
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures, or by evident reason (for I put my faith neither in popes nor councils alone, since it is established that they have erred again and again and contradicted one another), I am bound by the scriptural evidence adduced by me, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, I will not recant anything, for it is neither safe nor right to act against one’s conscience. God help me. Amen.6
The “evident reason” Luther appealed to referred to the conclusions a biblical interpreter would draw from the text of Scripture, not to autonomous human logic.7 Emperor Charles V responded by declaring Luther an outlaw in the empire. Declared an outlaw, Luther was now under the ban of both the church and the empire because of his stand for sola Scriptura.
Luther never recanted because he was deeply convinced that God’s Word alone was true and authoritative. His response to the church and the empire proves this. He preached tirelessly from the Bible. He wrote commentaries on several books of the Bible (his 1535 commentary on Galatians is a wonderful example of the mature Luther’s thought). He translated the New Testament from Greek to German (in 11 weeks) so that laypeople could read, hear, and understand the Bible for themselves. He himself was convinced that God used him simply as an instrument to make the Bible known. All he did was preach the Bible and God performed his work through the Scripture:
I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.8
From Luther himself, then, we see that the Protestant Reformation was fueled by both believing and putting into practice the biblical doctrine of sola Scriptura.
Shawn Wright is professor of church history at Southern Seminary.
1 The Freedom of a Christian; cf. McGrath, “Justification,” 363.
2 Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 23.
3 James Atkinson, The Great Light: Luther and Reformation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 11.
4 Sylvester Prierias, Dialogue concerning the Power of the Pope, in Barrett, God’s Word Alone, 36.
5 Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, 80; in Barrett, God’s Word Alone, 38.
6 Quoted in Rudolph W. Heinze, Reform and Conflict, 96.
7 Barrett, God’s Word Alone, 50.
8 Quoted in Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville: Broadman, 1988), 53.
n this eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, diverse voices sound out in response to the question, “Is the Reformation over?” For example, Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston University and an apologist for Roman Catholicism, maintains, “What happened in our day that never happened before was that both sides [Protestants and Catholics] listened with new openness and passion and honesty, and the result was a miracle: the central issue of the Reformation, which was the single most serious schism in Christian history, was resolved to the satisfaction of both sides without compromise.”1
To what resolution does Kreeft refer? The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed by the World Lutheran Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999.2 The Joint Declaration weds together statements about justification on which Catholics and Protestants agree, other statements that represent the unique Roman Catholic understanding of justification, and still other statements that represent the unique Lutheran understanding of the doctrine.
Accordingly, the Joint Declaration claims that the two traditions have found vast agreement on this doctrine. Given that justification was the material principle (the core doctrinal content) of Protestantism and a key reason for the division between Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church, the Joint Declaration, according to Kreeft, is “the greatest ecumenical achievement in the five hundred years since the Reformation” and signals that “the single greatest obstacle to reunion … has essentially been overcome.”3 In reality, the Protestants who have signed the Joint Declaration represent more liberal churches and denominations, who appear to be far more committed to ecumenism than to the theology of the Reformers.
This voice affirming the end of the Reformation contrasts with other voices denying it is finished. For example, Chris Castaldo and I, in our co-authored book, The Unfinished Reformation,4 applaud the many steps taken by Protestants and Catholics to better understand one another. We no longer kill one another over points of doctrinal disagreement, for example. Furthermore, we rejoice over our commonalities, doctrines such as the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Catholics and Protestants protest against the culture of death whose shadow falls steadily over the United States, and together we champion religious freedom and other human rights.
At the same time, we do not believe the Reformation is over – not at all. “We say this because of the many basic doctrinal differences that still exist between the Catholic and Protestant traditions. These include views on Scripture and Tradition, justification, the nature and role of the church/Church, the sacraments, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Mary and the saints, merits, indulgences, and purgatory.”5
No, the Reformation is not over. The theological chasm between the Catholic Church and Protestants remains. Here’s why:Justification
The two traditions operate with widely different definitions of justification. According to Catholic theology, justification “is not only the remission [forgiveness] of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inner man.” This definition contrasts with the Protestant view that justification is “a mighty act of God by which he declares sinful people not guilty but righteous instead. He does so by imputing, or crediting, the perfect righteousness of Christ to them. Thus, while they are not actually righteous, God views them as being so because of Christ’s righteousness.”6The Reformation Is Not Over
Our understanding of justification makes all the difference in the world as to how we achieve right standing before God. If, according to the Roman Catholic view, justification is forgiveness and sanctification and regeneration, then salvation is a lifelong process. It begins with the new birth (and, as we will see, this takes place through the Catholic sacrament of baptism), includes the removal of original sin, and continues through progress in holiness, specifically, cooperation with the grace of God (through the other Church sacraments) so as to merit eternal life. Excluded from this lifelong process of justification is the assurance of one’s salvation. Perseverance in Christ is not guaranteed, because at any point in the process one may commit mortal sin, lose the grace of justification, and forfeit salvation. Accordingly, Roman Catholic theology denies that the Catholic faithful may be assured of their salvation.
If, however, according to the Protestant view, justification is the divine declaration that (1) we are no longer guilty because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and that (2) we are righteous before God because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ being accredited to our account, our standing before God is sealed. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The sentence of “not guilty” but “righteous instead” has already been rendered on our behalf, so we can be assured of our salvation.Scripture and Tradition
Catholics and Protestants disagree as to what constitutes divine revelation. To the question, “How does God speak to the world today, Roman Catholic theology answers, through Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium?” Scripture is the written Word of God and, while it corresponds closely to the Protestant notion, there is a major difference: The canon of the Catholic Bible (the list of divinely inspired, authoritative books that constitute Scripture) is longer than that of the Protestant Bible. It includes seven additional writings—Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (notice the ending; it is also called Wisdom of Sirach), Baruch, and First and Second Maccabees—as well as additional sections to Esther and Daniel. Called the apocryphal writings, or the Apocrypha for short, these extra books and sections affirm “purgatory and prayers for the dead (2 Macc. 12:46), the merit of works (Tobit 4:10; 12:9; 14:10-11), . . . and almsgiving atoning for sin (Sirach 3:30).”7
When believers search the Bible to understand the gospel, find God’s will, receive comfort and guidance, resolve doctrinal disputes, and lead their churches, they have the sufficient, truthful, clear, necessary, authoritative, and divinely inspired revelation—everything they need to please God fully.
Catholics hold that tradition includes the teaching of Jesus that he orally communicated to his apostles, who in turn orally communicated it to their successors, the bishops of the Catholic Church, who guard, nurture, and occasionally proclaim it to be official dogma that the Catholic faithful are obligated to believe and practice. Tradition includes the immaculate conception of Mary (she was conceived without sin), her bodily assumption (upon her death, Mary’s body was immediately taken up into heaven), transubstantiation (the bread and wine of the Eucharist are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ when the sacrament is celebrated), and more. Importantly, then, the Catholic Church “does not derive her certainly about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. According to Catholic doctrine, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiment of devotion and reverence.”8
The responsibility for the proper interpretation of Scripture and the establishment of Tradition, in Roman Catholic mind, falls to the Magisterium, or the teaching office of the Catholic Church. Consisting of the pope and the bishops, this office is not, most Catholics insist, a third source of divine revelation; rather, according the Roman Catholicism, the pope and the bishops constitute the authoritative structure for the determination and understanding of divine revelation. Indeed, we can argue that because the Catholic Church determined the canon of the New Testament (a claim that does not bear up under historical investigation) and proclaims Tradition, it stands above both Scripture and Tradition. Accordingly, Catholics believe through Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, God speaks to the world today.
But Protestants answer the same question with reference to Scripture only. Indeed, the formal principle (the authoritative structure of the faith) of Protestantism is sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). This stance means that when believers search the Bible to understand the gospel, find God’s will, receive comfort and guidance, resolve doctrinal disputes, and lead their churches, they have the sufficient, truthful, clear, necessary, authoritative, and divinely inspired revelation—everything they need to please God fully. The Catholic Church officially denies that the final authority in the church is Scripture alone.The Church, sacraments, and the presence of Christ at the table
According to Roman Catholic theology, “the sole Church of Christ … subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.”9 This stance rests on the Christ-Church interconnection, that is, the Roman Catholic Church self-identifies as the continuation of the incarnation of Christ. Thus, the whole Christ—divinity, humanity, and body—exists in the Church, and given the fact that there is only one Christ, they argue there is only one Church: the Roman Catholic Church.
The implication of this position is that the gatherings of Protestants are not churches; rather, they are “ecclesial communities.”10 “Furthermore, Catholic theology insists that the salvation offered to people through evangelical ecclesial communities actually flows from the ‘fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church.’ What is more, if unity is ever to be recovered among evangelical ecclesial communities and other churches, those evangelical assemblies must join the Catholic Church.”11 It goes without saying, such a perspective is unacceptable to Protestants.
At the heart of the Catholic Church is its sacraments, and this sacramental orientation rises and falls on the nature-grace interdependence: The elements of nature—created things like mountains, forests, angels, human beings, water, oil, bread, and wine—are capable of receiving and transmitting the grace of God. Moreover, divine grace must be concretely transmitted through elements of nature. Accordingly, they teach the sacraments of the Catholic Church transmit God’s grace to the Catholic faithful. When Catholics participate in the Mass, they believe divine grace is infused into them through the consecrated bread and wine; thus, they experience a more intimate union with Christ, separation from sin, and more.
Focusing briefly on this last point, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is “the source and summit of the Christian life” because it contains the “whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself,”12 involves transubstantiation: The natural elements of bread and wine are consecrated such that “by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, [they] become the body and blood of Christ. Christ is thus really and mysteriously made present.”13
According to Protestant theology, two marks establish a true church and distinguish it from a false church: “The church is the congregation of the saints in which the gospel is rightly taught and the sacraments rightly administered.”14 Thus, a true church is marked by preaching the Word and the two rites Christ ordained for his church to celebrate: baptism (Matt 28:18-20) and the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26-29). This view contrasts with the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony. And Protestant theology disagrees that grace is infused through the sacraments. As we saw with justification, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to his people, but he does not infuse grace to enable them to cooperate with grace in doing good works in order to merit eternal life. Moreover, whereas Protestants disagree among themselves as to the nature of the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, they all reject transubstantiation because it is grounded on a misunderstanding of Scripture (“This is my body;” Matt 26:26), it developed late in time (the 13th century), and it appeals to divine power without any biblical warrant. Thus, Catholics and Protestants, in the sixteenth century and now, profoundly disagree about the identity of the church. Historic Protestants have insisted that the Roman Catholic Church, abandoning the Gospel and the preaching of the Word of God, is a false church.Mary and the saints, merits, indulgences, and purgatory.
Based on Scripture and tradition, and with a faulty notion of justification, Roman Catholic theology claims that salvation involves both divine grace and human effort: God’s grace initiates the lifelong process, and the Catholic faithful cooperate with that grace by doing good works, thereby meriting eternal life. Accordingly, four categories of people exist:
(1) “All who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified” go immediately into the presence of the Lord in heaven.15 Mary is the forerunner of these Catholic faithful, who have fully cooperated with divine grace, engaged in good works (even to the point of doing more than their duty), and thus merited eternal life. These people are the “saints,” and they provide examples of holiness and engage in prayer for the Catholic faithful on earth.
(2) “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”16 These people are in purgatory, experiencing passive suffering, being purified so that one day (with certainty) they will enter the presence of the Lord in heaven.
(3) All who “die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love” go immediately to hell, “where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God.”17 Accordingly, there are two eternal destinies—heaven and hell—and one temporal destiny—purgatory.
(4) As for the Catholic faithful on earth, they participate in the sacraments, receiving infused grace so as to engage in good works and merit eternal life. They make progress in the lifelong process of justification. Part of their responsibilities is to pursue indulgences: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt has already been forgiven.”18 These releases from punishment, which are of two kinds—plenary, or full remission, and partial remission—may be obtained for themselves (thus, avoiding purgatory) as well as for others (thus, helping those suffering in purgatory to be released more quickly, or even completely).
Protestant theology rejects these Catholic doctrines because they have no place in light of the gospel and no foundation in the Bible. Not on the basis of good works, but by faith alone, sinful people embrace God’s provision of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Accordingly, God declares them “not guilty” but “righteous instead,” signifying they have a completely righteous standing before him. Out of thankfulness to God for his saving work, and because they have been born again (regeneration is another mighty act of God in salvation), they engage in good works, not to merit eternal life, but as the fruit of their salvation. There is no need for indulgences, no need for purgatory, no possibility of merit, and no special classification for people who faithfully walk with God. All are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2).
The Reformation is not over, and it was not a mistake. And why does that matter? Because nothing less than our right standing before God, his way of speaking to us today, our belonging to a true church, and the hope of the gospel are at stake. They are always at stake.
Gregg R. Allison is professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary.
1 Peter Kreeft, Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other? (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 21.
2 Following the original signing of the JDDJ in 1999, the World Methodist Council signed the statement in 2006, the Anglican Consultative Council agreed in principle to the statement in 2016, and the World Communion of Reformed Churches is set to sign it this year (2017).
3 Kreeft, Catholics and Protestants, 17.
4 Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo, The Unfinished Reformation: What Unites and Divides Catholics andProtestants after 500 Years (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016).
5 Ibid., 150.
6 Gregg R. Allison, The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), s.v. “justification.”
7 Owen Chadwick, “Significance of the Deuterocanonical Writings,” in The Apocrypha in Ecumenical Perspective, ed. Siegfried Meurer (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 128.
8 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 82.
9 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 816.
10 This point was underscored and clarified in the motu proprio of Pope Benedict XVI, “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church” (July 10:2007); accessible at www.vatican.va
11 Gregg R. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 171. The citation is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 819.
12 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1324.
13 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1357.
14 Augsburg Confession, 7. See also John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.1.8.
15 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1023.
16 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1030.
17 Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 1033 and 1035.
18 Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1471.
Hundreds gathered in the Alumni Memorial Chapel on Wednesday, June 28, to remember and honor Charles W. Draper, a professor of Boyce College and chair of the school’s department of biblical studies, who died from a heart attack during the early hours of Sunday, June 25. He was 70.
Draper was a highly accomplished scholar and teacher, particularly in the realm of biblical studies and textual criticism. But those who knew him best say he was in his element in private conversations with students, encouraging and challenging them to grow both inside and outside the classroom.
“Professor Charlie Draper was a cherished member of the Boyce College and Southern Seminary faculty, and he will be greatly missed,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College.
For more than 50 years, Draper taught the Bible in numerous contexts — pastoring churches from Florida to Hawaii for more than 20 years, speaking in five different countries, and teaching at the college level. He was also the general editor of the bestselling Bible reference book, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
Draper was a founding professor of Boyce College in 1998, when the school relaunched as the fully accredited James P. Boyce College of the Bible, replacing the non degree-granting Boyce Bible School. From that time, Draper served as associate professor of biblical studies before becoming chair of the department of biblical studies in 2013.
Draper was born in Jacksonville, Texas, on May 25, 1947.
His older brother, Jimmy, was a major figure in the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and 1990s, serving as SBC president from 1982 to 1983 and then as president of LifeWay Christian Resources from 1991 to 2006. Draper was ordained as a minister in Warren, Arkansas, in 1964, and took his first pastorate at age 17.
Draper left behind his wife of 48 years, Retta, who is also a long-time employee of Southern Seminary; his children, Shelly Hardin and David Draper; and his six grandchildren. He was a member of the East campus of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
— SBTS Communications
Three professors elected to the faculty during the spring trustee meeting signed the Abstract of Principles, during convocation ceremonies, August 29. The Abstract is the seminary’s confession of faith.
Signing the historic document were R. Scott Connell, associate professor of music and worship leadership at Boyce College; Charles T. Lewis Jr., associate professor of church music and worship at Southern Seminary; and Brian K. Payne, associate professor of Christian theology and expository preaching at Boyce, became signees No. 258, 259, and 260 of the Abstract.
— SBTS Communications
John David WilseyA renowned church historian with expertise in foundational American ideas and a medieval theology scholar will be joining the faculty at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. John David Wilsey and Tyler R. Wittman will begin their professorships in the fall semester.
Wilsey, who has worked as an educator and pastor since 1992, will serve as associate professor of church history. Princeton University recently announced Wilsey as the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life for 2017-18, during which he will conduct research for a new biography of John Foster Dulles for Eerdmans’ Library of Religious Biography series.
“John Wilsey is a wonderful scholar of American Christianity,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr. “John Wilsey’s expertise, especially in issues of church and state and religious liberty in the United States, and his concern for accuracy and appreciation in terms of history, all of these are great gifts that he brings to this new position at Southern Seminary.”
Tyler R. WittmanWittman is returning to Southern as assistant professor of Christian theology, having recently completed his Ph.D. in Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He previously earned his M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from SBTS.
“Tyler Wittman is an outstanding young theologian,” Mohler said. “He served in times pasts as one of my interns. I’m now old enough to be able to hire professors that I knew as college students, and we really look forward to Tyler Wittman joining Southern Seminary’s theology faculty.”
— Zachary Ball
Trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously approved all recommendations in the board’s April 10 meeting, including the installation of Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines to a visiting professorship honoring former SBC President Herschel H. Hobbs.
The board also approved an expanded budget for the 2017-2018 academic year and elected three faculty members.
The trustees established the Herschel H. Hobbs Visiting Professor of Christian Preaching to honor the life and legacy of Hobbs, a two-time graduate of Southern Seminary. Hobbs was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1961-1963, served as chairman of the committee that revised the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963, and pastored several SBC churches.
“One of my encouragers all along the way was Dr. Herschel Hobbs — he was so committed to this institution, so committed to Southern Baptists,” said Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. to trustees during the meeting.
Gaines, installed as the inaugural Herschel H. Hobbs Visiting Professor of Christian Preaching, has served as the senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, since 2005.
The board approved the Financial Board’s recommendation to increase the budget from $48.04 million the previous academic year to $51.6 million in 2017-2018, an increase of 7.5 percent.
The board also elected to the faculty R. Scott Connell, assistant professor of music and worship leadership at Boyce College; Brian K. Payne, associate professor of Christian theology and church ministry and expository preaching at Boyce; and Charles T. Lewis, assistant professor of church music and worship at Southern Seminary. These elections will go into effect Aug. 1.
— Andrew J.W. Smith