Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Present-continuous Reformation

Rob Bell says (in Velvet Elvis) that we protestants are always reforming because no-one puts God in the corner. No-one puts God in a box. No-one puts a full stop after God. Except, of course God has revealed himself to us definitively. Not exhaustively, but he has revealed his glory to us in the gospel of the glory of God in the face of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor 3:18-4:6). Having spoken in many ways previously he spoke to us in his Son (Heb 1:1-2). Whatever the postmodernist want to say, God has spoken. And he knows how to communicate.

Today the protestant church marks 'Reformation Day' in memory of the ministry of Martin Luther. Luther who was at the heart of the Reformation, and as I become increasingly familiar with him you do get the sense that he knew he was involved in something significant. My favourite Luther quote is this: I taught the word, apart from that I did nothing. While I slept and drank Wittenberg Beer, the word did everything. That suggests that Luther wasn't really doing anything new. He was doing what faithful people had always done...
Luther stood with Moses calling God's people back to his word. Luther stood with the Judges who drew the people of God back to his promises again. The prophets and teachers of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron 17:1-10) did the same, travelling around teaching the Book of the Law to God's people. Generation after generation God's people being called back to God's word. Always reforming, not because God is evolving but because people keep devolving back to sin. Thus it was, thus it continues to be.

The ultimate Reformation Day was the crucifixion of Jesus (Hebrews 9:10). Then change really happened. Then the shadows of law were swept away and we were welcomed into the presence of God by the blood of Jesus. One of the two key issues at stake in Luther's day (Justification by grace by faith and the Authority of Scripture)! Nothing that needs reinventing about that, the gospel doesn't move. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13). I'm the one who keeps changing, reverting to the easy path of walking out of step with the Spirit. What I need is men and women who will rub the grace of God in the gospel into my heart. Not just once a year, but daily. Not because I don't know it but because I do.
I need to be suspicious of myself - the word of God functions to correct and encourage, to rebuke and instruct. Through his word God demands change of me in areas that I've never considered. Not because it was never making those demands, but because God is working to change me from one degree of glory to another. Slowly renewing his image in me by calling me again and again to behold the glory of the gospel. The Spirit's ministry is reminding (Jn 14:26). Paul writes Romans to remind them (Romans 14:15) and tells Timothy to do likewise (2 Tim 2:14). Peter writes his second letter (1:12 and 3:1):

I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have... I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking
Remember the gospel, full stop.

Tim Challies:
Reformation Day Symposium 2007
See also: Orthodoxy - Reformation Day 2006


  1. Sorry we weren't able to get over to see you in RDG the other day :(

    I'm not sure that you and Bell disagree. His sense of 'reforming' seems to mean, 'working out what the unchanging gospel means here and now, not yesterday', while you take a more historical definition of 'reforming' meaning something like, 'revision of definitively revealed scripture.'

    If that is correct, that you are speaking about different things, using the same word (reforming) then, and you have attacked a straw man of Bell.


  2. Hi Dave,

    I wonder what you make of this quote from Philip Schaff (19th cent church historian) which I recently read:

    "Protestantism is the principle of movement, of progress in the history of the church; progress, not such as may go beyond the Bible and Christianity, but such as consists in an ever-extending knowledge of the Bible itself, and an ever-deepening appropriation of Christianity as the power of a divine life, which is destined to make all things new"

    Schaff interestingly identifies the two key principles of the Reformation as you do (justification by faith, and authority of scripture) but I think he rightly recognised that there was something new in the way they were articulated, even though they were derived from Scripture as our sufficient revelation.

    I'm pleased you are engaging with Rob Bell as I think his influence with young(ish) Christians today is massive but hasn't been questioned in the same way as Steve Chalke (for example) has been.

  3. I don't think I'm attacking a straw man, its what he says in Velvet Elvis, which is excellent in places and troubling on others.