Luther’s Other Reformation

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Letter TThe Protestant Reformation is without a doubt one of the most significant events in history. Even non-Christian scholars can agree that the Reformation had a profound political and philosophical impact on the Western world. For Christians the import of this event is most squarely set around the theological and ecclesiastical revolutions which took place and are perhaps best exemplified in the five solas.

Yet often obscured behind the theological and societal watershed that was the Reformation is another reformation almost as widespread and long-reaching in its impact. This was Luther’s – albeit unintentional – reformation of marriage.

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Book Review: Galatians For You – Tim Keller

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letter-gGalatians For You, as might be suspected, is a commentary on the book of Galatians. Timothy Keller’s aim with the book is to offer a bible centered, Christ glorifying, relevantly applicable, and easily readable look at the book in question.

The key point of Galatians for Keller is the fact that “the gospel is the A to Z of the Christian life. It is not only the way to enter the kingdom; it is the way to live as part of the kingdom. It is the way Christ transforms people, churches and communities” (p9). Paul is in essence calling his readers to live out the implications of the gospel, and Keller’s utmost goal is to point out to his readers how “It is not simply non-Christians but also believers who need continually to learn the gospel and apply it to their lives” (p11).

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FATQ: What Difference Does the Holy Spirit Make? Does It Matter?

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Letter FFor many of us it’s sometimes hard to understand just what difference the Holy Spirit makes. We unwittingly pare the Trinity down to two persons. We find ourselves asking, would our lives really look any different if the Holy Spirit didn’t exist? If so, how?

The question basically boils down to: What does the Holy Spirit do

To answer that we need to know three things: What is the core of Christianity? How does each member of the Trinity relate to that core? What would happen if the Holy Spirit’s contribution was taken away?

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Book Review: Captivating – By John & Stasi Eldredge

 

Eldredge Captivating.pngLetter IIn Wild at Heart the question of man’s soul, his design and his relation to God is analyzed; in Captivating the question is turned towards woman. With his wife as co-author the two set out to ‘unveil the mystery of a woman’s soul’.

As with man, woman is made in a certain image, and that image is struggling to be seen. It is an image of God being reflected as is only done through the feminine nature, as the authors state: “And she, too, bears the image of God, but in a way that only the feminine can speak.”

This image is reflected in how “every woman in her heart of hearts longs for three things: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty.”

The problem comes when the woman (or man) seeks to find these things in places other than God, when validation is sought from created things rather than the creator. They become haunted by questions and doubts concerning their beauty and they become wounded. This can be seen in two primary ways (both for men and women), “When a man goes bad, as every man has in some way gone bad after the Fall, what is most deeply marred is his strength. He either becomes a passive, weak man – strength sundered – or he becomes a violent, driven man – strength unglued. When a woman falls from grace, what is most deeply marred is her tender vulnerability, beauty that invites to life. She becomes a dominating, controlling woman – or a desolate, needy, mousy woman.”

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Book Review: Echoes From Eden – By A.W. Tozer

AWTozer Echoes From Eden.pngLetter WWhenever I want to get deep into the theology of scripture and truly immerse myself within the glory that is the depth of God’s word, AW Tozer is not the writer I look to to satisfy my desire; he is however one of the writers I look to when I want some good light reading or am in the mood for a devotional study as opposed to a intellectual treatise. This is not to say that Tozer is not as intelligent or as gifted as other Christian writers, only that he approaches writing in a different manner, one meant to talk with you and challenge you rather than strictly educate you.

Echoes From Eden is a short book by Tozer which begins with the premise that man is lost but not abandoned and that the voice of God still echoes from the garden, reverberating throughout the generations the call of “Adam, where art thou?”

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Book Review: The Great Divorce – By C.S. Lewis

cslewis the great divorce.pngletter-hHere we have before us one of the monoliths of Christian literature in the 20th Century, C.S. Lewis, whose impact through his writings no doubt rivals those of individuals we would consider much ‘greater’ than him. He wrote prolifically over every subject both in fiction and nonfiction and this book is one which tows the line between the two. While written in for the form of a story this is simply a form by which Lewis conveys his arguments and ideas.

The Great Divorce begins during the dreary hours of twilight where our narrator boards a bus which will take him on an odd trip to a land which is more real than the one he left, perhaps even too real. This land is the outskirts of heaven, where the rainy town which he has left is perhaps what one might call purgatory. Both lands lay in twilight, one awaiting a dreaded dusk, the other a glorious dawn.

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Book Review: Every Man’s Battle – By Stephen Arterburn & Fred Stoeker

Every Mans Battle Arterburn.pngLetter TThe title Every Man’s Battle does well to summarize the issue being dealt with in the book. Every man (and woman, but they have their own book) faces the battle of sexual sin, and here authors Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker attempt to outline a plan for winning that war, for freeing men from the shackles of sexual sin and temptation through a combination of personal testimony and practical steps.

The layout of the book is very straightforward. It begins by defining the problem, explaining where it is that men stand in this battle: that is, assaulted on every side by every form of media and through our bodies themselves. It then goes on to point out how we came to this point (mixing standards, settling for less than perfection, by simply being male) and calls for a return to true manhood, to choose victory, and then explains how the authors believe this victory can be achieved. Their outline is to establish victory on three fronts, through the eyes, the mind, and the heart.

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Book Review: The Pursuit of God – By A.W. Tozer

Tozer The Pursuit of God.pngLetter IIn his book The Knowledge of the Holy A.W. Tozer outlines what it is we mean when we speak of God, in The Pursuit of God he outlines what our response should be once we have found him. The Christian endeavor doesn’t end with salvation, with discovering God (or as it were, with God discovering us); even after God is acknowledged we are still to strive after him, indeed, because of this acknowledgment we strive after him. As Tozer says: “To have found God and still pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love…”

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Book Review: Wild at Heart – By John Eldredge

Eldredge Wild at Heart.pngLetter IIt is very rare that an author comes along who can pierce straight to the heart of an issue, who can state just what needs to be stated in just the way in which it needs to be said.

Yet this is just what John Eldredge does with his analysis into the soul of man. Man is made in a certain image, and that image is struggling to be seen. It is an image often clouded by the noxious smoke of secular psychology and is often subdued by a society which wants to neuter its men; it is this image which Eldredge desires to bring forth and to drive men to seek after, simultaneously dealing with the many problems which often accompany such a task.

“Eve was created within the lush beauty of Eden’s garden. But Adam; if you’ll remember; was created outside the Garden, in the wilderness… Only afterward is he brought to Eden. And ever since then boys have never been at home indoors, and men have had an insatiable longing to explore.”

This is the idea which Eldredge begins with; this call to reality. Immediately he dives into what it is that drives a man and it is around this which Eldredge forms the structure of his book: “… in the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

Through a brilliant weaving of personal experience, social commentary and analysis of Scripture Eldredge brings forth the image of God in man, outlining just what this image is (through the heroic figure of Christ), how we have lost it, and it may be regained (and perhaps most importantly, the false ways in which we try and achieve it).

Man has fallen, he has been wounded, and the one of the most noticeable results of this is the fear of failure and the false persona which we now put forth – the question being begged by men is “do I have what it takes.” We seek validation through means other than God (chiefly through women) and in doing so set ourselves up for failure in the battle which is at hand. It requires an intervention by men to bestow masculinity; on the lower levels this requires action by the father, on the higher levels this requires action by God. As Eldredge notes: “Masculinity is bestowed. A boy learns who he is and what he’s got from a man, or the company of men. He cannot learn it any other place. He cannot learn it from other boys, and he cannot learn it from the world of women… Femininity can never bestow masculinity.

Yet there is still a wound, a wound which may only be healed through union with God and through sin being dealt with, through the realization that through salvation God has made the heart good. It is to him that man must go for affirmation and to get his strength, a strength which may then be given to those around him – thus, “A man does not go to a woman to get his strength; he goes to her to offer it.”

And yet so often (that is, always) we get it backwards: ” When a man takes his question to the woman what happens is either addiction or emasculation. Usually both… A man needs a much bigger orbit that a woman. He needs a mission, a life purpose, and he needs to know his name.

This mission, this purpose, and this name come from God, it can come from nowhere else; yet first we must be broken. We must first have a false persona shattered, we must first be made to see the truth. When our self fails, God comes through: “The true test of a man, the beginning of his redemption, actually starts when he can no longer rely on what he’s used all his life. The real journey begins when the false self fails… God thwarts us to save us.”

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While this is a book delving into the soul of man, it is not a book solely about man, for man only expresses part of the image of God in mankind. It is also a book about the soul of the woman: that women yearn to be fought for, for an adventure to share and a beauty to unveil (that is, to be delighted in). “…the deep cry of a little girl’s heart is ‘am I lovely’? Every woman needs to know that she is exquisite and exotic and chosen.”

Yet sadly without men who have been made alive there are too few women being fought for, and thus they reside in the tower still.

Wild at Heart is an adventure in describing the soul of man through the image of God where each attribute ties back into how God relates to mankind. As regards man he fights for us, adventures with us, rescues us; as regards woman he desires to be fought for, to share in our life and to be delighted in. It is a penetrating analysis into the nature of man, both practically and psychologically (as well as scripturally).

I highly recommend this book to both men and women alike, it is perhaps the most practical and insightful book on Christian living (or simply living in general) that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Desire reveals design, and design reveals destiny.”

-“Life is not a problem to be solved, it is an adventure to be lived.” (this actually just a modification of a statement attributed to Kierkegaard that “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced” but which can only be definitively traced to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan‘s statement that “Spiritual life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.”)

-“‘Where are all the real men?’ is regular fare for talk shows and new book. You asked them to be women…”

-“It’s not enough to be a hero; it’s that he is a hero to someone in particular, to the woman he loves.”

-“A violent man destroys with his words; a silent man starves his wife.”

-“The Big Lie in the church today is that you are nothing more than ‘a sinner saved by grace.’ You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ.”

-“So many men make the mistake of thinking that the woman is the adventure. But that is where the relationship immediately goes downhill. A woman doesn’t want to be the adventure; she wants to be caught up in something greater than herself.”

-“God is fiercely committed to you, to the restoration and release of your masculine heart. But a wound that goes unacknowledged and unwept is a wound that cannot heal. A wound you’ve embraced is a wound that cannot heal. A wound you think you deserved is a wound that cannot heal.”

Specific Criticisms

Despite my high regard for the insight of Mr. Eldredge I do have a few criticisms of the text. For instance if we take the line “So long as man remains no real threat to the Enemy, Satan’s line to him is ‘You’re fine’. But after you do take sides, it becomes ‘Your heart is bad and you know it’.” The point being, as natural man our heart is bad, and it is only once we acknowledge this that Christ may begin his work and make it good – the corruption of our hearts is a past truth which we find it difficult to move past. I think Eldredge would have done well to specify that this dynamic, that ‘Your heart is bad and you know it’ is not just some lie which Satan might tell, but it is rather a past state/truth which Satan might try and drag us back into – the mindset of our old selves which we are meant to move past once reborn (all the while acknowledging that it was not on our own merit but exactly because our heart was bad that Christ came to make it new).

As Martin Luther says: “Therefore, when you begin to believe, you learn at the same time that all that is in you is utterly guilty, sinful, and damnable… When you have learnt this, you will know that Christ is necessary for you, since He has suffered and risen again for you, that, believing on Him, you might by this faith become another man, all your sins being remitted, and you being justified by the merits of another, namely of Christ alone.” The message that ‘your heart is bad’ cannot be one attributed solely to Satan when that very realization is one essential to salvation, rather, it is only a message which he may try and drag the believe back into.

A related issue comes with the line that “Knowing that my heart is good allowed me to block it, right then and there” (where ‘it’ is temptation/sin). It is simply insufficient to say that we look to our own good heart for this strength rather than the work of Christ (that is, that thing on which this good heart depends). It is the knowledge that Christ has put our sins away that allows us to find this strength. Yes, having a good heart is the result of this, but to look to our good heart for our strength is to look to the effect rather than the cause, it is only a superficial strength which need not necessarily be dependent upon the gospel. Perhaps this dynamic is present at the back of Eldredge’s thought, but it does the reader no good if it stays there.

A final little criticism which is worth pointing out is Eldredge seemingly placing Eve on a higher level of being than Adam, with Eve as pinnacle of creation, almost as if she were made of a higher quality than Adam. This is simply an idea which is not presented in scripture and is based by Eldredge upon a loose analogy concerning the sequence of creation. He argues that creation works from the most lowly up to the most exalted, therefore Eve – being the last thing made – must also be the best. This isn’t an interpretation of the text based upon any real exegesis on Eldredge’s part, rather it is an outside pattern that he puts on top of the Scripture, a pattern rooted more in Greek thought – Aristotle’s great chain of being – than it is in Scripture.

This conclusion by Eldredge is, then, an unScriptural assertion based on reading pagan thought into the Bible.

Book Review: Concerning Christian Liberty – By Martin Luther

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Letter WWritten by the iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty is a treatise on the nature of the Christian’s life; or as Luther puts it, “a summary of the Christian life put together in small compass.”

The treatise itself is an attachment to a letter written by Luther to Pope Leo X in which he attempts to point out various corruptions within Rome. The treatise, apart from serving the purpose of summarizing the Christian life, is also meant as a gift to the Pope “By this you may perceive in what pursuits I should prefer and be able to occupy myself to more profit, if I were allowed, or had been hitherto allowed, by your impious flatterers.” It is meant as an example of the work to which Luther would pursue if not under attack by others within the church.

The goal of the treatise is to address the question of Christian liberty. During the time which Luther wrote the church was filled with those teaching a works righteousness, that one must observe the precepts of the church in order to gain salvation and thereby placing the believer in a sort of bondage. Luther makes it his task to refute this idea and to proclaim the wonders of salvation by faith alone and putting works into the proper place in the Christian life.

The treatise is divided into three parts. The first is regarding “the subject of the inward man, that we may see by what means a man becomes justified, free, and a true Christian.” The second “[Giving] an answer to all those who, taking offence at the word of faith and at what I have asserted, say, “If faith does everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded? Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?” The third answering the objection of from those who “when they hear of this liberty of faith, straightway turn it into an occasion of licence.”

Throughout this effort Martin Luther masterfully lays out the right relationship of the Law to the work of Christ, and in turn the right relationship of works to faith. “[The precepts] show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing man to himself, that through them he may learn his own impotence for good and may despair of his own strength…Then comes in that other part of Scripture, the promises of God, which declare the glory of God, and say, ‘If you wish to fulfill the law, and, as the law requires, not to covet, lo! believe in Christ, in whom are promised to you grace, justification, peace, and liberty.'”

Yet this freedom is not a freedom from works nor a license to sin, for “It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from the belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works.”

There is nothing more which can be said, to restate the words of Luther are the best service which can be done. The treatise may serve not only as a deep devotional message, but a deep theological one as well; it is the message presented here which reformed the Christian faith and is indeed the heart of that faith.

Memorable Quotes:

“A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”

-“Thus the promises of God give that which the precepts exact, and fulfil what the law commands; so that all is of God alone, both the precepts and their fulfilment. He alone commands; He alone also fulfils.”

-“It is certainly true that, in the sight of men, a man becomes good or evil by his works; but here “becoming” means that it is thus shown and recognised who is good or evil, as Christ says, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. vii. 20).”

-“It is the part of a Christian to take care of his own body for the very purpose that, by its soundness and well-being, he may be enabled to labour, and to acquire and preserve property, for the aid of those who are in want, that thus the stronger member may serve the weaker member, and we may be children of God, thoughtful and busy one for another, bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ.”

“Here is the truly Christian life, here is faith really working by love, when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest servitude in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought, himself abundantly satisfied in the fulness and riches of his own faith.

Specific Criticisms

I have no criticisms of this text to offer, instead I’ll simply point out something which I find noteworthy, which is the passage stating: “Returning to the subject which we had begun, I think it is made clear by these considerations that it is not sufficient, nor a Christian course, to preach the works, life, and words of Christ in a historic manner, as facts which it suffices to know as an example how to frame our life, as do those who are now held the best preachers, and much less so to keep silence altogether on these things and to teach in their stead the laws of men and the decrees of the Fathers. There are now not a few persons who preach and read about Christ with the object of moving the human affections to sympathise with Christ, to indignation against the Jews, and other childish and womanish absurdities of that kind… But alas! it is at this day unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached nor sought after, so that we are quite ignorant about our own name, why we are and are called Christians.”

Here Luther addresses the dominant messages of his day as regards Christianity, including: work-righteousness, using Christ as merely an example for good living, or as merely an individual to sympathize with. It is these same fallacies which ever crop up, these same heresies against which Machen and Chesterton fought under the guise of Liberalism and Modernism, which we fight today under some manifestations of Postmodernism and the Emergent Church.

Even further there is the statement that the truth is being neither preached nor sought after in his day such that individuals are ignorant to what Christianity even is; indeed, this is the same problem which the church has always faced, which the church fathers faced, which Spurgeon lamented, which Machen up through those today continue to fight against.

We like to make it a point of pointing towards the past and asking for a revival in spirit as what was seen in those days, and yet in the days of Luther, in the days of Spurgeon, in the days of Machen, all were facing these same issues.