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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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.

Martin Luther on Faith & Works

Martin Luther 1.pngLetter IIn his Preface to Romans, Martin Luther makes the statement that “If we do not choose goodness freely, we do not keep God’s law from the heart… Granted that, in appearance and conduct, you observe the law, owing to your fear of punishment or hope of reward, yet you do nothing from free choice and out of love for the law, but unwillingly and under compulsion; were there no law, you would rather do something else. The logical conclusion is that, in the depths of your heart, you hate the law.” 

In this passage Luther sums up what is one of the key points of Christ’s teachings, that is, that it is the heart that is of pivotal importance in matters of the law, not the outward actions; thus, it is faith, not works, for it is faith that brings about a love of the law.

This position as laid out stands in contradistinction to the approach of the Pharisees, who (because they focused merely on outward action) were seen as “whitewashed tombs”.

One of the key things that Luther wishes to explain is the relationship between faith and works (or the law), to show the true purpose of the law, and how it relates to faith.

In doing so, Luther makes the keeping of the law a matter of the heart. If you keep the law outwardly, doing the law under compulsion, then your heart is still bad; if you do the law under compulsion then in truth you despise the law.

In opposition to this, one who is truly changed will come to love the law, and thus when they do the works of the law it will be because they want to do those things, not because they are afraid of the fear of punishment or the hope of reward that may result.

This basis of the heart of faith being one that wants to do the works of the law feeds into Luther’s later discussion of just what part works play in the Christian life. Thus he ends up asserting: “It is impossible, indeed, to separate works from faith, just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire.”

This statement fits perfectly into Luther’s structure of faith/law. The heart of faith wants to do the works of the law; because the heart of faith wants to do the works of the law, it cannot help but do them.

The person with a true faith will perform the works of the law because the works of the law will be what they desire to do; the works are thus an outworking and a result of the faith, in the same way that heat is an outworking and a result of the fire.

One of the more interesting relevancies that Luther’s formulation has here for ethics is in refuting the ideas of those such as Immanuel Kant, who argued that it is when we do the works of the law unwillingly that we are truly being ethical – for, as Kant argued, not liking what you’re doing but doing it anyway shows a higher reverence of the law itself.

To this sort of idea Luther answers “no”, because the person who does the law under compulsion – while they may have some reverence for the law – are still in their hearts corrupt.

It is better to do the works of the law because you have a changed heart that desires to do them than it is to do them under compulsion.

The Art of Christian Leadership

ChristianLeadership.pngLetter TThere are no shortage of books on the topic of leadership. Indeed, pointing out this fact is the first thing that most books on leadership seem to do. These books also point out that there is a crisis of leadership in the world today, such as having traded true leadership for celebrity. 

In order to discuss a philosophy of Christian leadership, we first need a working definition of leadership. A precise definition might be stated as such: Christian leadership is the dialogic art of influencing others toward God’s agenda. In order to make clear what is meant by the definition it will be necessary to unpack in turn each aspect of what is being stated.

Leadership and Others, A Dialogue Concerning God’s Agenda

In unpacking our definition we must first assess the players involved. In this definition two actors may be assumed outright, the leaders and the “others.” The first thing to unpack is that the art is made up of leaders influencing “others.” Christian leadership is not confined merely to influencing Christians. Our Christianity seeps into every aspect of our lives, our interactions with Christians and non-Christians, and these interactions include those instances of leadership over both groups. Christian leadership does not vary depending on which group the individual is working with.

Along with the leaders and the others that the leader is influencing, there is also God. This  is important for establishing the dynamic of the relationship between the leaders and those being led, because it is this aspect of the definition which introduces the servant-leadership aspect of the art.

Some books on the topic of leadership state that the leader is merely influencing the followers to achieve a defined mission; others specify that it is influence to achieve a common goal. In the first instance the influence toward a “defined mission” could place the goals, vision, and mission of the leader over and above those of the followers. In the second instance influence toward a “common goal” could still face the risk of placing some sort of merely human goal as the primary thing to be achieved. That God is also an actor indicates that neither the leader – nor even the group – is the thing of primary importance; it is God’s agenda that takes the central focus.

Again, this focus on God’s agenda introduces the servant-leadership aspect of the art. The chief implication of this is that the leader is a servant, yet this servant-hood is not first and foremost to the group. Primarily, the leader is a servant of God.

In being a servant of God two primary things may be assumed, a love of God and a love of neighbor, the latter of which indicates that the servant-leader will have a love for those that he or she is leading. Since the leader has a love for those that he or she is leading they will act in such a way towards their followers that exemplifies that fact.

This means that the Christian leader will not abuse or exploit their followers, and if they have been placed in a position of authority they will not abuse that position out of love for those who they are leading and the One they serve. Indeed, the leader will act knowing that they will someday be required to give an account to God of their actions.

When God is the one being served the individual loses all authority when they abuse their power and use it in a wrong way; as G.K. Chesterton points out, one “cannot have a shred of authority if he merely has the power to do it and not the right to do it.” Chesterton’s point here is rooted in the truth that authority is something given from God, and therefore one cannot do anything in authority unless one is right in doing it; what one is ‘right’ in doing is derived from God and his agenda.

The art of leadership involve the three actors of the leader, the others, and God. This relationship is one of a God-derived love, and furthermore it is a dialogue.

This dialogic aspect is the final key dynamic of the leader-followers relationship. The leader is not merely influencing others towards God’s agenda, but they are doing so while in dialogue with those they are leading.

Leadership is not a one way conversation; the only time in which that sort of leadership is feasible is when the leader is receiving direct revelation from God. In lieu of that, the leader must converse with those he or she is leading. One of these implications is that the leader must have an idea of where his people are. The leader is operating within a given context and with a certain group of people and the leader must be aware of what God is already doing in that place so that he or she may avoid merely trying impose an alien change to the direction of a group without knowing where or why they were headed where they were. Leaders therefore need to ask themselves what kind of situation those they are leading are facing. The Christian leader is one who invites discussion and constructive feedback from those that he or she is working with.

Finally, the Christian leader does not lead in such a way as to make themselves indispensable. Rather, the leader leads in such a way as to produce more leaders, echoing the command to go out and make disciples. As Henry Blackaby asserts “one of the most tragic mistakes leaders commit is to make themselves indispensable.”

God’s Agenda: Vocation and Calling in Leadership

God’s agenda is a central facet of Christian leadership, which gives it a close relationship to the ideas of vocation and calling. This aspect of Christian leadership is generally seen as being of utmost importance, as William Willimon puts it:

Faithful pastors must have a vivid sense of vocation, a sense of being summoned by God to do his work. The work that pastors do is too demanding to do it for any other reason than the conviction that one is called to do this work, that God wants you to do it.

With such a strong emphasis the need for a sense of vocation is certainly seen as strong.

Here Willimon is referring specifically to the context of pastors, and those within the Christian community vary on whether they apply the language of vocation and calling to professions outside of the pastorate.

Along with Martin Luther, we can extend the language of vocation and calling to areas outside of the pastoral ministry. However, also along with Luther, it would be incorrect to view this sense of calling and vocation as a calling to a specific area of either Christian ministry or secular work.

A mediating position would be that which is sometimes deemed the “wisdom” approach to the will of God as opposed to the “specific-will” approach.

We are called to pursue God’s will, where God’s will is not defined as some specific action but as the pursuit of righteousness.

As Luther’s view has been summarized, “Christian vocation is not finally about production… it is about the neighbor, about giving oneself to the other in love and service in the glorious freedom of the gospel.”

In this understanding of calling and the will of God, Luther would be in disagreement with those such as Willimon and Blackaby, who assert a specific calling to a specific position. In Luther’s understanding our calling and our vocation is to serve our neighbors and in so doing to lead in a righteous manner and to righteous ends.

Biblical-theological Framework

The Biblical and theological frameworks of leadership have been touched on throughout the discussion above, yet it is helpful to lay them out in a more straightforward manner. There are three key theological themes that provide a framework for the above practice of leadership: the state of man, the call to righteousness, and the sovereignty of God.

The State of Man

In discerning how to lead people you must know where people are at.

From Scripture we may observe that the state of man is fallenness; man is sinful, and man is also loved by God and made in his image. This serves as a vital theological foundation for leadership because man as created by God yet fallen is one of the key basis for the servant aspect of leadership, for the love that the leader has for those under his or her care.

Because man is made in the image of God we must love those who are in our care. Yet while man is made in the image of God, he is also fallen, and we must realize this as we are working with people. Realizing this fallen aspect of mankind keeps the leader aware of the imperfection of the system he or she is working in, and furthermore it keeps them humble, knowing that they themselves are imperfect. Knowing that these imperfections are in place the leader can expect failure, but because of the hope that is in Christ and the sovereignty of God, he or she may trust that their failure will not be fruitless.

The Call to Righteousness

While mankind is fallen, he has been called to righteousness. On the one hand this a plea for the gospel, yet it the key to leadership that has been already discussed in terms of calling and vocation, that Christian leadership is the dialogic art of influencing others toward righteous ends.  

It is this aspect of Christian leadership which allows it to not merely be confined to Christian ministry, for any leader can conduct their affairs such that they lead towards a righteous end.

A Christian business leader can exercise that call to righteousness by managing his employees in a Godly manner, not taking advantage of them. At the same time the Christian business leader can also influence others toward righteous ends by leading his company toward fair dealings with other companies and by engaging in business practices which do not exploit the system. A Christian military leader may lead a righteous life in fulfillment of that call, and then influence his troops towards righteousness by serving as an example of righteousness, and by making tactical decisions in accordance with a just-war theory. A Christian political leader may again serve as an example, and may influence others toward righteous ends by pursuing policies which would glorify God.

Finally, a Christian minister is called likewise to be that example, and may influence his congregation towards righteous ends, spurning them towards evangelism in general or towards any specific program that would glorify God; yet, the minister in this case does not pursue the specific program because God wills that specific program, but because it is a program that is in accord with glorifying God.

The Sovereignty of God

The sovereignty of God is immense importance for a framework of leadership. Perhaps the greatest benefit the sovereignty of God has for the leader is in its ability to let them trust in the perfect plan of God and the fact that all things will work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Because the leader has this trust he or she may be confident than even in their own personal failure – or even the failure of their projects or their group – that God will still bring good out of those failures.

Nothing is ever a total failure; because God is sovereign some benefit will always come out of those actions which are done with the aim of pursuing righteousness.

It is the sovereignty of God which assures the leader that he will be held accountable for his actions as a leader. This accountability is what will help keep the leader from acting improperly in his position. It will both motivate the leader to put their entire heart into the work, knowing that it glorifies God, and also keeps them in the fear of the Lord, knowing that he will hold them responsible for the way they have used their leadership.

As has been stated, Christian leadership is is the dialogic art of influencing others toward righteous ends. These righteous ends are synonymous with the agenda of God, for God’s agenda is that his people pursue righteousness.

The Christian leader, thus, is one who influences whatever group he or she oversees in such a way that upholds Christian values; the Christian leader will lead in a righteous manner, and will make sure that the goals being pursued are ones through which God can be glorified, if for no other reason than that the job was done well in service to the neighbor. In this system the leader is capable of setting the specific agenda through dialogue with the group, so long as that specific agenda coincides with the general agenda God has of pursuing righteousness.

This is a system of leadership that may be applied to any sort of leadership in any context, for any action may be done in such a manner so as to bring glory to God.

Two or Three Uses? – The Law in Luther & Calvin

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Letter WWithin the realm of Christian theology there are many fiercely debated topics. One such topic is the question of the how the Law is to be understood in the Christian faith, especially in the light of the gospel and in the life of the Christian.

Taking on this task, Reformation thinkers Martin Luther and John Calvin both put forth ideas of how the Law is to be understood within Christianity.

When given a cursory reading, it will be noticed that Luther put forth two different uses of the Law, whereas Calvin put forth three, a distinction which has caused a fair amount of dispute between Lutheran and Reformed theologians to this day.

In order to gain a better understanding of this doctrine is helpful to compare and contrast these two great thinkers’ views on the topic, paying careful attention to how and why they draw the distinctions that they do. For John Calvin, it will be necessary to analyze his Institutes of the Christian Religion, where he lays out what he sees to be the three uses of the Law. For Martin Luther, it will be necessary to first look at his Commentary on Galatians, where he lays out what he sees to be the two primary uses of the Law; with this done, it will also be necessary to look at various other of Luther’s writings to discern whether or not he indeed limits the use of the Law to those two areas.

Because Calvin is more systematic in his approach to the topic of the uses of the Law, it will be helpful to discuss him first, and thereby gain a solid understanding of the field to be analyzed; with this done we can consider how Luther compares in his writings, both explicitly and implicitly.

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