Brief Book Review: “Evangelical Spirituality: From the Wesleys to John Stott”

Nov 26, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Gordon, James M. Evangelical Spirituality: From the Wesleys to John Stott. London: SPCK, 1991. 340 pp.

James Gordon (part-time lecturer in church history and systematic theology at Scottish Baptist Church in Paisley, Scotland, where he formerly served as principal) is focused on Christian spirituality as seen through transatlantic evangelicalism. His aim is “to provide an appreciative exposition of Evangelical spirituality, with some evaluative comment” (viii). Gordon laments that when it comes to the evangelical tradition, it remains “largely unexplored, its riches often unused and perhaps undervalued” (vii). In particular, he focuses upon “new life through grace,” which he rightly understands to be a central theme of evangelical spirituality, despite all of its variations.

Gordon’s strategy is to pair, compare, and contrast twenty-two leaders—two of them women—from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. Grouping contemporary figures through a combination of date, theology, denomination, interaction, or geography, Gordon provides narrative summary and theological analysis of the following figures:

  • John (1703-91) and Charles Wesley (1707-88);
  • Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) and George Whitefield (1714-70);
  • John Newton (1725-1807) and William Cowper (1731-1800);
  • Charles Simeon (1759-1836) and Hannah More (1745-1833);
  • Horatius Bonar (1808-89) and Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-43);
  • Robert W. Dale (1829-95) and Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-92);
  • Dwight L. Moody (1837-99) and Frances R. Havergal (1836-79);
  • Handley C. G. Moule (1841-1920) and J. C. Ryle (1816-1900);
  • P. T. Forsyth (1848-1921) and Alexander Whyte (1836-1921);
  • Samuel Chadwick (1860-1932) and G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945);
  • D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) and John R. W. Stott (1921-2011).

Gordon demonstrates both unity and diversity within this Anglo-American evangelical tradition. For all of them, he claims, “the cardinal verities of Evangelicalism have exerted decisive control” (329). In particular he points to “the experience of conversion in response to the divine grace, the centrality of the cross, the primary authority of the Bible, and the imperative to service for Christ’s sake” (329). He also highlights some of the broad intra-evangelical differences—or in some cases, difference of emphasis—on issues such as conversion, the theory of the atonement, the nature of biblical authority, sanctification, the relationship of historical context and spiritual tradition, the issues of individualism, subjectivism, and guilt, the Lord’s Supper, and the relationship between church and culture. It is a testimony to Gordon’s care and skill that his approach does not leave one with a despairing feeling of relativism by highlighting evangelicalism’s “pervasive interpretive pluralism” (to use Christian Smith’s charge). Rather, each chapter is a defined unit, where the comparisons and contrasts are contained and illuminating.

Gordon suggests that an exploration of the lives, ministry, and theological emphases of these exemplars leads to several broad conclusions: (1) there is considerable diversity within evangelical unity; (2) this diversity can be accounted for by different historical and cultural contexts, individual temperaments, and literary expressions preferred; (3) there are both strengths and weaknesses within the evangelical tradition; and (4) the evangelical tradition offers emphases that can be useful to the wider Christian tradition.

By choosing and pairing these figures, and by wisely limiting the geography and timeframe covered, Gordon has provided us with an ingenious and fruitful entry into the heart of the evangelical tradition of spirituality. He has an enviable gift for summarizing the heart of a matter, skillfully constructing a narrative, and choosing the emphases to highlight in a way that is helpful. He also does the reader a service by copious quotations from original sources. As Harold Rowdon notes, “The strength of the book lies in its close engagement with the sources, coupled with the ability to quote the apt and striking phrase—and to coin others in large numbers.” As an introduction to the key figures of evangelical spirituality, I know no other resource quite like this.

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Tony Reinke’s Top 14 Books of 2014

Nov 26, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Each year I look forward to Tony Reinke’s end-of-year list.

Here are the books he chose for 2014:

1. Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton).

2. ESV Reader’s Bible (Crossway).

3. Dane Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway).

4. Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking A Pauline Theme (Eerdmans).

5. John Piper, Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C. S. Lewis(Crossway).

6. Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (WJK).

7. Drew Dyck, Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying (Thomas Nelson).

8. C. S. Lewis and David C. Downing, editor, The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Annotated Edition(Eerdmans).

9. Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson).

10. Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross(Crossway).

11. Michael Reeves, Christ Our Life (Paternoster, UK), or, Rejoicing in Christ (IVP, US).

12. Hannah Anderson, Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image (Moody).

13. Thomas Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale).

14. Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones,PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace (Zondervan)

Go here to read his explanation of why he chose each book, along with his runner-ups.

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A New Film on Selma, Alabama (1965), and the Best Thing to Read

Nov 15, 2014 | Justin Taylor

I am really looking forward to this new film, Selma, coming out in January 2015:

If you want to do some historical background reading before seeing the movie, you can read the first 200 pages in final volume of Taylor Branch’s fantastic triology, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (currently at bargain price at Amazon—while supplies last, I assume).

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A Theology of Healing in Six Questions

Nov 11, 2014 | Justin Taylor

In Andrew Wilson’s latest article in Christianity Today he shares that his two children have regressive autism and he helps us process through a theology of divine healing. Here is an excerpt that concisely summarizes the issue:

Why doesn’t God always heal?

He does, eventually.

Does God always heal us if we are certain he will?

Not necessarily.

Why not?

The effects of Christ’s victory over death aren’t fully realized yet.

Should we assume sickness is a gift from God?

No, unless, we’re prepared to stop taking medicine or visiting doctors.

How can we see more healing?

Pray, fast, believe, and persevere.

How should we pray?

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).


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Paul Tripp, “New Morning Mercies” (A 365-Day Gospel Devotional)

Nov 11, 2014 | Justin Taylor

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David Platt: “Marriage and Missions: How Singleness and Marriage Connect to the Great Commission”

Nov 06, 2014 | Justin Taylor

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John Piper on 5 Ways Christians Should Vote As If They Are Not Voting

Nov 04, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Hawaii VotesJohn Piper uses 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 to help us think through the paradoxical mindset of Christians when it comes to voting.

Paul says that we are

  • to mourn as if we are not mourning,
  • to rejoice as though we are not rejoicing,
  • to buy as those who have no goods, and
  • to deal with the world as those who have no dealings with the world.

If this is so, then we can have a paradigm of of voting as those who do not vote.

  1. We should do it. But only as if we were not doing it. Its outcomes do not give us the greatest joy when they go our way, and they do not demoralize us when they don’t. Political life is for making much of Christ whether the world falls apart or holds together.
  2. There are losses. We mourn. But not as those who have no hope. We vote and we lose, or we vote and we win. In either case, we win or lose as if we were not winning or losing. Our expectations and frustrations are modest. The best this world can offer is short and small. The worst it can offer has been predicted in the book of Revelation. And no vote will hold it back. In the short run, Christians lose (Revelation 13:7). In the long run, we win (Revelation 21:4).
  3. There are joys. The very act of voting is a joyful statement that we are not under a tyrant. And there may be happy victories. But the best government we get is a foreshadowing. Peace and justice are approximated now. They will be perfect when Christ comes. So our joy is modest. Our triumphs are short-lived—and shot through with imperfection. So we vote as though not voting.
  4. We do not withdraw. We are involved—but as if not involved. Politics does not have ultimate weight for us. It is one more stage for acting out the truth that Christ, and not politics, is supreme.
  5. We deal with the system. We deal with the news. We deal with the candidates. We deal with the issues. But we deal with it all as if not dealing with it. It does not have our fullest attention. It is not the great thing in our lives. Christ is. And Christ will be ruling over his people with perfect supremacy no matter who is elected and no matter what government stands or falls. So we vote as though not voting.

You can read the whole thing, with further explanation of Paul’s paradigm, here.

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Why Writing Style Matters

Nov 03, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Stephen Pyne:

Style is not merely decorative or ornamental, any more than are feathers on a bird. Style performs work. Whatever its loveliness or ostentation, it is what allows the creatures to fly, to attract mates, to hide from predators, to be what it is. Those feathers, moreover, are only as good as the wings they fit to, and the beak and claws to which they are indirectly joined, and all the rest. The parts have to connect; they have to work as a whole. Getting them together is what makes good writing.

—Stephen J. Pyne, Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction (Harvard University Press, 2009), 10.

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An Interview with Karen Prior on Her New Biography of Hannah More

Nov 03, 2014 | Justin Taylor

fierce-convictions-hardbackKaren Swallow Prior’s new biography of Hannah More (1745-1833) is now available: Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson, 2014).

As Mark Noll explains:

Hannah More was an educational pioneer and a best-selling evangelical author of “cheap tracts” for England’s poor in the tumultuous years of the American and French Revolutions. As educator, writer, reformer, and public Christian she was much lauded, but also much lampooned, during her own lifetime. With careful research, balanced judgments, accessible prose, and unusual insight, Karen Swallow Prior’s biography shows clearly why Hannah More made such an important impact in her own age, and also why her life can speak in significant ways to readers today.

Dr. Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University, recently answered a few questions about Mrs. More and the new biography:

How did you first become interested in Hannah More?

I was researching another eighteenth century writer for my doctoral dissertation when I stumbled across Hannah More after a day of prayer and fasting over my floundering research efforts. I had never heard of her before, and neither had my dissertation chair. But I instantly knew that this was who I needed to write about in my dissertation. Once I convinced my dissertation chair of that, I did. When I finished, one of my academic advisors (a professed agnostic) urged me to write a biography of More for a general reading audience.

Painting by H.W. Pickersgill in 1821, when Hannah More was 76 years old.

Painting by H.W. Pickersgill in 1821, when Hannah More was 76 years old.

Eighteenth-century English society seems to be marked by a series of chasms separating people—socially, economically, religiously, and culturally. How did God use More to begin bridging some of those separations?

Crossing so many divides is one of the most fascinating aspects of More’s life. More was born in a rapidly changing society, and her life embodies many of those changes. She was born to laboring class parents but became an early example of social mobility by rising well above her station by the end of her life. But having both lower class origins and upper class attainments gave More an opportunity to effectively reach both rich and poor (and in between) through her writing and her reform efforts. Another bridge she offered was between high and low church: she was a committed member of the Church of England her entire life, but she was influenced by and had sympathies with the Evangelical movement and the (much frowned upon) Methodists. Furthermore, as a woman leader among men, More also achieved a greater cultural influence than she would have had she remained within the private, domestic sphere. In sum, as a devout, socially mobile woman, More was uniquely positioned to bridge a number of chasms in a highly divided society. I can’t help but see the hand of Providence in creating More for such a time as this.

Some have suggested that More was a sort of proto-feminist and others consider her an anti-feminist. How do you think?

That question really functions as a sort of Rorschach Test!

Many feminist critics today would bristle to hear More referred to as a feminist. They would point to More’s biblical faith as well as her renunciation of the rights for women advocated by her contemporary, Mary Wollstonecraft, in refusing her the title of “feminist.”

Others would call her a conservative feminist, because despite some of her conservative positions, More sought significant changes for women’s education that would allow them to use their intellectual abilities much better than was expected of them at the time. She was part of a circle of learned literary women called the Bluestockings. And many of her closest friends were men. Additionally, she was one of the first English writers to make as much income as she did from the writing profession, so she certainly was a pioneer for women in that respect.

Of course, the term “feminist” was not even in common usage at the time, so trying to fit her into a current day category is nearly fruitless. I think it is safe to say that More was a strong woman and a strong Christian who provided an excellent example of using all of one’s gifts for the glory of God and breaking down a number of social barriers to do so.

Did she ever come close to being married? How did her singleness affect her life and activism?

Again, the hand of God is evident here. More was engaged to a wealthy gentleman. But his continual refusal to actually marry resulted in her breaking off the engagement and his settling an annuity on her as compensation (which was common in that time). It was that modest source of income that allowed More to leave teaching and head to London where she made her way as a writer. She would never have been able to invest in the kind of reform efforts she did had she married and had children. God used her mightily in a different path. Truth be told, as someone who has been unable to have children myself but who has found blessings in the other work God has brought me, I am really encouraged and inspired by More’s life in this particular aspect.

Wait—I thought people called her “Mrs. More”?

The title of “Mrs.” was customarily used at the time for adult women regardless of marital status. The titles “Miss” and “Mrs.” at that time distinguished one’s age in the same way that their male corollaries “Master” and “Mister” did.

How did suffering shape her work and the way she went about it?

More did suffer: she suffered from the broken engagement that left her single, from bouts of illness (including what we would recognize now as depression) throughout her life, from the mockery and persecution of those who opposed her efforts, and finally, as the last, bereaved sister among five who lived her last years alone. More’s suffering turned her increasingly toward God. This fact is reflected in her letters and books, which she continued to write as an elderly woman. I’m not going to give it away, but the scene of her last months, days, and hours in the book—drawn from eyewitness accounts—actually brings me to tears, tears of mourning and joy over a life lived to the glory of God despite—or perhaps because of—obstacles and pain.

Tell us about More’s relationship to evangelical leaders like William Wilberforce and John Newton.

Newton_jJohn Newton was key in More’s embrace of evangelical faith. She read his collection of letters, titled Cardiphonia and published anonymously, and was tremendously moved by his spiritual insights. Shortly thereafter, she travelled to Newton’s church to hear him preach. She stayed after the service to speak with him in person, and returned home with her “pockets full of sermons.” Newton became a key underwriter and supporter in More’s efforts to open Sunday Schools in the West of England where she lived.

In 1787, More met William Wilberforce, who would work with More on a number of reform efforts through the decades. More had actually opposed the slave trade long before meeting Wilberforce, but as soon as the young Parliamentarian had been recruited into the abolitionist movement shortly after his conversion in 1786, the two formed a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives (indeed, they died months apart from one another). One of many touching aspects of their friendship is how Wilberforce developed a better understanding of the hidden powers that can be found in the private sphere, as expressed in one of his journal entries:

Individuals who are not in parliament seldom have an opportunity of doing good to considerable numbers. Even while I was writing the sentence I became conscious of the falsehood of the position; witness Mrs. Hannah More, and all those who labour with the pen.

These friends sharpened one another as iron sharpens iron. And in such sharpening, the world was transformed.

What role did More play in the abolishment of the British slave trade?

While Newton’s role was spiritual, Wilberforce’s political, others’ financial, More’s role was literary and social. She wrote anti-slavery poetry, led a boycott of sugar made from slave labor, and wrote voluminous letters to pro-slave trade friends. In all these efforts, she appealed to her fellow citizens’ consciences and emotions, primarily by the power of her pen. Her most acclaimed work today, the one included once again in numerous literature anthologies, is her poem, Slavery, which she wrote to coincide with one of Wilberforce’s parliamentary measures. The abolitionists really knew how to work as a team and to make the most of their individual gifts. It took years for them to win success, but they did.

If readers read your biography of Hannah More, they will, Lord willing, _____________.

… be mindful of our own cultural blind spots today and be encouraged to see past these in order to do the work God has set before us in this time and this place by embracing the gifts, opportunities, and challenges He has given us.

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Carl Trueman, “Martin Luther, Troubled Prophet”

Oct 31, 2014 | Justin Taylor

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497 Years Ago Today: An Interview with Carl Trueman on Luther’s 95 Theses

Oct 31, 2014 | Justin Taylor

[Note: Today only (October 31, 2014), in honor of Reformation Day, WTS Books is offering Stephen Nichols's book containing Luther's Ninety-Five Theses (with an introduction and explanatory notes) for free today with any purchase of any amount. No need to add it to your cart. They will simply include it with your shipment.]

On October 31, 1517—a Saturday—a 33-year-old former monk turned theology professor at the University of Wittenberg walked over to the Castle Church in Wittenberg and nailed a paper of 95 theses to the door, hoping to spark an academic discussion, making the first order of business the proposition that all of life should be marked by repentance. Little did he know that this call for an disputation on repentance would eventually change the course of history through a reformation of the church and the culture.

Below is an interview with Carl Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. His forthcoming Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Crossway, February 2015)—with a foreword by renowned Luther scholar Robert Kolb and an afterword by America’s most famous Lutheran historian Martin Marty—will be an indispensable resource on appropriating Luther for today (and will challenge the use that’s made of him by many of his gospel-loving fans).

The town of Wittenberg (c. 1536), a tiny mud-cottage town in east Germany that served as the capital of Electoral Saxony.

The town of Wittenberg (c. 1536), a tiny mud-cottage town in east Germany that served as the capital of Electoral Saxony.

A 1522 printed copy of Luther's 95 theses.

A 1522 printed copy of Luther’s 95 theses.

Had Luther ever done this before—nail a set of theses to the Wittenberg door? If so, did previous attempts have any impact?

I am not sure if he had ever nailed up theses before, but he had certainly proposed sets of such for academic debate, which was all he was really doing on October 31, 1517. In fact, in September of that same year, he had led a debate on scholastic theology where he said far more radical things than were in the Ninety-Five Theses. Ironically, this earlier debate, now often considered the first major public adumbration of his later theology, caused no real stir in the church at all.

The door of the Schloßkirche (castle church) in Wittenberg, Germany. The original doors were burned in a bombardment in 1760; the current doors---made of bronze and inscribed with the text of the 95 Theses in the original Latin form---were installed in 1858.

The door of the Schloßkirche (castle church) in Wittenberg, Germany. The original doors were burned in a bombardment in 1760; the current doors—made of bronze and inscribed with the text of the 95 Theses in the original Latin form—were installed in 1858.

What was the point of nailing something to the Wittenberg door? Was this a common practice?

It was simply a convenient public place to advertise a debate, and not an unusual or uncommon practice. In itself, it was no more radical than putting up an announcement on a public notice board.

What precisely is a “thesis” in this context?

A thesis is simply a statement being brought forward for debate.

Luther was bothered by the use of “indulgences.” What was that?

An indulgence was a piece of paper, a certificate, which guaranteed the purchaser (or the person for whom the indulgence was purchased) that a certain amount of time in purgatory would be remitted as a result of the financial transaction.

A woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg (c. 1530) showing the sale of indulgences.

A woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg (c. 1530) showing the sale of indulgences.

At this point did Luther have a problem with indulgences per se, or was he merely critiquing the abuse of indulgences?

This is actually quite a complicated question to answer.

Johann Tetzel (1465-1519), a Roman Catholic German Dominican friar and preacher.

Johann Tetzel (1465-1519), a Roman Catholic German Dominican friar and preacher.

First, Luther was definitely critiquing what he believes to be an abuse of indulgences. For him, an indulgence could have a positive function; the problem with those being sold by Johann Tetzel in 1517 is that remission of sin’s penalty has been radically separated from the actual repentance and humility of the individual receiving the same.

Second, it would appear that the Church herself was not clear on where the boundaries were relative to indulgences, and so Luther’s protest actually provoked the Church into having to reflect upon her practices, to establish what was and was not legitimate practice.

Was Luther trying to start a major debate by nailing these to the door?

The matter was certainly one of pressing pastoral concern for him. Tetzel was not actually allowed to sell his indulgences in Electoral Saxony (the territory where Wittenberg was located) because Frederick the Wise, Luther’s later protector, had his own trade in relics. Many of his parishioners, however, were crossing over into the neighboring territory of Ducal Saxony, where Tetzel was plying his trade.

Luther had been concerned about the matter of indulgences for some time. Thus, earlier in 1517, he had preached on the matter and consulted others for their opinions on the issue. By October, he was forced by the pastoral situation to act.

Having said all that, Luther was certainly not intending to split the church at this point or precipitate the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy into conflict and crisis. He was simply trying to address a deep pastoral concern.

An engraving from 1520 by Luther's friend, Lucas Cranach, depicting Luther as an Augustinian monk.

An engraving from 1520 by Luther’s friend, Lucas Cranach, depicting Luther as an Augustinian monk.

Was Luther a “Protestant” at this point? Was he a “Lutheran”?

No, on both counts.

He himself tells us in 1545 that, in 1517, he was a committed Catholic who would have murdered—or at least been willing to see murder committed—in the name of the Pope. There is some typical Luther hyperbole there, but the theology of the Ninety-Five Theses is not particularly radical, and key Lutheran doctrines, such as justification by grace through faith alone, are not yet present. He was an angry Catholic, hoping that, when the Pope heard about Teztel, he would intervene to stop the abuse.

So how did that act of nailing these theses to the door ignite the Reformation?

On one level, I am inclined to say “Goodness only knows.” As a pamphlet of popular revolution, it is, with the exception of the occasional rhetorical flourish, a remarkably dull piece of work which requires a reasonably sound knowledge of late medieval Catholic theology and practice even to understand many of its statements. Nevertheless, it seems to have struck a popular chord, being rapidly translated into German and becoming a bestseller within weeks. The easy answer is, therefore, “By the providence of God”; but, as a historian, I always like to try to tie things down to some set of secondary or more material causes.

The time was right for some kind of protest: anticlericalism, economic strain on all classes of society, and a growing resentment of tax money flowing south to Italy all helped to create an environment in which various groups—peasants, knights, nobility, intellectuals—all saw in Luther’s protest something with which they could sympathize. Yet, even so, the revolutionary power of such a technical composition is, in retrospect, still quite surprising.

So what happened after he nailed the theses to the church door?

Albert of Mainz, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1526)

Albert of Mainz, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1526)

As to what happened next, well, the debate (ironically) did not.  But the theses were translated into German and within weeks were circulating throughout Saxony. They became a popular rallying point of protest, despite the fact that most of the readers would not really have understood them.

Procedurally, Albrecht of Mainz, the bishop responsible for this specific indulgence sale, sent an official complaint to Rome but, in an era of slow communication, this took time to arrive.  This bought Luther precious months to continue to develop his theology.  The next big event is really the Heidelberg Disputation which took place at a regular chapter meeting of the Augustinian Order in April 1518.  It was there that Luther was really able to put his emerging theology on public display.

How important was the printing press in spreading Luther’s reforms?

A woodcut by Lucas Cranach commissioned by Martin Luther (1545), depicting the response of German peasants to a papal bull of Pope Paul III.

A woodcut by Lucas Cranach commissioned by Martin Luther (1545), depicting the response of German peasants to a papal bull of Pope Paul III.

The printing press is crucial. For the first time in history, news and ideas can be transmitted in a stable form across vast areas of land and throughout populations.

Of course, most people could not read. But Reformation pamphlets often had graphic (sometimes even pornographic) woodcuts which communicated even to the illiterate who were the good guys and who were the bad.  Thus, we have the possibility of mass movements and of the arrival of “popular opinion.”

Cheap print also fueled the rise of literacy, which was to be vital in the spread and establishment of Protestantism in the long term.

For those today who want to read the 95 Theses, what would you recommend?

The place to start is probably Stephen Nichols’s edition (with an introduction and notes).

Nevertheless, if you really want to understand Luther’s theology, and why it is important, you will need to look beyond the Ninety-Five Theses. Probably the best place to start would be Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church.

* * *

The following clip is from the movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes (2003):

And here is Dr. Trueman talking about his forthcoming book:

*The painting at the beginning of this post is by Greg Copeland (courtesty of Concordia Publishing House) and can be found in Paul Maier’s excellent book for older kids, Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World.

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Calvin on Why God Raised Up Luther to Reform the Church

Oct 30, 2014 | Justin Taylor

calvin-and-lutherTomorrow is Reformation Day.

Here is John Calvin, writing in 1543 (26 years after Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses to the Wittenberg Door), explaining why the Reformation needed to happen:

At the time when divine truth lay buried under this vast and dense cloud of darkness;

when religion was sullied by so many impious superstitions;

when by horrid blasphemies the worship of God was corrupted, and his glory laid prostrate;

when by a multitude of perverse opinions, the benefit of redemption was frustrated, and men, intoxicated with a fatal confidence in works, sought salvation anywhere rather than in Christ;

when the administration of the sacraments was partly maimed and torn asunder, partly adulterated by the admixture of numerous fictions, and partly profaned by traffickings for gain;

when the government of the church had degenerated into mere confusion and devastation; when those who sat in the seat of pastors first did most vital injury to the church by the dissoluteness of their lives, and, secondly, exercised a cruel and most noxious tyranny over souls, by every kind of error, leading men like sheep to the slaughter;

then Luther arose, and after him others, who with united counsels sought out means and methods by which religion might be purged from all these defilements, the doctrine of godliness restored to its integrity, and the church raised out of its calamitous into somewhat of a tolerable condition.

The same course we are still pursuing in the present day.

—John Calvin, “The Necessity of Reforming the Church.”

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Introducing “The Stories We Tell”

Oct 28, 2014 | Justin Taylor

The video above was made to introduce cosperMike Cosper’s new book, The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Crossway, 2014), in the Cultural Renewal series edited by Tim Keller and Collin Hansen,

Keller writes in the foreword, “Mike’s book will help readers learn to put the gospel on like a pair of glasses in order to see the good, the bad, and the ugly in our culture more clearly. This book will be especially helpful, I think, for Christians who preach, teach, and communicate the gospel. And, in the end, learning this discipline—of seeing God’s story in the stories we tell today—will be a way for us to deepen our own understanding of and joy in the gospel we believe.”

Here is what others are saying about the book:

“Mike helps us make sense of what is true and good in the stories our culture consumes, and he does it without leading us toward syncretism. With the amount of TV and movies our culture devours, this book is a must read.”
—Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor, The Village Church, Dallas, Texas; President, Acts 29 Church Planting Network

“Like Paul at the Areopagus, Mike Cosper walks through the cultural artifacts of our entertainment industry and effectively says, ‘I can tell by your sitcoms and dramas and even your romantic comedies that you are a storytelling people who long for more. Let me introduce you to the Storyteller you don’t even realize you long to know.’ The result is a book that will change how you watch TV and movies. But more importantly, this might change the conversations you have with your neighbors.”
—James K. A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College; author, Imagining the Kingdom and How (Not) to Be Secular

“Cultural engagement is a delicate but necessary balance for all who claim Christ. Mike Cosper insightfully examines narratives in pop culture to reveal the larger story of God at work in the human heart. This book is a must read for pastors and all those who seek to engage the culture with the powerful story of the gospel.”
—Ed Stetzer, President, LifeWay Research; author, Subversive Kingdom

“Drawing upon a dazzling breadth of stories told through film, television, and literature, Mike Cosper examines—critically and charitably, wisely and generously—the culture-shaping power of stories and how all reflect in some way the grand story of creation, fall, and redemption. Skillfully and compellingly written, The Stories We Tell is essential reading for anyone consuming, engaging, or shaping the culture.”
—Karen Prior, author, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist

“There is no one I would rather read on issues of popular culture than Mike Cosper. This book is not another ‘here’s how you find the gospel in Superman’ project. Cosper analyzes popular culture with depth and with wisdom, seeing both the common grace of conscience all around us and the depths of human sin. As Cosper interacts with popular culture, he models for us how to listen to the voices around us in order that we might engage them with the mission of Christ. This book is about more than the media he analyzes. It is also a training ground for how to pay attention to our neighbors.”
—Russell D. Moore, President, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; author, Tempted and Tried

“The stories we tell rattle around in our minds, capture our imaginations, and give shape to our living as they echo the themes of God’s grand redemptive story—creation, fall, and redemption. These are not only the themes of film, literature, and television, but are also the inescapable passages of every person’s life. Cosper gives us new eyes to see and new ears to hear the stories we tell and in so doing invites us to celebrate our inclusion in the one story with a happy ending that actually never ever ends. I love this book and I think you will too.”
—Paul David Tripp, President, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

“Mike has showed us the way of participating in culture and discerning where God is in it. It is easy to simply reject cultural creations in the name of purity. Or to receive them uncritically. The Stories We Tell will inspire a new generation of missionaries who seek to live in the world but not of it.”
—Darrin Patrick, Lead Pastor, The Journey, St. Louis, Missouri; Vice President, Acts 29; Chaplain to the St. Louis Cardinals; author, The Dude’s Guide to Manhood

“Evangelicals are notorious for consuming mass quantities of pop culture behind closed doors and sanctimoniously railing against the culture in public. It’s time to stop the hypocrisy and get serious about thinking theologically about the TV shows and films that stir our imaginations. In The Stories We Tell, Mike Cosper plays the role of the Interpreter in The Pilgrim’s Progress by clarifying our favorite episodes and movies in light of both law and gospel, and urges us, ‘Stay until I have showed thee a little more!'”
—Gregory Alan Thornbury, President, The King’s College; author, Recovering Classic Evangelicalism

“Cosper presents a thoughtful, gospel-centered analysis of culture that will resonate with the current generation. Whether you love TV and movies or hate them, they are indeed the central sounds and images of our culture, and they call for discerning theological critique. And this book delivers. Mike Cosper tells us the story about the stories we tell, and does so wisely and well.”
—Grant Horner, Associate Professor of Renaissance and Reformation, The Master’s College; author, Meaning at the Movies

You can download an excerpt from the book here.

You can also read an interview with Cosper here.

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Free Livestream of the ERLC National Conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage”

Oct 27, 2014 | Justin Taylor

ERLCnatconferenceLOGOThe ERLC National Conference, starting today (Monday, October 27), will address “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage,” designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches.

They will address issues like:

  • How do we effectively minister to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender?
  • How has the divorce culture impacted marriage in our communities and our churches?
  • What does sexual faithfulness look like for a same-sex attracted Christian?
  • Why did God create marriage and why did he design it for the common good?
  • How should a pastor counsel a same-sex couple that wants to join his church?
  • How can churches minister to those who are single, dating, divorced or celibate?
  • How can Christians show the love of Christ to gay family members or neighbors?


The sessions will be livestreamed (free, but brief registration required) and liveblogged.

It begins today at 1:20 PM, Central Time.

The schedule of 20 talks and 5 panels—many of them relatively short in length—are listed below.


1:20-2:00 PM

Albert Mohler, “Aftermath: Ministering in a Post-Marriage Culture”

2:05-2:40 PM

Panel: Russell Moore, Albert Mohler, D. A. Horton, Robert Sloan (Phillip Bethancourt, moderator), “The State of Marriage in American Culture: Divorce, Cohabitation, Same-Sex Marriage, and Other Trends”

3:05-3:25 PM

Greg Smalley, “Building Healthy Marriages”

3:25-3:40 PM

Kristen Waggoner and Erik Stanley, “The Price of Citizenship: Can the State Compel the Church to Embrace Homosexual Relationships?”

3:55-4:10 PM

Glenn Stanton, “Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor”

4:15-5:00 PM

Panel: John Stonestreet, Trevin Wax, Lindsay Swartz, Eric Teetsel (Andrew Walker, moderator), “Millennials and Marriage: Evaluating the Young Generation’s Views on Sexuality and Marriage”

7:15-7:30 PM

Jennifer Marshall, “Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century”

7:35-8:00 PM

Danny Akin, “God on Sex: The Creator’s Ideas about Love, Intimacy, and Marriage”

8:10-8:40 PM

Sherif Girgis, “Better Together: Marriage and the Common Good”

8:45-9:30 PM

Panel: Kevin Ezell, Dennis Rainey, Carmen Fowler Laberge, and Heath Lambert (Daniel Darling, moderator)


8:50-9:30 AM

Russell Moore and Rosaria Butterfield, “Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert”

9:35-10:15 AM

Russell Moore, “Questions and Ethics Live”

10:40-10:55 AM

Christopher Yuan, “Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God”

11:00-11:15 AM

Jackie Hill-Perry, “How Does the Gospel Equip Christians Who Struggle with Same-Sex Attraction?”

11:20 AM-12:00 PM

Panel: Christopher Yuan, Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, and Jackie Hill-Perry (Russell Moore, moderator), “Is It Okay to Be Gay? A Candid Conversation on Christians and Same-Sex Attraction”

2:30-3:15 PM

Denny Burk, “Is There Really a Slippery Slope? A Gospel-Centered Assessment of Gender Identity, Transgender, and Polygamy”

3:30-4:30 PM

Sam Allberry, “Is God Anti-Gay? Answering Tough Questions about Same-Sex Marriage”

6:50-7:30 PM

David Platt, “Marriage and Missions: How Singleness and Marriage Connect to the Great Commission”

7:35-7:45 PM

Lizette Beard, “Why I Love and Hate Being Single”

7:50-8:20 PM

Jim Daly, “Reconcilable Differences: Building Bridges with Those Who Disagree about Marriage”

8:45-9:25 PM

Russell Moore, “Slow-Motion Sexual Revolutionaries? Culture Wars, Christian Witness, and the Future of Marriage”



 8:45-9:05 AM

Dennis Rainey, “Growing Great Commission Marriages”

9:10-9:50 AM

Panel: Steven Smith, Jason Allen, Thomas White, Randy Stinson (Phillip Bethancourt, moderator), “Preparing Next Generation Leaders for a Post-Marriage Culture”

9:55-10:10 AM

Ryan Anderson, “Marriage in Crisis: The Conflict between Sexual Freedom and Religious Liberty”

10:15-10:55 AM

J.D. Greear, “Preaching Like Jesus to the LGBT Community and Its Supporters”

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A Biblical Theology of God’s Design for Man and Woman

Oct 24, 2014 | Justin Taylor

9781433536991Matt Smethurst interviews Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger about their new book, God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey (Crossway, 2014). This is one of the few books to approach the issue from the methodology and organization of biblical theology. Here are a couple of excerpts from the interview:

In what ways can evangelical Christians be in danger of confusing conservative cultural expectations with biblical complementarity?

Scripture doesn’t give a lot of detail as to how God’s design for man and woman is to be worked out, so a traditional division of labor (women in the kitchen, changing diapers; men at work letting women do all household chores) doesn’t square with the biblical design (we’ve discussed the inadequacy of labels here). It’s true that God’s design assigns primary spheres of activity, but Scripture calls the husband not only to provide for his wife materially but, more importantly, to love her sacrificially. There is flexibility within the basic framework, and each couple has unique circumstances in which to work out God’s design and plan for them personally, both leader and partner. The biblical pattern is loving, self-sacrificial complementarity where the couple partners in conscious pursuit of God’s mission. Marriage is part of God’s larger purpose of reuniting all of humanity under one head, the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10).

Did working on this book together cause you to rethink any view you previously held?

A fresh and focused look at the overall teaching of Scripture on God’s design for man and woman has given us what we think is a more balanced paradigm for men and women. Succinctly put, the overarching model that many have implicitly understood in recent years has been male leadership and female submission. Though true in essence, we believe that this approach may unduly constrain the woman’s role and contribution in marriage and the church. We might rather categorize the biblical teaching in these terms: male leadership and female partnership. Holding these two patterns in tension without denying or diminishing either is vital. Many unfortunately deny male leadership, which is indisputably and pervasively taught in Scripture, while others—in practice if not in principle—diminish the real sense of male-female partnership in keeping with Scripture’s depiction of the woman as the man’s counterpart and as his fellow heir of God’s grace.

You can read the whole thing here.

Here are a few endorsements for the book:

“Models the best of Christian discernment about matters of gender, theology, justice, roles, and gifts. It is faithful in its representation both of God’s character and our own propensity to sin, pastoral in its application of faithful biblical hermeneutics, insightful in its explanation of original word usages and their application, concise in its framing of hot-button issues and the hermeneutical fallacies that often fuel them, and charitable in its handling of the motives of those who disagree.”
—Rosaria Butterfield, former tenured Professor of English at Syracuse University; author, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert; mother, pastor’s wife, and speaker
“The brilliant and respected Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger are wise experts, guiding us through the Bible for a substantive, gospel-rich, and pastorally applied theology of masculinity, femininity, and the goodness of our differences by God’s design.”
—Russell D. Moore, President, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; author, Tempted and Tried
“Scriptural, thorough, scholarly, irenic, and practical, this vital resource will help any serious student of the Bible understand God’s good, wise, and wonderful design.”
—Mary A. Kassian, Professor of Women’s Studies, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; author, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild
“Moving beyond debates that discuss men’s and women’s roles in isolation from one another, Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger take a biblical-theological approach that seeks to understand God’s design for men and women from the progressively unfolding narrative of Scripture. Responding to the profound influence of feminism, the authors call on men to exercise leadership in ways that exhibit genuine care and responsibility for those they are charged to nurture and protect.”
—Daniel I. Block, Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College
“Whenever we consider our God-given design, we must do so with humble hearts. What a gift to be able to appreciate how the triune, eternal God made us! This study on God’s design will be useful in every field of Christian work all over the world.”
—Gloria Furman, Pastor’s wife, Redeemer Church of Dubai; mother of four; author, Glimpses of Grace and Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full
At the Crossway page you download some sample material and a study guide.


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