Posts tagged with: reformation

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 2, 2009

Light for the CityIn connection with the worldwide celebrations of the quincentenary of John Calvin’s birth in 2009, the Acton Institute BookShoppe recently made available a limited stock of the hard-to-find Light for the City: Calvin’s Preaching, Source of Life and Liberty (Eerdmans, 2004). In this brief and accessible work, Lester DeKoster examines the interaction between the Word proclaimed and the development of Western civilization.

“Preached from off the pulpits for which the Church is divinely made and sustained, God’s biblical Word takes incarnation in human selves and behavior, creating the community long known in the West as the City. Calvinist pulpits implanted the Word even now flourishing in the great democratic achievements of the Western world,” argues DeKoster.

And in the wake of Reformation Day this past weekend, check out some reflections at Mere Comments, which include even more recommended sources for study of the Reformation.

Finally, while it’s often the case that the blogosphere breaks news before the official announcements are made, I can report that the Meeter Center’s Post-Reformation Digital Library (PRDL) is now publicly available. The PRDL is a select bibliography of primary source documents focusing on early modern theology and philosophy, spanning publicly-accessible collections from major research libraries, independent scholarly initiatives, and corporate documentation projects.

The PRDL editorial board includes representatives from institutions from North America and Europe: Dr. Richard A. Muller (Calvin Theological Seminary); Jordan J. Ballor (University of Zurich/Calvin Theological Seminary); Albert Gootjes (Calvin Theological Seminary/Institut d’histoire de la Réformation, Geneva); Todd Rester (Calvin Theological Seminary); Lugene Schemper (ex officio/Calvin College & Seminary); and moderator David Sytsma (Princeton Theological Seminary).

Today marks the quincentenary of John Calvin’s birth. Over at the First Things site, I take the occasion to pay special attention to Calvin’s concern for articulating the antiquity, and therefore the catholicity, of the Reformation.

Among the factors that converts from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism very often cite as major influences on their move is the novelty of the former compared with the antiquity of the latter. This is, undoubtedly, an important point that ought to be addressed by concerned Protestants.

But I argue, in continuity with the Reformers, I think, that this concern is best answered in the first place not by discounting the value or the importance of antiquity, but rather by doing justice to the claims of the Reformation itself to representing the ancient and catholic faith.

Sometimes the Reformation is summed up by reference to the five “solas,” and Calvin is associated with the saying, “Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere.” (“I offer my heart to you, Lord, promptly and sincerely.”)

But the motto of the Reformers might just as well have been (as a colleague has put it), “Expellete nova, impellete vetera!” (“Out with the new, in with the old!”)

In the latest volume of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, host Ken Myers talks with J. Daryl Charles, author of Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things (Eerdmans, 2008). Charles is associate professor of Christian Studies at Union University, and spent the 2007-2008 year as William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ken Myers at this year’s GodblogCon and am quite impressed with the work that Mars Hill Audio does. The conversation with Charles is a good one, in part because it directly addresses the current revival of natural law within certain circles of Protestantism in North America. Within the past few years a number of books have come out that consider the positive role of the doctrine of natural law within the Protestant theological tradition, particularly that of the magisterial Reformation.

Early on in the discussion, Charles credits Acton research scholar Stephen Grabill with opening up this new scholarly interest in natural law. Charles calls Grabill’s book, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Eerdmans, 2006) “a very important…pathbreaking work.”

In a review of Grabill’s book published in First Things, Charles writes,

Grabill’s examination of theological ethics in the Protestant Reformed mainstream is utterly compelling, and it represents a shot across the bow of theological ethics, as it were. Protestants for the past 250 years have found practical as well as theological justification for ignoring or vehemently rejecting natural-law theory. And despite its bewildering diversity, there exists across Protestantism a broad consensus that rejects the natural law as a metaphysical notion rooted in divine revelation. This consensus is mirrored in the fact that one is hard-pressed to identify a single major contemporary figure in Protestant theological ethics who has developed and defended a theory of natural law.

Given the historical link between the magisterial Reformation and natural law and the contemporary dissolution of that link, it should be obvious that judging the doctrines of previous centuries by the twentieth-century aversion to natural law (as is done by the reference to Francis Schaeffer in this post) is a serious methodological error. One thing we learn from the work of scholars like Grabill and Charles is that there are varieties of natural-law traditions, and it is as important to identify how these differ and can be distinguished as how they share common features.

In addition to the books by Charles and Grabill, I should also mention two other recent works. The first is David VanDrunen’s short and accessible A Biblical Case for Natural Law. And the second is Craig A. Boyd’s A Shared Morality: A Narrative Defense of Natural-Law Ethics (Brazos, 2007), which VanDrunen reviews in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (Fall 2008).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 18, 2008

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Milton, best known for his masterpiece, Paradise Lost. An essay by Theo Hobson, author of the newly-released Milton’s Vision: The Birth of Christian Liberty (Continuum, 2008), well summarizes Milton’s integrated theological, political, and social vision (HT: Arts & Letters Daily).

John Milton (1608-1674): “None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license.”

Instead of secularizing a figure that has been deemed important in the history of political philosophy by some sort of post-Enlightenment textual deconstruction, Hobson attempts to show how Milton’s Christian convictions positively informed his perspective on the responsibilities of both state and church. For Milton faith was no vestigial appendage that contemporary observers might feel at liberty to amputate with warranted zeal.

At the same time, notes Hobson, Milton “started working out a coherent account of England’s religious situation. It wasn’t enough to insist that the church should be more ‘Protestant’, for that term was vague. He realised that the Reformation had evaded the whole issue of church-state relations; it allowed for an authoritarian state church. Real religious reform entailed going right back to the time of Constantine, and questioning the idea of a politically empowered church.” Hobson works out this thesis regarding Milton’s contribution to judge that Milton’s influence has been much more positively felt on the American side of the Atlantic rather than in his native land.

To say that the Reformers “evaded” the issue of church and state is perhaps misrepresenting Milton’s criticism a bit (or if it isn’t then Milton’s criticism ill-stated). It’s one thing to say that the Reformers didn’t address the question in the right way, or came up with the right solution, or didn’t go quite far enough in “reforming” the relationship between church and state. But it’s quite another thing (and a patently false one at that) to say that they didn’t directly and rather thoroughly discuss the issue.

What Milton was really concerned to fight, which Hobson accurately articulates, was the influence of a sort of Constantinian Protestantism, communicated to Britain via figures like Martin Bucer (whose De Regno Christi appeared in 1550) and Wolfgang Musculus (whose Common places were published in translation in 1563 and 1578 in Britain). And while there were important varieties of this Constantinian or magisterial Protestantism in the sixteenth century, there was near unanimity among the major first and second generation Reformers on the question of civil enforcement of both tables of the Law.

Both Bucer and Calvin preferred the hypocrite, who only endangered his own salvation, to the open apostate, who could lead many astray.

The distinction between “religious” obligations in the first table and “civil” obligations in the second table is not identical to a distinction between internal motives and external works. The conflation of these two distinctions is what paves the way for a corrosive kind of secularism, the kind that privatizes or internalizes religion and faith. And as Milton clearly saw, the institutional separation between state and church in no way entails the withdrawal of faith from public life. Indeed, since his own religious convictions so profoundly influenced his political views, to say otherwise would have been to render Milton’s own position untenable.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Monday, October 29, 2007

For many Protestant Churches across the world, Sunday was a tribute to Martin Luther and the Reformation. October 31st marks the anniversary date when Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. K. Konnie Kang of the Los Angeles Times, wrote a piece titled, “Protestants celebrate their heritage, the Reformation”. Kang also featured a quote that simply explains Protestant theology from the Rev. Nathan P. Feldmeth, who is a professor of medieval and Reformation history at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Feldmeth declared:

“The Reformation was about the centrality of Christ in the life of the individual and centrality of the word of God in worship. At the heart of the Reformation is the doctrine of justification by faith — meaning people are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, not by good deeds.”

Most people, at least those who are minimally knowledgeable of theology, understand basic Reformation theology. Some however, may not be aware of how the Protestant Reformation heavily influenced civil and religious liberty. I know it’s not taught in the public schools anymore, because I was never aware of this until I learned it on my own.

The pastor at the church I attended Sunday in Grand Rapids briefly talked about how the doctrine of sola scriptura (scripture alone) is directly related to the ideas and concept of the American Constitution. While Protestants interpret scripture through Christian tradition, for the reformers scripture trumps the decrees and councils of men. Likewise, for the American Founders at least, the U.S. Constitution is above any human official, elected or not.

Luther’s doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” also heavily influenced the emergence of representative democracy. In addition, the Presbyterian style of church government further set the stage for individual rights and liberties. Responsibility for the governance of the church is not just for the clergy , but laity as well. This model of church government, where elders serve as leaders can be contrasted with the episcopal style of church government, which better reflects a monarchy. King James I of Great Britain rightly predicted, “If bishops go, so will the king.” At its very heart, it expresses a belief that humans in their depravity cannot set themselves above the law of God, no matter their office.

When Martin Luther declared his “conscience was captive to the word of God” it had political repercussions. Luther’s protest showcased a primary debate about ultimate authority, and where this authority stems from. The legacy and impact of the Reformation directly affect our society today, especially in relation to government, human rights, and religious and political freedoms.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, September 25, 2007

You may have heard this line before, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The quote was attributed to Johann Tetzel, a German Dominican Friar, in charge of collecting indulgences in 16th Century Germany.

However, it’s not Roman Catholics who have embraced a re-run of indulgences, but the new gurus of carbon-offsetting at the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, takes issue with ECI’s latest venture into indulgence – carbon offsets in his piece for the American Spectator titled, A Pardoner’s Tale. Murray sarcastically notes, “You can atone for your carbon sins by buying carbon offsets from the Evangelical Climate Initiative.” Murray also says:

Not to worry. ECI tells us that “The average American is responsible for about 23 tons of CO2 pollution.” And it just so happens that $99 (Not $78 or $103.54? How did it just happen to come to a price right under the $100 threshold past which consumers are much less likely to purchase?) is just enough to offset 23 tons of CO2 per year.

Murray also highlights the new found free market spirit of ECI, but also calls the faithful to their reformation roots, declaring:

One last concern: Where’s the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on ECI’s moneymaking site? Or the Better Business Bureau logo? Or the link to information about how the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the carbon offsets and carbon trading businesses to make sure there’s no monkey business going on? They’re not there, because — well, because there is no regulation of this business. Apparently the ECI has finally found a tiny bit of the free market that it doesn’t want to strangle with regulation. One wonders, though, what happened to the ECI’s strong suspicion of sin in every branch of the corporate world. Or is the carbon offset industry impeccable?

It appears to me that this particular branch of evangelical theology is in dire need of a reformation. When it comes to the sin of carbon emission, perhaps carbon-using Christians should remember the words of Martin Luther’s Letter to Melanchthon: ‘Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.’

(Powerblogger Kevin Schmiesing pointed out the indulgent nature of carbon offsets in a post last February.)

On the campaign trail just recently, John Edwards called for Americans to give up their SUVs, and then was seen leaving the rally in none other than a sports utility vehicle. But not to worry an Edwards spokesmen said, “We buy carbon-offsets for the vehicle.”

It seems as if individuals and families were serious about altering their carbon footprint, they would curb their energy use instead of purchasing an indulgence for their guilt. It seems to resemble a fad or a trendy phase by guilt-ridden polluters. I wonder if I have to purchase a carbon offset for those parachute pants I once owned in kindergarten?

However, with the rising free and unregulated market of carbon-offsets, it will be interesting to see what other offsets emerge in the marketplace, and whether this will trickle down to the health, food, and tobacco industries. Entrepreneurs who miss out on this exploding market, may be feeling a bit of guilt and remorse as well.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 10, 2007

Here are some book reviews of note from recent weeks that you may find to be of interest:

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, December 15, 2006

The January 2007 issue of First Things features a lengthy review of Stephen Grabill’s new book on Protestant natural law thinking (no link to the review, unfortunately). J. Daryl Charles, an assistant professor at Union University, has this to say about Grabill’s Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Eerdmans, 2006):

Grabill’s examination of theological ethics in the Protestant Reformed mainstream is utterly compelling, and it represents a shot across the bow of theological ethics, as it were. Protestants for the past 250 years have found practical as well as theological justification for ignoring or vehemently rejecting natural-law theory. And despite its bewildering diversity, there exists across Protestantism a broad consenus that rejects the natural law as a metaphysical notion rooted in divine revelation. This consensus is mirrored in the fact that one is hard-pressed to identify a single major contemporary figure in Protestant theological ethics who has developed and defended a theory of natural law.

The Charles review, titled “Reforming Natural Law,” goes on to say that Grabill “has performed a valuable service in plumbing the rich texture of Reformed theological ethics.”

For a limited time, the book is on sale in the Acton Book Shoppe for only $20.