Long Before Luther

longNathan Busenitz, Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017, 243 pp. $10.49

Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation by Nathan Busenitz recently hit the shelves. Busentiz sets out to discover whether or not the doctrine of justification by faith alone was taught and stressed prior to the days of the Protestant Reformation. Anyone familiar with the Reformers understands the motto, post tenabras lux (after darkness light). This little Latin phrase suggests that there was a darkness in the land in the days preceding the Reformation. Such an assertion is true. However, Busentiz asks whether or not any light existed at all. The answer is a resounding “yes!” Indeed, the author discovers that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is not an invention of the Reformers. Rather, they unearthed and recovered this doctrine which can be traced back to the apostles.

Dr. Busentiz utilizes Alistair McGrath’s book, Iustitia Dei, which he admits is “widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive treatments of the subject.” But comprehensive does not necessarily mean accurate as we shall see. For McGrath essentially argues that Luther and his Reformation buddies concocted what we understand now as justification by faith alone. Busentiz adds, “Because the doctrine of justification lies at the heart of the gospel, the implications of this charge are serious.”

McGrath delineates the three pillars of the Reformers’ view of justification which include 1) Forensic Justification, 2) Justification Distinguished from Regeneration, and 3) The Imputed Righteousness of Jesus Christ. McGrath argues that these distinct doctrines are missing in the first fifteen hundred years of church history. Thus, as Busentiz notes, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “a theological innovation introduced in the sixteenth century,” at least according to McGrath.

With this vexing concern before his readers, Dr. Busentiz carefully guides them on a journey where they discover that sola fide was taught by Augustine and the church fathers. The three pillars the McGrath identifies are used as a sort of litmus test which Busentiz uses to his advantage and I might add, with great skill.

In the final analysis, Busentiz argues that justification by faith alone is not an invention of the Reformers, nor is it a theological novelty. Indeed, this doctrine was taught by the apostles and the church fathers. While it was largely neglected for the first fifteen hundred years of church history, it was, nonetheless a part of the warp and woof of Christian orthodoxy.

While McGrath’s assertions concerning justification are troubling, the three pillars he identifies in Iustitia Dei actually serve Busentiz quite well as he looks backward and ultimately makes a compelling case for the historic doctrine of justification. Busenitz should be commended for his work as he settles the score on this crucial matter that concerns the gospel.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

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Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography

sledHerman Selderhuis, Martin Luther: A Spiritual BiographyWheaton: Crossway, 2017, 347 pp. $23.12

Herman Selderhuis, professor of church history at the Theological University Apeldoorn needs little introduction. His book, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life was warmly received by many as he unpacked the Reformer’s life and legacy.

Now the author makes his contribution to a growing list of books with Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Selderhuis’s work is a fitting tribute to Luther and the many men and women who made a contribution in the sixteenth century.

Selderhuis examines ten movements in Luther’s life including Child, Student, Monk, Exegete, Theologian, Architect, Reformer, Father, Professor, and Prophet. Each movement is an opportunity for the author to present historical details and relay the massive contribution that Luther made.

The author carefully traces the spiritual history of Luther – from an unconverted monk who struggled with God and even hated him to a man who passionately embraced the doctrines of grace. Selderhuis does not gloss over the negative details of Luther’s life. Luther’s brashness and vulgarity are explored as well as some of Luther’s racist proclivities.

Luther: A Spiritual Biography is an illuminating look at a man whose influence continues to captivate and inspire people around the world. It beautifully complements classic works such as Bainton’s, Here I Stand and should receive a wide reading.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Freedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation

freeFreedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation by Michael Reeves is a short, yet powerful look at the story that helped shape the Protestant Reformation. Reeves has done a splendid job at surveying the history behind the Reformation and alerting readers to the theological tension and truth that emerged. The author includes just enough biographical information on Martin Luther to gain the attention of readers and draw them into the drama of the 16th century.

Freedom Movement should be devoured by Christians, especially as we approach the quincentennial celebration of the Protestant Reformation. Studying the Reformation should revive our affection for the Savior and refresh our love for the doctrines of grace. It should refuel our resolve to stand obediently before our sovereign God.

Why We’re Protestant – Nate Pickowicz (2017)

why we're prot

“Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls.” So said Martin Luther as he battled for reform in the eye of the sixteenth-century storm that we know as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers rediscovered the truth and beauty of the gospel message and proclaimed it faithfully and forcefully. Their allegiance to the gospel inform and inspire us as we strive to follow in their footsteps.

Nate Pickowicz beautifully summarizes the spirit of the Reformers in his most recent book, Why We’re Protestant: An Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation. First, the author clearly describes the “gospel crisis” that emerged in the sixteenth century. The crisis involves a fundamental disagreement on how sinners are justified. The answers proposed by Rome and the sixteenth century Protestants are clear. The answer proposed by Rome falls short of the biblical benchmark and leads sinners to a pathway of destruction. The Protestant reply is faithful to Scripture and leads sinners on a pathway to the Celestial City.

The essential message of the Reformation is captured in the five solas – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, and to God alone be the glory. Pickowicz guides readers on a journey that unfolds these remarkable truths in a way that is winsome, historically accurate, and faithful to Scripture.

Why We’re Protestant is a veritable battering ram and a boon for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we draw near to the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, I commend this fine work and trust that God will use it to fortify a new generation of reformers who exalt the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Revitalize: Biblical Keys To Helping Your Church Come Alive Again – Andrew Davis (2017)

arevitalAndrew M. Davis, Revitalize: Biblical Keys To Helping Your Church Come Alive Again Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 223 pp. $9.51

Andrew Davis understands what it means to pastor a church in crisis. But Dr. Davis also understands the joy of pastoring a church which has been revitalized. So the author is uniquely qualified to write on such a subject. The name of the book is Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again.

Davis helps readers understand the biblical rationale for a revitalized church: “Revitalization occurs,” writes Davis, “when God restores a once healthy church, helping it to change course from its recent decline toward spiritual disease and death.” But before outlining the biblical keys for this vital process of revitalization, the marks of a dying church are presented. They include,

• Low view of Scripture

• Man-centered rather than God-centered

• Lax shepherding of members and no church discipline

• Little evangelistic fruit resulting in dwindling numbers

• Disunity and bitter factions

• Disrespect for godly leaders, resulting in short pastorates

• Disorderly polity

• Clinging to traditions, stubbornly unwilling to change

• Selfish spending patterns

• Little zeal for corporate prayer

• Increasingly world doctrines and behaviors

Davis notes the supreme importance of Christ who must be at the center of the revitalization process: “The more church leaders delight in the infinite exaltation of Christ and his rights over his vineyard, the more humble they will be about their own roles.”

With this critical foundation in place, Dr. Davis proceeds to lay out the components of church revitalization. The following biblical keys are each explained in greater detail:

Be Holy

Rely on God, Not on Yourself

Rely on God’s Word, Not on Techniques

Saturate the Church in Prayer

Cast a Clear Vision

Be Humble Toward Opponents

Be Courageous

Be Patient

Be Discerning

Wage War Against Discouragement

Develop and Establish Men as Leaders

Become Supple on Worship

Embrace the Two Journeys of Disciple-Making

There is so much to commend in this excellent work.  A short review falls terribly short. Revitalize does not contain the typical pragmatic approach which is found in books of this sort. Rather, it is filled with God-centered advice that may be immediately applied in the local church context. Dr. Davis has gifted the church with a much-need gift. My prayer is that many pastors will be encouraged and moved to action as they apply this timely wisdom. May the church be revitalized as she prepares for the triumphant return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel Reformation

bold

The excommunicated monk sits alone in silence. Beads of sweat accumulate on his brow as he reads from the pages of the Greek text. A dark cloud casts a shadow over his homeland as the grace of the gospel is obscured by a church that cares more about tradition than truth.

For the next ten months, Luther will pour over every word, translating the Greek into the heart language of the German people. When his work is complete, the German people will be able to read the Bible for themselves. They will no longer be dependent upon a priest who has misrepresented God, mangled the truth of his Word, and maligned the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For hundreds of years, the gospel had been buried and replaced by a system of “man-made righteousness.” The Roman Catholic Church exchanged truth for tradition. The power-brokers of tradition maintained a chokehold on people who didn’t know any better.  Confessing sin to a priest replaced confessing sin to a holy God.

Yet, Luther unearthed the precious jewel of the gospel, a reality which is unveiled in my new book, Bold Reformer:Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. Only $0.99 for a limited time on Amazon.com.

ARE YOU A BOLD REFORMER?

boldBold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther is available now!

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. One act of courage sparked a theological firestorm in Germany that set the world ablaze in a matter of days. Spreading like wildfire, thousands were introduced to the gospel which is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther takes readers on a journey through a remarkable period of church history. It will challenge contemporary readers to learn the lessons of courage, and perseverance. It will inspire a new generation of people to follow Jesus, obey Jesus, and worship the Savior with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It invites a new generation of Christ-followers to recover the gospel in their generation and make their stand as a bold reformer.

Bold Reformer is born out of personal pastoral turmoil and inspired by the courage of Martin Luther.  My hope is that many pastors, Christian leaders and Christ-followers will be encouraged as a result of reading this book; that God will propel them into the future by his grace and for his glory.

Endorsements:

“David Steele’s Bold Reformer is a book for our times! As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how appropriate to look afresh at ways the bold faith and action of Martin Luther can inspire and instruct our own faith and work. Christians today need strength of character and boldness of conviction. Steele’s presentation of Luther’s life moves readers to live bold lives that adorn the gospel of grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone.”

Dr. Bruce A. Ware, T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology, Chairman of the Department of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Pastoral ministry is often mingled with both blessing and despair. Many pastors experience seasons of opposition that result in discouragement and even depression. David Steele’s new work, Bold Reformer is an exploration into the gospel-centered convictions of the stalwart reformer, Martin Luther. Luther faced many pastoral hardships during his ministry, but emerged victorious because of his unwavering faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I encourage you to drink from the refreshing waters of this book and use the life of Luther as an example that emboldens you to stand strong in the midst of the fiery trial.”

Dr. Steven J. Lawson, President, OnePassion Ministries, Dallas, Texas