Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book Review of Erwin R. Lutzer's Book: Rescuing the Gospel

Image result for lutzer rescuing the gospel
Galatians 1:11-12 "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."

Today's post is a brief review of a new book authored by the Pastor Emeritus of Moody Church in Chicago, Ill, Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer entitled: "Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation" (Baker Books, 2016). 

Dr. Lutzer's book comes at a very timely season, since October 17th, 2016 will mark the 499th anniversary of the watershed event sparking the Protestant Reformation (Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Door, stating his opposition to the Roman Catholic Church's selling of indulgences). I will first summarize the contents of the book and then conclude with some personal takeaways in the overall value of the book. 

Summarizing "Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation", by Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer

1. Laying the playing field for the book in the introduction and chapter one

In the introduction on page xv. of Dr. Lutzer's book: "Rescuing the Gospel", we find the following statement:

"Nearly all the conflicts of the Reformation are still ongoing today, albeit with different players and in a different context." 

By presenting his case as to why he wrote the book, he then begins chapter one by noting the "Power, Scandals and Corruption". Dr. Lutzer states on page one: 

"It's our nature to reject the gospel's verdict on us and resist the profound simplicity of it's transforming message of grace. The gospel must always be defended, and sometimes it must be rescued."

What Dr. Lutzer then does throughout the rest of chapter one is to lay the groundwork with his refreshing summary of the historic Protestant Reformation that shook the 16th century and which still has ripple effects today. 

2. What paved the way for the Protestant Reformation: chapters two and three

As the reader proceeds into chapters two and three of the book, one finds that there were two men who were used by God to call for reform in the Medieval Roman Catholic Church prior to the 16th century: John Huss and John Wycliffe. Both men lost their lives for their efforts in proclaiming the Gospel. Huss and Wycliffe's efforts provided a preview and foreshadowing of what would be a call for reform by Martin Luther. As Dr. Lutzer notes on page 7:

These prereformers tried to reform the church before the period we commonly refer to as the Reformation, but their success was limited and generally confined to local areas or a few specific issues. And yet their attempts weakened the stranglehold that the church had on the masses and paved the way for Luther.

3. The identity and significance of Martin Luther and his amazing life in chapters 4-12

As Dr. Lutzer introduces the reader to Martin Luther, the bulk of his book (chapters 4-12) presents a balance of Luther's beginnings; actions that triggered the reformation in Germany (such as his nailing of the 95 theses on the Door of the church at Wittenberg); his private life and struggles; his public debates with Catholic leaders and authorities; and then a final section on his family life. 

As a monk of the Augustinian Order of the Roman Catholic church, Luther began studying closely the New testament books of Romans and Galatians. Luther concluded that the church's view on how people were to be reconciled with God was at odds with the scriptures. Martin Luther's main contention with the Medieval Roman Catholic Church began with the issue of its sale of supposed extra-merits of grace to the masses which were termed "indulgences". 

The efforts of the Roman Catholic church to sell people on having less time in purgatory were aimed at funding the completion of St. Peter's Basilica Church in Rome. Luther found this practice to be offensive and posted 95 reasons why he opposed it and other practices of the church. This matter led to even bigger differences with which Luther had issue with the Pope and the church: namely how a person is made right before God (i.e justification by faith plus the Church's rituals or justification by faith alone) and the authority from whence we understand salvation, God and life in this world (The church or scripture alone).

The autobiographical style with which Dr. Lutzer presents Martin Luther in each of these chapters provides both spiritual lessons for believers today and valuable information concerning Luther and the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation. So much could be noted about the various trials, debates and adventures Luther ended up having as a result of his reform efforts. However, for sake of brevity, we will consider the following from page 141 of his book regarding Luther and his wife:

"Martin and Katie taught us not only how to live and love but also how to die. In the end, both humbly bowed to accept God's will in all things, including the inevitability of death. Even today their example of love and hard-won partnership is an inspiration to us all."

4. Three other major reformed movements that were contemporary with Luther's reforms - chapters 13-16

Dr. Lutzer then takes the reader to three other major movements which comprise the Reformation throughout Europe. Undoubtedly, Luther's reformed efforts in Germany lit a fuse that spread throughout Europe. 

In chapter 13, Dr. Lutzer summarizes the Swiss Reformation led by Huldrych Zwingli. Zwingli was a contemporary of Luther who at points took his efforts one step further. Luther attempted to reform the Roman Catholic church by never intending to break away from it (even though he eventually did). Zwingli on the other hand saw that if he were going to begin his reform efforts, a total break would be required. Both men would end up disagreeing with one another over the exact interpretation of the Lord's supper and how far to take the reforms. Zwingli's influence and reformation efforts would have its affects on another movement detailed by Dr. Lutzer called "The Anabaptists". 

In chapter 14, the reader is introduced to Anabaptists. This group of people represent what Lutzer calls "the radical reformation". The Anabaptists saw the need to not only break-away from the Roman Catholic Church, but even from the other Reformers' (i.e Luther, Zwingli and Calvin) view on the church as being more regional and the practice of infant baptism. Since the Anabaptists could not find infant baptism in the New Testament, Dr. Lutzer notes on page 154: 

"The men had been baptized as infants, but now they were baptized as adults on the profession of their faith in Christ." 

Since this group baptized anyone coming from the Roman Catholic Church into their fellowship, their enemies deemed them "ana-baptists", since they were accused of "baptizing again". As Dr. Lutzer details the life of this reformed movement, the reader finds how persecuted they were for their beliefs by both Roman Catholics and other Protestant groups. From the anabaptists would spawn such groups as the Mennonites, the Hutterites and the Amish. 

In chapter 15, the third movement we find in Dr. Lutzer's book is that led by John Calvin in the city of Geneva. Dr. Lutzer details Calvin's reforming of Geneva and lasting influence into today in chapter 16. Calvin's theology and view on church government influenced Christian leaders in places such as Scotland (led by John Knox), England (embodied by the efforts of the Puritans) and the Dutch Reformed church in Holland.  

5. The final chapter: Is the Reformation Over? 

The final chapter of Dr. Lutzer's book is perhaps the most significant chapter in the book, since he attempts to answer whether or not the reformation is still relevant for today. So the question is: "is the Reformation Over?" As mentioned earlier, 2016 stands as the 499th anniversary of the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation.  People may wonder whether Protestants ought to make peace with the Roman Catholic Church and vice-versa, since the lines drawn between them in the 16th century are surely no longer relevant for today. 

Per Dr. Lutzer's overall presentation, the call reformation must continue, since the Roman Catholic Church has retained tenets that are incompatible with the Evangelical Gospel of justification by faith alone. He lists reasons why the Reformation must continue and why the contemporary Romans Catholic Church will not and indeed cannot endorse an evangelical view of salvation on pages:

A. There can be no unity on the gospel of salvation without discussing indulgences, prayers to Mary, purgatory and the like.

B. Contemporary teachings which include Mary as being Queen of heaven and co-redeemer with Jesus.

C. The Roman Catholic teaching on transubstantiation 

D. The fact that the Roman Catholic Church still advocates indulgences or extra amounts of grace available through extra good works.

E. Other teachings that promote superstitions like weeping statues and its process of declaring departed Catholics to be "saints". 

Dr. Lutzer notes on page 199:

"The fact that there are some born-again believers in the Catholic churches is good news, but it doesn't affect the character of the church as a whole. No doubt there are many unnecessary divisions with the church today, but some are necessary when the doctrine of salvation is at issue. Yes, we must strive toward unity, but unity should not cause us to compromise the central doctrine of the scriptures. As the old saying goes, 'It is more important to be divided by truth than it is to be united by error."

As Dr. Lutzer closes out his book, he quotes Acts 20:28-32. In that Biblical passage, one finds Paul's final words to the church at Ephesus regarding warnings of false teachers infiltrating their ranks. The elders to whom Paul spoke to were ensure that the truth of the Gospel be preserved and protected - since the salvation of the souls of the congregation depended on it. The need for the Reformation and the thoughts of Acts 20:28-32 leads Dr. Lutzer to pen the following closing sentence: "This is our task in every age."

Final takeaways and Personal Assessment of the book 

This blogger found Dr. Lutzer's book to be accessible, informative, spiritually uplifting and compelling. If one possible criticism (and I use that term very lightly) could be raised, it would be that more material could had been devoted to the Anabaptists, Zwingli and Calvin to equal out the amount of material devoted to Martin Luther. Still, the conclusions Dr. Lutzer drew regarding the relevance and importance of the Reformation for today requires one to understand why Luther began the movement in the first place. If for anything else, the main value of "Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation" is this: the battle for clarifying, communicating and applying the gospel is never done. Each generation has the responsibility to attend to the task of proclaim this message until Jesus returns (Matthew 24:14).

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