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Is the Reformation over? Is it, as some have suggested, a failed project? In order to answer that question, we must return to the Reformation and its core doctrinal convictions. We must remember that the Reformation, at its heart, was not a political or a social movement but a theological one. The Reformation was birthed out of Martin Luther’s commitment to sola Scriptura—the “material principle” of the Reformation. Sola Scriptura affirmed that the Bible alone is the final, infallible authority for life and doctrine. This commitment to Scripture shaped the contours of Reformation conviction. It was this commitment to the ultimate authority of Scripture that gave the Reformers the courage to separate from Rome in their proclamation of the gospel.

True Christianity and true gospel preaching depend on a firm commitment to the authority of Scripture. That is why, since the time of the Reformation, the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture have been under constant attack. In the Enlightenment, modernist philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Kant confronted Western culture with a series of questions that ultimately transformed the notion of truth in the Western mind.  The result was a totalitarian imposition of the scientific model of rationality upon all truth, the claim that only scientific data can be objectively understood, objectively defined, and objectively defended.  In other words, the modernist worldview did not allow for the notion of special revelation and openly attacked the possibility of supernatural intervention in world history. Modernity thus presented the church of the Lord Jesus Christ with a significant intellectual crisis.

In the United States, a quintessentially American philosophy known as pragmatism also challenged the ultimate authority and truthfulness of Scripture. Pragmatism was the idea that truth is a matter of social negotiation and that ideas are merely instrumental tools whose truthfulness will be determined by whether they meet the particular needs of the present time.  In the eyes of the pragmatists, ideas are nothing but provisional responses to actual challenges, and truth, by definition, is relative to the time, place, need, and person.

As most of us are aware, modernity has given way to postmodernity, which is simply modernity in its latest guise—postmodernism is nothing more than the logical extension of modernism in a new mood. Claiming that all notions of truth are socially constructed, postmodernists are committed to total war on truth itself, a deconstructionist project bent on the casting down of all religious, philosophical, political, and cultural authorities. A postmodernist ahead of his times, Karl Marx warned that in the light of modernity, “all that is solid melts into air.”

As Christians continue to face opposition from false gospels and from the culture at large, we must continue to protest.

The only way to escape the rationalist claims of modernism or the hermeneutical nihilism of postmodernism is the doctrine of revelation—a return to the doctrine of sola Scriptura. Christians must remember that in the doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture bequeathed to us by the Reformers, we can have confidence in God’s Word in spite of the philosophical and theological problems of the age. God has spoken to us in a reasonable way, in language we can understand, and has given us the gift of revelation, which is His gracious disclosure of Himself.

Indeed, the war against the authority and truth of Scripture has been raging since the Reformation and has continued into our own generation. Theologian J.I. Packer once recounted his involvement in the battle over the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. He traced his involvement back to a conference held in Wenham, Mass., in 1966, when he confronted some professors from evangelical institutions who “now declined to affirm the full truth of Scripture.” That was fifty years ago, and the war over the truthfulness of the Bible is still not over—not by a long shot.

As Reformed evangelicals, we must recognize that as the theological heirs of the Reformers, we cannot capitulate to revisionist models of the doctrine of Scripture. An affirmation of the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible has stood at the center of the Reformed faith since the sixteenth century. We are those who confess, along with the Reformers, that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. Scripture alone is the ultimate authority for life and doctrine. In a sense, Reformed theology hangs on the accuracy of that singular proposition.

The theology of the Reformation cannot long survive without the church’s explicit commitment to the authority of Scripture above all else. Without the authority of Scripture, our theological convictions are merely conjectures and our preaching becomes nothing more than a display of human folly.

As Christians continue to face the stiff wind of opposition from false gospels and from the culture at large, we must continue to protest. Scripture demands that we protest. We must protest every false gospel and every worldview that diminishes human flourishing. We must continue to hold fast to the core theological convictions of the Protestant Reformation and to the primacy and authority of Scripture. We must not fail in seeing Scripture rightly proclaimed, the church built up, and the message of the gospel reach every corner of the earth.

As we approach the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, my hope is that the theology of the Reformers finds new life in the modern church. The health of the church is directly connected to the strength of our commitment to the authority and truthfulness of Scripture.

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From the October 2017 Issue
Oct 2017 Issue