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.”