Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Review of Books on the Reformation

I HAVE BEEN READING THIS SUMMER about the Reformation and the sixteenth century. Too many good books to just settle for one, so I’m going to break the rules and recommend several.

Brand Luther, by Andrew Pettegree was a delightful read. In 1517, at the age of 34, Luther began publishing. Gutenberg’s printing press was only fifty years old, but no one had figured out how to make money with it. Most printing presses were going bankrupt. Along came Martin Luther. The subtitle says it all. How an unheralded monk turned his small town into a center of publishing, made himself the most famous man in Europe—and started the Protestant Reformation. Luther was a communications genius. He broke the rules. He printed his tracts and booklets in German. Before this books published by other authors were in Latin, the language of scholarship. But the common man didn’t read or speak Latin. Within 24 months Luther was the most widely read man in Europe. He was history’s first best-selling author.

The volume of Luther's is writing is simply astonishing. His published works fill up 80 volumes, and this was not done with a word processor, but with quill and ink. The rest is history. Brand Luther was informative, and motivational. I highly recommend.

Here I Stand by Yale Reformation scholar, Roland Bainton, is my second recommend. Published over fifty years ago, this classic has sold in the millions. For anyone wanting to understand Luther and the Reformation Bainton is the place to start. Written in an engaging, easy to read style, this book is highly readable.

A World Lit Only By Fire by esteemed historian, William Manchester, is my third recommend. The subtitle is The Medieval mind and the Renaissance, a Portrait of an Age. Manchester writes as a secular historian about daily life in the sixteenth century, which was the time of Luther and the Reformation. People lived, acted, and thought so differently it is almost hard to believe we have anything in common. It was the era of witches, knights, the dread inquisition, the divine right of kings, grotesque immorality, burning at the stake, plagues, dreadful ignorance, filth, and very short lives. Because Manchester details the cruelty and immorality of the era, I only recommend this book for adults. 

Last, skipping to the 18th century, everyone should read Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas, the story of William Wilberforce. Converted in his early 20s, the five-foot-tall Wilberforce was a member of Parliament for over forty years, and he was known for his amazing gift of oratory. One observer wrote, when he began speaking I thought, “what a shrimp,” but by the time he finished I realized I had been listening to a whale.
Wilberforce joined the “Clapham Fellowship” a band of Christian brothers and sisters devoted to ending the British slave and reforming the moral temper of the British people. He persevered until the job was done, and it took fifty years. You will learn about the horrors of the slave trade, John Newton, 
Wilberforce’ mentor, life in 18th century England, and what a life dedicated to persevering in a righteous cause, despite numerous obstacles, can accomplish. Amazing Grace will encourage those working for similar causes today, such as the drive to end abortion in North America.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

To Spank or Not to Spank, Part III

IN PREVIOUS POSTS we established that the Bible commands corporal punishment.  We also established that children must be controlled, and that the best way to do this is with loving, compassionate corporal punishment.

Hebrews twelve tells us that "God disciplines the son that he loves" (Heb. 12:6). There are two important ideas in this text. First, because God is a father he disciplines his children. That is one of the things that fathers do. They discipline. But second, God disciplines his children because he loves them. In other words, God's discipline is an expression of his compassion, tenderness, and affection. God is the model parent. If love motivates God to discipline, then it should motivate Christian parents to do the same.

This means that our discipline should be consistent, patient, and tenderhearted. Children best make the connection between love and discipline in the context of the gospel. No Christian young or old can hear the gospel enough. The gospel is about fallen humans who cannot meet God's standards. The gospel is about God's grace stooping down at infinite cost to himself to give us the gift of righteousness which can never be earned. It is about a humble, needy people, living before an infinitely giving God who supplies all of our needs. Wise parents use the discipline process to communicate this love to their child. Here is an example.

You ask your six year old to make his bed. He ignores you. So you take him aside into a private place. You tell him that, because God disciplines the son that he loves that you are going to do the same. You remind him that God's standard is his righteousness (perfection), and that but for the gospel, for this one sin he might have gone to hell forever. Then you remind him of God's love. On the cross Jesus took the punishment we deserve. In addition, if he believes the gospel, his faith will unite him to Christ in such a way that Christ's righteousness will become his.

Then you place him over your knee and administer an age appropriate spanking, not physically hurting the child, yet causing enough pain to communicate that disobedience is always costly. After he quits crying you make sure that he asks your forgiveness and God's. You close by forgiving him and convincing him that, on the basis of Christ's atoning work, God also delights to forgive him.

You have accomplished several things. In the child's mind you have connected discipline with God's love. You have humbled your child with the seriousness of his or her sin. You have taught the child that sin always brings pain. You have encouraged your child with his heavenly Father's forgiveness and love. Last, you have dissolved  your child's guilt and self-condemnation.

No parent can do this perfectly or consistently, but parents that try to discipline this way reap a great harvest on the long run.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Don't Trust Civil Government

Martin Luther 1483-1546
GALATIANS CHAPTER ONE VERSE FOUR reads, “Who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age." About this verse Martin Luther comments, "Paul calls this present world evil because everything in it is subject to the malice of the devil, who reigns over the whole world as his domain and fills the air with ignorance, contempt, hatred, and disobedience of God." Luther continues, "....The people of the world are the slaves of the devil. If we are not in the Kingdom of Christ, it is certain we belong to the kingdom of Satan and we are pressed into his service with every talent we possess." (Commentary on Galatians). 

What is Luther's point? It is this: the realm of civil government is the realm of the Devil. Yes, the Devil is on God's leash. God controls him, but that doesn't change the fact that civil government is in the Devil's realm. It is the realm where darkness manipulates and dominates. (Think Hillary and "The Donald").

We are thankful for civil government. Without it life would be intolerable. However, the Bible teaches us to not expect too much from it. As Christians, our hope is in a different government, the Kingdom of God. In this fallen world civil government, at best, is a mixture of good and evil.

This is important because in America the presidential elections are fast approaching. We Christians need to do our duty. We need to vote. But as we do so we need to renounce a worldly idealism. Civil Government cannot save. It cannot give us what we really want.

I know that for many the options on the presidential ballot are not that appealing, but we must vote anyway. All men are affected by sin, so no matter who you vote for, it is a vote for the lessor of two evils.  As Christians we can do this because our hope is not in this world. Out hope is in the world to come and the perfect government that awaits those who believe the gospel.

For materialists this world is all there is, and civil government is the only government they ever expect to know. That is why they are so strident. All their hopes for life and fulfillment rest upon temporal politics. We Christians betray our faith when we think the same way. Therefore, do your duty. Vote! But do so confessing that there is nothing ideal about politics. We live in a fallen world. Put your hopes and expectations in the perfect government that will be ours in the world to come.