This week an amazing thing will happen. 323 million people—give or take a few—will pause to say thank you. Of course, the object of that thanks is up for debate, but that’s a different point for a different time. With no disrespect intended for the formation of our country of for those who have served or died for it, I must admit that of all the civic holidays we have in America, I think Thanksgiving is my favorite. I don’t know what it is. The vibe on Thanksgiving is just different from the Fourth of July or from Memorial Day. I enjoy being with family and friends and the food, but there is something more about Thanksgiving. Something that invites one to look around and take in just how much we really have. Sure, we might not have as much or … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Soli Deo Gloria

At the end of every composition Johann Sebastian Bach affixed the letters SDG. They, of course, stood for Soli Deo Gloria—To God alone be the glory. He did it as a way to remind himself and those who would later see it and play it that its goal was to lift people into the heavenlies and direct their thoughts and attention to God alone. And the apostle Paul did the same. In a sweeping summary statement encapsulating every area of our lives he says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The verse is really amazing. Evidently there is a way to dishonor God in the things and way we eat and drink. The most menial task of our existence is elevated to a canvas for the … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Solus Christus

Although likely a twentieth century addition to the original three solae of the reformation — sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia — solus Christus — by/through/in Christ alone— accurately captures and reflects the message of the reformers. Solus Christus, like the other solae is designed to be set against something else. So Christ alone means that Christ’s person and work is sufficient to save sinners and there is no need for additional assistance, whether from a priest, Mary, the church, or ourselves. It suggests that Christ is all we need to be right with God. It seeks to place Christ at the center of everything. He is the one about whom sola sciptura speaks. He is the one from whom we receive grace. And he is the one in whom our faith is placed. Solus Christus means: Christ at the … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Sola Fide

As noted when thinking about sola scriptura, most religions and religious movements have formal and material principles from which authority is derived and by which doctrines are summarized, respectively. Usually the formal principle is a text(s)—hence sola scriptura is the formal principle of the Reformation—while material principles tend to be the summary or central teaching(s) of the religion or the movement. The material principle of the Reformation is the next sola under consideration: sola fide. This no doubt was what Luther was getting at when he called justification by faith articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae-the point of belief which determines whether the Church stands or falls. Likewise, G.C. Berkhouwer:

The confession of divine justification touches man’s life at its heart, at the point of its relationship to God. It defines the preaching of the Church, the existence and progress of the life of faith, the root of human … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Sola Gratia

More than anything, the Reformation began as a soteriological struggle. Medieval Christianity had degenerated so much that the gospel had become a demand to make oneself acceptable to God by improving on the infused grace received in baptism and the Lord’s supper (see Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity) rather than a donation, that is, a gift from God. This soteriological struggle was envisaged in Luther’s life personally as he wrestled with this theme. We are not talking about an esoteric or abstract theological idea. The Reformation was about the gospel and the Christian life. In some ways, the Reformation was the result of Luther’s personal struggles and the resultant outcomes. He wrestled with the things he saw when he journeyed to Rome. He struggled with his understanding of grace as he read and taught … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Sola Scriptura

All religions have authoritative texts and persons to whom they look for direction and guidance. This is sometimes called the formal principle of religion. As we have noted recently in our Sunday school class, the formal principle of Orthodoxy is the Bible and sacred tradition. In Catholicism it’s the Bible and tradition and the pope and the magisterium. After the reformation, two traditions—Anglicans and Methodists—would come to emphasize a slightly nuanced position which became known as prima scriptura; the teaching that holy Scripture is first among other places of God’s revelation.

In contrast to all of these, the formal principle of the Protestant reformation was Sola Scriptura: by scripture alone. Alone set this off from Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and later Anglicans and Methodists, and their competing and complementing sources of authority.

Scripture alone is the sole repository of God’s authoritative revelation, the … Read More »

Reformation 500

October is the month that Protestants usually celebrate and remember the Protestant Reformation. Although political, economic, and theological controversies were already churning beneath the surface, the date of the Reformation is usually linked with Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses on the churches in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. These 95 Theses come in the form of pithy and succinct sentences, something more akin to Donald Trump’s twitter feed than a theological tome. And that is not an insult. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t fully understand the attraction to social media. But there are some really talented and gifted people out there who know how to wield it like a surgeon uses a scalpel. And this is how Luther used the theses when he posted them on the door of the church. For example,

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Confession of Faith or Pledge of Allegiance?

The recent NFL controversy—which is spreading to other venues too—concerning the appropriate posture during the national anthem got my mind running in so many different directions.

First, there is the liturgical path I went down. We are liturgical beings and therefore we need structure and order and routine. It’s just what we do. It’s who we are. It’s all around us if we will look around and see. We need it. We crave it. As such the national anthem serves as the liturgical call to worship of all American sporting events. Very interesting.

Second, I got thinking about the nature of this national anthem itself—this cultural call to worship—and what protests to it signified. Far more than a set of beliefs one is called upon to affirm intellectually, the protests to the national anthems reveal that the American anthem that signals the … Read More »


In his book, The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love, James Bryan Smith explores what it looks like to follow Jesus in the context of community of faith. He explores at least eight aspects of our communal life as Christians and the import and impact of that on our growth in grace. The community of faith is a: 1) Peculiar community; 2) Hopeful community; 3) Serving community; 4) Christ-centered community; 5) Reconciling community; 6) Encouraging community; 7) Generous community; and 8) Worshiping community.

Knowing Christ and making him known in our context takes place in a whole host of ways

Smith does a pretty good job at a graphing with the variegated way we, as a community, interface with both those on the inside of our community and those on the outside of it.

In the most rudimentary … Read More »

The Amen

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

Those, of course, are the words from the third stanza of Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Recently I was struck by the last six words – One little word shall fell him – and specifically the word little. Luther shames the devil and extols the power of God’s word. Not just one word shall fell him. But one little word. God’s word is a mighty chain saw and the devil is a tiny tree. It takes but one little, tiny word to fell … Read More »