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September 27, 2011

Scripture and the Reformers: Retrieved for the Sake of Renewal

by Mike Gibson, series editor for the Reformation Commentary on Scripture

Martin Luther once remarked that the Reformation took place while he and Philipp Melancthon “drank Wittenberg beer. The Word did it all.” What Luther was suggesting, in his characteristically wry sense of humor, was that the incredible revolutionary movement of the Reformation was not the product of a human being, a personality, charisma, or the result of strategic planning, calculations or effort.

Rather, the Reformation unfolded through the cities, villages and hamlets of early modern Europe as an act of the Spirit—an act centered concretely in Scripture. Luther was not alone in this evaluation. The course of the Reformation occurred as men and women read, contemplated, proclaimed and acted upon Scripture. Above all else, the Reformers and their parishioners were immersed in Scripture. The Reformation was an event grounded in reading and exegesis of the Bible, in preaching the word of Scripture and living out its message in the world.

rcsOP.jpgThe Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS), a new series from InterVarsity Press, attempts to capture this dynamic. A twenty-eight-volume series, edited by leading Reformation historians Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School) and Scott Manetsch (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), the RCS places in the hands of readers the writings of a wide array of Reformers on Scripture, collecting their comments across the whole canon of the Bible. Many of the quotations contained in the RCS are here made available in English for the first time. With these volumes readers enter the world of the Reformers gathered together around the Scripture, such that contemporary audiences are invited to read, think, discuss, debate and interpret Scripture in concert with the host of men and women who changed the course of history.

The unique nature of this series is not merely the historical interest of Reformation-era commentary, though readers will be introduced to a constellation of figures virtually unknown to most in the English speaking world, and they will also see the diversity of thought represented within the Reformation traditions (even disagreements over the proper rendering of passages!). Rather, above all else, the RCS is about renewal—renewal constituted by contemplation of Scripture within the folds of tradition. Pastors, preachers and teachers will find in these volumes resources drawn from the deep wells of the Reformation that can produce living springs within the church today.

The voices of the Reformation call to us to look at Scripture anew with different eyes, providing fresh insight and tools for hearing Scripture in bold and startling ways. As the Reformers themselves sought to renew the church through the reading and preaching of Scripture—which they did in conscious alliance with the ancient traditions of the church—so the RCS provides an opportunity to read and preach the Scripture with the Reformers, retrieved here for the renewal of the church and the world.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:39 AM

May 12, 2011

Faith In Strange Places

Thanks to Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom for this contribution. Mark is a Professor of History at Notre Dame and Carolyn has written more than 75 books and bible study guides.

Stories of God at work inspire us to be more prepared to answer God’s call in our own lives. In their new book, Clouds of Witnesses, Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom have collected some unique instances of how God has worked through his servants during the last two hundred years.

cloudscoverOP.jpgAfter decades of writing I (Carolyn) think this is the most ‘fun project’ I’ve ever worked on. I was able to enter the lives of seventeen Christians from the past century of the non-Western world and to compose brief biographies of each. Their faith, courage, tenacity and sometimes downright peculiarity challenged me at every point. Contributing to the fun was my privilege of working with friend and scholar Mark Noll. I think you might enjoy meeting these characters too. As an excuse for reading, you can always comb their lives for sermon illustrations.”

Because it is improper to teach any exclusive religion where she lives, a young mother reads Scripture aloud without comment to her daughter—her door open for any who wish to stand and listen. Many do. See Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922) of India.

Faith Gone Silly
Christians so intent on proving that they have overcome temptation to sin that they worship together outdoors—totally naked. (More sensible Christians intervene.) See Simeon Nsibambi (1897-1978) of Uganda.

God’s Mysterious Power of Invitation
Why would some 200,000 people gather silently for eight years in hundreds of small church buildings each Sunday, with an open Bible (that they could not read) on the pulpit—waiting for someone to come and teach them about Jesus? See William Wade Harris (1865-1929) of Liberia.

How might a Catholic bishop imprisoned for twenty-nine years because of his faith and with no access to other Catholics let outsiders know that he remained faithful? Suppose he has one hour at a formal public banquet but is not permitted to speak to the one Catholic guest? See Ignatius Cardinal Kung (1901-2000) of China.

God Uses Flawed People
Suppose a young man cheats at his final exams, locks his brother out of their room on a snowy night, shouts invectives at pastors in his audience, chases children away from this front rows of his meetings and gets himself locked up in a psych ward by his seminary president. Would you commission this man as an evangelist at the most critical era of a country’s history? God did. See John Sung (1901-1944) of China.

Sharing the Gospel with Unknown Consequences
She wasn’t an evangelist—really. She was a medical doctor. But somehow opportunities for evangelism kept coming her way, first as a leader of “Bible women” in Korea, then as a Bible school teacher and eventually a traveling evangelist. People regularly came to Jesus through her preaching. One of them, a seventeen-year-old school boy, left her meeting and returned to his room for a night-long “intensely personal conversation with God.” Watchman Nee had come to Jesus. See Dora Yu (1873-1931) of China and Korea.

“Working on these biographical sketches has made me (Mark) much more conscious of both diversity and unity in the worldwide body of Christ. The figures we sketch in this book were unlike each other in many ways—levels of education, styles of Christian life and witness, willingness to work with established movements, degrees of independence, beliefs about the most important things, attitudes toward family and many more. Yet in all were found (amidst also a diversity of weaknesses) deep attraction to the Lord Jesus, the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit and a burning desire to live faithfully unto God. As a coauthor I could not be more challenged by what I have seen in these diverse lives or more humbled by their unity in pointing to Christ.”

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:49 AM