As we approach the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation (October 31, 1517), Lutzer is concerned that the importance of that historical event is lost to many Christians. The fundamental beliefs of the Reformers are often ignored and the doctrines considered unimportant. “We forget,” Lutzer writes, “that the better we understand yesterday, the better we will understand today.” (xiv)
Lutzer has written a good introduction to the Reformation and its importance to us today. He reviews Martin Luther's life and spiritual journey. He looks previous attempts at reformation (Wycliffe, Hus), the state of the church at the time, the conflict in doctrine, the heart issue of sola Scriptura, the debates, the violence, etc. He has included chapters on Zwingli, the Anabaptists, Calvin, and the teachings of the Roman Catholic church today.
Included is a good discussion on “free will” and Luther's view of the bondage of the will. The unconverted do not have the freedom to choose to believe the gospel. They can believe only if God exercises special grace in that person's heart (God's sovereign grace). Lutzer points out that this was an important distinction because the Roman Catholic Church did hold that man was totally depraved - sick, yes, but not dead in sin. Luther held that man was spiritually dead and incapable of reaching out to God. “Thus, salvation is wholly of God.” (114)
Even though this is introductory in nature, I did appreciate the teaching on some of the finer points of the Reformation. Luther and Zwingli/Calvin had differing views on infant baptism. Lutzer has also included a good review of the burning of Servetus, putting it in perspective. He also covers the five points of Calvinism.
Lutzer wants readers to be familiar with the Reformation and its elements. He also wants readers to understand that we face a situation today similar to the time of the Reformation. Luther opposed people who said they heard from God but whose teachings did not go along with the Bible. Lutzer says we must still rescue the gospel today from fraudulent ministries, liberals, cults, etc. Sola Scripture (Scripture alone) is still the issue.
I recommend this introduction to the Reformation to those who are not familiar with the historical event and its importance today. Christians who have diligently studied church history and theological issues may not find anything new here. Nonetheless, I found it a good review as we come upon the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
My rating: 4/5 stars
Erwin W. Lutzer has been the senior pastor of Moody Church in Chicago for thirty-six years. He and his wife live in the Chicago area.
Baker Books, 224 pages.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.