Tag Archives: the Reformation

Protestants need a positive reason not to be Catholic: Reflections from Carl Trueman


H/t to friend and former student Matt Crutchmer for this:

I have had occasion to appreciate Westminster Seminary’s Carl Trueman before (to be precise: here and here). Now I find myself nodding in appreciation as I read Trueman’s side of a thoughtful conversation with a Roman Catholic, Bryan Cross.

Though this appears on the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals–a group that gives me the willies–I find Trueman’s even-handed discussion of the links between the two great confessions a breath of fresh air, if a bit too focused on the importance to the church of confessional theology for my taste. Continue reading

Foundations of a free and virtuous society:


What follows are my sketchy notes on a session at Acton University yesterday, June 16, 2010. The presenter was Dr. Stephen J. Grabill. Dr. Grabill received his Ph.D. from Calvin Theological Seminary. He is a research scholar in theology and editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is the general editor of The Stewardship Resource Bible: ESV, which was released in November of 2009. He is the author of Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics and is currently editing Sourcebook of Late Scholastic Monetary Theory.

Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society, Dr. Stephen J. Grabill

Christian social thought is distilled wisdom over the ages . . . Christian thought will be anti-revolutionary, as Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer and Kuyper used the term. The former offer titled a book Unbelief and Revolution. A Protestant Lord Acton. He thought false dichotomy between spiritual destiny and earthly _____. Thought Christians should see selves as the people God had called to shape history according to God’s ordinances. But saw conflicting religious visions at work. Autonomous vision of French Rev at odds w/ Christian vision. That vision couldn’t be carried on by preserving orthodox church in secularized world, but must be carried out in all departments of life. Continue reading

Re-rooting our understanding of the Reformation in medieval and classical thought: A website worth visiting


Tim Enloe is “a professional educator involved in the classical Christian school movement.” This already warms my heart, as several of our children have been going to a classical charter school for a number of years. Yup, learning Latin and the whole nine yards. What warms my heart even more is that Enloe is convinced, as I am, that to be a good Protestant one must recover the goodness from which the Reformers drew: the goodness of the medieval and classical traditions.

Enloe works this theme out on his website The Discarded Image, which is well worth visiting, though right now it contains only a few articles and a number of audio talks–check out his “Setting our Minds To the Track” talk. The Discarded Image is a continuation, in a different format, of his now inactive WordPress blog Societas Christiana: Adventures in Medieval Protestantism–also worth browsing.

Moreover Enloe, who is completing an M.A. in Humanities at the University of Dallas, is also interested, as I am, in the work of those great scholars of the medieval period C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. He has (self-)published a book on Lewis & Tolkien and the uses of the imagination in Christianity (as well as another book on the impact of medieval Catholic conciliarism on the Reformation). Descriptions of the two books may be found here.

Here is Enloe on the mission of his website (the site’s name comes from the title of C. S. Lewis’s book of Cambridge lectures on the medieval worldview):

The “image” that we as Modern Protestants have “discarded,” then, is the full-orbed view of the Christian life as being aimed at salvation, but as encompassing the whole of the world as well.  One excellent way to do this is to become acquainted with the cultural context of the Reformers, to learn about the things that made them the kinds of men they were, the things that helped them to do the world-changing deeds that they did.

While it is possible to gain a generalized familiarity with the outlines of the thought of the Reformers as it appears “in black and white” on the pages that they wrote,  I do not believe it is possible to appreciate their work in a full-orbed sense without also understanding the roots of their thought.  This necessitates gaining familiarity with the Renaissance, and behind the Renaissance, with Medieval Christendom, and behind Medieval Christendom, with the classical heritage upon which the Christian society which the Reformers ultimately sought to reform had been built.

What does Cicero have to do with Calvinism? Why should Reformed people be interested in Plutarch’s Lives and Herodotus’ Histories? Who were Wessel Gansfort and Nicholas of Cusa? What was Nominalism, and how did it affect Luther’s and Calvin’s approach to the Bible? What do Medieval canon law, Petrarch, conciliarism, and the Devotio Moderna have to do with the Protestant Reformation?  Why shouldn’t we just stick with our traditional heroes, Gottschalk, Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Calvin, the Puritans, and the like? Why should we bother learning about Peter Martyr Vermigli or about complicated issues like Natural Law theory and the rather Medieval dualist political theory that was enshrined in the Reformed Confessions? Why can’t the “the five solas,” “the doctrines of grace,” and traditional polemics against Romanists and Arminians be enough for us?  Why can’t we just “preach the Gospel” and let everything else fall into desuetude?

The answer is because this is not what the Reformers themselves did.  Since Protestants today frequently debate the question of how far we should follow the Reformers’ own examples, this website aims to help the debate along by means of closely interacting with the sources and context of the Reformation.  Whatever your own position on how far we ought to follow the Reformers’ own examples, this website aims to increase your appreciation for what is too often simply discarded in Protestant talk about the Reformation.

“The Bible alone”? Not for John Calvin!


This reader’s comment on another post reminded me of something I once wrote, which sparked response both positive and extremely negative. Some people just can’t handle the truth 🙂 :

“The Bible Alone”? Not for John Calvin!
When we seek answers to churchly and societal issues in the Bible alone, citing the Reformation principle of sola scriptura, we are actually contradicting the Reformers.
Chris Armstrong

There’s no question that the Bible is at the very center of conservative Christianity in America. When tough legislation limited access to the Bible in our public schools, Christians sought creative ways around the wall, legal prosecution notwithstanding. When translators set out to “modernize” the Bible’s gender language, conservatives kicked up a storm. When lawmakers removed a Ten Commandments monument from a courthouse, Christian protesters mobbed the scene.

All of this activity hearkens back to the Reformation tradition of Sola Scriptura—the belief that the Bible should be the ultimate authority for the church, trumping all human traditions. For many conservatives, this authority is not only unquestioned within the church, but extended beyond the church to society at large. The dream of some evangelicals is a country—perhaps some day even a world—where every moral and political question is submitted to the Bible, which will provide answers both obvious and immediately applicable.

Worth asking, however, is whether we really understand what Sola Scriptura means within the church itself. Continue reading

The Ten Commandments, How Deep Our Debt


Though the public display of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and government officials facing off over the Ten Commandments is long over, the legacy of the Decalogue in English jurisprudence and society carries on, as it has for hundreds of years:

The Ten Commandments, How Deep Our Debt
The words of the Decalogue run like a river through not only the church but also English and American history.
Chris Armstrong

No matter where they stand on Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s fight to keep his Ten Commandments monument on display at the Alabama Judicial Building, Americans agree that it is symbolic. But symbolic of what?

I will not try to prove Moore’s claim that the Decalogue is “the moral foundation of law in this nation.” But, without question, it is central to Jewish and Christian morality. And, also without question, it is deeply embedded in Western—especially Anglo-American—culture. Continue reading

Johann Gutenberg’s imprint on history, and God’s imprint on Gutenberg


Guess I’m feeling controversial these days. Here’s another post that wanders into contested territory: the theological interpretation of historical events. It’s my take on Johann Gutenberg.

I’m interested here not so much in the way Gutenberg changed the world with his invention of the printing press, or the way his invention really made the Reformation possible . . . That’s all textbook stuff.

But did you know that Johann was something of a huckster–and that many of the first documents printed on his press were those indulgences that so troubled Luther? Or that he pushed so hard to get his invention up and running that he overextended himself financially and lost all profit from it? Or that in the wake of this personal disaster, he seems to have turned to the begging friars–the Franciscans–becoming a lay camp-follower?

In other words, there was more to this guy than we learn in the textbooks, and I think his story provides great grist for theological reflection:

A God’s-Eye View of Gutenberg
The rise, fall, and redemption of the Father of the Information Age.
By Chris Armstrong

August 24, 1456. On or near this day, the great Bible from Johann Gutenberg’s press emerged complete from the bindery in Mainz, Germany. Few events merit the breathless statement, “and the world would never be the same!” But the creation of the first book printed with movable type is one of them. Thinking about this event and how it has contributed to the spread of the Gospel around the globe, I muse, “God surely worked through Gutenberg!”

But then I hesitate. Historians, even Christian ones, don’t like to say too much about where the finger of God descended to do this or that on earth. Continue reading