Let’s Go To Theology Class: The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) was the last of the European religious wars and one of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts. Due to casualties, disease, and all other horrors of war, the population of the Holy Roman Empire dropped by 7.5 million during that period. To appreciate the religious significance of the war, discuss both the beginning and ending of the conflict.

Specifically, answer these questions:

  • What were the contributions to the war effort made by Lutherans, Calvinists, and Roman Catholics (address all three groups)?
  • What were the results of the war for Lutherans, Calvinists, and Roman Catholics (again, all three groups)?
  • Who would you say won the war?

How it Began

The impetus for the Thirty Years War was the Holy Roman Emperor’s attempts to reestablish Catholic hegemony over Protestant regions. The teaching style of seventeenth and eighteenth theologians began to morph into something that was no longer based entirely on Scripture. Justo L. Gonzalez believes the approach of many church leaders became increasingly rigid, cold, and academic. No doubt this militant and dogmatic style provided a momentum during the period leading up to the Thirty Years War that was nearly impossible to stop. Gonzalez notes, “Dogma was often substituted for faith, and orthodoxy for love”(1).

Prior to the War, the Peace of Nuremberg (1532) permitted Protestants to practice their faith but prohibited spreading Protestantism. Gonzalez says, “The Peace of Augsburg, which put an end to religious wars in Germany in the sixteenth century, could not last”(2). This was true in part because freedom of religion was granted only to the rulers. Further, regions ruled by bishops often remained Catholic even if their bishops became Protestant (3).

Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism each vied for dominance in Europe. Rebellion spread quickly. Charles V (for Catholicism) and Frederick the Wise (for Protestantism) saw “[N]o higher interest than the cause of God’s truth as they saw it, and subordinated their political and personal ambitions to that cause” (4) (italics mine). Gonzalez: “[T]he peace achieved at Augsburg was at best an armistice that would hold only as long as each side felt unable to take military action against the other” (5).

The Lutherans

The war began in Bohemia after the Defenestration of Prague. Much had been happening on the fringes regarding Protestantism. Skirmishes did little to settle the matter of “official” religious beliefs in the nation-states. Books on Protestantism began to circulate following invention of the printing press. Martin Luther’s Reformation caused a division among German princes within the Holy Roman Empire. Moreover, these rulers began using religion to further their political ambition. Lutherans objected violently when Ferdinand closed one Protestant church and destroyed another. Many historians claim the Thirty Years War cost the lives of nearly half of Germany’s population. No doubt true believers were growing wary of Catholic orthodoxy.

Bohemian Protestants waged was against Ferdinand, but they were defeated. Ferdinand reasserted his control over Bohemia and was also named emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Gonzalez indicates that Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed, and Anglicans assumed that a nation-state must have a single religion to which all its subjects must adhere. Not only is this idea a factor in the Thirty Years War, it is an impetus for eventual colonization of America in the name of freedom from this very situation. According to Gonzalez, Philip of Hesse took the duchy of Wurttemberg for himself. The population of the duchy swung toward Protestantism. Gonzalez also reminds us that peace in Europe was only attained by deciding that some states would be Lutheran and some Catholic: This is the application of the concept cuju regis eius religio (“whose realm, his religion”). Lutheranism was born out of Martin Luther’s push for reform in the Roman Catholic Church. A precursor to the War was failure of the Inquistion to quell what Gonzalez calls the “Lutheran contagion.” Luther would not back down, even in the face of official opposition from the papacy.

The Calvinists

According to Tom Richey, “Calvinism, which was not established as a legal religion in the Empire by the Peace of Augsburg, spread throughout the Empire despite its prohibition, as Calvinists did not care whether their religion was legal or not. The spread of Calvinism threatened the tranquility of the Empire, as did places like Bohemia, where the ruler’s religion was different from most of the population” (6).

Gonzalez remarks that medieval foundations (the empire, the papacy, and tradition) were weakening. Calvinism, which was not established as a legal religion in the Empire by the Peace of Augsburg, spread throughout the Empire despite being prohibited. Calvinists didn’t care whether their religion was legal or not. As Calvinism continued to spread, it threatened the tranquility of the Empire. Social and political unrest was rapidly becoming the norm. Luther and Calvin were determined to see the church return to the Word of God, thereby reforming Catholicism. Calvin discovered the freedom of justification through the unmerited grace of God, which resulted in his hallmark doctrine of predestination. Gonzalez relates Poland’s distrust and disdain for the Germans, causing Lutheranism there to grow at a snail’s pace. He wrote, “It was when Calvinism made its way into the country that Protestantism began making headway” (7). Anti-Trinitarian heresies took root there. This may well have led to Poland becoming one of the most Catholic nation-states in Europe (see Gonzalez, 160).

The Roman Catholics

The Holy Roman Empire was a fragmented collection of largely independent states. The Reformation caused division between Catholic and Protestant rule. The origins of the conflict and goals of the participants were complex. Initially, the war was fought largely as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire. Mary Tudor and other notable nobles were committed to restoring Roman Catholicism in England. She became known as “Bloody Mary” because of her increasingly repressive and violent acts against Protestants. Gonzalez notes England’s official return to obedience to the pope in late 1554—Protestants were now persecuted as a matter of policy.

St. Ignatius of Loyola emerged as the new face of Catholic “reformation.” In 1540, as a response to burgeoning Protestantism, the Society of Jesus (the “Jesuits”) came to be quite a force for defeating the Protestants. The papacy put their resources to task. These early Jesuits operated under a quasi-military structure. Also, “[F]or generations the tendency within Roman Catholicism had been toward greater centralization in Rome, after the model of a monarchical government” (8). Protestantism was not similarly organized.

How it Ended

The Peace of Westphalia (comprised of a series of “cease-fire” treaties) recognized sovereign equality—the balance of power and non-intervention in affairs of the nation-states—established a variety of political kingdoms in Europe. Several earlier events caused the War to start slowing down—e.g., the Peace of Prague signed in 1634 ended Saxony’s participation. The Spain’s military fizzled out in 1640. Tom Richey said Westphalia set a “normative” state—a standard applicable to all territories—which fixed the control of churches, the right to public worship, and the so-called “confessional status” of each territory to the state it had been in as of January 1, 1624. Richey wrote, “By establishing a standard applicable to all, it also represented a convenient means of avoiding the conflicts of honour [sic] inherent in early-modern negotiations in which princes were asked to make concessions” (9). The Peace of Westphalia established an order of conditional sovereignty.

Catholic France and Protestant England emerged as the two most powerful European states. The rulers of the European nation-states could now choose their official religions. Catholics and Protestants were now decidedly equal under the law. Also, Calvinism lost its heretical or dogmatic stigma and was given legal recognition. The Thirty Years War came to an end in 1648. Obviously, both sides suffered greatly, seeming to have exhausted their military personnel and armaments. Spain began to collapse during the Thirty Years War, which seems to have continued after the Peace of Westphalia. Catholicism in France faired well as a result of War, but to no true detriment to Protestantism there. This was no small feat, and it involved France conscientiously rising above religious bigotry and hatred. In this regard, although Catholicism did not vanish in France, the Protestants were able to establish a strong religious presence as well. Yet I feel Protestantism won the day. They rose above what could have been total annihilation. Then again, the gospel has progressed over the centuries in exactly the manner God determined.


(1) Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II (New York: HarperOne, 2010), Gonzalez, 174.

(2) 177.

(3) 177.

(4) 173.

(5) 177.

(6) Tom Richey, “The Thirty Years War (AP Euro Lecture Notes),” The Blog @ Tom Richey.net (09/26/2016), URL: https://www.tomrichey.net/blog/the-thirty-years-war-ap-euro-lecture-notes

(7) Gonzalez, 159.

(8) 453.

(9) Tom Richey, “The Thirty Years War (AP Euro Lecture Notes),” The Blog @ Tom Richey.net

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Significance of the Reformation and Colonial Expansion

The following summary is from my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

In his book, History of Christianity, Vol. 1,  Justo L. Gonzalez writes, “Living as we do, only five centuries after both the Reformation and the colonial expansion of Iberia, it may be too early to decide which of the two will eventually have greater significance to the course of Christianity” (489). He provides his own cautious opinion a few sentences later, but I want to know what you think. Which would you say has exerted the “greater significance to the course of Christianity” to date: The Reformation or colonial expansion?

In this final discussion prompt for Church History Part 1, we were asked to address the theological benefits of the Reformation versus the evangelical benefits of colonial expansion. Which of these two has contributed the most to the course of Christianity? Initially, it seems like an easy matter to determine. Martin Luther almost single-handedly reeled in an out-of-control papacy, helping to preserve the true tenet of Christianity: salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. No man has the power to grant forgiveness of sins or to direct any amount of penance that will satisfy the wages of sin. But what of the evangelical benefits of colonialism?

Clearly, by the time of Martin Luther’s proposed changes, the church needed profound reformation. In fact, many longed for it. Gonzalez notes that many priests and monastics who wished to be faithful to their calling were finding this to be exceedingly difficult given the many lax practices beginning to plague the church. The Reformation helped bring Christianity back to its intended soteriology by challenging papal forgiveness, penance, indulgences, and promotion of purgatory. Gonzalez said this “Resulted in major divisions that exist to this day.” Luther didn’t plan to start a new church. He merely addressed in his 95 Theses numerous issues that needed to be changed within the Catholic Church, focusing on only the Word of God as the starting point and final authority. Luther formed objections to transubstantiation during communion, baptism prior to conversion, and the selling of indulgences. He essentially took on ecclesial meritocracy and attempted to tear apart the bond of church and state. The benefits of the Reformation were not limited to religion: Protestantism has given us open-ended and undisciplined argument, fostering new ideas in everyday life, reviving traditional doctrine, and questioning improper church orthodoxies.

Regarding evangelism, Christ gave us an emphatic directive in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (NRSV). He said, “‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.’ And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” (Mark 16:15, 20). Gonzalez believes colonialism in Iberia “…resulted in the largest expansion of Christianity in both number of followers and geographic reach since its very inception.” 1 Unfortunately, the goal of some Protestant leaders in colonizing the Iberian Peninsula seemed to be domination of local culture and ideology through a hegemony of leadership, rooted in Christian theology. Christian colonists came up against Islam and Judaism in Iberia, no doubt with a lingering memory of persecution under the religious and political leaders of both faiths. There was a sort-of balancing act between Protestantism and local beliefs regarding ancient gods. This tended to push toward syncretism. It’s one thing to be enthusiastic for the gospel, but the approach must be of Christ and based on “God inside.” I believe motivation for such expansion must be sharing and teaching; not cajoling and oppressing. The latter is akin to radical Protestantism, whose spirituality is affective or “emotional” at best, and which at worst causes compliance out of fear. This leads to pseudo-pietism. Many colonists who left England wanted to escape the tyranny of a state religion that was trampling on their beliefs. Historians believe these “conquering” Protestants were looking for the opportunity to make their faith the dominant religion. Accordingly, many were rather intolerant of other beliefs, especially those inexorably linked to local culture.

As I noted above, you would think it’s easy to compare notes on the Reformation and Christianity’s colonialism and decide which of these activities afforded the most benefits to the faith as a global religion. The church is commanded to go forth into every nation, spreading the Good News—teaching and baptizing, making disciples of Christ for further proliferation of the gospel. Colonialism always brings with it explorers, travelers, merchants, and missionaries. As interaction and commerce increased between nations, so did spreading of the gospel. Even those nations who did not become predominately Christian were impacted by trade practices, monetary systems, politics, and culture imported by Protestants. Increased travel and trade no doubt led to heightened concerns over security and sovereignty, creating the need for a larger military.

I believe it is the Reformation that had the greatest positive impact on the spread of Christianity throughout Europe, Africa, and the Americas. With the advent of the Dominicans and other monastic groups, piety was on the rise. Gonzalez writes, “Soon there were other similar movements, or ancient orders that now followed the example of the Franciscans and Dominicans… their main objective was preaching, teaching, and study.”  World-renowned universities (such as Paris, Oxford) benefited from Dominicans teaching as professors. Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Alexander of Hales, the Friars Minor, and the Franciscans established footholds in all major universities. Additionally, at just the right moment—when the papacy seemed most out of control and operating outside the scope of accepted Christian doctrine—Martin Luther and others successfully challenged ill-advised dogma and heresy in the church.  Evangelism remains one of Christianity’s most sacred and clearly established responsibilities, but without first recognizing and correcting questionable practices and heretical beliefs the result would be similar to a framer making even a minor mistake in the angle of the footer when framing a room—this would cause the foundation wall to be out of square several inches over its expanse. Protestant Reformation corrected serious misalignments concerning salvation, baptism, the Eucharist, papal authority, deep-rooted meritocracy, and other troublesome practices in the Catholic Church that had to be brought into order with Scripture and proper church doctrine. Failure to address these matters would have caused a slow-but-steady drift away from the core doctrines of Christianity. It is for these reasons I put more emphasis on Reformation than colonialism.

A response from David, one of my classmates:

I guess there may be two points of clarification. First, whether or not some form of reformation was inevitable given the age of reason. I’m claiming that reformation was inevitable given the sort of anthropological and philosophical changes that happened ithe post medieval world. I’m not sure what a splintering of Catholicism would have looked like if it weren’t a cohesive movement, but I can imagine that all of the ideals that you listed as central principles of the reformation would have manifest. 

The second area that needs clarification is to what extent Colonialism may have sped up the processes of democratization, language unification, and globalization. A few quick examples. I was at a conference six weeks ago where donations were being made to translate smaller books into French for African Seminary students in Francophone countries. I know believers in South America that use Spanish worship songs written in Mexico. I know student groups in Germany and Finland that sing worship songs in English seamlessly. It’s possible that the movement towards primary languages (English, German, French, Swahili, Russian, Mandarin, etc.) may act as one of the fastest causes for globalization. Colonization also placed an undue emphasis on manifest destiny and exploration (although they have quite a mixed history concerning civil rights) that have probably sped up the process of uniting the church through time. 

I guess my final question is to what extent Christians see value and long-lasting impact within the history of the reformation. I certainly see its incredible impact upon Christendom in reforming both the Catholic Church and birthing hundreds of new movements, but I lament the average Christian who couldn’t put together a meaningful set of thoughts about its practical and ecclesial impacts upon the church. It seems that as people turn to reading, discussion, and a better understanding of this time period and history of the church, that their faith is invigorated and strengthened. It is up to us to continue this process! I know that I’ve been blessed by the course material and a deeper dive into the history of the church!

My rebuttal:

David,

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this week’s discussion. I concluded in my initial discussion post that the Protestant Reformation impacted Christianity more than colonialism. D.F. Wright says the Reformation cannot be separated from its historical context—political, socioeconomic, and intellectual—however, he believes the movement was “fundamentally religious in motivation.” 1 You mentioned Christianity’s waning hegemony in the West as the basis for identifying colonialism as the greater growth factor. Given the fact that hegemony is more akin to politico-military dominance, and because we can see the negative impact secularism and non-religious affiliation has had in Europe and America over the past few decades, I do not think colonialism packs enough of a punch to provide consistent and lasting results. Arguably, globalization has been a close cousin of colonialism, thereby giving “legs” to the gospel message. After all, colonialism is inextricably accompanied by travelers, tradesmen, merchants, scholars, and missionaries. But the mere “invasion” of Christianity into a nation-state does not guarantee a majority of believers, nor does it prevent a slow drifting away from the gospel as the result of syncretism, secularism, pluralism, or any number of isms. 

The Protestant Reformation provided tools for addressing the proliferation of papal abuses (theological and societal) connected with meritocracy, penance, indulgences, false foundations for papal authority and pedigree, a perverted priesthood, and the usurping of Christ’s intercessory/mediation ministry (1 Tim. 2:5). I am not nearly as concerned with a weakening of Christianity’s hegemony as I am watering down of the gospel itself. Historically, all major theistic religions have attempted to wield sociopolitical control. Islam, for example, is best described as a theocracy. As Wright notes, the Reformation was meant to help restore the proper “face” of Christianity by fighting for independence from papal authority and hierarchical succession. The Body of Christ must be grounded in election and calling rather than consecution or papal appointment. Although colonialism provides opportunity for spreading the gospel, such global initiatives are no substitute for the Great Commission. Responsibility for evangelism truly rests with the community of believers. Frankly, this is the only means by which we can control the message. To accomplish this end, we have to spread the gospel in strict accordance with Christian doctrine. Given how far off course the gospel had been pushed, the Reformation was necessary to correct egregious abuses and misconceptions. Without this realignment, evangelism (whether or not it was tethered to globalization) would have been unable to rightly deliver the Word of Truth.

Even 500 years hence, the Reformation continues to impact both Catholics and Protestants. Martin Luther changed the course of Western history for the better. I find it key that Luther had to first grapple with Romans 1:17 and come to see how it is through faith alone in Christ alone that he/we put on the righteousness of God. Luther put himself through a harrowing ordeal before coming to understand that we are of Israel not because we are of the seed of Abraham; it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise (Rom. 9:8). The Reformation yielded a theology that is theocentric. Lines had become blurred regarding the Eucharist, church hierarchy, the papacy, which led to confusion and schism. Even so, reformers did not completely agree on every issue. Luther believed in “consubstantiation.” Calvin gave too much credence to the Mosaic Law (calling it a necessary “guide” to live by as a believer), and Luther believed the Law was merely intended to show us our sins and the need for a savior.

The above notwithstanding, I also do not believe colonialism (or any version or degree thereof) can have a “lasting impression.” Much of my reading in the past has involved the history of urbanization, development of the city over time, geopolitical theories and influences, and the remarkable lack of stability in many markets and economies in history. The first five centuries of Christianity show a rather unpredictable “atmosphere” for religious beliefs given the wide scope of persecution—state-wide at times, regional or local at other times; active prosecution and persecution under some emperors versus “incidental” sanctions under others. Consider the many changes we’ve seen in Israel since it became a nation-state in 1948. Look at how democratic (or progressive) socialism is fighting to make a comeback in this year’s presidential election. (We first saw progressivism under Woodrow Wilson). Sometimes a mere change in political philosophy can wipe out decades of progress.

Finally, I must mention the likely ecumenical era we’ll see in the “final days” as the false prophet and the Antichrist attempt to push for globalization and one world religion. For what it’s worth, I see the Reformation as having a lasting impact on Christianity, and systematic theology as the means by which the community of believers can preserve doctrinal truths in the face of colonialism and globalization. What I mean is this: We cannot assure a pure gospel message simply because colonialism has led to a proliferation of believers. We have to stay the course. I believe the Reformation has aided in the fine-tuning and preservation of Christianity even 500 years later.

 


1 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York: Harper One, 2010), 489.

2 Gonzalez, 489.


 

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Perspectives on the Crusades

The following summary is from my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

The Crusades became a new hot topic around the turn of the 21st century (March 2000), with Pope John Paul II and each succeeding pope making apology for them. Beginning with the horror of 9/11 both presidents and terrorists have referenced the Crusades, for various reasons. What is your opinion of the Crusades?

Sunday Times (London) called The God Delusion (2008) entertaining, wildly informative, a splendidly written polemic. “We are elegantly cajoled, cleverly harangued into shedding ourselves of this superstitious nonsense that has bedeviled us since our first visit to Sunday school.” Dawkins: “Imagine, with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7 1, no Crusades, no witch-hunts…” 2 Reddit posted many anti-religion quotes over the years since 9/11: Science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings.

Christianity is saddled with guilt regarding the Crusades, defending against the accusation that they were unprovoked attacks fueled by religious intolerance. In AD 636, Muslims captured Jerusalem, Alexandria, Egypt, and Spain. Gonzalez says Christians, faced with the safety and order of the state, developed the Just War theory.3 Riley-Smith says Augustine was “at his most positive when writing about the right intention required of those who authorized and took part in violence,” adding, “only use as much force as necessary.”4 Just cause, legitimate authority, and right intention should be followed in Christian violence. The Crusades were to be reactive only and not wars of conversion. Muslims have a not-so-just policy of holy war (jihad), a solemn duty of every Muslim. The Bible forbids blanket use of military might or forcing unbelievers to convert or be killed. When Muhammad died (632), caliphs who succeeded him prosecuted a series of wars whose aim was conquest. These invasions had an egregious impact on the ancient centers of Christianity. Gonzalez states, “Islam presented itself as a constant threat to be held back only by armed force, with the result that Christianity became radically militarized.”5 Expansion of Islam eventually threatened Western Europe. Unwavering violent takeovers by Islamic forces had to be defended against. Charles Martel (France) stopped Muslims from invading Europe at the Battle of Tours (732).

The first Crusade (AD 1095-1102) was to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim domination. Muslims marched toward global domination, seizing land. They demanded conversion or death. Jihad is a religious duty built upon universalism inherent in the Muslim mission. Aggression is a matter of Islamic theology. It has been implied that Islam is a religion of peace. However, the word Islam means “submit.” We cannot dismiss the Crusades entirely as defensive. Riley-Smith says the Crusades were not only fought in the Levant and the eastern Mediterranean region, but also along the Baltic shoreline, in North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Poland, Hungary, the Balkan, and parts of Western Europe, proclaimed not only against Muslims but also pagans, Balts, Lithuanians, shamanist Mongols, Orthodox Russians and Greeks, and Catholics. Riley-Smith says, “The crusading movement generated holy leagues, which were alliances of front-line powers, bolstered by crusade privileges, and military orders, the members of which sometimes operated out of their own order-states.”6

Regardless, many believe Muslims should wage jihad as a protest to the Crusades.  Osama bin Laden announced a fatwa against America because Saudi Arabia used American troops to fight against Saddam Hussein. He was infuriated by the presence of U.S. troops throughout the “holy lands” since the 1980s. Yet Madden denies any correlation between the Crusades and increased terrorism today. As with any religion, biaes, prejudices, selfish interests, and dogmatic defections abound. It is impossible to claim unequivocally that a religion or political body adheres 100% to applicable theology or law. It is unfortunate that the Crusades are often seen as a black mark against Christianity. Todays liberal thinkers and pacifists trade heavily on their opposition to war (of any type) as unjust, stating a “God of peace” cannot also be a “God of war.” Today’s evangelists and apologists must address this issue responsibly with gentleness and reverence.


July 7, 2005 London Bombings.

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Mariner Books, 2008), 23.

Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 293.

Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 12-13.

5 Gonzalez, 293.

6 Riley-Smith, 9.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: What Difference Does it Make?

The following summary is from my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

What difference do heaven, the second coming of Christ, and Hell make to you right this very moment? The emphasis, as it was for Paul in 2 Thessalonians, is on “right now.” Be honest, appropriately personal, and conversant with course sources – including Scripture – in formulating your post.

Reflecting on the above query, I immediately think of the purpose of Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians. Interestingly, Paul had visited this church only a few months prior, only to learn of lingering questions among the new believers. More troublesome, some new Christians were deliberately misleading others. Paul wrote in First Thessalonians, “…remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).

Paul noted also that new converts were initially led by the Holy Spirit, which provided them with the “gospel truth” that should have remained undeniable.  Paul said, “…when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (2:13). Paul heard of the good news from Timothy of the faith and love of these new believers. This made his distress and affliction worth enduring. Paul was most pleased, and he encouraged these new believers to “do just as you are doing” (4:1). Of course, he was speaking here of those who had remained faithful to the gospel.

It is fitting, then, that Paul also informed the new converts in Thessalonica to not pay attention to the murmurings of sudden travail and destruction at the second coming of Christ. He said, “For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness” (5:5). Paul provided some key guidelines for the last days: give thanks in all circumstances; avoid quenching the Holy Spirit; do not denigrate prophesy; abstain from evil; hold fast to that which is good. Moreover, Paul reminded the Thessalonians in his second epistle (as he first told them) the day of the Lord will not come until the unleashing of a great rebellion and the coming of the son of perdition, who will seek to be worshiped; he will take his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Paul told them to warn even their greatest enemy of the coming of the son of perdition. Kind of reminds me of the platitude, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

For me, much of what Paul warned the church about in his two letters to the church at Thessalonica is prevalent today. My “right now” has to do with the responsibility of us believers to not merely sit idle and wait for Christ, nor to close our eyes to travail and destruction and hide in our “ivory tower.” Many of today’s challenges to Christianity come from the halls of academia—in our high schools and our universities. Christianity is no longer the predominant religious influence over academia or culture it once was. The proliferation of secularism, scientism, naturalism, and moral relativism (I find most isms to be bad news) has blinded non-believers with a catch-all “just do good and you’ll be fine” vibe for life on earth. Theism (especially Christianity) is attacked as a backward, elitist belief in a fairytale invisible “God.” Atheists and agnostics shout from the rooftops that there is no absolute (ontological) truth. It is difficult today to discuss religion in the public forum as it has been relegated to a private, personal belief that should be kept to one’s self. I consider this the first wave of unbelief.

The second wave relates to an attack on our Christian sons and daughters who enter post-secondary education only to have their beliefs eviscerated. Militant atheism is determined to outlaw all discussion of religion in public, including in our high schools and universities. These “last things” (the eschatology of Christianity) carry an intense importance. Right now, we are facing a tall order: explaining what is meant by heaven, hell, and the second coming of Christ. Government officials and university professors and deans continually tie our hands and tape our mouths shut. Tertullian wrote, “And so we are also ridiculed because we proclaim that God is going to judge the world. Yet even the poets and philosophers place a judgment seat in the underworld.” [1]

Grudem says we should eagerly welcome Christ’s return. Because we long for this wonderous event as believers without knowing when it will occur, many have the tendency to procrastinate relative to sharing the gospel. But modernity has dulled our “spiritual senses” about the final days. It has served to distract us from the paramount importance of Christ’s great commission. Most believers agree on one major fact: Christ is coming back for His bride. Some even possess knowledge about what the final days will be like. Still, many Christians today remain silent. Grudem asks, “Could Christ come back at any time?” [2] Scripture says, “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming… be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:42, 44b). We do know first the gospel must be preached to all nations (Mark 13:10). Jesus said we’d be hated for His name’s sake; regardless, we are commanded to go forth and preach the gospel no matter the obstacles or personal costs.

I believe the Church must speak unequivocally, honestly, and emphatically about the reality of heaven, hell, and the trials and hardships of the great tribulation during the final days. There are times when I feel overwhelmingly guilty for squandering decades of my life fulfilling the pleasures of the flesh while walking in near-complete apostasy despite what I knew to be true. Through my outrageous behavior while in active addiction, I brought shame to my family and detracted many from becoming a Christian. Today, my “right now” entails studying the doctrines of Christian theology and becoming comfortable with the absolute truth of gospel (indeed, I must present a “living” theology), then stepping into this fallen world and sharing Christ, defending to anyone who asks me what is the hope that is in me concerning Jesus Christ and Him crucified (see 1 Pet. 3:15).

Our eschatology, as Grudem notes, provides a great motive for evangelism. Grudem writes, “In fact, Peter indicates that the delay of the Lord’s return is due to the fact that God ‘is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).” [3] As Christians, we believe hell is a real place, reserved for eternal conscious punishment of those who have refused to repent and believe in Christ Jesus. As noted in the parable of Lazarus and the certain rich man, there are no second chances for believing the gospel; nor can the departed unbeliever warn his family about what is to come for those who reject Christ. There is only the right now.


[1] Tertulian, “On Hell and Heaven,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 534.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1095.

[3]Grudem, 1148.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Salvation

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Based on what we read in Grudem’s Systematic Theology and what Scripture says about the topics discussed in Chapter 31 (on salvation), and any other source(s), we were told to identify as specifically as we could where God is responsible (i.e., what God is doing) and where humans are responsible (i.e., what humans are doing) in the following aspects of salvation: election, regeneration, and conversion.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, RSV).

I found this week’s discussion prompt to be very engaging. Perhaps the most wonderous aspect of the life and death of Jesus on the cross is this thing called “salvation.” As I noted in last week’s discussion, salvation is a rather complex concept. At its simplest definition, it is “deliverance, especially of humanity, from sin’s power and effects.” [1] From a biblical perspective, its root-meaning encompasses “width,” “spaciousness,” “freedom from constraint,” and “deliverance.” The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt is considered “salvation.”

Relative to NT references, salvation (sȏtēria) also indicates deliverance or preservation, with hints of wholeness, soundness, and health. It is clear that much of God’s grace is ongoing and touches on many areas of daily existence, from restraint over runaway evil to inspiring and life-saving creativity; from governmental and other institutions in human society to numerous examples of love and kindness; from the selfless actions of our emergency first-responders to the soldiers who stand between us and our mortal enemies. It is the endless and unmerited grace of God that fuels each of these interventions and benevolent actions. To me, this is definitive proof that He wishes all to prosper and to come to forgiveness.

Grudem says, “Grace restrains sin but does not change anyone’s foundational disposition to sin, nor does it in any significant manner purify fallen human nature or negate the consequences of sin.” [2] So why does God pour out His common grace on undeserving sinners? Perhaps He is demonstrating at least an approximation of the grace that is available through true repentance, wishing that no one should suffer eternal death and damnation. His patient sufferance of our obstinate disobedience serves to give all mankind the opportunity to repent. God wishes to demonstrate His goodness and mercy through the many blessings He bestows to the undeserving. David recognized the compassion God has shown over all He has made. Grudem believes God’s forbearance of judgment testifies to the fact that, clearly, He takes no pleasure in doling out punishment. Ezekiel 33:11: “As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (italics added).

God wishes man to comprehend His justice. Paul notes that those who consistently resist God’s call to salvation are simply storing up more wrath for themselves, noting that on the day of judgment “every mouth will be stopped” (Rom. 2:5). No one will be able to rightly claim that God has been unfair. Instead, we must recognize the many blessings in the world as evidence of God’s power and wisdom—a continual expression of His abundant grace.

Relative to the order and operation of “salvation,” we are asked this week to look at election, regeneration, and conversion. Specifically, what is God’s responsibility (His “doing”) and what is man’s responsibility (his “function”) in each of these elements of salvation? Of course, I have already delineated some of this above. God is the author and finisher of our salvation. It is His plan (which He ordained before the foundation of the universe) that puts the element of salvation in motion. He fashioned a perfect plan for redemption and provided the incredibly efficacious means for underwriting that plan: the death of His Son Jesus. He remained faithful to that plan and provided opportunities through many institutions for man to recognize the degree of His grace and His love for mankind. Further, His plan and the underlying graciousness that fuels it remained constant. Not once did He change His mind and decide mankind was worthless and without purpose despite the pervasiveness of evil manifested throughout creation. His instructions were simple and concrete. He elected those whom He would save, and He set forth the method for salvation at great cost to Himself—the death of His only begotten Son.

It is at this point that the responsibility changes hands. Man becomes answerable to God relative to the plan of salvation. J.I. Packer describes regeneration (i.e., “new birth”) as an inner recreation of fallen human nature through the power of the Holy Spirit. This new birth necessarily involves renewal effective enough to change a person’s disposition from sin and lawlessness to one of obedience, trust, and love. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, when there is a repentance (a “turning away from”) past rebelliousness, unbelief, and abject disobedience. Regeneration in its simplest definition is when someone moves from the state of being dead in trespasses and sins to being made alive in Christ unto righteousness. God, being rich in mercy and possessing great love for us, makes us “alive” together with Christ, to the extent that He shows us the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness in Christ (Eph. 2:4-7).

Of course, we have a part in this. There is a decisiveness in our putting on this “new birth.” Assuming we have admitted to our lost state, we must now choose renewal of our spirit. This involves our coming to understand that we’re buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:4-6). J.I. Packer notes the perfect tense of the verb genan, meaning both “to beget” and “to bear,” which allows us to see our part in responding to God’s saving revelation in Christ. [3]

We can now look at the aspect of conversion and our role in how it works in our lives as new Christians. Admittedly, I once held the opinion that I was “converted” by the Holy Spirit the moment I accepted Christ as my “personal Lord and Savior.” Grudem is clear about what conversion truly entails, stating it is “our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation” (italics added). [4] It involves a spiritual “turn” toward Christ. There is considerable emphasis placed on us relative to conversion. Our will is involved. In other words, it is not simply a “zapping” of our spirit by the Holy Spirit following recitation of a prayer. Conversion is the point at which we consciously repent from our sinful ways. It is here that we make a “180” and walk away from sin as part of our regeneration. This regeneration is made possible through God’s election. All of which, doctrinally, stems from God’s plan for redemption which He ordained before the foundation of the universe.

Specific to conversion, it is critical to realize none of this is based upon simply knowing about it. Grudem states, “Personal saving faith, in the way Scripture understands it, involves more than mere knowledge.” [5] We can know “facts” about God and His Son, but this is simply data. Conversion must be based upon knowing God, not knowing about Him. It entails trusting Jesus as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life. D.G.Bloesch notes that in evangelical theology, conversion has two elements: it is both divine and human, involving incursion of divine grace and a conscious decision to change our behavior. [6] In fact, Bloesch says we are active in conversion (we become willing) while passive in regeneration. Remember, regeneration is an inner recreation of our fallen human nature through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason we do not merely latch on to salvation; rather, we decide for salvation once our eyes have been opened by God’s grace. Lastly, of course, true conversion includes making Christ Lord over our life.

[1] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 768.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 663.

[3] J.I.Packer, “Regeneration,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 734-35.

[4] Wayne Grudem, 709.

[5] Wayne Grudem, 709.

[6] D.G. Bloesch, “Conversion,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology ((Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 212-13.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Works of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent lesson in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University concerning the “Work” of Jesus.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Grudem joins most Evangelicals in affirming that the penal substitutionary theory is the primary theory and most important way to understand Jesus’ atoning work. But after sampling other biblical images and biblically based theories, pick one image or theory other than penal substitutionary and “defend” it as your new favorite: What is the full scope communicated via this image or theory? Why is it especially meaningful to you?

The lesson this week gives us much to consider regarding the “work” of Jesus Christ, i.e., His sacrifice on the cross. I’m sure most of us realize the importance of “threes” in the work of Christ. First, it is a three-day event. Jesus was taken into custody sometime around midnight (Thursday into Friday) and brought before the Sanhedrin and Roman officials for a series of “trials.” He was crucified on Friday and, after defeating death, He rose from the dead on the third day. Looking at the “work” of Christ in greater detail, “three” shows up several more times. There are three “stages” to the event itself: (1) death; (2) burial; (3) resurrection. Further, each of these stages addresses separate issues regarding atonement. In the first stage, Jesus shed His innocent blood, which correlates with the axiom “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In the second stage, Jesus suffered actual (physical) death. This stage satisfied our moral debt. The third stage allowed our “sentence” to be served by proxy.

K.M. Kapic provides a wonderful explanation of the work of Christ on the cross. “Taken together, the images on this colorful canvas can help us see the full portrait of atonement: in Christ, God saves us as our mediator, sacrifice, redeemer, justifier, substitute, king, victor, and healer.” [1] Arguably, a key component of the work of Jesus on the cross is His taking our punishment (penal substitutionary). For this week’s discussion, I wish to focus on 1 Peter 2:24. Jesus bore our sins. However, I believe it is only because of His death and resurrection that we have been given the means through which we can “die” to sin—resist its dominion over our lives, especially the “practice” of habitual sin—and live unto righteousness in Christ. Kapic does not believe Christ paid a “ransom” to Satan. I concur. Mankind was enslaved to “sin,” not to the devil. Release from the domination of sin carried a price tag: the death of Jesus Christ.

We see in Christ’s earthly ministry many examples of His beginning to “reverse sin’s curse,” especially regarding how to stand up to temptation, the critical importance of love, submitting to the will of the Father, self-sacrifice (even unto death), and restoration. These activities point to what righteousness should look like. Human sin is in stark contrast to righteousness. Not only does sin seek its own appeasement, it causes a “failure to ‘render unto God his due honor.’” [2] God cannot overlook man’s abject disloyalty. However, I digress. Let’s stay on the matter of Jesus providing the means by which we can resist sin and seek righteousness.

Grudem defines atonement as “The work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation.” [3] Although this is slightly vague on its surface, I agree. But I must add that the term “salvation” is very comprehensive and includes deliverance from sin’s power and effects. The Hebrew language indicates some synonymous terms for salvation: freedom from constraint; deliverance from bondage or slavery; preservation from danger. From a New Testament point of view, Christ’s atonement provided release from habit and vice, a growing emancipation from all evil, increasing spiritual perfection (maturity), liberty, and peace. R.E.O. White says Jesus did not die to “win back God’s favor” for us. We had it all along. Rather, the work of the cross enabled us to move from a life of rebellion to a childlike willingness to trust and obey. [4]

I see a vital application of this aspect of the work of Christ to my life. I was subjected to severe “corporal” punishment growing up, which only served to make me fearful and angry. I was not empowered to handle anger, express love, or socialize with others, which led to rebelliousness, sin, addiction, self-centeredness, and a lack of social consciousness. While in active addiction, I fed my sin nature and ignored God’s initial call on my life. My coping mechanisms included those typically associated with addiction: denial, rationalization, blame, escape through physical pleasure. I lacked respect for authority.

Although I tried to stop drinking and getting high numerous times, this was not possible until I began to see how far out of balance my overt behavior was to the Christian worldview I claimed (pretended?) to have. I had to stop seeing myself as the “failure” my father constantly alluded to and, instead, see who I am in Christ because of His work on the cross. This allowed me to love myself and my neighbor. Eventually, I was also able to forgive and begin to love my enemies; what I call my “worst critics.” Not surprisingly, the result was an increasing alignment of my will with God’s will, which led to recovery from addiction. No human power (including mine) could ever break me free from the bondage of sin and addiction. I am convinced that without the all-encompassing benefits of “salvation” we cannot stand up to sin and put on the righteousness of Christ. The work of Christ on the cross allowed me to be forgiven and escape just punishment for my sins; however, it also provided my emancipation from the bondage of sin.


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Person of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University regarding the Divine/Human Aspect of Jesus Christ.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I found information under the heading Biblical Perspective—Jesus Christ: Both God and Man to be a great springboard for this discussion. Indeed, one of the great mysteries in Christianity involves discerning how the two natures of Jesus (divine and human) relate to each. In fact, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6-7, “[W]ho, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (RSV). Reading further, we also see that Jesus (while in human form) humbled Himself and became obedient to the will of the Father even unto death on the cross. To me, it seems counter to Christian doctrine to argue, as Arianism does, that Jesus was begotten by God the Father at a point in time as a being distinct from the Father and, consequently, subservient to the Father. Further, Arianism states that Jesus was the first creation of God. Interestingly, the heresy of Jehovah’s Witnesses would support this belief. In fact, it is for this very reason Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate the birth of Christ. JWs are essentially rationalists who reject the Doctrine of the Trinity and, accordingly, much of the teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ.

Arianism bases its belief, at least to some degree, on Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” Accordingly, I will begin with this biblical verse. Quoting from a transliteration of the Greek, Colossians 1:15-16 says, “In whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of (our) sins; who is an image of the God—invisible, firstborn of all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things through him and for him have been created; and he is before all things and all things in him consisted.” [1] My interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is considered the “firstborn” because of His divine actions regarding creation itself. It refers to Jesus as the cause of creation. It does not refer to the creation of Jesus. Matthew Henry provides a helpful interpretation. Regarding Jesus, Henry states, “He was born or begotten before all the creation, before any creature was made; which is the Scripture way of representing eternity, and by the eternity of God is represented to us” [emphasis mine]. [2] Henry continues by explaining that all fulness dwells in Jesus; a fulness of merit and righteousness, of strength and grace for us. This seems to fly in the face of Arianism’s claim that God created the Son at some point in time.

To help support my opposition to Arianism, please consider the commentary of Finis J. Dake. The Greek word prototokos, translated “firstborn” and “first begotten” is used of Jesus to mean the firstborn child of Mary (Mt. 1:25). [3] To me, this refers to the firstborn in God’s family as it relates to God born into humanity and not to deity. Acts 13:23 says, “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised” (NIV). Acts 13:33 says, “He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.” It would appear this refers to God sending Jesus to earth (as God incarnate) which set in motion the plan through which all of mankind can become adopted sons and daughters. The Nicene Creed would seem to muddy the waters regarding this critical doctrinal question with the wording: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; begotten from the Father; only-begotten—that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God.” However, the Creed specifically states, “Begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father.” [4] In fact, homoousion to patri refers to the Father and the Son being “of similar substance” or “of like being,” and does not indicate that God the Father created God the Son.

D. J. Treier, in his treatise “Jesus Christ,” notes the biblical history of Jesus’s earthly ministry and inauguration of a “new humanity.” This is the very essence of the “good news.” Concerning whether Jesus was “begotten” of the Father, it is important to note that Jesus has always been, and He was with God and “was God” at the creation. Perhaps it is best to consider the remark “today I have begotten thee” to be the beginning of the Christology of Christ; the start of His earthly mission. Treier notes, “The Bible’s Christological foundation begins with the ‘incarnational narrative.’” [5]

We must also remember that Jesus said He existed before Abraham (John 8:58). Also, He claimed that He and His Father are one (John 10:30), that He is equal with the Father (John 5:17-18), and that He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit were present (together as separate beings) at the moment of creation (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3). And we must not forget that Jesus (the man) was born in the flesh through Mary as conceived by the Father. This is the only manner in which we can rightly state that Jesus was born of the Father; however, it is the incarnate (physical) birth of Jesus we’re speaking of in this instance and not His creation as God the Son. Moreover, God has always existed as a three-in-one being, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Consider the word “trinity” (tri-unity or three-in-oneness): meaning three and unity. I heard it expressed this way a few years ago: not one-plus-one-plus-one equals three, but one-times-one-times-one equals one.

Footnotes

1. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 791

2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1164.

3. Finis J. Dake, The Dake Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville: Dake Publishing, 2008), 389.

4. Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 5th ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 11.

5. D.J. Treier, “Jesus Christ,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 442.

 


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.