Erwin W. Lutzer, Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation. Baker Books, 2016. 206 pages.
2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Erwin Luzter’s Rescuing the Gospel is one among many promising publications to be released throughout this year and next year to commemorate this significant event. Lutzer’s work is made up of an introduction and 17 Chapters:
1: Power, Scandals, and Corruption
2: A Morning Star and a Goose Swan
3: The Wittenberg Door
4: Who Was Martin Luther?
5: The Great Discovery
6: The Dominoes Begin to Fall
7: The Wild Boar in the Vineyard of the Lord
8: Here I Stand
9: We Are Protestants Now
10: Disputes, Disunity, and Destiny
11: Luther and the Bible
12: Luther, Katie, Children and Death
13: Zwingli: Reforming Zurich
14: The Anabaptists: Promise and Persecution
15: Calvin: Reforming Geneva
16: Calvinism’s Lasting Influence
17: Is the Reformation Over?
“Christianity can survive without the gospel,” Lutzer provocatively begins his work. He then continues, “Let me clarify. There is a form of Christianity that developed in medieval times that has survived to this day without the gospel. It is, of course, a powerless Christianity that cannot give people the assurance of salvation, nor does it lead to lives of holiness—but it is called Christianity” (1). Of course, the Christianity that Lutzer has in mind is Roman Catholicism in its fragmented, pre-reformation state. He does a fair job exposing the rampant corruption of the Catholic Church leading up to the Reformation.
No movement or people exist within a vacuum and history is not simple. There were many factors that led up to Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Thesis on the church door in Wittenberg. John Wycliffe and John Hus are two pre-reformers upon whose shoulders Luther stood. Lutzer tells their story in chapter two.
Chapters 3 through 12 tell the story of Martin Luther. Here is the real meat of the book and Lutzer does an admirable job telling us Luther's life, theology, and contributions that are still with us to the present day. Luther was a brilliant theologian with a spine of steel. We can admire his opposition to a corrupt church. But he was also a flawed man whose writings were used by Nazi Germany to justify persecution of the Jews. Lutzer tells us both about him.
Chapters 13-16 deal with the Reformation across Europe. Chapter 13 tells the story of Zwingli a man whom Luther ultimately did not agree with in the view of the music in worship, the nature of communion, and the Christian’s relationship to the state. In Chapter 14, Lutzer tells us about the Anabaptists—who they were, what they believed, and who their true heirs are (and its not Baptists). Chapters 15-16 tells us about John Calvin, a towering figure. Lutzer recounts his life and his theology. He also demonstrates Calvin’s lasting legacy for all Protestant Christians.
Finally in chapter 17, Lutzer ends the book by asking the reader whether or not the reformation is over. Here he notes the the unity of Evangelicals with Catholics and the present doctrinal divergences between the two groups: the nature of saving faith, the role of the sacraments, indulgences, superstitions, and the priesthood of believers. His conclusion is that while the Reformation is over in the political-historical sense, the issues the fractured Christendom then are still present. Therefore, the reformation is not over. Every generation of Christians must fight to preserve the purity of salvation and accurate doctrine.
Lutzer has serviced the church with this great introduction to the Protestant Reformation. Rescuing the Gospel is a highlight reel of the Protestant Reformation—the overall narrative is communicated and the key personalities described. Where appropriate, Lutzer briefly explains theology. He does a great job describing the present, glaring differences between Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity. The chasm between the two is still wide and unity between the two isn't warranted. Overall, this is an excellent work. It will be my go to recommendation to those wanting to learn about the Protestant Reformation.
Rating: Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five
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