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Looking Back, Looking Forward: The Protestant Reformation by Rev. Paul C. McGlasson, PhD

The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the onset of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg. It was, appropriately, high noon, though his posting was intended not so much for dramatic effect as for scholarly discussion among his theological colleagues at the University of Wittenberg. In fact they were written in Latin, the language of learned debate.

The immediate issue of the 95 theses has long since passed from the historical horizon: the power and efficacy of indulgences (though in some ways the sale of indulgences can be seen as an early version of our all too popular prosperity gospel, still very much alive). Indeed, it had already done so during Luther’s lifetime....What follows is a brief attempt to summarize the main thrust of Reformation teaching, especially according to Luther and Calvin, in my judgment its most prominent and persuasive advocates. 

Surveying Presbyterian Beliefs “Theological Reflection” and Reformed Theology by Rev. Michael D. Bush, PhD

Recently the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released the results of a Presbyterian Panel survey entitled “Theological Reflection.” It describes the views of members and ministers in three areas: Interreligious issues, understanding and affirmation of the Presbyterian theological tradition, and certain matters related to vocation and worship. In this article we focus on the second set of issues, the theological concepts and themes. For those who care about the tradition of Presbyterian and Reformed Christianity, there is some good news in these data, along with evidence of considerable misinformation and confusion. 

The Catechized Prodigal: When Covenant Children Lose Their Way by Rev. James P. Hering, PhD

Of the numerous passages in the Scriptures which admonish the parent concerning the rearing of children, the Book of Proverbs contains some of the most pithy and memorable. Who cannot finish the folksy rendering of 13:24, “Spare the rod and...”? Such proverbs have endured in the collective consciousness of our society due, in part, to their candid, striking images.

The classic proverbial form suspends the complexity of our human condition between two poles, creating an either-or dialectic in which no mediating resolution seems anticipated. As frustrating as this may be for the modern mind, contrast is the teacher here, not synthesis. The proverb, by virtue of this feature, requires the reader to engage in a process of assessment, a sober self-identification, before practical application is to be made. The ethical implications and responsibilities lie, typically, along a spectrum between various extremes: life or death, truth and lies, fool vs. sage, etc. The reader, like it or not, is called to choose a path, and to a certain degree, challenged to define it, as well. The latter element, defining the characteristics of the particular virtue or lifestyle, constitutes the arduous inquiry into the “way of wisdom.” 

Learning to Speak Thoughtfully of Jesus: Calvin’s Way With Heretics by Rev. Karen Petersen Finch, PhD

Most Christians have a basic understanding of the issues that led to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Yet we all tend to downplay the degree of theological uncertainty in which the reformers were working. Challenges to the Roman Church’s theology and practice created a vacuum in which ancient heresies1 came out of their hiding places (so to speak) and clamored for reconsideration. Much earlier, in the fourth and fifth centuries, Christians had affirmed that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit were fully God along with the Father (the doctrine of the Trinity); they had also clarified that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine (the doctrine of the two natures of Christ). Yet not everyone in the 16th century was willing to follow their lead. A flourishing of heretical teaching partly explains why Luther and Calvin gave authority to the Nicene Creed (325) and the Definition of Chalcedon (451) respectively as clarifications of biblical thought, even while they were committed to the principle of “Scripture alone” (sola scriptura).

This article explores how John Calvin held to the Nicene/Chalcedonian understanding of Jesus Christ in the face of a particular challenge. It is good to know that Calvin did this, and how he did it, for a number of reasons. First, if we think of Calvin as writing only in response to Roman Catholic theology, we miss out on much of the creative and constructive flavor of his work. Calvin was writing for all Christians, explaining and defending not only Reformation convictions but also the ancient faith. Moreover, the particular way in which Calvin adhered to creedal teaching on the person and work of Jesus is instructive to us today. What should be our response to misunderstandings of Jesus Christ that reappear, in slightly different form, from generation to generation? It helps to begin—as Calvin did—with the early church. 

Why Church Leaders Should Study Theology by Rev. Mark Patterson, PhD

In order to lead any organization one must clearly, accurately, and firmly perceive two realities. The first is what the organization exists to accomplish. The second is how well the organization is fulfilling this purpose. Where either (or worse, both) of these ceases to provide guidance and influence, the organization will inevitably become directionless, purposeless, and irrelevant.

This axiom is no less true for the church and those called to lead it. When the church—regardless of whether this refers to an entire denomination or specific congregation—loses sight of its purpose it will inevitably become aimless, distracted, and inconsequential. And where its leaders fail to accurately and honestly assess or, worse, deny its true condition, this drift toward irrelevancy will only hasten. The health and vitality of the church then is dependent upon its faithfulness to the purpose for which it was birthed and its courageous rejection of anything that might distract or turn it from seeing this fulfilled. It is vital then that those in leadership understand God’s intention and purpose for the church and have the ability to assess its true faithfulness in fulfilling this mandate. 

Commemorating the Reformation in “Post-Christian” Europe? by Herman Selderhuis

The debate over the meaning of Reformation jubilees or commemorations is an old one. Such celebrations can be put to different uses and interpreted in a range of ways. For example, at an early marking of the occasion in 1617, Friedrich V (1596–1632), elector of the Palatinate and an enterprising Calvinist, was perhaps the first to propose the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Reformation. He wanted to observe it as a single, common celebration for Lutherans and Calvinists. But his plan was criticized by Lutheran statesmen and theologians, who accused him of making this proposal for improper reasons. Summer 2017 Theology Matters, p.1

Seeking A Correctable Conscience by John L. Thompson

Had things gone differently for Luther at the Diet of Worms—where he was on trial before representatives of Pope Leo X and Emperor Charles V—these might have been his famous last words: “I cannot do otherwise; here I stand. May God help me. Amen.” Summer 2017 Theology Matters. p. 9

Luther’s Mistress and Knowledge of Ourselves by Richard Burnett

Martin Luther had a mistress. It can be denied and has been many times. But the fact is he did, or at least he thought he did, and he struggled with her for many years, especially as a young man. There is much about this relationship we do not know, but we do know this: rightly or wrongly, he sometimes called her “Reason.” Summer 2017 Theology Matters, p.14