Thursday, March 17, 2011


Babel or Blessing?

Paul Vander Klay:

I find the fall to be a good time to pick up a book on the Reformation. This year my book is Alister McGrath’s “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”. This is the second book I’ve read by McGrath and am finding him to be a new favorite author.

“The dangerous new idea, firmly embodied at the heart of the Protestant revolution, was that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible for themselves. However, it ultimately proved uncontrollable, spawning developments that few at the time could have envisaged or predicted.”

I used to think that the heart of the reformation was “justification by faith alone” but now I have my doubts. When I was a missionary in the Dominican Republic a fun exercise was asking the Haitian pastors whether we were saved by faith or by works. Despite a dozen years of missionaries pounding “the correct answer” to this catechism question in every conceivable way the near universal response given by the national pastors was either “works” or “both”, never “faith alone”.


Mcgrath goes on to make this observation: “’the Reformation’ introduced into the history of Christianity a dangerous new idea that gave rise to an unparalleled degree of creativity and growth, on the one hand, while on the other causing new tensions and debates that, by their very nature, probably lie beyond resolution. The development of Protestantism as a major religious force in the world has been shaped decisively by the creative tensions emerging from this principle.” He’s right. The versions of Christianity sweeping Asia and Africa today are direct heirs to this dangerous idea. It’s difficult to imagine where Christianity would be today without it.

My question for you on Luther’s Wittenburg posting is whether in your opinion the dangerous idea is worth the mess?

Just two brief comments.

America's unique role. We debate endlessly about whether the United States is a Christian nation, but if we accept this as the central tenant of the Reformation there can be little question that the US is the ultimate nationalistic expression of Protestantism. Back to this in a minute.

It's not theology - it's Jesus. Note Vander Klay's choice of a theological example and how it does not work - it is not theology we spread, And I think this consistent with scripture. How better describe the expressions of Judaism Christ so condemned than as a strict, heartless, theological structure? Christ sought to change the church into something very different than anything previously considered.

Which brings us back to America. If the US is the ultimate political expression of Protestantism and the Gospel is not theological in nature, then what should we fight for in the US? - Freedom...Freedom....Freedom.

The job of the nation is not to enforce a theological understanding, but to give people the ability to discover. Think about it the next time you look for a "real Christian" candidate.

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