Reflections on Modern Reformation…

C. FitzSimons Allison
Joni Eareckson Tada
Jan/Feb 2007

Long before George H. W. Bush spoke of a kinder, gentler America-almost fifty years before to be exact-American evangelicals had tried to fashion a less abrasive and more affirming version of their faith. The year was 1924 and a variety of fundamentalists assembled to put aside acrimony and mudslinging, and to put forward a positive expression of conservative Protestantism. Such figures as Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, and Billy Graham emerged as the strategists responsible for a new range of institutions-the National Association of Evangelicals, Fuller Seminary, and Christianity Today-that were supposed to unite conservatives more effectively in common cause against the ills of the age: secularism, Communism, theological liberalism and Roman Catholicism.

When Modern Reformation started in 1991, it spoke for many Protestants who were embarrassed both by their father's Oldsmobile and his middle-of-the-road Protestantism. The magazine's authors and readers wanted a faith more substantial and angular than the bland moderation attempted by evangelical leaders and institutions. Perhaps because of its success, born-again Protestant was like Breyer's vanilla ice cream, good for what it was, but without the depth or complexity of Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk.

The search for a more bracing expression of Protestantism naturally led back to Martin Luther and John Calvin, Protestant reformers who were as biblically and theologically astute as they were unafraid to engage in controversy. Their deity, as John Crowe Ransom once put it, was a "God of Thunder," not simply sweetness and light.

Modern Reformation deserves credit for reminding conservative Protestants of their better selves. It has been a vehicle for reflecting on the whole counsel of God, even when it means disagreements among Protestants, as opposed to rallying around a "mere Christianity." Even better, the magazine has held up a God who cannot be reduced to several heart-warming truths. Modern Reformation, like the Reformation of the sixteenth century, has endeavored to do justice to a God who does not conform to human expectations.
D.G. Hart-Intercollegiate Studies Institute (Wilmington, DE)

Modern Reformation is a consistent clarion call in recovering the core of our Reformation heritage, largely lost in brand-name Protestant bodies as they accommodate to a culture desperately in need of sound teaching regarding grace, justification, sanctification, imputation and other Reformation essentials. In a time in which conservatives speak of the "authority of Scripture," Modern Reformation provides the blend of scholarship and piety that evokes "trust of Scripture." Fallen scholars easily slide from the solid ground of doctrine into making the great teachings, even justification, a morass of laws rather than vehicles and windows of God's grace.

A significant factor in the contemporary contempt for doctrinal integrity is the failure to recognize the relationship between sin and heresy. The gospel's good news is ubiquitously resisted by human fallen wills. Human nature comes out of the womb seeing itself as the center of the world and "naturally" clashes with the self-centeredness of siblings, parents, neighbors, and especially the true center, God.

This human perspective of self-as-center is the cause of rivalry, disobedience, party-spirits, and wars. In spite of claims of perfection in some sects, this self-center is, to some extent, always with us in this life. As it inhabits the hearts of scholars, their tendency is to overlook this factor in the treatment of doctrine and heresy. History of doctrine is often presented as an academic hopscotch game in which one endeavors to avoid stepping on some heretical line, or changing rules and "pushing the envelope" purposely stepping on the lines.

What is missing is the appreciation of the pastoral cruelty of heresy and that heresy is not a matter of the mind but of the heart, a yet self-centered heart. Samuel Taylor Coleridge once commented on a statement of the seventeenth-century Anglican Bishop Jeremy Taylor: "For heresy is not an error of the understanding but an error of the will." Coleridge commented: "Most excellent. To this Taylor should have adhered and to its converse: Faith is not an accuracy of logic but a rectitude of the heart."

Teaching and proclaiming the Christian faith must be directed to the heart, a heart in desperate need of a new center, a need to die to self, a need to be baptized into God's center and be born again. Doctrines, no matter how true and orthodox, will never evoke this needed "new creature" unless they are perceived as antidotes to the self-damaging results of self-centeredness and guardians of the Good News of our true center.

Gerhard Forde is a theologian who understands how sin can blind our eyes to the light of the gospel. He writes, "Writing a book on Luther's Bondage of the Will is a foolhardy business – not because the arguments are so hard to understand but rather because they are difficult for sinners to take." The assumption of freedom before grace that undermines all Reformation doctrine and precludes compassion for sinners is tenaciously held, not because the argument against it is flawed, but because we sinners don't want to acknowledge our slavery.

As an example of a sinful view of doctrine, I myself feel a great gravitational tug to Gnostic distortions. I do not like suffering. I would like a religion that saved me from my own and other peoples' suffering. The whole incarnational theme in Christianity opens me up to the vulnerability of suffering. Yet in spite of my natural proclivities much of the grace I have known has been in that very suffering the gospel has drawn me into, the fellowship of Christ's passion. Docetism, Apollinarianism, and Eutychianism would have misled me and withheld me from this deep and invaluable treasure of the use of suffering in redemption, community, and health (soter).

I also have a heart for that aspect of Arianism that needs no rescuer and for Nestorianism that panders to my natural Pelagian self-righteousness, that poisonous aspect of my natural self-centeredness that precludes any compassion for sinners and makes me anything but a winsome example of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Modern Reformation is a scholarly witness, not only to the great Reformation doctrines, but also to their true functions as mediating the essential, biblical Good News of Jesus Christ.
C. FitzSimons Allison-Former Bishop of the Episcopal Church (South Carolina)

There's a growing movement across the U.S. of young Reformed thinkers-people who are thirsty for solid doctrine and hungry for a rigorous and sturdy faith grounded in the whole counsel of God's Word. I sense the Spirit of Christ is calling God's people to a higher view of the Father, a sobering perspective on sin, and a deeper gratitude for the awesome mercy and grace of our wonderful Savior. I'm grateful that for fifteen years, Modern Reformation has served as an invaluable resource for those who are hungry and thirsty for more-much more-than modern evangelicalism can offer. I thank my friends at Modern Reformation for giving guidance to the growing movement of Christians who ascribe to the faith once delivered to the saints!
Joni Eareckson Tada-Joni and Friends International Disability Center (Agoura Hills, CA)

For fifteen years now, "Mod Ref" (as we groupies call it) has supplied its readership with a uniquely valuable theological perspective. It has provided a one-of-a-kind venue for conservative Reformed and Lutheran dialogue and collaboration (continuing and building on the legacy of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy). It has showcased serious confessional theological reflection in combination with impressive cultural analysis (an all-too-rare duet in the conservative evangelical community). It has focused our attention on and provided searching criticism of important theological trends (both academic and popular) influencing the evangelical community. It has championed confessional reformational theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age, and in so doing has played a part in creating the current young Calvinistic resurgence. It has provided helpful interviews with major figures and timely book reviews of important works. My thanks for and congratulations on fifteen fruitful years of faithful theological journalism-to Mike Horton and the whole Modern Reformation staff. We at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals salute you.
J. Ligon Duncan– III,Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church,(Jackson, MS),President, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (Philadelphia, PA)

Modern Reformation offers a serious examination of biblical and theological issues that face the church in our time. It helps raise awareness of orthodox Reformation theology in a time when doctrine has become deeply muddled in the church.
R.C. Sproul-President, Ligonier Ministries (Orlando, FL)

History will not recognize the twentieth century as a golden age for religious publishing, especially for magazines. Too many have come and gone, and some survive only by becoming more colorful and less coherent. One periodical, now its second half-century of publishing, recently observed the revival of Reformed theology in the same issue that it urged readers to embrace their "inner Pentecostal." Indeed, charismatic Calvinism may agree with our eclectic times. But seventy years ago, in the inaugural year of the late, great Presbyterian Guardian, John Murray insisted that the Reformed faith could not be defended and propagated by such a schizophrenic synthesis. Rather, it had to be distinguished from its "modern substitutes." Murray had in mind not only liberalism but other brands of evangelicalism that were making dangerous inroads into Reformed and Presbyterian churches. For fifteen years, Modern Reformation has bucked evangelical trends and published in the spirit of Murray's agenda. It has faithfully guarded the borders of Reformed orthodoxy, and twenty-first century Calvinists owe it a debt of gratitude.
John R. Muether– Associate Professor of Church History Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando, FL)

Modern Reformation has contributed in many ways to the religious dialogue in America, but none more significantly, at least in my estimation, than its restoring the discussion of doctrine within the life of the church.

Too often, Christians groan at the idea of doctrine. Many of us have heard the demand of our people to give them the Bible rather than doctrine, suggesting that the Bible builds people and builds them together while doctrine serves only to divide.

Modern Reformation has made clear the importance of doctrine as something the Bible teaches. It has challenged preachers to preach doctrinally, as the appropriate means of reflecting the conviction of the inspired unity of the Scripture. Otherwise, if I believed that all the different teachings in the Bible disagreed with each other, I wouldn't bother trying to preach on "the doctrine" of anything.

Modern Reformation has challenged congregations to listen to and desire doctrinal preaching as reflecting that conviction that the Bible is God's Word, and because God is not a God of confusion or contradiction, what the Scripture says on various themes will fit together.

It has made preachers and people more conscious that we will both be wiser, deeper, and less open to prejudice as we listen to the whole message of the Bible on its important themes.
Robert M. Norris-Senior Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church (Bethesda, MD)

These are days when theological confusion abounds in the evangelical church. Among several troublesome trends I could mention is the increasing denial of the substitutionary atonement of Christ by writers who profess to be evangelicals. In the midst of this confusion, I believe God has raised up Modern Reformation as a voice to call us back to the Scriptures as our only infallible guide to truth. I appreciate, however, the spirit in which this is done. The articles in each issue are always positive, fair and gracious. There is never any suggestion of ad hominem arguments against those of opposing views. I congratulate the staff of Modern Reformation on its 15th anniversary and pray that God will continue to use you to hold forth the truth in these turbulent times.
Jerry Bridges-Staff– The Navigators (Colorado Springs, CO)

The enduring contribution of Modern Reformation to the church and, to my way of thinking, to the galaxy is its willingness to take "the hard right against the easy wrong" (Book of Common Prayer, 1928).

So much of what I read today has no edge. Things in the world, and certainly in the church, are sanitized, smoothed out, and made to conform to a political correctness deeply foreign to the blood-red heart of Pauline, Augustinian Christianity.

In my own denomination, The Episcopal Church, this means that we are swamped by the "New Age". We even hear from our Presiding Bishop that Jesus is our Mother! They talk about Hildegard of Bingen and Blessed Julian, but nevermore concerning Bucer and Brenz. The result is miles and miles of labyrinths! And as The Who sang, "I can see for miles, and miles," it all leads to the Antichrist!

What Modern Reformation has done is to stand. The magazine has stood and not backed down, and has also spoken with humor and impressive courage. This has not necessarily driven its circulation through the roof. Yet it is a project whose hour has come. Let's take back the church-our declining main-line churches-and set them back upon firm ground.

Modern Reformation reminds me of a Wittenberg masterpiece, the painting by Lucas Cranach the Younger entitled "The Vineyard of the Lord," which hangs in the south transept of St. Mary's Church. Two gardens are depicted, one the parched wilderness of the old church's Law; the other, the thriving landscape of flowery, fruitful hope, representing the grace of the Reformation's church. Our beloved magazine is helping the first, a desert, to become the second, a garden. This is a fruit of real Christianity, and Modern Reformation is its handmaid.
Paul Zahl-Dean and President Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (Ambridge, PA)

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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