Martin Luther’s Life: A Short Biography

By Albrecht Beutel (Translated by Katharina Gustavs)

Years As A Student

From the outside, Luther’s life passed by simply and steadily. With few exceptions, his whole life took place within the territories of Thuringia and Saxony, mostly in Wittenberg, the electoral capital at the Elbe river, and its surroundings. Only a few journeys led Luther beyond this small sphere of life: on behalf of his order to Rome (1510/11), to Cologne (1512) and Heidelberg (1518); later on behalf of a Reformation consensus to Marburg (1529), and also on his own behalf to Augsburg (1518) and Worms (1521). Equally, with regard to his profession, Luther’s was a remarkable and steady character. From entering the monastery through to his last moment, Luther always remained a man of the word: as a preacher, professor and writer (In addition to all the standard published “lives of Luther,” see also Helmar Junghans, Martin Luther: Exploring His Life and Times, 1483-1546, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).

During Luther’s life the horizon of world history and humanities was in the process of becoming radically changed. The following names must stand for many others representing this era: the two emperors Maximilian I and Charles V, the popes Leo X, Clemens VII and Paul III (Council of Trent), as well as the names of such artists as Raphael, Michelangelo, Durer, Copernicus and Paracelsus. However, as far as Luther is concerned these changes could be deceptive because his childhood and youth had not been touched by the spirit of humanism or of the Renaissance. Limited to the provincial surroundings of his hometown, Luther grew up as a typical child of the late Middle Ages — just like thousands of other boys around him.

On November 10, 1483 Luther was born as the eldest of probably nine sisters and brothers at Eisleben in what was then the county of Mansfeld. The next morning he was baptized and named Martin after the saint of that day. Coming from a Thuringian family of farmers, his father Hans Luder, not being entitled to inherit, sought his luck in one of the most advanced business opportunities: the copper mines of Mansfield. During the course of his life he was able to gain a well-respected economic and social position through enormous hard work and thrift. We know only a very little about his wife Margarethe, Luther’s mother. She came from a family named Lindemann, resident in Eisenach. As the wife of a venturesome entrepreneur and as a mother of her large family, she had to work hard throughout her whole lifetime. Martin Luther was well aware of that fact that, as he put it, the bitter sweat of his parents had made it possible for him to go to the university.

Their parenting principles were strict, but not unusual for that time. Luther does not seem to have come to any harm. In fact, he honored the memory of his parents with love and respect. The devotional life at home also followed common church practices. Luther lived most of his life away from his parents’ home after he turned fourteen.

Between abut 1490 and 1497 Luther attended the town school in Mansfeld. Thereafter his father sent him to Magdeburg, probably because one of his friends also changed to the cathedral school there. Luther found accommodation with the “Brethren of the Common Life,” a modern religious movement emanating from the Netherlands. Once a year later he moved to the parish school of St. George in Eisenach. Closeness to his mother’s relatives may have played a role in this decision. Later Luther criticized the rigidity in late medieval schools. At any rate he owed them his proficiency in the Latin language, his familiarity with ancient Christian culture and his love for poetry and music.

In the spring 1501 Luther enrolled at the University of Erfurt. He stayed at a hostel, whose life followed strict monastic rules. To the prerequisite studies of liberal arts, which were mandatory for any prospective theologian, lawyer, or medical doctor, Luther devoted himself passionately. And after four years, in the shortest time possible, he graduated with excellent. When he was awarded his master’s degree in spring 1505, he took second place out of seventeen candidates.

Then Luther turned toward the study of law, as was his father’s desire. After having visited his parents, Luther got caught in a summer thunderstorm nearby Stotternheim on his way back home on July 2, 1505. A lightning bolt, which struck right behind him, scared him to death and caused him to vow: “Help me, Saint Anna, I will become a monk!” That Luther entered the monastery, but not before another fifteen days had passed, shows that he did not act under the effect of mere emotions, but that he became a monk only after careful self-examination. We will have to see his decision against the background of a deep existential fear, whose resolution he tried to force but whose dramatic expression it only became, since even in the Erfurt convent of the Augustinian Hermits, he was barred from the religious peace for which he had longed.

Luther’s father was outraged by his son’s unexpected turn: All the plans he had made for his eldest son’s life and career seemed to be thwarted. This conflict would cast a shadow over the relationship between father and son for many years to come and only in 1525 when Luther got married was it finally resolved.

During his first year as a novice, Luther subjected himself to an intense study of the Bible. He also familiarized himself with the rules and regulations of the monastic life. The strict way of living, which was predominant there, did not pose any problems to him. But soon it became apparent that even the most painstaking obedience to the three monastic vows Luther had taken at his profession (obedience, poverty, chastity) did not lead to the inner peace for which he had longed. An excessively pursued practice of confessing did not help either. It only increased his religious distress. Thus it was no coincidence that Luther got stuck in the high prayer during the first mass he had to read as a newly ordained priest. The young man who all of a sudden found himself facing God so closely was left speechless in his fear. Filled with awe of the sacred he tried to run away from the liturgy but his teacher admonished him to stay and finish mass.

In the figure of the pantocrator—the ruling and judging Christ—Luther’s fear of God became symbolically intensified. The anxieties and melancholies that haunted Luther throughout his entire life were fed from this image of the Judge of the World, so real for him during his early years. Yet Luther never lost himself to his religious anxieties. He rather felt spurred on to study the Bible more intensely. Unlike the approach of the scholastic tradition, Luther would not read the Scriptures for intellectual purposes but for existential meditation. Even later the professors at Wittenberg were always quite impressed by their young colleague’s outstanding knowledge of the Bible. The fact that Luther felt at home in this book more than any other became the characteristic trademark of his theology. No matter what he read from the fathers and teachers of the church, he would always relate it to the Bible and compare it with its original message.

In 1507, the same year he was ordained as a priest, Luther was selected by his superior to study theology. In Erfurt the Augustinian Hermits had established a general course of studies for their members. As a doctor of theology the respective chair had to fill the professorship of theology at the university as well. Through the works of Gabriel Biel, also von Ockam, Duns Scotus, Petrus of Ailly and Thomas Aquinas, Luther was introduced to Christian dogmatics. However, Augustine was the figure who became of utmost importance to Luther. Having studied his works most diligently, Luther preferred him over all other scholastics, turning him King’s evidence for his reformational renewal. In addition to these scholastics, he also came in contact with Aeropagitic (Dionysios, Gerson), the Roman (Bernard von Clairvaux) and the German mysticism (Tauler) as well as the German humanism (Reuchlin, Wimpfeling), though in a more limited, philology oriented manner.

At that time Johannes von Staupitz served as vicar general of the German monasteries of the Augustinian Hermits. Today there is still very little known about his theology, which was highly influenced by Augustine. He attached great importance to the study of the Bible in his monasteries. To Luther he became an important supported and father confessor, seeking to alleviate Luther’s fear of punishment and eternal damnation by pointing out that God only intends to punish the sinful nature in humans but seeks to win the person of the sinner for himself. In a somewhat modified manner this distinction can also be found later in Luther’s writings. At one point Luther tormented himself with an almost maniacal urge to confess, when von Staupitz, a pastor of high standing, objected that he could not even produce any real sins, but just hobbling stuff and puppet’s sins.

From fall 1508 to fall 1509 Luther was sent to the newly established university in Wittenberg where the Augustinian Hermits from Erfurt were in charge of one of the teaching positions. Due to a temporary vacancy Luther had to fill in as Master of Arts, reading about the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. After this interim in Wittenberg, Luther returned to the monastery in Erfurt. From there he accompanied an older fellow friar on a trip to Rome in winter 1510/11, where the latter was engaged by his order to settle business with the curia. Only in the late summer of 1511 did Luther move for good into the city which would make history through him and in which he himself would make history.

As his very own creation Elector Frederick the Wise had established a new university in Wittenberg in 1502, for which the imperial privilege had been granted whereas papal confirmation of the university was not given until 1507. Georg Spalatin, electoral court chaplain and tutor of the princes, became the crucial intermediary between court and university. Though Spalatin also cherished other theological ideas at first, Luther did not have much trouble in winning him for his own opinions. The bond of friendship that grew immediately between them turned out to be an essential cornerstone of the Reformation, lasting through the storms of decades.

In Wittenberg the two converts of the mendicant orders were each engaged with a professorship in theology. For the Augustinian hermits von Staupitz was the one giving the lectures. However, he wished to free himself from this responsibility and it was obvious he built Luther up into being his successor right from the start. Under his spiritual guidance Luther graduated through all levels of theology studies up to and including his doctorate — and all that within the shorter time frame possible, as five years of study were the minimum requirement.

On October 18 and 19, 1512 Luther was solemnly awarded his doctor of theology. The required fee of fifty guilders was paid by the elector himself. With the doctorate came the right of independent academic work. Anyone with a doctoral degree was entitled to voice his own opinion, which could then be heard in theological disputes—of course this was only as long as it resonated with the asserted teachings of the church. Even though at first Luther was most reluctant to pursue the academic career intended for him, it did not take long to adjust and he would refer to his doctoral degree without reservation whenever his authority was questioned, be it toward the papal legate Cajetan, the elector Albert of Mainz, or the pope himself.

With his promotion Luther entered a stage of his life which was characterized by extremely intense academic and spiritual work. Beside his academic responsibilities, he already faced an enormous workload as sub-prior and chairman of the general course of studies in Wittenberg, adding even more duties when he became district vicar of his order in 1515.

A Time Of New Departures (1512-21)

Luther’s series of early lectures — first on Psalms (1513/14), then on the Letters to the Romans (1515/16), Galatians (1516/17) and Hebrews (1517/18) — is an invaluable source of information for understanding Reformation theology. Those lectures document an exciting and far-reaching process during whose course of discoveries Luther got out of the rut of conventional theology more rigorously with each new insight: He interpreted the passages not with a scholastic’s eye any more, but from the Bible’s perspective, not on the background of traditional interpretations by the church authorities, but within the framework of the whole biblical tradition. The debate as to whether Luther experienced his Reformation breakthrough in 1514/15 or somewhat later, in 1518, which has not been settled as of yet, loses more and more of its importance when Luther’s Reformation theology is not looked at as a sudden event, which might even have occurred overnight, but rather as a complex developmental process spreading out over several years, furthering sudden insights on a continuous basis. Without a doubt the most famous discovery of all is about God’s righteousness (Rom. 1:17) — which is not based on demanding but on giving, not on the law but on the gospel.

Luther’s early lectures seemed to make a fundamental reform of the theological course of studies absolutely necessary. His criticism of Aristotelian prerequisites for thinking grew steadily into a criticism of the entire scholastic theology. The call for a new reform of the theological study course was the inevitable consequence: away fro Artistotelianism and the interpretation of the Lombard’s Sentences toward a study of the Bible and, with a proper distance, the church fathers as well. Luther’s criticism found its preliminary peak in his —partly harshly termed — disputation theses “Against Scholastic Theology,” which were published in September 1517, only two months before his famous Ninety-five Theses “On the Power of Indulgences” were announced, triggering a snowball effect. Strangely enough, at this time everything appeared to remain largely calm on the outside (WA 1, 224-28 [Disputatio contra scholasticam theologiam; 1517]. Luther’s writings are quoted hereafter according to Weimarer Ausgabe {Weimar Edition}, the only complete critical edition of his works, letters, table talks and Bible interpretations: D. Martin Luther, Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Weimar: H. Bohlau, 1883-1993 {abbr, WA}).

Beside his academic work Luther had also assumed responsibility for the parish of Wittenberg as a preacher. In their inseparable connectedness these two, lectern and pulpit, formed together the decisive continuum of Luther’s theological existence. No later than 1514 he must have already filled in the preaching position at the town church of Wittenberg. Some of his sermons Luther sent immediately to press. However, the majority of his sermons — in the end somewhat over 2,000 – were handed down to us in form of shorthand transcripts. As a preacher Luther preferred a homiletic approach, which would closely follow the Bible passage. His interpretations were crafted in a down-to-earth manner without rhetorical pathos, but full of experiences from real life and faith. Beside the interpretation of individual passages of the Bible, Luther also liked to teach about central texts such as the Ten Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer. Those catechistic series of sermons formed the basis from which, later, the two catechisms grew.

The turning point in society, which Luther brought about not as an act of daring but unintentionally, was kicked off by his criticism of the widespread canonized practice of selling indulgences. By means of indulgences the church offered an opportunity to compensate for one’s untoned sin and punishments through money. Pope Leo X had reissued a plenary indulgence in 1515 for, among other territories, the church province of Magdeburg, near to Wittenberg. Many members of Luther’s parish made eager use of this opportunity, lulling them into a false sense of religious certainty. First of all, Luther voiced his pastoral concerns from the pulpit. On October 31, 1517 he presented his critique of the indulgences in a concerned letter to Margrave Albert of Brandenburg, who was at the same time Archbishop of Mainz as well as of Magdeburg. His Ninety-five Theses “On the Power of Indulgences” were also enclosed in this letter. In his writing he called repentance a lifelong attitude expected of Christians. He expressed his particular disapproval of the fact that humans were more frightened of punishments set by the church than of sin whose forgiveness lies in God’s power alone. Thus Luther’s criticism of the indulgences aimed at the church’s instumentalization of Christian repentance (WA 1, 233-38 [Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum; 1517).

Whether Luther actually posted his Ninety-five Theses on the castle church of Wittenberg remains uncertain — Melanchthon at least talks about that only decades later. However, it is beyond any doubt that his theses spread throughout all Germany in no time and launched a meteoric development after they had been released at the end of 1517 and explained in German by Luther in March 1518. This marks the beginning of Luther’s unprecedented writing activities. At the end of April 1518, when he visited his orders chapter in Heidelberg, he was already a famous man. With his theses of the “Heidelberg Disputation,” in which he gave the theology of the cross as promoted by him a distinct image, he won some of his most important connections in southern Germany, among them Johannes Brenz, Martin Buber, and Erhard Schnepf (WA 1, 243-46 [Ein Sermon von Ablab und Gnade {A Sermon on Indulgences and Grace}; 1518).

In summer 1518 Rome opened a trial for heresy against Luther. The situation appeared to be hopeless: The ban of the church would most certainly be followed by the ban of the empire. Luther asked his territorial ruler, Elector Frederick the Wise, to lend him his support with the emperor’s consent so that the whole cause could come to negotiations in Germany. Frederick complied with his request, and because Rome had political reasons to reach an agreement with Frederick, Luther was indeed examined by a papal legate on German soil in October 1518, following the Diet of Augsburg. The interrogations were led by the papal legate Cajetan, a highly educated Dominican, who had the authority to readmit Luther to the community of the church if he would recant, but also to excommunicate him if need be. Through it all Luther remained steadfast. Therefore Cajetan demanded that Luther be extricated to Rome. That of course was flatly declined by Frederick the Wise, who demanded instead that Luther be heard before an unbiased court of scholars. Since Rome did not intend to bargain away Frederick’s favor in view of the upcoming imperial election, no particular measures were enforced in the causa Lutheri  for the moment.

Yet the debate continued. In summer 1519 the theology professor Johann Eck from Ingolstadt sought a confrontation with Luther. In the “Leipzig Disputation” they first debated about indulgences, but soon moved on to the question of papal authority. Provoked by Eck, Luther disputed that the pope’s primacy was grounded in divine right and at the same time he also disputed the infallibility of the church councils: Those might not only err, but had certainly already erred, as with the Council of Constance (1414-18), for example, in the case of the Bohemian Jan His. The Leipzig Disputation helped clarify positions: From now on Duke George of Saxony saw his enemy in Luther. On the other hand many humanists, such as Erasmus of Rotterdam, sided with Luther or at least showed solidarity while keeping their distance.

The breathing space which the year 1520 seemed to grant was used by Luther to give his theology a more clearly defined image in writing. With the four main reformational works of this year he showed that he did not only aim at the criticism of a specific, ill-developed, practice of piety, but that he was on his way to renew the whole church and theology based on the gospel. He started out with the treatise Von den guten Werken (Of Good Works; WA 6, 202-76 {1520}). This fundamental writing of Reformation ethics Luther clothed in the form of an interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Faith alone, he stated at the beginning, is able to fulfill the first commandment. However, when a person in faith knows herself accepted by God without any contributing works of her own, she will not need to speculate about attaining God’s salvation through her own activities, but fueled by her confidence in God will feel free to do good works as the most natural thing in the world. Following this line to practice a life lived out of faith, Luther also interpreted all the remaining nine commandments. In his writing An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation von des christlichen Standes Besserung (To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Regarding the Improvement of the Christian Estate {WA 6, 404-69 {1520}), Luther encouraged the target group to make active use of their right as secular authorities to lend their active support to a reform of Christianity. And all the more, Rome would take cover behind a threefold wall against all legitimate reform efforts: First, through the unbiblical division of Christianity between priests and lay people; second, through the claim that the pope holds the supreme power of teaching; third, through the presumptuous prevention that the pope alone was allowed to convene a council.

The “Nobility Treatise,” written in German, was selling like hot cakes. Only a few days after its publication the 4,000 copies of the first printing were sold out. The Latin writing Von der babylonischen Gefanggenschaft der Kirche (On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church {WA 6, 497-573 {De captivitate babylonica ecclesiae Praeludium; 1520}), however, was geared toward a theologically educated audience. In it Luther unfolded the base line for a biblical understanding of the sacraments, which on the one hand sorted out confirmation, marriage, ordination and extreme unction, and with some reservation also repentance, as unbiblical, and on the other hand announced his fundamental opposition to the Roman Catholic understanding of the Lord’s Supper. The explosive potential of Luther’s new teaching on the sacraments can hardly be overestimated, not to mention its practical implications which, for example, would render private masses pointless. This in turn would also put many priests out of work and in general would make the separation between clergy and lay people irrelevant. Luther certainly did not have an impious destruction of the church in mind, but rather its basic Christian renewal. Yet Luther hit the vital nerve of current church practices. Erasmus commented on this writing with the laconic remark that the break with Rome could hardly be healed any more.

The best-known writing of them all explored Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (On the Freedom of a Christian {WA 7, 20-38 {1520}). Luther portrayed Christians in their relationship to God as free, in their relationship to the world, however, as obliged to the service and compassion of their neighbor: Faith would set humans free from the compulsion for self-justification and therefore would render them free to serve their neighbors. In short, humans would be free out of faith in love.

The programmatic writings of the Reformation were hereby established. In the same year the proceedings against Luther were taken up again. As early as 1519 the two universities in Cologne as well as Lowen had already condemned Luther. On June 15, 1520 the bull threatening Luther with excommunication was finally issued, and in October 1520 it was publicly announced to have the force of law. Somehow Frederick the Wise was able to negotiate that Luther was not to be arrested at once but would first be interrogated at the Diet of Worms. On March 6, 1521 Luther was summoned before the emperor with the promise of safe-conduct.

The journey to Worms turned into a triumphal procession. Wherever Luther went, he was eagerly greeted with public interest and good will. In Leipzig the magistrate welcomed him with an honorary cup of wine, in Erfurt the rector of the university received him at the city wall with great splendor as if a prince was to be honored. Here in Erfurt Luther also preached in his order’s church. which was overfilled to the point of mortal danger. When the creaking of the wooden gallery caused panic to spread, with great presence of mind he was able to avert the danger: Please stand still, he called into the crowd, nothing evil will happen, the devil just tried to frighten us.

Finally, on April 18, 1521, his crucial appearance in Worms became reality. In front of the emperor and the imperial estates Luther refused to follow their demand of renunciation. He did not feel the slightest obligation to the authority of the pope, he stated. Instead his conscience was bound to Holy Scripture. Therefore he could not and would not recant as long as his teachings could not be refuted through Scripture or clear reasoning. With reference to his conscience as solely obliged to the word of God, Luther had denied access to human faith to the two world powers, represented by the emperor and the pope.

Though the effort was made to continue negotiations in Worms, they did not produce successful results. On April 26, 1521 Luther set out on his return trip. Shortly before, Frederick the Wise had informed Luther that he would have him kidnapped on his way home so he could be brought to safety. This is exactly what happened on May 4: To all appearances an attack was launched and Luther was taken to his new refuge at the Wartburg castle. Since Worms, Luther’s life was in danger: The Edict of Worms had placed him under imperial ban. Furthermore, all his books were to be destroyed and censorship of religious writings was to be introduced in all territories of the empire.

Soon it became obvious that the orders of the Edict of Worms defied enforcement in this form. Yet it should not be underestimated that as a legal instrument they served their purpose in the imperial religious politics until the Peace of Augsburg in 1555.

A Time Of Creative Prowess (1521-25)

Often enough Luther found his isolation difficult to bear while locked up in the Wartburg castle. An immense work schedule was his way of going about coping with it. He studied the Bible and beside numerous letters he also wrote some of his most important works such as the Wartburgspostille (Church Postil {WA 10, 1,1 {1522}) — a collection of exemplary sermons — and also an interpretation of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56 {WA 7, 544-604 {Das Magnificat verdeutscht und ausgelegt; 1521}), a broadsheet against the theologian Latomus von Lowen( WA 8, 43-128 {Rationis Latomianae pro incendiariis Lovaniensis scholae sophistis  redditae, Lutheriana confutio; 1521}), and a fundamental treatise on monastic vows (WA 8, 573-669 {De votis monasticis M. Lutheri iudicium; 1521}), whose rejection of the bonding force of the vows soon triggered far reaching practical consequences. The exodus from the monasteries began.

But above all Luther translated the New Testament from the Greek original, a first since Wulfila, at the Wartburg castle within just eleven weeks. Luther’s German translations of the Bible outshone all those before him by far: in their linguistic beauty and power, but also in their spiritual authority and theological precision. Luther’s New Testament was released in September 1522 (Septembertestament) with 3,000 copies and a rather high retail price, notwithstanding which it was out of print within a few days. By December a revised edition (Dezembertestatement) was published. Between 1522 and 1533 Luther’s New Testament saw a total of eighty-five editions. Soon after 1522 Luther set out to translate the Old Testament. This endeavor which engaged several collaborators, came to its fruition with the first edition of a complete Luther Bible in 1534. It is said that the print shop of Hans Lufft in Wittenberg sold about 100,000 copies of the Biblia, das list die gantze Heilige Schrift Deudsch (Biblia, That is the Entire Holy Scripture in German) over fifty years. The number of non-local reprints or illegal copies, however, is beyond our knowledge. From 1531 Luther presided over a revision commission, whose goal it was to improve the texts of the German Bible on a continuous basis and whose work can still come alive for us through some extant commission protocols.

During the creative break Luther had been forced to take at the Wartburg castle, the call for restructuring the church system became more and more urgent. Now it all depended on shaping this critical potential, fed from all those forces across Germany that aligned themselves with Luther’s protest, into a positive and creative power that would be able to give this new faith, which claimed to be the truly old and evangelical one, a visible and credible expression of life. That Luther met this challenge without hesitating and dedicating his entire life to it without sparing himself is what really shows his greatness and at the same time has given the cause he represented its lasting historic meaning. 

In 1522 turmoil broke out in Wittenberg. Blind enthusiasm for reform got out of hand. First Luther responded in written form only, with his Treue[n] Vermahnung zu allen Christen, sich zu hut for Aufruhr und Emporung (Earnest Exhortation to All Christians Against insurrection and Rebellion) {WA 8, 676-87 {1522}). When he realized that written encouragement would not help, he came in person. At the beginning of March 1522 Luther preached for a whole week every single day. Thus he was able to stop the radical iconoclasm, cooling down the very heated feelings. Non vi sed verbo – not through violence, but through the word alone. This was the message of the “Invocavit Sermons” he preached very eloquently. This was also the start for the reorganization of the budding church of the Reformation (WA 10, 3; 1-64 {1522}).

Luther reformed the current form of worship service cautiously but also with consequences. So that the congregation could play its active role as set forth by the new evangelical approach, Luther initiated congregational singing in the native language. As early as 1524 the first three evangelical hymnbooks could be released, with a large portion of the new hymns contributed by Luther himself.

Furthermore, the church assets had also to be reorganized. In Wittenberg a satisfying solution was quickly found. After a temporary trial of the so-called “begging ordinance,” the Gemeine Kasten (“common chest”) was established in 1522. This new institution was responsible for the finances church and school and also for the social services to be granted in support of poor local residents. The begging of foreigners was hereby prohibited.

The school system Luther regarded as an excellent object for reform work. Over and over again he complained about the lack of interest in schooling among citizens and the magistrates. In 1524 he therefore appealed An die Ratsherren aller Stadte deutschen Lands, dab sie christliche Schulen aufrichten und halten sollen (To the Councillors of all Cities in Germany that they Establish and Maintain Christian Schools {WA 15, 27-53 {1524}). A solid knowledge of the original languages of the Bible seemed to be indispensable for a preacher in Luther’s opinion, and likewise the professional skills to access the whole of education currently available. This was the only way that an evangelical preacher could fulfill his task satisfactorily, just the opposite opinion, that of a fanciful and low regard for school and academic education, would inevitably lead to a bargaining away of the cause of the church. The gospel, Luther was certain, could not be deliberately trivialized. The educational responsibility of the Lutheran Church as put forth by Luther became an essential factor in the modern history of humanities.

Not only for the history of the Reformation, but also for Martin Luther himself the year 1525 meant a deep caesura. It was marked by the Peasants’ War as well as the suspect role Luther played in it. As early as 1523 Luther noticed that Thomas Muntzer, one of his followers during the first years, began to drift further off from him: The rigoristic mysticism that Muntzer began to spread, Luther regarded as much against the gospel as was its objective, to execute the punishment of the godless through violent-revolutionary means. At the beginning of 1525 Muntzer became one of the protagonists of the peasants’ movement in Thuringia.

The Peasants’ War turned into a trial of strength for Luther’s political ethics. Luther regarded most of the peasants’ demands as legitimate. However, he disliked the fact that the peasants did not voice their concerns in a political and pragmatic manner, but rather justified their cause from the Bible, thereby revoking the secular system of laws in the name of the gospel. Luther asked for a clear distinction between law and religion. When open rebellion broke loose in Thuringia, Luther became outraged about the peasants: They had violated their obligation of allegiance and were guilty of violation of the peace as well as blasphemy. At the same time Luther admonished the princes to take up their duties as rulers, that is, to protect the system of laws and go into action against the rebellious peasants.

Of course, Luther could not hinder the rebellion. After all, we should not overestimate the influence he exerted over the course of events. However, the consequences followed really hard upon him: The Roman Catholic party sought to make him legally responsible for the uproar as its spiritual father. Among Luther’s friends there was irritation die to his hard line. The peasants were disappointed by him, and most of them remained embittered. From now on Luther kept reminding the secular authorities of their duties to be the chosen patrons of the Reformation. The Landersherrliche Kirchenregiment (territorial church government), which grew out of this development, would define the Protestant church governance in Germany until 1918.

Beside the Peasants’ War the year 1525 also brought another caesura: the break with Erasmus. Humanism and Reformation, Erasmus and Luther: They were a pair of brothers, sometimes arguing but certainly cast in the same mold. Not only in their criticism of ecclesiastical incrustations and the traditional scholastic education system were connected, but also in their philological dedication toward the original documents of the Western world and in their deep respect for the ancient languages of the civilized world.

At first Erasmus had been kindly disposed towards Luther’s appearance. No later than 1521 he considered the break between Rome and Luther as irreparable. At best he had preferred to keep silent. Yet because he was increasingly suspected of being one of Luther’s secret followers and also because he had felt hurt by some of Luther’s adverse remarks, he could hardly avoid making a public statement. In September 1524 he began to take a stand against Luther with his treatise On Free Will (Erasmus von Rotterdam, De libero Arbitrio diatribe sive collatio {1524}). The topic was chosen cleverly: It hit the core argument over which Luther had become involved in the church.

Erasmus opted for the path of the golden mean: On the way to salvation, many things would have to be ascribed to divine grace and others to human will. Luther replied with his counter-writing On the Bondage of the Will in the fall of 1525 (WA 18, 600-787 {De servo arbitrio; 1525; ET The Bondage of the Will, trans. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston. Westwood, NJ.: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957}). To the question whether the human will can be thought of as being free, he also answered: half and half. Unlike Erasmus he drew a line of categorical distinction: With respect to its relationship to God, the human will is totally bound. On the other hand, with respect to its dealing with worldly things, freedom of choice belongs to humans. If humans were to ascribe freedom to themselves, then, stated Luther, God’s gift of faith becomes a human effort. According to Luther, this was exactly the position toward which Erasmus was leaning. For Erasmus, human faith in God would become a moral postulate.

Erasmus responded once more with a detailed defense statement (Erasmus von Rotterdam, Hyperaspistes diatribae adversus serum arbitrium Martini Lutheri, 2 vols. {1526/27}). Luther did not react to it any more. The break between the two scholars was complete by then. The relationship between the two movements they represented did not suffer the same fate, fortunately for both.

A Time of Trials (1525-1546)

With respect to his personal life the year 1525 also meant an essential caesura to Luther. He left monkhood and entered into marriage. From the union with Katharina von Bora, a former nun, six children were born: Hans (1526), Elizabeth (1527), Magdelena (1529), Martin (1531), Paul (1533) and Margarethe (1534). Two of the girls died young: Elizabeth after eight months, Magdelena — Luther’s beloved Lenchen — in her thirteenth year.

The burden of Luther’s household was immense. In addition to his own children, he also took in children of both his deceased sister, and an aunt of his wife. Some students found also accommodation in Luther’s house as well as varying numbers of foreign guests; these alone could amount to twenty-five people. This large operation posed a continuous domestic challenge. And that Luther on the one hand was a man of warm generosity and on the other hand lacked a sense of finances did not make things easier. That Luther’s wife not only managed the domestic matters but also secured their economic survival through husbandry and agriculture, Luther always appreciated with deep gratification. The relationship between the two spouses was conducted in mutual respect and happy love. In contrast to the law of his time, Luther appointed his wife as sole heir in his last will.

Luther’s professional duties took up most his time. As a preacher, often also as a father confessor or pastor, he served the parish of Wittenberg, unflustered in his faithful and reliable devotion despite many a dispute. From 1535 Luther was appointed again permanent dean of the theology faculty. Highlights of his academic work included the second lecture series on Galatians (1531) and the great interpretation of the Book of Genesis (1535-45), which took about ten years and was worked on with many an interruption. The practice of disputations, which had come to a standstill during the disturbances of the early 1520’a, was revived in 1535. Luther had been involved in a total of fourteen circular as well as thirteen doctoral disputations. For the promotion of this literary style, bu which the Reformation had been sparked off so to speak, Luther spared neither trouble not care. Therefore nowhere else can greater examples of his outstanding writing and editing skills be found than in the series of disputation theses he drew up. As for the subject matter, he would always aim at the heart of Reformation theology: The doctrine of justification. later also Christology, the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as anthropology, were his favorite topics.

Again and again Luther emphasized the importance of disputation exercises for theological teaching and church life. In his opinion they offered prospective pastors and teachers an ideal opportunity to train their rhetorical-dialectical skills and to prepare them for all those arguments they would inevitably be confronted with owing to their profession. To Luther theology was a science of conflict par excellence: Its subject was the dispute about the truth of faith into which everybody had been baptized and into which each and every studying Christian would certainly and constantly become involved. In Luther’s opinion, theological reality would not find its expression in unconditional neutrality but in a constantly raging debate: Only in the defense of life-threatening evil would the truth of faith manifest itself in concrete terms.

After the disaster of the Peasants’ War Luther made an appeal to the elector to have visitations in the parishes carried out and to urge his villages to regard the support of schools and churches as at least as important as the maintenance of bridges and roads. Thus in 1527 the first visitation was conducted in Electoral Saxony. Luther contributed mainly in written form: the “German Mass,” (WA 19, 72-113 {Deutsche Messe und Ordnung Gottesdiensts, 1526}), a new liturgy for baptism and marriage, a prayer book for children, new editions of hymnals, a series of sermons and of course the two Catechisms (WA 30, 1; 125-425 {1529}).

Both Catechisms, the Large as well as the Small, were Luther’s way of dealing with the depressing visitation results. In view of the alarming lack of biblical and theological knowledge encountered in the pastors — not to mention the congregations — Luther set out to tackle the challenge, whose effort can hardly be overrated, of putting the essence of the Christian faith in basic sentences without trivializing or reducing it excessively. Fortunately he could draw on some groundwork he had done earlier, in particular on three series of sermons from 1528, in which he had worked through the “Principal Themes of Faith” one after the other: Decalogue, Confession, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper. From that source the Large Catechism was born: a handbook for pastors designed to provide them with the necessary tools of the theological trade.

The Large Catechism was published in 1529 and the Small Catechism in the same year. The Small Catechism is first of all nothing more than its superbly phrased shore form for domestic use. The one-page format made it possible for the individual pages of the entire Catechism to be put up on the wall as an educational aid for memorizing. With unsurpassed proficiency Luther knew how to summarize the heart of the Christian faith in concrete terms, always keeping his readership in mind so that its translation into the lives of those who would read and memorize the Catechism came alive with each sentence. “Your book says it all,” commented his wife Katherine. And this is exactly how it was meant to be.

Beside the Luther Bile the Small Catechism in particular unfolded an incredible sphere of activity throughout the history of Protestant piety, extending to the dawn of the present time. The scheme of having the question “What is it?” constantly repeated was meant as an encouragement to render account to each other for the mystery of faith on a daily basis.

At the Diet of Speyer in 1529 the evangelical imperial estates submitted a formal protestation. An alliance of all “Protestants” came into sight then, for which Luther assumed as inevitable an agreement on all questions of teaching. The “Schwabach Articles” (WA 30, 3; 178-82 {Ein Bekenntnis christlicher Lehre und christlichen Glaubens durch D. M. Luther in 17 Artikeln verfabt; 1529}) which he had co-authored with Melanchthon were supposed to form the foundation. The teaching on the Lord’s Supper led to an argument with the reformers from Zurich: Do we celebrate only the memory Christ — as Zwingli said; or even his bodily presence — as Luther stated? In October 1529 the “Colloquy of Marburg” was set up to bring about the indispensable theological as well as political unity. Yet no agreement could be reached. From now on each party would go their own way. The consequences caused by the separation between the reformers of Wittenberg and Switzerland have reached right into the twenty-first century.

The separation from the Roman Catholic Church also remained tormenting. For the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 the emperor had promised a peaceful settlement of the religious issue. The “Augsburg Confession,” written by Melanchthon since Luther was not allowed to leave his territory of Electoral Saxony, offered a careful and cautious summary of the Lutheran teachings. Unlike Melanchthon, Luther regarded the attempt to reconcile with Rome in theological and ecclesiastical matters utopian. Therefore he aimed at a political settlement. The “Peace of Nuremberg” (1532) seemed to offer than. However, appearances were deceptive: The political reality only took root with the “Peace of Augsburg” in 1555. Though Luther did not true the pope’s plans for a church council, in his “Schmalkald Articles” (WA 50, 192-254 {1536}) he did summarize the theological priorities of the Protestants, which ought not to be given up in the discussion with Rome. They became his theological will.

Luther’s workload, which rested on his shoulders over decades on end, was enormous. Just a glance at his written legacy, collected in over one hundred thick volumes of the complete critical Weimar Edition — equivalent to one thousand and eight hundred pages per year —, makes one stand in wonder at so much creative power. Luther always worked on the verge of exhaustion.

Hi life became overshadowed by more and more illness. An angina pectoris ailed him over decades; a severe attack in 1527 had his family fearing the worst. Among other chronic disorders were headaches as well as a stubborn kidney disorder, which almost cost his life in 1537 while on a trip to Schmalkald.

Luther devoted his last energy to the mediation of a fight over an inheritance which had divided the counts of Mansfeld. In the end they asked Luther to help negotiate between the parties. At the end of 1545 Luther had become involved with several letters and visits, but in vain.

Thus he set out for another trip to Eiselben in January 1546. This time his arbitration efforts attained their goal. On February 16, 1546  first arbitration contract could be signed. The net day Luther was unable to participate in the signing of the second contract due to acute bodily weakness. In the night of February 18 he died. Both of the friends who were with him asked the dying Luther if he would remain steadfast and intended to die in Christ and the teaching he himself had preached. Luther replied with a clear and audible: Ja (“Yes”). This was his last word.

During the two following days Luther’s body remained laid out in Eisleben. Thereafter he was transferred to Wittenberg where he was taken to the castle and university church with a solemn escort. At the funeral service Bugenhagen as the town pastor preached in German and Melanchthon representing the university spoke in Latin. Then Luther was interred next to the pulpit. When the imperial troops entered Wittenberg a year later, Charles V ordered his soldiers to leave the grave of his adversary untouched. Luther has shaped his time in an extraordinary way. Now he had become history himself.

*Adapted from Chapter One of The Cambridge Companion To Martin Luther, edited by Donald K. McKim, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2003. The author of this chapter, Albrecht Beutel, is University Professor of Church History in the Evangelisch Theologische Fakultat, Westfalische Wilhelms Universitat, Munster, Germany. He has written Martin Luther and In dem Anfang war das Wort: Studien zu Luthers Sprachverstandnis.

Fortress for Truth: Martin Luther

By Steven J. Lawson

Martin Luther was a giant of history. Some believe he was the most significant European figure of the second millennium. He was the pioneer Reformer, the one God first used to spark a transformation of Christianity and the Western world. He was the undisputed leader of the German Reformation. In a day of ecclesiastical corruptions and apostasies, he was a valiant champion of the truth; his powerful preaching and pen helped to restore the pure gospel. More books have been written about him than any other man of history except Jesus Christ and possibly Augustine.

Luther came from hard-working stock. He was born in the little town of Eisleben, Germany, on November 10, 1483. His father, Hans, was a copper miner who eventually gained some wealth from a shared interest in mines, smelters, and other business ventures. His mother was pious but religiously superstitious. Luther was raised under the strict disciplines of the Roman Catholic Church and was groomed by his industrious father to be a successful lawyer. To this end, he pursued an education at Eisenach (1498–1501) and then at the University of Erfurt in philosophy. At the latter, he received a bachelor of arts degree in 1502 and a master of arts degree in 1505.

Luther’s life took an unexpected turn in July 1505, when he was twenty-one. He was caught in a severe thunderstorm and knocked to the ground by a nearby lightning strike. Terrified, he cried out to the Catholic patroness of miners, “Help me, St. Anna, and I will become a monk.” Luther survived the storm and made good on his dramatic vow. Two weeks later, he entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. His father was furious over Luther’s apparent wasted education, but Luther was determined to follow through on his vow.

Lost in Self-Righteousness

In the monastery, Luther was driven to find acceptance with God through works. He wrote: “I tortured myself with prayer, fasting, vigils and freezing; the frost alone might have killed me… . What else did I seek by doing this but God, who was supposed to note my strict observance of the monastic order and my austere life? I constantly walked in a dream and lived in real idolatry, for I did not believe in Christ: I regarded Him only as a severe and terrible Judge portrayed as seated on a rainbow” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 24, eds. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann [St. Louis: Concordia, 2002], 62). Elsewhere he recalled: “When I was a monk, I wearied myself greatly for almost fifteen years with the daily sacrifice, tortured myself with fastings, vigils, prayers, and other very rigorous works. I earnestly thought to acquire righteousness by my works” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 12, 273).

In 1507, Luther was ordained to the priesthood. When he celebrated his first Mass, as he held the bread and cup for the first time, he was so awestruck at the thought of transubstantiation that he almost fainted. “I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken,” he confessed. “I thought to myself, ‘Who am I that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine majesty? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God’” (Luther, cited in Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995], 238). Fear only compounded his personal struggle for acceptance with God.

In 1510, Luther was sent to Rome, where he witnessed the corruption of the Roman church. He climbed the Scala Sancta (“The Holy Stairs”), supposedly the same stairs Jesus ascended when He appeared before Pilate. According to fables, the steps had been moved from Jerusalem to Rome, and the priests claimed that God forgave sins for those who climbed the stairs on their knees. Luther did so, repeating the Lord’s Prayer, kissing each step, and seeking peace with God. But when he reached the top step, he looked back and thought, “Who knows whether this is true?” (Luther, cited in Barbara A. Somervill, Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation [Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2006], 36). He felt no closer to God.

Luther received his doctor of theology degree from the University of Wittenberg in 1512 and was named professor of Bible there. Remarkably, Luther kept this teaching position for the next thirty-four years, until his death in 1546. One question consumed him: How is a sinful man made right before a holy God?

In 1517, a Dominican itinerant named John Tetzel began to sell indulgences near Wittenberg with the offer of the forgiveness of sins. This crass practice had been inaugurated during the Crusades to raise money for the church. Commoners could purchase from the church a letter that allegedly freed a dead loved one from purgatory. Rome profited enormously from this sham. In this case, the proceeds were intended to help Pope Leo X pay for a new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

This horrible abuse enraged Luther. He determined that there must be a public debate on the matter. On October 31, 1517, he nailed a list of Ninety-five Theses regarding indulgences to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Nailing such theses to the church door was a common practice in the scholarly debates of the time. Luther hoped to provoke calm discussion among the faculty, not a popular revolution. But a copy fell into the hands of a printer, who saw that the Ninety-five Theses were printed and spread throughout Germany and Europe in a few weeks. Luther became an overnight hero. With that, the Reformation essentially was born.

The Tower Experience

It is possible Luther was still not yet converted. In the midst of his spiritual struggles, Luther had become obsessed with Romans 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther had understood the righteousness of God to mean His active righteousness, His avenging justice by which He punishes sin. On those terms, he admitted that he hated the righteousness of God. But while sitting in the tower of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Luther meditated on this text and wrestled with its meaning. He writes:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 34, 337)

The time of Luther’s conversion is debated. Some think it took place as early as 1508, but Luther himself wrote that it happened in 1519, two years after he posted his Ninety-five Theses. More important is the reality of his conversion. Luther came to realize that salvation was a gift for the guilty, not a reward for the righteous. Man is not saved by his good works but by trusting the finished work of Christ. Thus, justification by faith alone became the central tenet of the Reformation.

Attacking Papal Authority

Justification by faith alone clashed with Rome’s teaching of justification by faith and works. Thus, the pope denounced Luther for preaching “dangerous doctrines” and summoned him to Rome. When Luther refused, he was called to Leipzig in 1519 for a public debate with John Eck, a leading Catholic theologian. In this dispute, Luther affirmed that a church council could err, a point that had been made by John Wycliffe and John Hus.

Luther went on to say that the authority of the pope was a recent contrivance. Such religious superstition, he exclaimed, opposed the Council of Nicaea and church history. Worse, it contradicted Scripture. By taking this stand, Luther irritated the major nerve of Rome—papal authority.

In the summer of 1520, the pope issued a bull, an edict sealed with a bulla, or red seal. The document began by saying: “Arise, O Lord, and judge Your cause. A wild boar has invaded Your vineyard” (Pope Leo, Exsurge Domine, as cited in R.C.Sproul, The Holiness of God [Wheaton: Tyndale, 1998], 81).  With these words, the pope was referring to Luther as an unrestrained animal causing havoc. Forty-one of Luther’s teachings were deemed to be heretical, scandalous, or false.

With that, Luther had sixty days to repent or suffer excommunication. He responded by publicly burning the papal bull. This was nothing short of open defiance. Thomas Lindsay writes, “It is scarcely possible for us in the twentieth century to imagine the thrill that went through Germany, and indeed through all Europe, when the news spread that a poor monk had burnt the Pope’s Bull” (Thomas Lindsay, Martin Luther: The Man Who Started the Reformation [Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2004], 91). But though he was hailed by many, Luther was a marked man in the eyes of the church.

The Diet of Worms: Luther’s Stand

In 1521, the young Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, summoned Luther to appear at the Diet of Worms in Worms, Germany, in order to officially recant. The renegade monk was shown his books on a table in full view. Then Luther was asked whether he would retract the teachings in the books. The next day, Luther replied with his now-famous words: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and

contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 32, 113). These defiant words became a Reformation battle cry.

Charles V condemned Luther as a heretic and placed a hefty price on his head. When Luther left Worms, he had twenty-one days for safe passage to Wittenberg before the sentence fell. While he was en route, some of his supporters, fearing for his life, kidnapped him and took him to the Wartburg Castle. There, he was hidden from public sight for eight months. During this time of confinement, Luther began his translation of the Bible into German, the language of the commoners. Through this work, Reformation flames would spread even swifter.

On March 10, 1522, Luther explained the mounting success of the Reformation in a sermon. With strong confidence in God’s Word, he declared: “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 51, 77). Luther saw that God had used him as a mouthpiece for truth. The Reformation was founded not on him and his teachings, but on the unshakeable footing of Scripture alone.

In 1525, Luther married Katherine von Bora. This amazing woman was an escaped nun committed to the Reformation cause. The two repudiated their monastic vows in order to marry. Luther was forty-two and Katie was twenty-six. Their union produced six children. Luther had an extremely happy family life, which eased the demands of his ministry.

Till the end of his life, Luther maintained a heavy workload of lecturing, preaching, teaching, writing, and debating. This work for reform came at a high physical and emotional price. Each battle extracted something from him and left him weaker. He soon became subject to illnesses. In 1537, he became so ill that his friends feared he would die. In 1541, he again became seriously ill, and this time he himself thought he would pass from this world. He recovered yet again, but he was plagued by various ailments throughout his final fourteen years. Among other illnesses, he suffered from gallstones and even lost sight in one eye.

Faithful to the End

In early 1546, Luther traveled to Eisleben, his hometown. He preached there and then traveled on to Mansfeld. Two brothers, the counts of Mansfeld, had asked him to arbitrate a family difference. Luther had the great satisfaction of seeing the two reconciled.

That evening, Luther fell ill. As the night passed, Luther’s three sons—Jonas, Martin, and Paul—and some friends watched by his side. They pressed him: “Reverend father, do you stand by Christ and the doctrine you have preached?” The Reformer gave a distinct “yes” in reply. He died in the early hours of February 18, 1546, within sight of the font where he was baptized as an infant.

Luther’s body was carried to Wittenberg as thousands of mourners lined the route and church bells tolled. Luther was buried in front of the pulpit in the Castle Church of Wittenberg, the very church where, twenty-nine years earlier, he had nailed his famous Ninety-five Theses to the door.

Upon his death, his wife, Katherine, wrote concerning his lasting influence and monumental impact upon Christendom: “For who would not be sad and afflicted at the loss of such a precious man as my dear lord was. He did great things not just for a city or a single land, but for the whole world” (Katherine Luther, cited in Martin E. Marty, Martin Luther: A Life [New York: Penguin, 2008], 188). She was right. Luther’s voice sounded throughout the European continent in his own day and has echoed around the world through the centuries since.

Source: Excerpted with edits from Pillars of Grace, © 2011 by Steven J. Lawson. Published by Reformation Trust Publishing, a division of Ligonier Ministries. 17, 2011.

Dr David P. Craig on the Question: “Am I Pastor or a Life Coach?”

Answer: “I’m a Pastoral Life Coach”

About the picture above: From the left [me] David P. Craig; in the middle – my uncle Enrique – the brother of my mother – and a faithful disciple and evangelist of Jesus, and on the right, a church member named Jorge. I had just preached on what family relationships from Ephesians 5 :22 -6:4 look like when Christ is at the center of them. It was a tremendous honor to preach in Spanish with several family members present on my mother’s side. My family has a long history of church involvement – planting; preaching; and service in Quilmes – a large city in a suburb of Buenos Aires. I had just returned from a week of training pastors in the Northern part of Argentina – Jujuy; and was about to do some training with some young church leaders at A Christian Camp Facility in Buenos Aires.

In January of 2006 I had returned from a trip to South America to train pastors and missionaries (almost all of them were bi-vocational; in the Province of Jujuy on the Northern Argentinean and Southern Bolivian border. I have been on such trips in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and many times in Argentina (the land of my roots – My parents were born there and I have adopted many of their customs – especially drinking an Argentine tea called “mate;” becoming a soccer fanatic – especially of River Plate and Quilmes, and of course their national team (Messi is the Best!); and loving all foods Argentine – especially “asados” with “entrana” and chorizos; empanadas, bocadillos, tortilla, and gnocchi. I also grew up learning “Castellano” – the Italian sounding Spanish of the Argentines – full of slang – they have a unique word, phrase, or idiom for everything!

Both of my grandfathers were preachers. My dad’s father – John Craig (my youngest son, Johnny aged 16, is named after him) – was a Plymouth Brethren missionary who was born in Belfast, Ireland and spent over 50 years in Argentina and Uruguay planting churches, being an itinerant preacher, and making disciples (I’ve spoken in parts of Argentina where people have told me that my grandfather led them to the Lord and discipled them – it always brings me to tears of joy). John Craig died at the age of 86 and he was still pastoring a church in the Province of Tucuman in Argentina shortly before his promotion to Heaven.

My mom’s dad – Saul Moreira (of Portuguese heritage) was a beloved Bible teacher and expositor of the Bible. Everyone loved to hear “Don Saul” teach – children, co-workers, and the various “Hermanos Libres” churches in and around Quilmes – a large suburb of Buenos Aires  La Boca is most famous for the “Boca Juniors Football Club” and the dance known worldwide as the “Tango.”

About the picture above: My Grandfather – Saul Moreira – was one of the project supervisors of the building of the bridge pictured above “Puente Transborador” – built in 1914 is one of the most recognized bridges in all of South America. The Bridge is located in what many consider the heart of Buenos Aires – “La Boca.” The La Boca neighborhood was so named for its position at “the mouth” of the Riachuelo, and its role as the port of call for thousands of immigrants from Italy, Spain, and other European countries in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. It’s within walking distance from of the birth of the “Tango” in El Caminito, and the home of the famous Boca Juniors Football Club).

When I was 17 years old (almost the age of my youngest son) I was a soccer, football, basketball, and baseball FANATIC! On any given day you would see me with a ball in competition depending on the season – I was fiercely seeking a victory in one of these sports. Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s in Huntington Beach, CA., I was a diehard Laker fan (during the Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird era); a HUGE Dodger fan -during the Dodgers vs. Cincinnati Red Machine; when the St. Louis Rams were the L.A. Rams and played in Anaheim; and the L.A. Galaxy didn’t exist and we had season tickets for the L.A Aztecs. I still vividly recall going to the L.A. Coliseum and witnessing the amazing offensive and defensive skills of some of the best players in world soccer history – Johann Cruyff, Pele, and Franz Beckenbauer.

About the picture above: My room in Huntington Beach in 1975.  I was ten years old and already a sports fanatic. Notice the Rams (in L.A. back then) souvenirs on the left and the Los Angeles Dodgers souvenirs on the right. There is a 10th Anniversary Houston “Astrodome” pennant on my desk, and I’m reading a baseball world series magazine from 1975. I still love the Dodgers; wear Hawaiian shirts; but prefer the San Diego Chargers to those “traders” – the St. Louis Rams.

In my junior year of High School I was involved in a serious car accident. My best friend at the time was driving his Jeep and we were cut off by a drunk driver after the first day of baseball season my junior year. My dad and mom were on a business trip in Europe at the time. My older sister and the great staff at the hospital in Fountain Valley took terrific care of me. I suffered numerous broken ribs, bones, and had a lot of stitches in my head. I can remember shaking in bed at the hospital for a week straight and had a migraine headache for the next three months that subsided gradually so I could take catnaps here and there.

It was during that time that I received my calling to the ministry. Up until that year I was dreaming of either being a pro soccer or baseball player. Before the car accident I made my decision to focus on baseball and have a terrific junior season at Liberty Christian High School in Huntington Beach. I had dreamed about being a Los Angeles Dodger with the goal of taking over Bill Russell’s job at shortstop  The reality is I was a good baseball player, but not “great.”  I think if I had focused on being great at one sport instead of being “good” at four sports – I would have had a chance to make the pros (I ended up playing soccer in college for 3 years in Portland).

About the picture above. From about 1975 to 1980 my family would get about 20-30 games of season tickets during some of the Dodgers best years. The first Dodger game I went to was in 1974 and Ron Cey “The Penguin” hit a home run against the New York Mets to win the game in the 9th inning. I was imediately hooked on the Dodgers.Here is a picture of the “Fabulous Four: Ron Cey – 3B; Davey Lopes – 2B; Bill Russell – SS; and Steve Garvey – 1B.

I missed all of baseball season my junior year. During that summer – I started thinking more seriously about my life.  I had been a disciple of Jesus Christ since I was six years old.  I always loved the Lord, went to church weekly, loved going to “big church” (my pastor was the well-known Bible expositor – David L. Hocking. I’d rather hear “Pastor Dave” preach the meat of the Word than “watered down” Sunday school lessons designed for children who’d rather play with lincoln logs, than listen to a teacher. From an early age I’ve always loved apologetics and anything to do with the Bible, Theology, the Gospel, and the Church for whom Jesus gave His life.

However, the summer of 1983 was different from any previous summer in my short life. My passion for sports waned, and God gave me a renewed passion to know Him intimately and magnify Jesus in the proclamation of the Gospel. My senior year of high school I didn’t play any sports for the first time since I was six years old. I realized that I was a follower of Christ second, and a sports idolater first. I needed to repent of my sin of “sports idolatry” and was struck by what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.”

Up until my junior year of high school I had been a selfish “sports-aholic,” primarily living for the thrill of victory and to avoid the agony of defeat. I had been living for my glory first, and Christ’s second. I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of this rebellious state and moved by the Holy Spirit “to be transformed by the renewing of my mind” (See Romans 12:1-2).

Over the summer I started asking and wrestling with these questions:

“What if I had died in that accident?”

“What have I accomplished in life that will actually last for eternity?”

“What will I do that will last for eternity for the rest of my life?”

“What things will last on into eternity when I die?”

“Why did God create humans for in the first place?”

“How many people do I know that have I never told about Jesus?

There were many more questions like those above. However, my senior year was different. I started going to a Christian Book store called “Pilgrim’s Progress” and started devouring theology books by J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and many others. While all my friends were going on dates and spending money on movies – I was saving money to buy more books. I studied Greek that fall in a discipleship relationship with my Bible professor in High School – he was a Talbot Seminary student at the time (I would eventually earn my Master of Divinity at Talbot in 1991); I started teaching a junior high Sunday school class in my church; I was witnessing to everything that breathed – I even practiced on my cocker spaniel – “Carlitos” and my cat “Jinx.”

Two defining moments happened to me in the summer of 1983. The first was through an evangelist that you’ve probably heard of – Luis Palau. Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and Luis Palau have planted more seeds of the Gospel than perhaps all the other evangelists of history combined. Luis Palau was passing through on his way to Los Angeles and came over for dinner one evening. Anyone who has ever eaten my mom’s cooking, would NEVER pass up an opportunity to eat her food! If she were younger (she’s 80 today – and still cooks up a storm), I’m convinced she would have her own show on the Food Network and be more popular than Paula Dean or Giada DeLaurentiis!

About the picture above: Luis Palau has literally preached to more people than anyone in the history of Christianity next to Billy Graham – and he’s done it in perfect Spanish and English.  I haven’t heard or seen much of Luis since our days at Multnomah – but I will be forever indebted to Luis for recommending I attend Multnomah University. I received some great training there. However, the best gifts I received were some of my life-long godly friends – who are all comrades in the ministry of the Gospel around the world. Luis Palau’s nephew George Palau, who with his wonderful wife – Stacey – runs an orphanage in Mexico is one of those very close friends. George is one of the greatest servants of Christ I’ve ever known. I have learned much more from him, than I ever will from Luis. Nothing against Luis. But one of the great things about being a Christian is that we all impact one another up close in the context of community – especially when we minister to those who are suffering and in great need. George drove all the way from Mexico yesterday to spend the day with me. I love George, Dave Steele, Eddie Remley, and Mark Wilks, as if they were my very own brothers – and in Christ we are a “band of brothers.” 

Luis Palau is one of the few “big name” Christian heroes that I really respect and admire. He is one of the few pastors I know that is the same in his home, as when he is in front of a crowd of 100,000 people. What you see or hear from Luis is what you get. He practices what he preaches, and is quick to repent when he blows it. My parents grew up in the same Plymouth Brethren (“Los Hermanos Liberes”) church as Luis in Quilmes, Argentina and have known him since he was very young.

Getting back to the dinner. My mom made her famous Caesar salad, homemade spinach ravioli with her amazing Osso-Bucco and meat-sauce, and we had her amazing homemade “dulce de batata” for dessert (I remember – because these are three foods I never eat anywhere else – because no one comes close to preparing these items as well as my mom). After this very filling and satisfying meal Luis and I went for a long walk. I picked his brain and remember asking him, “Luis, how do you know if you are being called to the ministry?”

I honestly can’t remember his exact reply. I just remember that he affirmed my calling and recommended that I attend the same college he attended when Ray Stedman (author of the very influential book “Body Life” and, at that time Pastor of the influential Peninsula Bible Church in Northern California) helped bring a young Luis to the United States to be pastorally trained – because he heard Luis preach on a trip to Argentina and saw how gifted he was. Ray Stedman made it possible for Luis Palau to go to Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. The school’s motto was, “If it’s Bible you want, then you want Multnomah”.  Luis encouraged me to visit the school and noted and affirmed my passion to know the Word and to make Jesus known.

The second “defining moment” for me came in letting my parents know that I believed and felt overwhelmingly that God was calling me to full-time ministry. God was blessing my teaching, evangelism, and discipleship with youth. I couldn’t imagine doing anything more worthwhile for the rest of my life. I wanted to make my time and life count for what would matter for eternity.

A few days after my walk and talk with Luis Palau, I sat down at approximately 11:30 a.m. at the kitchen table with my mom. My parents are godly people. My dad has worked hard since he was seven years old and he has had several successful businesses in Argentina, England, and the United States. My dad has always been incredibly giving and very involved in ministry. I don’t ever remember getting up in the morning not seeing my dad with an open Bible and drinking mate (Argentine tea). My dad has been an elder and on the Board of several missions around the world. He devours theology, and manifests all the fruit of the Spirit. There is not a single man on the planet that I admire, respect, and desire to be more like than my father. He has been such a good model and such an influence in my life – that I could probably write a whole book on his influence for good in my life.

Meanwhile, getting back to the table with my mom. My dad was working in his office – he added an office to the garage over our Huntington Harbor home, so he didn’t have to drive to Los Angeles anymore. I sat down with my mom and was hesitant to bring up my “calling” for fear that my parents would think I was “loco.” I thought I would share it with my mom first before bringing it up to my dad. My plan up until that summer had been to get a baseball scholarship to a Pac Ten (now Pac 12 or whatever they call it) school, preferably UCLA (Go Bruins! – largely through John Wooden’s influence in my life – his book “They Call Me Coach” was the first book I read from cover-to-cover; John Wooden pictured below)), and to major in Business Administration. I never thought of being anything but a professional athlete – my only difficult decision was I wanted to play all four major USA sports – baseball, football, basketball, and soccer! I’m sure hockey would have been in there too, but nobody except for Canadians knew what that was in the 1980’s – until we won the Olympics in the “Miracle on Ice”!

About the picture above: John Wooden won 10 National Championships as a coach of the UCLA Bruins Basketball team. Wooden had some great players; but he was also able to make great players make other players even better. I think John Wooden (a committed Christ follower) would have been a great pastor as well. He is a perfect model of a life coach – committed to Christ; committed to bringing out the best in individuals; and their teams, churches, and organizations. Everybody wins when they have a good coach. John Wooden was simply the best!

I would literally dream almost every night, and daydream in my classes in school of throwing the over time touchdown pass in the last seconds of the Super Bowl to lead the Rams to victory over the Steelers; hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series before the home crowd in Los Angeles over (who else?) the New York Yankees; shooting a three-point shot in over time to win the NBA championship for the Lakers against the Celtics.  I dreamed of taking the Americans all the way to the final in the World Cup and beating Germany, Argentina, or Brazil by scoring a hat trick in bringing the World Cup to the USA for the first time. I even remember in my dreams calling my cousins Ariel and Martin in Argentina to apologize to them for beating their homeland in their favorite sport!

Oh yeah – sorry, sidetracked – back to the table with my mom. When I told my mom about the stirring in my heart, my desire to know the Scriptures, my passion to proclaim Christ, and my desire to attend Multnomah in Portland – she began to sob. I was thinking to myself, “Oh no, now I’m in trouble – there goes the family business.”

My mom came around the table and gave me a big hug and went and got her Bible and read from 1 Samuel 1 – the story of Samuel’s being dedicated to the Lord (I encourage you to read it). She read the entire chapter to me out loud and then after reading the last three verses of chapter 1 and the first 2 verses of chapter where Hannah says and prays the following:

And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there. And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. “There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 1:26-2:2)…

She came and hugged me, and said that Hannah’s was her story and Samuel’s story was my story. Rachel (my mom) told me that the doctors told her she would never have a child again. She lost two children due to complications between my sister – Miriam – and myself.

I never knew the story of my mom and dad’s loss until this day, at this moment, at the table in our kitchen. In short, my mother had always wanted six children (two of them I will meet for the first time in Heaven one day). I have two brothers – Daniel, 15 years my senior and George, 10 years older than me; and a sister that’s 8 years older than me – Miriam. One child my mom lost was never named (but will have a name that Jesus has given according to Revelation), the other was named Michelle.

My mom went and got my dad from the office and she shared the story of how she prayed that if God gave her another child – she and my dad would dedicate him to the Lord – just as Hannah had dedicated Samuel. Talk about a confirmation! We all wept and prayed, and thanked the Lord for His answers to prayer to my faithful parents prayer to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.

About the Picture above: My parents have been the biggest influences on my life spiritually. My dad, Daniel, will be 90 in January; and my mom, Rachel, will be 81. They prayed for me before I was born. They read the Bible to me from the time I was a baby (and still quote it to me on the phone or every time we are together). They are my biggest heroes in life. They are going to be married 64 years on December 4, 2012. My parents have always been my biggest fans, but better than that – they have been huge fans of Jesus, His Church, and the spread of the Gospel around the world. They have had a lot of difficult times financially, physically, and have lost almost all their life-long friends. And yet they always have a smile on their faces and exhibit the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. I love them with such admiration, appreciation, and respect that I will never be able to convey in words. I am a Christian today because of the sovereign election of God in eternity past; and love and follow Jesus because they modeled His love and grace when I was growing up, and continue to do so, to this very day. I can’t think of two people who better model what the Apostle Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Jesus Christ.”

Since that day I have gone on to earn a B.S. (at Multnomah); a M.Div. at Talbot School of Theology; a doctorate and doctoral work in Theology and Pastoral Leadership at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, and Northwest Graduate School in Seattle. I have been a youth and senior pastor in California and Washington State. I have traveled to more than 30 countries on missions trips and training pastors and missionaries. I have discipled dozens of men. My best education was one I never purposely applied for, but have most definitely been “accepted” to. It’s proverbially called “The School of Hard Knocks.” I would concur with the great Reformer Martin Luther who summarized his learning in this way, ““Suffering has made me a better theologian than any book I’ve ever read.” However, I don’t think I’ve seen the tip of the iceberg of what God has entrusted unto me as a steward of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The questions I asked earlier are questions I’m still asking. Having been diagnosed with cancer recently and beginning radiation and chemotherapy in the next week, I pray that God will continue to change me and conform me to His Son. I pray that whether I live another forty-six years, or only have days to live for him – that people will know, see, and hear about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I desire more than anything that all my family members would know and follow Jesus. I firmly believe with the sentiment, “This life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

I have lived a wonderful life. I have been bruised and broken, but not crushed. I am becoming stronger through life’s trials and tribulations. Since the age of seventeen all I’ve ever wanted to do, is know Jesus intimately and make Him known.

This past year I’ve been doing some “life coaching” through a non-profit ministry I established called Vertical Living Ministries. I started this Pastoral ministry with the help of some wonderful people who have sacrificially contributed generously, so that I can make multiplying disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ around the world. I have trained people one-on-one and in small and large groups, discipled men and women, and trained people in Christ-centered living through this ministry.

I originally established Vertical Living MInistries to provide training for leaders in poor countries. We who live in America have access to so many good resources by way of books, conferences, Bible Colleges, and Seminaries. I have been to countries where pastors share one Bible amongst themselves and have absolutely no training or access to any resources whatsoever. However, now with my cancer, I really don’t know where God is calling me. However, I know that I will always be a pastor. I am a shepherd. I have had Jesus shepherd me, and I simply want to find other sheep who will follow hard after the Good Shepherd.

I call myself a Pastoral Coach because I want to encourage Christians to make Christ number one in their lives. I love “life” coaching because I can help disciples of Christ focus on the following nine areas of Christo-centricity.  Just as we talk about  a Planetary system that’s Helio, and not Geo-centered, I like to think of life functioning best when our lives revolve around, and in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

(1) Spiritually – Your Relationship to God through the Lordship of Jesus Christ. My main focus here is to help people understand the life transforming ramifications of the Gospel in your life: past, present, and future ramifications for today. Most Christians only remember or hold on to their past, or future in Christ and forget how the Gospel needs to be lived out on a daily basis – we are continually learning to repent and grow in our faith with Christ at the center of it all.

(2) Marriage – Your triune covenantal relationship with Christ at the center. Marriages can work for two unbelievers, and even sometimes when an unbeliever is married to an unbeliever. However, it was designed by God to not be a marriage of two, but of three. I help couples to practically make Christ the center of their “solar system” in their marriage.

(3) Family/Parenting – How to be a Christ-centered family and raise Children that love Jesus above all else. For many parents, their children become “idols.”, especially for women.  Their identity, security, and significance is oftentimes wrapped up in the performance, success, and behavior of their children. If their children are doing well – they are doing well. However, if a child rebels or is unsuccessful in life – they take it personally, and lose their way. Many “empty nesters” – especially women, become depressed and feel like life is meaningless when their kids move out of the home. I help parents to see that our security and significance needs to be properly placed in submission to the Lordship of Christ. Only God never changes. If we place our security in our kids or anything else – we are in big trouble. In raising our children we are merely short-term stewards of what is rightfully God’s. The greatest thing we can do as parents is to model Christo-centricity for our children. I’m grateful that my parents modeled and taught me daily that the most important thing in life is my relationship with and service unto Jesus.

(4) Vocationally – Your Work in the World and with the Church. Most women have the idolatry of “motherhood.” Most men see their significance and security in their work. Their identity is wrapped up in their position, possessions, and provisions for their families. Well, what happens to the man who loses his job, gets physically incapacitated, or runs into midlife.  You’ve been working at a job for 30 years and come to realize that you were climbing the wrong ladder that was leaning up against the wrong wall in your “prime” years? Men and women both have pseudo securities – or what the Bible calls “idolatry.” I try to teach people how to view their talents, passions, skills, abilities, and hobbies as unto the Lord. Ultimately, God is our boss and we will spend the bulk of our lives working – but do we find the pleasure of God in our work? Few things excite me more than seeing businessmen or women shine brightly for the sake of Christ in the context of making a profit that will last for eternity in the lives of others.

(5) Health – Taking care of your body that God will use on this earth until the day of your final glorification. This is one of the most neglected areas for Christians. It’s very easy to get out of balance in what we eat, how we exercise, and being responsible with the stewardship of our bodies. I love what C.S. Lewis says, “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.” In other words, we are dualists. We have an immaterial part of us, and we are housed in a physical body that must be maintained. Sometimes, we can’t control what happens to our bodies (Doctors don’t know how I got cancer). However, even if we have ailments and age, we still need to be responsible in taking care of our bodies as best as we can, so we can serve Jesus as long as we can, and as effectively as we can, while we “house” the soul.

(6) Friendship – Your connections and building bridges with others as you reflect Christ in your community. Too many people are wrapped up in work, family, and get isolated outside of community. I thank God for the emphasis on community by many churches. However, if you want to have friends, you must be a friend. Nobody models this better than Jesus, “a friend of sinners.” Friends are so important – especially in tough times. Having friends and family means the world to me especially when the “going gets tough.” I firmly believe that especially among pastors (health and friendships are two of the most neglected areas in this list of nine – and that it’s what will “do them in” during mid-life or their retirement years).

(7) Financially – Your stewardship of God’s resources. I can honestly say that having to give away or sell more than 6,000 theology books in the past five years, going from a 3,400 square foot house we owned to a 1,600 square foot condo we rent, and having to give away all our pets (four cats and a dog) have been some of the hardest things to go through, but also some of the best. Money and possessions (having control) is a huge idolatry in our culture. Simple is better. Jesus left earth for Heaven literally naked – and so will we. However, are you content with only Him and nothing else? Look at the difference Jesus made two thousand years ago, and is still making today. He owned nothing and left no possessions behind. Nothing “owned” Him. What owns you? I believe that generosity exhibits the nature and character of God perhaps more fully than any other trait. For example, I don’t think it’s coincidence that the most famous verse in the Bible is about the greatest sacrifice and the greatest gift: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Aren’t you glad God is a giver? How about you? I believe that Tim Keller is dead-on here when he says, “Idolatry is just a failure to obey God, It’s setting the whole heart on something besides God… Where your money goes most effortlessly, that’s where your heart really rests.” In my life I’ve found peace and rest not in the economy, but in Jesus alone – and He never changes – satisfaction is truly found when you realize that when God is all you have, He’s all you really need.

(8) Mentoring – Investing in Others Using your unique Skills, Gifting, Talents, Personality, and Passion. I’m forty-six years old and have never really been formally discipled or mentored by anyone. That’s a tragedy of the first order. I firmly believe that every single man and every woman has strengths and skills to teach future generations, but these don’t typically happen without intentionality. I train people to use their unique gifts, passions, abilities, skills, and so forth and pass those on to future generations – with intentionality. It really upsets me to no end to see how self-absorbed we’ve become. We have our I-pads, I-pods, and I-phones, and have become “I-focused”! Don’t get me wrong – I love technology, but for many it’s become an obsession and an idol. We need to become more focused on Jesus and others if we want to make a difference that will last into eternity. I love what Paul says about Jesus in Philippians 2:4-5, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

(9) Discipleship – You’re investing in the Spiritual Growth of other followers and would-be followers of Christ. Nothing gets me more riled up than the lack of lifestyle and intentional discipleship taking place among Christians. Again, without intentionality this just doesn’t happen. I have asked men in their twenties up until their eighties if they have ever been discipled by another man – In thirty years of doing ministry I hear “Never” or “What are you talking about” at least 90% of the time. This is unconscionable! And yet, the great commission is all about “making disciples” of all nations. Are you intentionally making disciples in your circle of influence with your children, friends, neighbors, spouses, family, co-workers, teammates, and fellow students?

It is my prayer and hope to take the baton that has been passed on to me from my godly heritage in these nine areas. I hope that God will use my cancer to further the Gospel. I desire to teach, preach, and live for the glory of Christ while I have breath.

My life verses are 1 Timothy 4:16 where the Apostle Paul says to Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Acts 20:24, where the Apostle Paul proclaims, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus Christ, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

And Romans 8:16-18 & 28-30, where the Apostle Paul declares, The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

It’s been about 13 months since I last preached – I haven’t had any invitations. And yet the passion of my soul is to preach the Gospel. Sometimes I feel like a Pastor who is a dinosaur in the 21st century, fast-paced Church. I have tried to get a job in a modern church for the past 13 months – in churches that appear to want CEO’s, not Shepherds; Programs, not Preachers; is more concerned about being politically correct and pragmatic than Theologically correct and Christ-centered. Whether I end up pastoring again in a local church or life coaching, I can’t help but be what I am – dependent on God’s mercy and grace as I battle cancer. Since the age of seventeen all I’ve ever wanted to do, is to know Jesus and to make Him known.

I love Him because He first loved me. I love the gospel and to declare it with my whole heart, mind, and soul. I love to shepherd people – not because I’m a great shepherd, but because I have a Great Shepherd! His name is Jesus! As long as I have breath I will declare Him among the nations. I will serve Him because He came to seek, serve, and save me first. He is my peace, and He is the hope of all nations. He will reign on the Earth again, and I will reign with Him. Until that day, I believe wholeheartedly with these words of Paul David Tripp:

“No matter how great your weakness is, God’s power is greater. No matter how out of control your life is, God’s sovereignty is greater. No matter how alone you may feel, God’s presence is greater. No matter how out of control your life is, God’s provisions are greater. No matter how deep your sin is, God’s grace is deeper. No matter how foolish your foolishness is, God’s wisdom is greater. The same sovereign God who planned the details of your life sent his Son so you would have what you need to face what He willed for you.”

According to the New American Oxford Dictionary a “Pastor” is “one who gives guidance to someone.” A coach is “a tutor who gives private or specialized teaching.” It is my desire to guide people with the experiences and education I’ve received and to teach them of Jesus at the center of all of life. Whether in a local church as a pastor, or in the Church universal as a “pastoral life coach.” I only want to invest in that which matters for eternity. All these years I have preached the Gospel – how one can have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Now as I battle cancer, it is my desire to preach with my life and suffering how to have peace with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Once again I quote from the Apostle Paul,

For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (12 Corinthians 5:14-15).

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8-14).

 Sola Scriptura! Sola Fide! Sola Gratia! Solus Christus! Soli Deo Gloria!

 (Scripture Alone! Faith Alone! Grace Alone! Christ Alone – To God be the Glory Alone!)

Richard Baxter on The Importance of Hard Work

Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive an inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

(1)  You will show that you are not sluggish and servants to your flesh (as those that cannot deny it ease), and you will further the putting to death of all the fleshly lusts and desires that are fed by ease and idleness.

(2)  You will keep out idle thoughts from your mind, that swarm in the minds of idle persons.

(3)  You will not lose precious time, something that idle persons are daily guilty of.

(4)  You will be in a way of obedience to God when the slothful are in constant sins of omission.

(5)  You may have more time to spend in holy duties if you follow your occupation diligently. Idle persons have no time for praying and reading because they lose time by loitering at their work.

(6)  You may expect God’s blessing and comfortable provision for both yourself and your families.

(7)  It may also encourage the health of your body which will increase its competence for the service of your soul.

About Richard Baxter: A Mini-Biography

Excerpt from Meet the Puritans

by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson

Richard Baxter was born in 1615, in Rowton, near Shrewsbury, in Shropshire. He was the only son of Beatrice Adeney and Richard Baxter, Sr. Because of his father’s gambling habit and inherited debts, and his mother’s poor health, Richard lived with his maternal grandparents for the first ten years of his life. When his father was converted through “the bare reading of the Scriptures in private,” Richard returned to his parental home, and later acknowledged that God used his father’s serious talks about God and eternity as “the Instrument of my first Convictions, and Approbation of a Holy Life” (Reliquiae Baxterianae, 1:2-4).

Baxter’s education was largely informal; he later wrote that he had four teachers in six years, all of whom were ignorant and two led immoral lives. Nevertheless, he had a fertile mind, and enjoyed reading and studying. A prolonged illness and various books—particularly William Perkins’s Works—were the means God used to “resolve me for himself,” Baxter wrote (Reliquiae Baxterianae, 1:3-4). When he was fifteen, he was deeply affected by Richard Sibbes’s The Bruised Reed: “Sibbes opened more the love of God to me, and gave me a livelier apprehension of the mystery of redemption and how much I was beholden to Jesus Christ.” Subsequently, Ezekiel Culverwell’s Treatise of Faith (1623) “did me much good” (ibid., 1:4-5).

Baxter’s education took a turn for the better when he transferred to the Wroxeter grammar school, where he received some tuition support from a schoolmaster named John Owen. His best teacher there was an erudite minister, Francis Garbet, who took a real interest in Baxter. At the age of sixteen, under Owen’s persuasion, Baxter decided to forego university in favor of placing himself under the instruction of Owen’s friend, Richard Wickstead, chaplain at Ludlow Castle, who tutored him rather half-heartedly for eighteen months.

In 1633, Baxter went to London under the patronage of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, in the court of Charles I. Joseph Symonds and Walter Cradock, two godly Puritan ministers in London, roused his sympathy for nonconformity, but he stayed in London only four weeks. Having become dissatisfied with the worldly court life in London and desiring to care for his ailing mother, he returned home in 1634; his mother died in May of 1635. He spent the next four years privately studying theology, particularly that of the scholastics, including Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham.

At age twenty-three, having as yet “no scruple at all against subscription,” and thinking “the Conformists had the better cause” (ibid., 1:13), Baxter was ordained deacon by John Thornborough, the elderly bishop of Worcester. For nine months he served as master of the school founded at Dudley, a center of nonconformity. In 1639, he became an assistant minister at Bridgnorth, Shropshire, where he developed a deeper appreciation for nonconformity.

In 1641, Baxter became curate at Kidderminster. Though many among a rather corrupt and crude population of handloom workers were initially offended by his forceful preaching and stress on a controlled Lord’s Supper and on church discipline, his seventeen-year ministry there (1641-42, 1647-61) bore substantial fruit. He preached as “a dying man to dying men,” which, with the Spirit’s blessing, resulted in numerous conversions. His praying was no less intense: “His soul tookwing for heaven and rapt up the souls of others with him” (Leonard Bacon, Select Practical Writings of Richard Baxter [New Haven, 1831], 1:262).

During the early days of the Civil War, Baxter supported, and on occasion accompanied, the Parliamentary Army. He preached before Cromwell, but he was uncomfortable with the Protector’s toleration of separatists. Though he was only an occasional “conformer,” Baxter favored being part of an established church and opposed the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. He also believed that the antinomian tendencies of some of the soldiers and preachers, such as Tobias Crisp and John Saltmarsh, were antithetical to practical Christian living. Their teaching prompted him to write Aphorisms of Justification (1649), in which he argued for a combination of divine grace and human cooperation in justification.

In 1647, Baxter’s prolonged illnesses compelled him to leave the army. He recuperated at the Worcestershire home of Sir Thomas and Lady Rous, where he wrote the first part of The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. He later said he wrote it as a labor of love while “looking death full in the face and yet experiencing the sufficient grace of God.”

After he recovered, Baxter returned to Kidderminster, where he concentrated on writing. “My writings were my chiefest daily labor,” he wrote, whereas “preaching and preparing for it, were but my recreation” (Reliquae, p. 85). He also catechized church members two days each week. He went from home to home with an assistant, speaking with each family for one hour and providing each family with an edifying book or two, usually written by himself. He said of these visits, “Few families went from me without some tears, or seemingly serious promises [to strive] for a godly life.” He added, “Some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour’s close disclosure, than they did from ten year’s public preaching” (ibid., 1:83ff.).

The home visits bore fruit. The congregation kept overflowing its meeting place so that five galleries had to be added. When Baxter came to Kidderminster, scarcely one family on each street among the 800 families honored God in family worship. By the end of his ministry in 1661, there were streets on which every family did so. On the Sabbath, he writes, “you might hear an hundred families singing Psalms and repeating sermons, as you passed through the streets.” Of the approximately six hundred people who became full communicants under his ministry, he adds, “There was not twelve that I had not good hopes of, as to their sincerity” (ibid., 1:84-85).

Baxter worked hard, despite chronic pain from the age of twenty-one until the end of his life. He suffered from tuberculosis and feared consumption. In the years following the Restoration, he left Kidderminster for London, where he often preached at St. Dunstan’s and lectured at Pinner’s Hall and Fetters Lane. He pleaded in vain, however, at the Savoy Conference (1661) for the non-prelatical, synodical form of episcopacy devised by Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) and for a Puritan revision of the Prayer Book.

In 1662, Baxter was ejected from the Church of England by the Act of Uniformity. He continued to preach for the rest of his life where he could, but never gathered a congregation of his own. J. I. Packer writes, “Miscalled a Presbyterian, Baxter was a reluctant Nonconformist who favored monarchy, national churches, liturgy and episcopacy, and could accept the unsympathetically revised 1662 Prayer Book. But the 1662 Act of Uniformity required renunciation on oath of Puritan ideals of reformation as a condition of incumbency in the restored Church of England, and Baxter balked at that” (New Dictionary of Theology, p. 83).

After his ejection, when he was almost fifty, Baxter married one of his converts, Margaret Charlton, who was in her early twenties. The disparity of their ages caused some consternation for a time, but the excellence of their marriage in Christ silenced the rumors. Margaret proved to be a devout Christian and faithful wife who earnestly yearned for the salvation of souls. Baxter’s tenderness toward her, and her godliness, are described in Breviate of the Life of Mrs. Margaret Baxter (1681). There Baxter writes that he “never knew her equal” in practical divinity, for she was “better at resolving a case of conscience than most Divines that ever I knew.” Consequently, Baxter habitually shared all cases with her except for those that compelled confidentiality (Breviate, pp. 67-68).

The Baxters settled in London. Prelates and magistrates hounded Baxter for most of his remaining years. He was imprisoned at least three times for preaching and never again resumed a pastoral charge; even his books were taken from him. His response was, “I found I was near the end of both that work and that life which needeth books, and so I easily let go all.” Once, even the bed on which he was lying sick was confiscated.

After James II took the throne in 1685, Baxter was charged with attacking episcopacy in Paraphrase on the New Testament and was brought before Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys. Jeffreys charged Baxter with seditious behavior, calling him “an old rogue who poisoned the world with his Kidderminster doctrine.” Jeffreys went on to exclaim, “This conceited, stubborn, fanatical dog—that did not conform when he might have been preferred; hang him!” The bishop of London intervened, and Baxter was spared a public whipping, though he was still imprisoned
for five more months.

Baxter eventually benefited from the Toleration Act of 1689, introduced by William and Mary to protect nonconformists. His last days were spent in the pleasant surroundings of Charterhouse Square. He occasionally preached to large crowds there, but he spent most of his time writing. When he was dying and a friend reminded him of the benefits many had received from his writings, Baxter replied, “I was but a pen in God’s hand, and what praise is due to a pen?” By the time he died on December 8, 1691, Baxter had written about 150 treatises, as well as hundreds of unpublished letters and papers.

Baxter’s writings are a strange theological mix. He was one of a few Puritans whose doctrines of God’s decrees, atonement, and justification were anything but Reformed. Though he generally structured his theology along Reformed lines of thought, he frequently leaned towards Arminian thinking. He developed his own notion of universal redemption, which offended Calvinists, but retained a form of personal election, which offended Arminians. He rejected reprobation. He was greatly influenced by the Amyraldians and incorporated much of their thinking, including hypothetical universalism, which teaches that Christ hypothetically died for all men, but His death only has real benefit to those who believe. For Baxter, Christ’s death was more of a legal satisfaction of the law than a personal substitutionary death on behalf of elect sinners.

Baxter’s approach to justification has been called neonomianism (that is, “new law”); he said that God has made a new law offering forgiveness to repentant breakers of the old law. Faith and repentance—the new laws that must be obeyed—become the believer’s personal, saving righteousness that is sustained by preserving grace. Baxter’s soteriology, then, is Amyraldian with the addition of Arminian “new law” teaching. Happily, these erroneous doctrines do not surface much in Baxter’s devotional writings, which are geared mainly to encourage one’s sanctification rather than to teach theology.

Baxter professed to resent having to write polemical treatises: “Controversies I have written of, but only to end them, not to make them.” Hans Boersma has shown, however, that though irenic in some respects, Baxter could be provocative as well (see A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in its Seventeenth-Century Context of Controversy [Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 1993]).

Modern Reprints

A Call to the Unconverted (Zondervan; 170 pages; 1953). This classic evangelistic “tract,” based on Ezekiel 33:11, reveals Baxter’s passionate concern for evangelism. It is an earnest and reasoned appeal to the unsaved to turn to God and accept His offered mercy. Here is one example:

If thou die unconverted, there is no doubt to be made of thy damnation; and thou are not sure to live an hour, and yet art thou not ready to turn and to come in? Oh miserable wretch! Hast thou not served the flesh and the devil long enough yet? Hast thou not enough of sin? Is it so good to thee? or so profitable for thee? Dost thou know what it is, that thou wouldst yet have more of it? Hast thou had so many calls and so many mercies, and so many blows, and so many examples? Hast thou seen so many laid in the grave, and yet art thou not ready to let go thy sins and come to Christ? What? After so many convictions and gripes of conscience, after so many purposes and promises, art thou not ready yet to turn and live? Oh that thy eyes, thy heart were opened to know how fair an offer is now made to thee! and what joyful message it is that we are sent on, to bid thee come, for all things are ready (pp. 70-71).

Stressing that sinners “die because they will die; that is, because they will not turn,” Baxter says, “So earnest is God for the conversion of sinners, that he doubleth his commands and exhortations with vehemency, Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die?” Discernment is necessary in reading this book, since Baxter’s unsound views do occasionally surface.

Dying Thoughts (Baker; 144 pages; 2004). Based on Philippians 1:23, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better,” Baxter sets forth a proper attitude towards the present life and the life hereafter. Dying Thoughts was written shortly before Baxter’s death in 1691. It breathes a spirit of vital faith in the promises of God.

This reprint was abridged by Benjamin Fawcett. It also contains an excellent introductory essay by Edward Donnelly, “A Corrective for Reformed Preachers,” which gleans practical lessons for ministers from Baxter’s preaching.

The Practical Works of Richard Baxter (SDG; 4 vols., 4,201 pages; 2000). Baxter authored about 150 books, of which several were folios of more than a million words. If his entire works were ever to be printed, they would amount to more than double the size of Owen’s. Most of Baxter’s books are homiletical, catechetical, biographical, historical, practical, philosophical, ethical, or polemical in nature, though he also published commentaries, poetry, and politics. Keeble writes, “Puritanism had always utilized the press, but there had never been a literary career like this, either in scale or in success: Baxter was the first author of a string of bestsellers in British literary history” (Oxford DNB, 4:430).

Baxter’s practical writings were usually the most popular. His Practical Works were published in four folio volumes in London in 1707, then helpfully edited by William Orme and republished in twenty-three volumes in 1830, after which H. R. Rogers’s four-volume set was published in 1868. The SDG reprint in 2000 is of the Rogers set.

The first volume, A Christian Directory (1673), offers keen insights into the life of the believer, expounding practical and casuistical divinity in more than a million words. No Puritan work on applied theology has approached the popularity, scope, or depth of this treatise. With widespread interest in counseling and practical, biblical living in today’s church, this reprint of Baxter’s work should be a welcome addition to every library and to anyone who wishes to give solid scriptural
answers to man’s most important questions.

Volume 2, titled A Call to the Unconverted (1658), contains that work unabridged, plus eleven treatises, including The Reasons of the Christian Religion, The Unreasonableness of Infidelity, A Treatise of Conversion, and The Character of a Sound, Confirmed Christian. Volume 3 contains The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (1649), A Treatise of Self-Denial (1659), Dying Thoughts (1683), and other miscellaneous treatises. Volume 4 contains the unabridged version of the masterful treatise The Reformed Pastor (1656), as well as The Catechising of Families, The Vain Religion of the Formal Hypocrite, various sermons, and thirteen smaller treatises, including The Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, by Faith—perhaps the most undervalued work of Baxter. In it, Baxter, as a physician of souls, probes with remarkable insight into the human psyche and offers suggestions for the cure of depression and other mental ailments. For example, Baxter says, “As much as you can, divert them from the thoughts which are their trouble; keep them on some other talks and business; break in upon them and interrupt their musings; rouse them out of it, but with loving importunity; suffer them not to be long alone; get fit company to them, or them to it; especially, suffer them not to be idle, but drive or draw them to some pleasing works which may stir the body, and employ the thoughts” (Practical Works, 4:933).

The Reformed Pastor (BTT; 256 pages; 1999). Abridged from the original work, this edition offers a more accessible look at Baxter’s pastoral theology. Writing this book out of a deep determination to rectify the pastoral neglect he had experienced as a young man in the West Midlands, Baxter describes in zealous detail the oversight pastors are to have over themselves first and then over their flocks, out of heartfelt love for souls (Acts 20:28).

By “Reformed” in the title, Baxter does not only mean that pastors should be “Calvinistic,” but they must be “revived.” He excels in convincing ministers of their high calling to pursue personal revival and to take up their work seriously and prayerfully. Certain portions of this book are remarkably convicting, such as Baxter’s denunciation of pastoral pride. He also offers much practical guidance for dealing with the perennial problems of instructing and guiding the church. This is Baxter at his best.

Philip Doddridge writes of this work: “The Reformed Pastor should be read by every young minister, before he takes a people under his stated care; and, I think, the practical part of it reviewed every three or four years; for nothing would have a greater tendency to awaken the spirit of a minister to that zeal in his work, for want of which many good men are but shadows of what they might be, if the maxims and measures laid down in that incomparable treatise were strenuously pursued.”

Reliquiae Baxterianae (RE; 312 pages; n.d.). This work contains considerably less than half of the original which first appeared in 1696 under the editorship of Matthew Sylvester. While the original, which has never been reprinted in its entirety, has been called “a confused and shapeless hulk,” it remains an important source for seventeenth-century history. Edmund Calamy (1671-1732) condensed Baxter’s work into a more readable edition and published it in 1702. In 1925, J. M. Lloyd Thomas edited an unsatisfactory abridgment, The Autobiography of Richard Baxter (London: Dent). The current edition, published in the 1990s, though uneven in quality, contains fascinating insights into Baxter’s life and offers valuable nuggets of wisdom, particularly for ministers.

The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (CFP; 704 pages; 1999). This is deservedly one of the most valued of Baxter’s practical works. He wrote most of the book when he was far from home and had no book but the Bible to consult. Being ill for many months and expecting to die, he fixed his thoughts on the believer’s eternal rest in Christ. After he recovered, Baxter preached these thoughts in his weekly lectures at Kidderminster. Thomas Doolittle, a native of Kidderminster who later became a well-known Puritan minister and author, dated his conversion to the time when he heard these lectures.

In 1650, Baxter published the substance of his lectures as the first of many practical writings. William Bates wrote of this book: “To allure our desires, he unveils the sanctuary above, and discovers the glories and joys of the blessed in the divine presence, by a light so strong and lively, that all the glittering vanities of this world vanish in the comparison, and a sincere believer will despise them, as one of mature age does the toys of children. To excite our fear, he removes the screen, and makes the everlasting fire of hell so visible, and represents the tormenting passions of the damned in such dreadful colors, as, if duly considered, would check and control the unbridled, licentious appetites of the most sensual wretches.”

The Puritan minister John Janeway said that his conversion was greatly influenced by reading Baxter’s book. Referring to the part of the book that explains heavenly contemplation, Janeway wrote to a friend, “There is a duty, which, if it were exercised, would dispel all cause of melancholy: I mean heavenly meditation and contemplation of the things to which the true Christian religion tends. If we did but walk closely with God one hour in a day in this duty, O what influence would it have upon the whole day besides, and, duly performed, upon the whole life! This duty, with its usefulness, manner, and directions, I knew in some measure before, but had it more pressed upon me by Mr. Baxter’s Saints’ Everlasting Rest, a book that can scarce be overvalued, and for which I have cause for ever to bless God.”

*Excerpt from Meet the Puritans 
by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson.

Book Review: Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball by Wayne Coffey and R.A. Dickey

Absolutely Inspiring: Review by Dr. David P. Craig

Words totally escape me to describe how good this book is. However, as a fellow baseball enthusiast, struggler of life’s ups and downs, and a person who is trying to figure out how to go beyond survival to making the most of life – this book was a total God send – it is real, authentic, intense, gut wrenching, and absolutely inspiring.

If you need hope to press on; need encouragement; need a shot in the arm; need inspiration; need a smile; need someone to root for; if you need to get out of the miry pit that you may find yourself in – this book will spur you on; encourage you; and give you hope to press on.

R.A. Dickey – thanks for pressing on when all the odds were against you; thanks for your example of endurance, perseverance, integrity, and hard work. I’ve never seen a professional athlete that is so worthy of every thing you are achieving and receiving as a result of your efforts.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I can almost guarantee that you will have a new favorite baseball player after reading this book – and a genuine hero that you can look up to in a society that needs more men and women like R.A. Dickey in all walks of life.

R.A. Dickey is a great example of someone who is not perfect – but has been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit through a personal relationship with his Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ.

Book Review on John Stott: The Humble Leader by Julia Cameron

[The Humble Leader: John Stott was written by Julia Cameron. Published by Christian Focus Publications Ltd., Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland & Great Britan. I was furnished with an I-Book copy for review free of charge for an honest review – I was not required to provide a positive review]


A Nostalgic Review – By Dr. David P. Craig

I first met John Stott somewhere between 1986-1987 after he had given a message at a Chapel service at what was then called Multnomah School of the Bible (now Multnomah University) in Portland, Oregon. After he spoke he stayed for lunch and ate in the cafeteria. I was privileged to sit with him and hear his wisdom for over an hour. I was impressed with his humility, knowledge of the Scriptures, and genuine concern for us students. Two years later I was returning from spending two months in Spain on a missions trip and met up with my parents in London for a few days. While there we worshiped at All Souls Church in London and worshiped and listened intently as John Stott delivered a wonderful Christo-centric sermon from Isaiah. Afterwards while waiting in a very long line to greet “Uncle John” he said to me without hesitation, “Hello David, how is your ministry at Multnomah going?” I couldn’t believe that he remembered my name, my ministry (with junior highers at the time), and where I was going to school! Needless to say, I was dumbfounded. I have always held Stott’s commentaries, books, and ministry in high regard – but what I loved most about Stott – was his genuine love for, and ability to shepherd like the Chief Shepherd – not just his local sheep, but around the world. I have taken random samples of tribute from Stott in this short article – many are from memorial services held for him around the globe, and some are from tributes in various venues. May John Stott’s tribe increase! We miss you Uncle John!

As I write this review it’s been one year since John Stott went to be with the Lord – July 27, 2011. A tremendous loss for the Church in the world – Heaven’s gain! I can’t recommend this book highly enough for would-be pastors; pastors; Bible scholars; missionaries; church leaders of all stripes; and world Christians across the globe. John Stott was absolutely brilliant; wholeheartedly dedicated to his flock as an under shepherd of Christ; a first rate Bible scholar; an expositor of the first order that was able to bridge the Biblical world with our own with total authority, sufficiency, and relevancy; and an unheralded disciple maker of leaders of all ethnic groups around the globe. He was a tireless worker with students, scholars, pastors, missionaries, and leaders for the furtherance of the gospel and the strengthening of the church around the globe. In my opinion – he was the model modern pastor – missional (he multiplied disciples, leaders, and multiplied movements for gospel multiplication) pastoral, loving, humble, scholarly, fully committed to the work and message of Christ.

I only hope that there will be more pastors like him until the return of Christ – pastors that don’t play politics; pastors that love and shepherd the flock whether they are rich or poor (he had a tremendous heart for the poor as recounted in this book); pastors who study hard to feed their flock the milk and meat of the Word; pastors who love and train young leaders; pastors who are humbled and submitted to the Lordship of Christ – and preaching nothing but the cross of Christ! I hope that many will read this book and be humbled and dedicated to the Chief Shepherd – as Stott was! I miss him terribly, and long for those of his ilk.

Warren W. Wiersbe on the Joys of Reading

Warren Wiersbe gives three reasons why he enjoys reading:

First, there’s the joy of meeting people I’ve always wanted to meet. If it were announced that Hudson Taylor or Charles Spurgeon or Campbell Morgan was speaking at a particular church, Christians from all over the world would show up. But we forget that when we open up a book by Hudson Taylor, for example, that man is speaking to us.

Another joy is visiting great periods of history. I would like to have lived in London from 1835 to about 1895, the Victorian era.… I could have traveled from place to place, hearing some of the greatest people who ever walked the face of God’s earth—F. B. Meyer, D. L. Moody, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Joseph Parker, Alexander Maclaren …

“A third joy I have in reading is grappling with great issues.… Everyone is a philosopher because everyone has some view of life.”

*Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe has been a pastor for many years, a teacher on the Back to the Bible Broadcast, and is best known as the author of over 100 practical books on the Christian life – most notably the “Be” Series of books covering the entire span of the Bible expositionally.


Dr. Roger Nicole – One of the Finest Theologians of the 20th Century You Probably Never Heard Of

A Mini-Biography of Dr. Roger Nicole (1915-2010) by Justin Taylor

December 10, 2010, was the 95th birthday of Roger Nicole, the great Reformed-Baptist theologian.

This evening was his homegoing to be with his Lord. He has completed his earthly race. Having fought the good fight of faith, he entered into the joy of his Master. And undoubtedly he heard the words we all long to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

He was, by common consent, a theological giant. (See these brief reflections by Don Carson, Tim Keller, and Mark Dever.) But because he never wrote a book and didn’t travel the conference circuit, many evangelicals have not heard of him, to our detriment. As Timothy George has written:

Roger Nicole is one of European Christianity’s greatest gifts to the American church. His role in the shaping of American evangelical theology in the latter half of the twentieth century was enormous and deserves to be better known.

J. I. Packer has a gift not only for summarizing theological truth in a concise, compact way, but also for getting to the heart of a friend’s character and legacy. A few years ago he was able to summarize Roger Nicole in a sentence:

Awesome for brain power, learning, and wisdom; endlessly patient and courteous in his gentle geniality; and beloved by a multitude as pastor, mentor, and friend.

In his introduction to a biography of Dr. Nicole, Packer expands the tribute with regard to the man’s graciousness:

For a man of such power of mind, clarity of thought, range of knowledge and strength in argument, Roger’s patience and courtesy toward the less well favored is a marvel that has become a legend. He was said when first I knew him to have learned to greet people in something like fifty different languages so that he could always welcome overseas students and make them feel at home. Such sweet pastoral care in the conventional coolness of academia is also the stuff of legend, and deservedly so. No one could ever accuse Roger of throwing his weight about; very much a Swiss gentlemen in style, he is also a gentle man and a great encourager, overflowing with goodwill at all times. He has been a model for me in this, as in so much more. Roger stands at the head of my private list of persons worth celebrating, and I am sure I am not the only one who would say that.

Roger R. Nicole was born December 10, 1915, a natural-born Swiss citizen, in Charlottenburg (greater Berlin), Germany. His father was a pastor, and the family moved back to Switzerland when Roger was four and a half years old. He lived there until the age of twenty.

His education was extensive. He received a BA from Gymnase Classique in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1935 he moved to France and received an MA from the Sorbonne in Paris; and a diploma from the Bible Institute of Nogent Marne in France, where Roger’s older brother Jules was his principal and teacher.

In 1938 he moved to the United States and entered Gordon Divinity School in Boston and would earn three degrees from the school: BD in 1939; STM in 1940; ThD in 1943. In 1944, at the age of 29, he began teaching at Gordon and became professor of theology in 1949.

In the 1940s he met Annette Cyr. She had left home at the age of 16 due to family difficulties, worked in a factory until she was 26, and then became one of the first women to join the Coast Guard. She received her first Bible from Roger when he was pastoring a local church. They would marry in 1946, a union that would last for 61 years. An obituary of Mrs. Nicole would note:

The couple did not have biological children but there are 19 people in the U.S., Africa and Asia who call them Mama and Papa. “These are some of the students we sort of ‘adopted’ throughout my career who regard us as their parents,” Roger Nicole said.

John Piper has written that “One clear mark of Christlike tenderness is love for children,” and several of Roger Nicole’s friends have noted his love of children. David Bailey says, “He converses as effortlessly with a five-year old child as with an academic colleague.”

Timothy George writes of Roger and Annette, “For many decades they have modeled the graces of Christian hospitality. Several generations of students and colleagues have known the largesse of their table and the conviviality of their home.”

Packer recalls meeting the couple for the first time:

One of my cherished memories is of the day, nearly half a century ago, when they lunched in our home and Annette laid into me with passion for being an Anglican and not a Baptist while Roger, beaming all over his face (and how that man can beam!) sat silent enjoying the fun. They are two of the most warm-hearted, free-spirited, and altogether delightful believers that it has been my privilege to know.

In 1947 he gave his first lecture on the atonement, at Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Portland. He provided a biblical theology of the atonement from Genesis to Revelation, arguing for its centrality. His work on the atonement remains one of his lasting legacies today. He was still writing on the topic into his 90s. (For a classroom definition of the gospel, achieved by the atonement, click here.)

He was a founding member of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), established in 1949. Dr. Nicole served as Vice President in 1955 and President in 1956.

In 1967 he would receive his second doctorate, a research PhD from Harvard University. Wheaton College would grant him the D.D. in 1978.

In the 1970s he served as an assistant translator for the New International Version, and as a founding member of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, which produced the Chicago Statement, among other documents.

In 1986, after 41 years of teaching at Gordon-Conwell, the Nicoles moved to Orlando where he continued teaching at Reformed Theological Seminary. They would spend their remaining decades in Central Florida.

In 1987 he worked with other egalitarians to form the organization Christians for Biblical Equality, to the disappointment of many and the delight of others.

During the 1980s he also served as an associate editor for the New Geneva Study Bible, which has today been revised as the Reformation Study Bible.

In 2001—at the age of 86—Dr. Nicole wrote a review of Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible, a defense of “open theism,” and in 2002 he presented charges against Clark Pinnock and John Sanders for their advocacy of “open theism,” saying, “I present this motion with a heavy heart.” In his correspondence with these men—whom he thought were undermining the very character of God as revealed in Holy Scripture—he would sign his letters with typical graciousnessness: simply, “Love, Roger.”

He was a collector by nature. As an avid stamp collector, he amassed over 1 million stamps throughout his lifetime. And as a bibliophile, his personal library consisted of over 26,000 volumes—not including 6,000 mystery novels! Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando now houses the Roger Nicole Collection, consisting of 25,000 theological works, including many rare volumes from the 16th and 17th centuries.

In 2004 his friends and colleagues honored him with a Festchrift: The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Historical & Practical Perspectives: Essays in Honor of Roger R. Nicole, edited by Charles Hill and Frank James. Keeping a Festchrift from an honoree is no easy task—and in this case it proved unsuccessful! When Dr. Nicole saw pre-publication mention of the book in IVP’s academic catalog, he boldly approached one of the editors asking if he could contribute, given that the book’s theme aligned so closely with one of his great passions! The editors confessed the nature of the project, and Dr. Nicole was able to include a brief post-script on penal substitution.

David W. Bailey, who took classes with Dr. Nicole at an extension site of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and would later write his authorized biography, recalls:

During his lectures, several of the students, on occasion, would weep. His keen mind (as an octogenerian!) was demonstrated in his total lack of notes (just an NIV Bible and a Greek New Testament!) and his ability to teach for nearly four hours solid at night (from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.) with only a 20-minute nap in between, from which he did not need to be awakened. He was gracious in handling questions from “difficult students.” We were deeply impressed by his complete transparency regarding his own Christian pilgrimage, his manifest godliness, his willingness to share with the students volumes from his own library due to the limitations of an extension center library. Such obvious brilliance was coupled with a love for stamp-collecting and mystery novels and an incredible knowledge of books. One feels both more intellectual and more Christ-like just spending time with Roger Nicole.

David Wells, his Gordon-Conwell colleague, dedicated a collection of essays on Reformed theology to Roger Nicole, and tried to get at the “center” of his theological vision:

The sovereignty of God, expressed in grace and in judgment, has always been at the center of Roger’s vision. It has led him to think globally. He has always been a strong supporter of missions because he is confident that God is great enough to accomplish his saving purposes worldwide. It has also led him to walk humbly because he knows that in our human fallenness resides no spiritual life. To know this is to be liberated from the clutches of that exaggerated and false sense of self-importance, which, in the end, undermines all human well-being. And it has given his life a serenity and stability that have been an example to his colleagues, students, and the administrators with whom he has worked. In times of crisis, he has been a source of wisdom; in turbulence, a source of strength. His unerring instinct for what is noble has touched those who have known him and has ever pointed to Jesus Christ, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

For an inspiring taste of the man’s careful, insightful thinking, take a look at John Muether’s interview with Dr. Nicole in 2008, when he was 92 years old (two weeks before his wife went to be with the Lord). They cover topics of atonement, inerrancy, New Perspective, and polemics.

One would be remiss not to highlight in particular a very important essay he wrote, originally delivered upon his 30th anniversary of teaching at Gordon-Conwell: “Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us.” (A slighter fuller version may be found at parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.) It remains a deeply relevant and timely piece for all of us to read and heed, and a model of grace.

Those interested in good, foundational essays—many of which helped to shape evangelical theology—to look at a copy of Standing Forth: Collected Writings of Roger Nicole, published in 2002 by Christian Focus.

For some sample lectures by Dr. Nicole, you can listen to this set of three talks online from the 1989 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, on the achievement of the cross.

Below are a few of his 100+ articles and reviews—some scholarly and some popular—which are available online. Note the number that were written in his 90s.

Don Sweeting, President of RTS-Orlando, was able to visit with Dr. Nicole a few weeks ago and wrote a blog post about it. The close of that post is a fitting tribute to a man who has entered glory, seeing his Savior face to face:

Dr. Nicole spoke of his own retrenchment, not with deep complaint, but with a proper sense of realism and lament that comes from any loss. There was melancholy in his voice as he reminisced about days gone by and noted what he no longer had.  But then he paused in the conversation. And with all the vigor of his French accented English emphatically exclaimed—“but I have joy.” And this, he said, could not be taken away! Not only that, but Dr. Nicole clearly understood that his present retrenchment is a season as well.

We ended our visit by opening up the Scriptures and reading together from Psalm 16. That great psalm begin—“Keep my safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. . . . I said to the LORD, ‘You are my LORD, apart from you I have no good thing. . . . You have assigned me my portion and my cup. . . . Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices.’”

It was with particular eagerness that Dr. Nicole recited from memory as I read the last part of the psalm.  “My body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. . . . You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Seeing beyond our seasons of accumulation and retrenchment, Dr. Nicole clearly had his eye on yet another season, which for him, seemed just around the corner.

This Article was written by Justin Taylor on December 11, 2010 @

R.C. Sproul on Thomas Aquinas – Was He The Most Brilliant of All the Theologians?

Recently I was asked to identify my favorite theologians of all time. I quickly named them: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. Then I was asked to rate them according to their brilliance. Being asked a question such as that is like being asked to compare Babe Ruth with Mickey Mantle, or Johnny Unitas with Dan Marino.

How does one rank the greatest minds of Christendom? Scholars tend to differ in style and scope. The magnitude of their brightness is as the stars in the Big Dipper. Luther was not systematic, yet he gave awesome flashes of insight, powerful vignettes of vision that changed the course of church history. Calvin possessed a systematic mind with the comprehensive grasp of theology that was unprecedented. Augustine was surely the greatest theologian of the first millennium of church history. Though his inconsistencies are well documented, he is distinguished by being one who didn’t have the shoulders of giants to stand on. Rather, his shoulders bore the weight of later giants, and some dwarfs as well.

Though it is fashionable to contrast Aquinas and Augustine as following the disparate paths of Aristotle and Plato, it is vital to remember that Aquinas leaned heavily on Augustine. It is probable that Aquinas quoted Augustine more frequently than he quoted any other theologian. Which theologian did Calvin quote more often than Augustine? None. Luther was an Augustianian monk and Edwards is sometimes referred to as a neo-Augustinian.

The historic debt of all these men to Augustine is so evident that it guarantees a special place to the bishop of Hippo in the gallery of stellar theologians. But who, we ask, was the brightest? Whose mind was most acute, most keen, most penetrating? If the question is posed in this manner, then I am forced into a corner with a two-forked exit. I cannot choose between the two men whose intellects most intimidate me, Edwards and Aquinas. To choose between them is to choose between Plato and Aristotle, of whom it was said that in the realm of philosophy all subsequent work achieved by men like Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein, and others, is but a succession of footnotes.

So who was the most brilliant ever? I don’t know. I know the question cannot be raised without the name of Thomas Aquinas being brought to the fore. And I know that he deserves my salute.

Those individuals whom history honors tend to receive awards or titles never pursued or coveted. Such a man was Aquinas. Of the many titles lavished on him, the D.A. degree stands out in particular. We are familiar with degrees and titles of Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Laws, and Doctor of Literature. We have Ph.D.’s, D.D.’s, M.D.’s, and Th.D.’s. But Thomas Aquinas alone bears the title Doctor Angelicus.

That Thomas was to be the Doctor of the Angels was not readily apparent to his school chums. His physique was unlike that of the stereotype theologian. Scholars are supposed to fit the mold of the frail, diminutive recluse, with bodies underdeveloped because of a sedentary life. Not so Thomas Aquinas. He was a big man, portly, suntanned, with a large head. He towered over his companions, no less in his massive physical bulk than in his titanic intellect. His appearance was so ungainly as a youth that he was dubbed “The big dumb ox of Sicily.”

The best estimates of historians set the date of Aquinas’ birth early in the year 1225. He was born in a castle near Naples, of noble parentage. He was the seventh son of Count Landulf of Aquino and Theodora of Theate.

His early years show indications that the hand of Providence was on his life. His predilection for theology was marked in childhood. At the tender age of five, an age when the modern child would be glued to the television set watching “Sesame Street,” Aquinas was placed as an oblate in the abbey of Monte Cassino. There he mused on the nascent questions of ontology that gripped his mind for his entire life.

Thomas’ father had big plans for his precocious son. Deeply embroiled in the political machinations between the Emperor and the princes of the church, Count Landulf sought the title of abbot for his son. Thomas politely but steadfastly refused. He borrowed a page from the life of his Lord and said, “It is better to obey the Father of spirits, in order that we may live, than the parents of our flesh.” Thomas was committed to the service of God through the pursuit of an intellectual life. He was driven by an almost monomaniacal passion to answer the question, “What is God?”

At age fourteen Aquinas left the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino and was sent to Naples to study at the Faculty of Arts. There he came under the influence of the Dominicans and entered their order in 1244. His parents were not pleased by this decision and were further agitated when the Dominican General sought to send him to the University of Paris. On the way, Thomas was kidnapped by his own brothers and forced to return home. He was held captive by his own family for a year, during which he refused to abandon his habit and diligently kept the observances of his order every day. His zeal was so contagious that his sister was converted and his mother so impressed that, like the biblical Rebekah, she assisted her son in escaping from a window.

Thomas made his way to Paris where he first came under the tutelage of Albert the Great. Albert (Albertus Magnus) was to Aquinas what Socrates was to Plato. Albert poured his own titanic knowledge into the head of his most able disciple and followed his career with fatherly love. At the death of Saint Thomas, Albert was deeply grieved. Thereafter when Thomas’ name was mentioned in Albert’s presence, Albert would exclaim, “He was the flower and the glory of the world.”

After three years of study in Paris, Albert took Thomas with him to begin a house of studies in Cologne. In 1252 Thomas returned to Paris. In 1256 he received his licentiate to teach in the faculty of theology. In 1259 he went to Italy and taught theology at the studium curiae, attached to the papal court until 1268. In 1268 he returned to Paris to take up the mighty controversy of his day, the controversy with Arab philosophy. In 1274 Pope Gregory X summoned him to assist in the Council of Lyons. On the journey Thomas’s mission was interrupted by the angels. They came to take their Doctor home. At age forty-nine the earthly ministry of the dumb ox of Aquino had ended.

The most familiar title given Thomas Aquinas is that of “Saint.” Though Protestants are likely to use the word “saint” as a synonym for any believer, following the New Testament usage, there are times when the most zealous Protestant will make use of the term to refer to someone who has achieved an extra level of spiritual maturity. In Rome the title is conferred by the church to a highly select few who have achieved a godliness considered above and beyond the call of duty.

When we think of Aquinas, our first thoughts are usually of his extraordinary gifts of scholarship. His was indeed a prodigious intellect, but his greatness at this point should not overshadow the spiritual power of the man. We might conjecture that his canonization was prompted by his intellectual contributions alone, but the record belies such an idea. Thomas was as noteworthy as a spiritual leader as he was for his theological acumen.

Within fifty years of the death of Aquinas the church conducted careful investigations into his personal life and teachings. Strong opposition to Aquinas’ teaching set in early, and insults were hurled against his memory. But on July 18, 1323, at Avignon, Pope John XXII proclaimed Thomas a saint. The Pope said of Aquinas, “Thomas, alone, has illumined the Church more than all the other doctors.”

The modern theologian-philosopher, Jacques Maritain, was jealous to restore a high regard for Aquinas in the twentieth-century church. In his book titled simply St. Thomas Aquinas, Maritain rehearses the traditions of Aquinas’ spiritual power and provides several anecdotes of alleged miracles that surrounded the saint. It was said of Thomas that though he contended fiercely in theological debates, he was able to bear personal attacks with a tranquil humility. Maritain relates the following:

One day a Friar in a jovial mood cries out: “Friar Thomas, come see the flying ox!” Friar Thomas goes over the window. The other laughs. “It is better,” the Saint says to him “to believe that an ox can fly than to think that a religious can lie.”

Witnesses who were summoned to testify at the canonization process of Saint Thomas described him as “soft-spoken, affable, cheerful, and agreeable of countenance, good in soul, generous in his acts; very patient, very prudent; all radiant with charity and tender piety; marvelously compassionate towards the poor.” If we examine these virtues carefully, we see in them a litany of what the New Testament calls the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Saint Thomas was also a gifted preacher. He would sometimes become so moved during his own preaching that he was forced to pause while he wept. During a Lenten series that he preached in Naples, he had to stop in the middle of his sermon so that the congregation could have time to recover from their weeping.

It is the mystical life of Saint Thomas, however, that has sparked the interest of biographers. Immediately after Thomas’ death, his disciple Reginald returned to Naples and declared:

As long as he was living my Master prevented me from revealing the marvels that I witnessed. He owed his knowledge less to the effort of his mind than to the power of his prayer. Every time he wanted to study, discuss, teach, write or dictate, he first had recourse to the privacy of prayer, weeping before God in order to discover in the truth the divine secrets … he would go to the altar and would stay there weeping many tears and uttering great sobs, then return to his room and continue his writings.

A similar testimony comes from Tocco. He said of Aquinas, “His gift of prayer exceeded every measure; he elevated himself to God as freely as though no burden of flesh held him down. Hardly a day passed that he was not rapt out of his senses.”

Being daily “rapt out one’s senses” is hardly the routine we expect from abstract scholars and philosophers, particularly from someone like Aquinas who was given to the pursuit of logic.

The habit of passionate prayer is crowned by the extraordinary claims of miraculous visitations granted to Saint Thomas. Such incidents raise the eyebrows of Reformed theologians and we mention these accounts with the due reservations of our trade. Maritain recites the following episode as part of the Catholic record of Thomas’ sainthood.

Another time it was the saints who came to help him with his commentary of Isaias. An obscure passage stopped him; for a long time he fasted and prayed to obtain an understanding of it. And behold one night Reginald heard him speaking with someone in his room. When the sound of conversation had ceased, Friar Thomas called him, telling him to light the candle and take the manuscript On Isaias. Then he dictated for an hour, after which he sent Reginald back to bed. But Reginald fell upon his knees: “I will not rise from here until you have told me the name of him or of them with whom you have spoken for such a long time tonight.” Finally Friar Thomas began to weep and, forbidding him in the name of God to reveal the thing during Thomas’ life, confessed that the apostles Peter and Paul had come to instruct him.

Another event occurred in Paris when Thomas was lecturing on the Eucharist. As he went to the altar the brethren suddenly saw Christ standing before him and heard Him speak aloud: “You have written well of the Sacrament of My Body and you have well and truthfully resolved the question which was proposed to you, to the extent that it is possible to have an understanding of it on earth and to ascertain it humanly.”

That sober philosophers like Jacques Maritain report such incidences as simple historical fact is itself testimony to the extraordinary impact Aquinas’ spiritual power had on his contemporaries as well as his future disciples.

One anecdote about St. Thomas is virtually beyond dispute. Toward the end of his life he had a powerful mystical experience that dramatically affected his work. Again we turn to Maritain for his account of it:

Having returned to Italy after Easter of 1272, Friar Thomas took part in the General Chapter of the Order, at Florence, and then he went to Naples again to continue his teaching there. One day, December 6, 1273, while he was celebrating Mass in the chapel of Saint Nicholas, a great change came over him. From that moment he ceased writing and dictating. Was the Summa then, with its thirty-eight treatises, its three thousand articles and ten thousand objections, to remain unfinished? As Reginald was complaining about it, his master said to him, “I can do no more.” But the other was insistent. “Reginald, I can do no more; such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now, I await the end of my life after that of my works.”

After this experience Thomas Aquinas wrote no more. On his final journey he asked to be taken to the monastery of Santa Maria. As he was dying he asked for Viaticum. When he saw the consecrated Host, he threw himself on the floor and cried out:

I receive Thee, Price of my redemption … Viaticum of my pilgrimage, for love of Whom I have studied and watched, toiled, preached, and taught. Never have I said anything against Thee; but if I have done so, it is through ignorance, and I do not persist in my opinions, and if I have done anything wrong, I leave all to the correction of the Roman Church. It is in this obedience to Her that I depart from this life.

There is a strange progression in the achievement of titles of honor and status in the theological world. A freshman student begins his pursuit of knowledge simply with his given name. When he graduates from college, some may now call him “Mister.” When he graduates from seminary and passes his trials for ordination, he is granted the title “Reverend” or “Father.” If he continues his education and achieves a doctorate, he is called “Doctor.” If he is fortunate enough to secure a teaching position on a faculty, he must wait to progress to a full professorship. Then he can preface his name with the coveted title of “Professor.” The irony is this: if he makes it really big and achieves a widespread reputation for his learning, he will achieve the highest honor, that of being known simply by his name. We do not usually speak of Professor Barth or of Doctor Calvin or Professor Kung. The leaders in the field of theology are known by their names. We speak of Barth, Bultmann, Brunner, Kung, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, and Rahner. A man doesn’t seem to make it until his title returns to where he started, with his own name.

There is a special sense in which this strange progression reaches its acme with the titular honor paid to Aquinas. He is known not only by his famous last name, but in the world of theology and philosophy is recognized by his first name. No one speaks of Aquinasism. We talk about Calvinism, Lutheranism, Augustinianism, but with Aquinas it is Thomism. One need merely mention the name “Thomas’ and every scholar of theology knows of whom we speak.

Think of all the Thomases there have been in the world. Think even of the Thomases who have been famous in Christendom. There is “Doubting Thomas,” Thomas a Kempis, Sir Thomas More, and a host of others. But only one theological giant is recognized instantly by the simple mention of the name “Thomas.”

In 1879 a papal encyclical was issued in Rome by Leo XIII that praised the contribution of Thomas Aquinas. Leo declared:

Now far above all other Scholastic Doctors towers Thomas Aquinas, their master and prince. Cajetan says truly of him: “So great was his veneration for the ancient and sacred Doctors that he may be said to have gained a perfect understanding of them all.” Thomas gathered together their doctrines like the scattered limbs of a body, and moulded them into a whole. He arranged them in so wonderful an order, and increased them with such great additions, that rightly and deservedly he is reckoned a singular safeguard and glory of the Catholic Church. His intellect was docile and subtle; his memory was ready and tenacious; his life was most holy; and he loved the truth alone. Greatly enriched as he was with the science of God and the science of man, he is likened to the sun; for he warmed the whole earth with the fire of his holiness, and filled the whole earth with the splendor of his teaching. There is no part of philosophy which he did not handle with acuteness and solidity.

In the Code of Canon Law promulgated by Benedict XV, Catholic school teachers were ordered to “treat in every particular the studies of rational philosophy and theology, and the formation of students in these sciences, according to the method, the doctrine, and the principles of the Angelic Doctor, and to adhere religiously to them.” Here Thomism is elevated to a supreme theological role in the church. Thomas moves beyond the scope of being Doctor Angelicus to the realm of being the Doctor of the Church par excellence, the Common Doctor of the faithful.

What then, is Thomism, the philosophy attached to the name of Aquinas? Is Thomism a philosophy or a theology? Was Thomas himself primarily an apologist or a theologian? Was he a biblical thinker or a speculative scholar who merely warmed over Aristotle and baptized his pagan philosophy? These are some of the questions that are evoked by the sound of Thomas’ name.

The twentieth century has ushered in a revival of interest in Saint Thomas among Roman Catholic scholars. At the same time there has been a deepening cleavage between Roman Catholic Thomists and Evangelical Protestants. As Vatican Council I in 1870 looked to Protestantism as the fountain from which all modern heresies and distortions of truth flow, so modern Evangelicals have looked to the work of Thomas as being the poison that embittered the springs of truth.

The Protestant apologist, Norman Geisler (who at crucial points is pro-Thomas) is fond of quipping that “the new theme song of Evangelicalism is ‘Should Old Aquinas Be Forgot, and Never Brought to Mind.’” On the other hand the late Francis Schaeffer was sharply critical of Saint Thomas, seeing in his work the foundations of secular humanism. He sees in Thomas’ development of natural theology the magna charta of philosophy. With Thomas, philosophy was liberated from the controls of theology and became autonomous. Once philosophy became autonomous, separated and freed from revelation, it was free to take wings and fly off wherever it wished. Since Aquinas let the bird out of the trap, it has flown in the face of the faith. No longer is philosophy regarded as the handmaiden of Queen Theology but as her rival and possibly her destroyer.

Such an evaluation of Aquinas meets with resistance in some quarters of Protestantism. But the debate goes on. I, for one, am persuaded that the Protestant Church owes a profound debt to Saint Thomas and the benefit of a second glance at his contributions. I remind my Evangelical friends that when Saint Thomas defended the place of natural theology, he appealed primarily to the Apostle Paul and to Romans 1 for its classical foundation.

There is a sense in which every Christian owes a profound debt to Saint Thomas. To understand his contribution we must know something of the historical context in which he wrote. To gain a fair reading of any thinker, past or present, we must ask such questions as “What problems was he trying to solve? Why? What were the vibrant issues at stake in his day? What were the dominant controversies?” We know, for example, that throughout church history the development of theology has been prodded in large part by the threat of serious heresies. It was the heretic Marcion who made it necessary for the church to define the canon of sacred scripture. It was the heresy of Arius that provoked the council of Nicaea. It was the distortions of Nestorius and Eutyches that made the Council of Chalcedon necessary. The heat of controversy has been the crucible by which the truth of theology has been made more sharp, more lucid.

The threat to the church that awakened Saint Thomas from his own dogmatic slumber was one of the most serious challenges that Christendom has ever had to endure. Our present condition in the western world makes it a bit difficult to imagine the enormity of the threat. It was the rise and sweeping expansion of Islam that threatened Christianity in the thirteenth century. Our awareness of the threat tends to be limited to the more colorful and adventuresome element of it chronicled in the Crusades. Knights with crosses emblazoned on their chests riding out to free the Holy Land from infidels has a certain romance to it.

Saint Thomas also sought to rescue the Holy Land. Its walls were made of philosophical mortar. His lance was his pen and his coat of armor a monk’s garb. For Thomas the war was a war of ideas, a battle of concepts.

Islamic philosophy had achieved a remarkable synthesis between Islamic religion and the philosophy of Aristotle. The powerful categories of Aristotelian thought became weapons in the arsenal of the two great Arab philosophers, Averroes and Avicenna.

The Islamic philosophers produced a system of thought called “integral Aristotelianism.” One of the key points that flowed out of this was the concept of “double truths.” The double truth theory allowed that certain ideas could, at the same time, be true in philosophy and false in theology. It was a remarkable achievement: the Arab philosophers were able to accomplish what no schoolboy could ever do despite the universal desire of schoolboys to do it—to have their cake and eat it too.

The problem with having one’s cake and eating it too is obvious. If I save my cake, I cannot enjoy the taste of it while I am saving it. But if I eat it, then it is gone. I cannot save what is already gone. Seems simple enough. Philosophers, however, like lawyers, often have astonishing powers of making simple matters extremely complex, to the point that they think they can actually transcend the cake eating-saving dilemma. What’s worse is they often have the rhetorical power to convince other people of their magic.

To translate the double truth notion into modern categories would look something like this: a Christian might try to believe on Sunday that he is a creature created in the image of God by the sovereign purposive act of a Divine Being. The rest of the week he believes that he is a cosmic accident, a grown-up germ that emerged fortuitously from the slime. On Wednesdays, however, he adopts a different standpoint. Wednesday is “Double-Truth Day.” At a prayer meeting on Wednesday, the Christian attempts to believe both viewpoints at the same time. One day a week he devotes himself to intellectual schizophrenia. He tries to believe and to live a contradiction. If he enjoys the game he might shoot for a long weekend of it until he gains the ultimate bliss and security of permanent residence in a lunatic asylum.

Aquinas was concerned not only to protect the Christian church from the attacks of Islam, but to protect mankind from intellectual suicide. He insisted that all truth is coherent. Reality is not ultimately chaotic. What is true in philosophy must also be true in theology. What is true in science must also be true in religion. Truth may be analyzed from different perspectives. Various disciplines may have specialized fields of inquiry, but Aquinas insisted that all truth meets at the top.

This cardinal principle of Aquinas presupposes some rather basic, though vitally important, axioms. It is based upon the prior conclusion that there is a God and that he is the creator of this world. The world is a universe. That is, the world is marked by diversity which finds its ultimate unity in God’s sovereign creation and rule. The word “universe” as well as the term “university” comes from this mongrelized union of the two terms “unity” and “diversity.”

The double truth theory destroys in principle the fundamental notion of a universe. The universe becomes a multiverse with no ultimate harmony or cohesion. Chaos is ultimate. Truth, as an objective commodity, becomes impossible. Here contradiction may be freely embraced at any time, and every day becomes Double-Truth Day.

One of Francis Schaeffers’ most serious charges against Saint Thomas is the allegation that Thomas separated philosophy and theology. The charge is heard from other quarters as well, that Thomas separated nature and grace. Schaeffer’s lament is that, since the work of Aquinas, philosophy has been liberated from her role as handmaiden to the Queen of the Sciences (Theology) and has now become theology’s chief antagonist.

It is the prerogative of the theologian to make fine distinctions. One of the most important distinctions a theologian can ever make is the distinction between a distinction and a separation. (This is the kind of distinction that yields Excedrin headaches.) There is a crucial difference between distinguishing things and separating them. We distinguish between our bodies and our souls. If we separate them, we die. We distinguish between the two natures of Christ. If we separate them, we fall into gross heresy.

To separate philosophy and theology, nature and grace, was the last thing Thomas Aquinas ever sought to do. It was precisely the issue he was combatting. The double-truth theory separates nature and grace. Such a separation was the dragon Aquinas set out to slay. Aquinas was concerned to distinguish philosophy and theology, nature and grace, not to separate them. He came to bury Averroes, not to praise him.

Aquinas maintained consistently that ultimately there is no conflict between nature and grace. His posture was that grace does not destroy nature but fulfills it. What God reveals in the Bible does not cancel out what he reveals in nature. To be sure it adds to the knowledge we can glean from a study of this world, but it does not contradict it.

Thomas taught that there are certain truths that can be discovered in nature that are not found in the Bible. To use a modern example, we cannot discover a blueprint for the circulatory system of the bloodstream in the Bible. Second Chronicles tells us very little about microchip computers. On the other hand, science can never teach us of the Trinity or of God’s plan of redemption. The work of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration of a human soul cannot be detected with a microscope or x-ray machine.

Saint Thomas was simply stating what should be obvious, that we learn some things from nature that we can’t learn from the Bible and we learn some things from the Bible that we cannot learn from nature. The two sources of information can never be ultimately contradictory. If they seem to contradict each other, then a warning buzzer should sound in our heads to alert us that we have made an error somewhere. Either we have misinterpreted nature, or misinterpreted the Bible, or perhaps we have misinterpreted both.

So far, so good. What has really raised the hackles of many modern Evangelicals is what Thomas said next. Thomas insisted that in addition to the specific information one can learn from nature and the information found only in the Bible, there is a field of knowledge that overlaps. There are truths that Saint Thomas called “mixed articles.” The mixed articles refer to truths that can be learned either by nature or by grace.

The most controversial of the mixed articles is the issue of the existence of God. Clearly the Bible teaches that there is a God. Aquinas argues, however, that nature also teaches there is a God. There can be, therefore, a kind of natural theology. Natural theology means that nature yields a knowledge of God.

The question of natural theology and of proofs of God’s existence drawn from nature has been a raging controversy in the twentieth century. We recall, for example, Karl Barth’s rigorous rejection of natural theology in his debate with Emil Brunner. Theology in general and evangelical theology in particular has reacted severely to natural theology, seeing in it an intrusion of Greek philosophy into the household of faith. The dominant approach in our day is that of some variety of fideism. Fideism, which means literally “faithism,” maintains that God can be known only by faith. God’s existence cannot be established by philosophy. Nature yields no theology. The heavens may declare the glory of God, but such glory is never perceived except through the eyeglasses of faith.

Thomas appealed to the Bible for his defense of natural theology. He carefully reminded the Christians of his day that the Bible not only teaches us that there is a God, but that same Bible also teaches us that it is not the only source of that information. The Bible clearly and unambiguously teaches that men in fact not only can know, but do know, that God exists from his self-revelation in nature. Thomas simply reminded the church what the Apostle Paul labored to teach in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.

When the modern Evangelical rejects natural theology in toto and adopts fideism as his standpoint, he becomes guilty of the very thing for which Aquinas is accused; he becomes guilty of separating nature and grace.

What is at stake here? Aquinas understood that fallen men and women will repeatedly seek to use the tools of philosophy and science against the truth of the Bible. However, he refused to surrender nature to the pagan. He refused to negotiate philosophy and science. Fideism is a policy of retreat. It hides behind a fortress of faith while surrendering reason to the pagan. It separates nature and grace in the worst possible way. The church becomes a cultural dropout; it seeks the sanctuary of the Christian ghetto. It seeks to reserve a safe place for the practice of worship, prayer, Bible study, and the like. In the meantime, art, music, literature, science, the university, and philosophy are surrendered to the pagan. If a Christian happens to be laboring in those endeavors, he is politely asked to live by a double-truth standard. Like the scientist who can’t decide whether light is a wave or a particle, he is asked to believe that it is a “wavicle” or to believe that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday light is a wave; on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday it is a particle. (Of course on Sunday it rests.)

We are acutely aware that the church in our day has staggered under the assault of philosophers and scientists. There are few philosophers who see their task as being servants to the truth of God. There are few scientists today who see their task as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Secular universities are not known for their gentle nurturing of Christian faith. The popular music charts do little to promote the kingdom of God. Modern art and literature are not communicating the beauty of holiness. No wonder that the church seeks a safe place of solace far removed from the battleground of culture.

We need an Aquinas. We need a titanic thinker who will not abandon truth for safety. We need men and women who are willing to compete with secularists in defense of Christ and of his truth. In this regard, the dumb ox of Aquino was heroic.

About the Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: The Holiness of God; Chosen By God; Reason to Believe;  Knowing Scripture; Willing to Believe;  Intimate Marriage; Pleasing God; If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?, and Defending The Faith) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as Senior Minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.  The article above was adapted from the chapter entitled “Thomas Aquinas” in the book Chosen Vessels: Portraits of Ten Outstanding Christian Men. Charles Turner, ed. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 1985.

A Short Tribute to Dr. John G. Mitchell by Dr. Joe Aldrich

John Greenwood Mitchell (1892-1990)

“Don’t you folks ever read your Bibles?” He did. Few knew it better, though for John G. Mitchell, knowledge of the Bible was not an end in itself. He like few others went regularly beyond the printers ink to the Prince of Peace. He not only talked incessantly about “loving the Savior,” he did and it showed. If ever hauled into court charged with loving the Lord, he would be convicted immediately.

His eyes would get a far away look in them as he reflected on his early years of ministry as an itinerant evangelist on the Canadian prairies. Saved as a machinist, a tool and die maker, God called him to preach. His first sermon lasted all of three minutes. I can see him walking the prairies, praying all night. God alone knows how many trees, stumps, and stones, were evangelized as he practiced preaching. It was not unusual for him to sit up all night reading and rereading the Bible. God’s Word became such a part of him, he knew it so well, that he’d quote whole sections from memory.

With no financial support, trusting God alone, he’d travel to the most remote communities to tell of his Savior’s love. There were times when he had no other option but to head his little black Ford out toward another preaching point with the gas gauge on empty. He had not money, and the Canadian Depression was at its peak. Fully trusting his Lord to provide all his needs, he’d log mile after mile with no gas in his car. Sometimes appreciative farmers would give him a milk pail full of gasoline to help him on his way.

He’d pull into a tiny town, head for the telephone operator, and pay her a quarter to place a general call to all those who had phones in the area. His booming voice would come on the line and invite them to a revival service, often held in a Grange hall. Compelled to come, they’d hitch up their teams and come from miles around. The service would last several hours. Sometimes there was no light available, and he’d end up preaching in darkness.

Some threatened him. In the town of Radville they nailed the church door shut while he was preaching. Teaching in a remote area of Oregon, he found himself in the midst of a nest of suspicious moonshiners. Fearlessly he preached, and lives and destinies were changed.

Besides being one of the founders of Multnomah School of the Bible, (Now Multnomah University and Biblical Seminary), Dr. Mitchell founded and served as pastor of the Central Bible Church in Portland, Oregon. He was a pioneer radio speaker who was heard live, daily, on area radio stations. In those days there were no tape recorders. He and his organist had to be at the station five evenings of the week. The “Know Your Bible Hour” touched the hearts of countless thousands of listeners.

Dr. Mitchell and my father, Willard Aldrich, served together as partners in ministry for over fifty years. Their devotion to the Lord and to each other provided an outstanding illustration of what it means to dwell together in unity. Also standing with Dr. Mitchell through these decades of ministry was his beloved wife, Mary.

Everywhere he went the Savior was uplifted and people were drawn to Him. Throughout the years, Jesus was the main topic of his conversation. Finally, at ninety-seven years of age, the Lord he’s served so faithfully called him home. What a home coming it must have been! His “Jordy” accent, his knowledge of the Word, and his love for the Lord will not soon be forgotten.

“It is better,” Solomon writes, “To go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man, the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). And so we should. Spiritual success leaves clues. It is for us who remain to ponder–to reflect upon those who have gone before and to imitate their faith. “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

– Joseph C. Aldrich, President (deceased)

Multnomah School of the Bible

*Taken from the foreword to An Everlasting Love: A Devotional Study of the Gospel of John by John G. Mitchell with Dick Bohrer, Multnomah Press, 1982.

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