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Luther and the Reformation: How a Monk Discovered the Gospel by R.C. Sproul. Ligonier Ministries. 100 pages. 2021

In this short book, R. C. Sproul provides a brief biography of Martin Luther up until the time of the Protestant Reformation and then addresses the main issues that led to the Reformation and continue to this day.
Sproul writes that the during the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church experienced a steady change in its understanding of biblical Christianity, most importantly in its understanding of salvation. This system of salvation that developed within the Roman Catholic Church came to a crisis with the sixteenth-century Reformation.
Martin Luther was planning on a career in law, until a crisis took place in July 1505. As he was walking home from the university a lightning bolt struck the ground just a few feet from where he was walking. It was so close to him that it knocked him on the ground. He saw this as a message from God. He was terrified, and he cried out in his fear, “Help me, St. Anne; I will become a monk.” He followed through by moving to the Augustinian monastery in the city of Erfurt. His Father Hans was furious with his son for disappointing him by not pursuing a career in law.
Sproul reviews a few moments of crisis that would test Luther’s sanity. The first took place when he was to give and celebrate his first Mass as an ordained monk.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and a review of Discerning Downloads: Hearing God’s Audible Voice for Over 60 Years by Loretta Gibson
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ Providence by John Piper

Another point of crisis for Luther concerned the practice of pilgrimage when he travelled to Rome. Luther’s most significant crisis, the tower experience, began when he was given the task of lecturing on the book of Romans at Wittenberg as professor of Bible on the faculty at Wittenberg.
As Luther studied Romans 1:17, he concluded that the righteousness by which we will be saved is not ours. For the first time in his life, he understood the gospel and what it means to be redeemed by somebody else’s righteousness.
Sproul writes about Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, written in 1517 against the corruption behind the sale of indulgences. The last thing that Luther wanted or expected to do was to start a protest or a reformation. He wanted to look at the theological issues inherent in the whole question of indulgences (an indulgence is a papal grant by which a certain amount of merit is taken out of the treasury of merit and applied to those who are deficient in merit, so that their time in purgatory will be less). The treasury of merit is a vast sum of merits that had been amassed through the centuries through the work of Christ, through the work of the Apostles, and through the work of the great saints. The emphasis of the theses concerned indulgences and the doctrine of the treasury of merit.
Sproul then takes us through Luther’s dispute with Roman Catholic leaders which culminated in an imperial diet called in the German city of Worms in 1521. When asked to recant his writings, Luther stated:
“Unless I’m convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”
Sproul then looks at the Roman Catholic and Protestant views of justification. Here are a few helpful quotes from that section of the book:

  • Luther asserted that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls, and that this issue touches the very core of the biblical teaching of salvation.
  • In Rome, the idea emerged that justification occurs after sanctification. In Protestantism, justification was understood to come before the process of sanctification.
  • From the Roman Catholic perspective, justification occurs primarily through the use of the sacraments.
  • Roman Catholicism teaches that the grace and the righteousness of Christ are poured or infused into the soul of the person at baptism, and that the person is then in a state of grace, at least conditionally.
  • A loss of saving grace occurs when the person commits a particular type of sin. The Roman Catholic Church calls this a mortal sin. Mortal sin is called mortal because it is serious enough to cause the death of the justifying grace that was infused into the person at baptism. Reformer John Calvin would go on to say that though every sin is mortal in the sense that it deserves death, no sin is mortal in the sense that it destroys the saving grace that a Christian receives at his justification.
  • The Roman Catholic Council of Trent (1545-1563), stands immutable on the teaching on justification.
  • The Reformation was about affirming the biblical gospel—the moment a person possesses saving faith, he is transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, is declared to be just on the basis of the righteousness of Christ, and is adopted into the family of God.
  • The Reformation view of justification is that when God declares a person to be just in His sight, it’s not because of what He finds in that person under His analysis, but rather it is on the grounds of something that is added to that person. And what is added to that person is the righteousness of Christ.
  • If any word was at the center of the firestorm of the sixteenth-century controversy and remains central to the debate even in our day, it is the word imputation.
  • Luther and the rest of the Reformers believed that the ground of our justification is God’s imputing somebody else’s righteousness to our account. And of course, what is reckoned to our account is the righteousness of Christ.
  • The good news is simply this: I can be reconciled to God. I can be justified by God not on the basis of what I do but on the basis of what’s been accomplished for me by Christ.
  • We can do nothing to earn, to deserve, or to add to the merit of Jesus Christ. When we stand before the judgment seat of God, we come with nothing in our hand except the righteousness of Christ. We cling to the cross of Christ and put our trust in Him and in Him alone.

Discerning Downloads: Hearing God’s Audible Voice for Over 60 Years by Loretta Gibson. Throne Publishing Group. 109 pages. 2023

I was delighted when I first heard that Loretta Gibson was writing a book about how God has worked in her life. I had worked with Loretta at the same Fortune 50 organization. For a time, we were on the same leadership team. Some of my team members worked on her project teams, and we both left that organization at the same time about five years ago.
Discerning Downloads is a collection of stories about Loretta’s encounters with God. The book is about how God and Loretta interacted in the past, and how He prophesied her future. For the first time, she shares stories about hearing God’s voice and discerning His messages (what she refers to as “downloads”). The stories span decades of her life. She writes that God’s downloads offer guidance, preparation, and comfort. Each chapter includes “Action Challenges” and “End-of-Chapter Questions” to go deeper with the information covered in that chapter.
The book begins in 1963, when Loretta, an eight-year-old farm girl in Central Missouri, is blinded by a vision and hears a male voice tell her that she would be an author writing on an island someday. Loretta writes that seeing the vision and hearing God’s voice gave her direction throughout her life. This is the book that Loretta was to write, and a village on the Big Island of Hawaii was where the book was to be written.
For many years, my wife’s car license plate has been vox Dei, signifying that the Bible is the Word of God or the voice of God. I personally have never audibly heard God’s voice, as Loretta has. I have had friends say to me “God spoke to me”, or “I had a word from the Lord”, but I believe that was not via an audible voice, but rather a response to prayer.
Loretta uses scripture passages throughout the book. Her approach is to engage the reader primarily through authentic stories, not about religion, denominations, philosophy, or theory. Still, the theology that is described in the book (hearing God’s voice, seeing messages, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, receiving and writing prophesy, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, healing, etc.) aligns with a form of charismatic theology. I am a proponent of Reformed theology, and a cessationist, as opposed to a continuationist. Cessationists believe that the Holy Spirit no longer gives believers miraculous spiritual gifts as a normative Christian experience as it was for the apostles.
The warmly written book is part biography and part how God has worked in her life through many challenging seasons, including two miscarriages, deaths of loved ones, divorce, income loss, job loss, lifelong undiagnosed disease, and adoption, to name a few. Although Loretta and I come from different theological camps, I enjoyed reading her story and how God has, and continues to work in her life.

  • Who Killed the Prayer Meeting? Paul Miller writes “It’s no coincidence that the prayer meeting has declined simultaneously with the rise of secularism, which sees the spiritual world as mere illusion, true for you, but not true for everyone else.”
  • Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold. My wife Tammy has published a book about HOW to study the Bible. The book is available on Amazon in both a Kindle and paperback edition. She writes “Maybe you’ve read the Bible but want to dig deeper and know God and know yourself better. Throughout the book I use the analogy of making a quilt to show how the Bible is telling one big story about what God is doing in the world through Christ. Quilting takes much patience and precision, just like studying the Bible, but the end result is well worth it.
  • Come, Lord Jesus. Watch this video from John Piper as he talks about his new book Come, Lord Jesus.
  • One on One with Bono. On this episode of the Bulletin podcast, Mike Cosper of Christianity Today visits with Bono about his book Surrender.
  • What Does the New Testament Mean That Jesus Will Come Soon? This article from John Piper is adapted from his new book Come, Lord Jesus.

BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?

Providence by John Piper

The providence of God is his purposeful sovereignty by which he will be completely successful in the achievement of his ultimate goal for the universe. God’s providence carries his plans into action, guides all things toward his ultimate goal, and leads to the final consummation.
John Piper draws on a lifetime of theological reflection, biblical study, and practical ministry to lead readers on a stunning tour of the sightings of God’s providence—from Genesis to Revelation—to discover the all-encompassing reality of God’s purposeful sovereignty over all of creation and all of history.
Exploring the goal, nature, and extent of God’s purposes for the world, Piper offers an invitation to know the God who holds all things in his hands yet remains intimately involved in the lives of his people.
You can download the PDF of the book free from Desiring God.
Watch this six-minute video as John Piper talks about the book, and this interview with Dr. Joe Rigney of Bethlehem College & Seminary.

This week we look at Chapter 40: Those Whom He Called, He Also Glorified. Here are a few helpful quotes from the chapter:

  • God’s providence moves according to plan. It is not haphazard or random or whimsical. God does not make his decisions on the spur of the moment.
  • God doesn’t just require holiness; he promises it to his people, he bought it for them, and he brings it about in their hearts and lives. Therefore, the holiness that God requires of his people on their path to glory is absolutely certain. It will not fail.
  • Our perseverance in faith, our conformity to Christ, and our final glorification depend on whether God is faithful—day by day and forever.
  • God promises perseverance, holiness, and glorification for his people. They will not fail to attain their inheritance.
  • None of those who are truly converted to Christ and brought to saving faith will ever be lost.

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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