Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation
By Erwin W. Lutzer
Baker Books, 2016, hardcover, 224 pages, currently $14.56 from Amazon (doesn’t include tax or shipping)
With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation coming up in the Fall of 2017, we can expect the publication of many books on the subject. Every evangelical should, at the least, be “somewhat” familiar with the struggles of the men and women of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries who, led by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, sought to return the church from Roman ritualism and legalism to the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
“Rescuing the Gospel” is an excellent introduction to the topic for those who want to get just an essential understanding. It’s basically a “Reformation 101” in an easy-to-read style and (very) attractively formatted with many small, color illustrations. It’s abundantly evident that this book was a labor of love for author, Erwin Lutzer, retired pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.
The book begins by examining the corruption of the Catholic church in the Middle Ages. The church had devolved from preaching simple, saving faith in Jesus Christ into ritualism, legalism, superstition, and formalism, all tightly controlled by the increasingly despotic church leadership. In addition, many of the popes, cardinals, and bishops had adopted flagrantly wicked lifestyles. Early reformers like John Wycliffe in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia defiantly challenged Rome’s teachings. The bulk of the book focuses on Martin Luther’s rebellion against church authority beginning with the nailing of his 95 theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was a complex man with his share of faults but he was used mightily by the Lord to return the church back to the Gospel. Lutzer then turns to the important contributions of Huldrych Zwingli in Zurich and John Calvin in Geneva, as well as a few others. The Reformers had several failings and missteps (e.g., Luther’s liturgicalism and anti-Semitism, Zwingli’s alliance with civil government), which the author readily acknowledges. It would be up to succeeding Reformers to chip away at remaining vestiges of Roman error.
Perhaps the best part of this book is the final chapter: “Is the Reformation Over?” Today, some evangelicals clamor for unity with Rome despite the remaining fundamental differences in doctrine. Most importantly, the Catholic church continues to teach salvation by sacramental grace and merit in contrast to the “Good News” of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Some evangelicals hear “grace” and “faith” mentioned by Catholic representatives and proclaim, “Close enough!,” while purposely ignoring the fine print. Lutzer calls for evangelicals to continue to rescue the Gospel of grace from the Catholic church and all other groups and individuals who believe “that it is up to them to contribute to their salvation and that they must make themselves worthy to receive it “ (p.200). Lutzer suggests that our task to uphold the Gospel may be even more difficult than in Luther’s day because of the compromise with error WITHIN evangelicalism. It’s our unending job to rescue the Gospel of grace and to proclaim it! The Reformation continues.
If you’re interested in reading a basic examination of the Reformation without the challenges and obstacles of an academic tome, THIS is your book. It would also make a wonderful gift for anyone who loves the Gospel. I’m not one to collect books on a dusty bookshelf anymore, but this one’s a keeper!