Crisis and Kairos
We Need a New Reformation
By the time Luther stood before Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, on April 18, 1521, and uttered his famous statement (quoted above), the thunder of reformation had been heard and was gaining momentum. Slowly the grip of the papacy was loosened, as many of the most nefarious teachings of the Church were shown to be erroneous. Luther's grand message was that a person could stand confident before God on the basis of "merely" trusting God's acceptance of Jesus' work in their behalf by faith. And so works were replaced by words that were founded by the Word of God. By faith alone a person was justified before the judgment throne of God by believing it was so on the basis of Holy Scripture alone.
Most modern Protestants who read the history of the Reformation cannot fully grasp a world without the Bible. Today, however, the reformation which must come is not one void of the presence of the Bible. Today's scandal is that the Bible, while widely available, is seldom read at all, let alone understood, by most who listen to preaching every week. For many of them, it is as if the Latin Mass is still in play.
In Kenda Creasy Dean's book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, it seems that the problem is far worse than anyone imagined. The National Study of Youth and Religion discovered that "the majority of American teenagers, who disproportionately call themselves mainline Protestant or Roman Catholic, harbor an attitude toward religion that one researcher described as 'benign positive regard.' While teenagers (and young adults) agree that religion is good, even important, they cannot explain why this is so, and many of them believe religion makes no difference to them personally. Most religious communities' central problem is not teen rebellion, but teenagers' 'benign whateverism.'"
As the Bible becomes increasingly an object of interest in a volatile and transitional time similar in scope to that of sixteenth-century Europe, a move must be made away from "whateverism" to a biblical reality grounded in the doctrines of the Bible. In the words of historian Michael Reeves, the Protestant Reformation was not simply "a negative movement" away from Rome. It was "a positive movement" toward the Gospel. It was a re-discovery of the verbum incarnatum—the eternal Logos made flesh—so that now, in the words of Heinrich Bullinger in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), "the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God." Such a movement must emerge again beginning with many supposedly "evangelical" congregations who stand in deep need of reformation, sixteenth-century style.