What follows is an excerpt from Frank Viola’s new book – ReGrace: What the Shocking Beliefs of the Great Christians Can Teach Us Today. The endnotes which contain first-hand sources are not included in the excerpt.
WARNING: BEFORE GOING FURTHER, READ THIS FIRST
1) Some of the so-called shocking beliefs that I cover in ReGrace are beliefs that I myself agree with. Others I find abhorrent.
Consequently, just because a shocking belief is listed doesn’t reveal how I personally feel about it.
It simply means that many evangelical Christians will find the belief to be shocking (at worst) or peculiar (at best).
Therefore, to those of you who are inclined to finish this book and proudly throw your chest out saying, “Good grief, I wasn’t shocked by any of those beliefs!” remember three things:
You missed the point of the book; each person I feature had people who believed they were heretics during their day; and every one of them still have people raking them over the coals because of their viewpoints.
2) While I disagree with a number of beliefs that each person I feature held, I have respect for each of them. In fact, I cannot tie the laces of their shoes.
Each individual was remarkable in his own right. I realize this means that people who don’t like Calvin, Lewis, Wesley, Augustine, and so forth will be turned off by that statement.
And some may misuse this book as a frontal attack on each person it covers, completely missing the boat on those chapters and the intent of this volume.
Finally, remember, the point of this book is NOT to highlight what our spiritual forefathers believed. It’s simply that they all had imperfect views. For that reason, let’s have more grace and civility whenever we disagree with each other over theology and politics.
The book explains practically how to disagree – even strongly – in a Christlike manner without getting down in the mud and engaging in fleshly, carnal behavior over a diverging viewpoint held by a fellow Christian.
For if the “heroes” of the faith didn’t possess immaculate perception, than the same is true for every child of God today – including you.
Read Excerpt Now
The Shocking Beliefs of Martin Luther
The knowledge that God has loved me beyond all limits will compel me to go into the world to love others in the same way. I may get irritated because I have to live with an unusually difficult person. But just think how disagreeable I have been with God! Am I prepared to be identified so closely with the Lord Jesus that His life and His sweetness will be continually poured out through Me?
~ Oswald Chambers
For many Christians, Martin Luther is a household name. He was a monumental reformer—touted as the father of the Protestant Reformation.
Almost three hundred years after Luther’s passing, Ralph Waldo Emerson said of him, “Martin Luther the reformer is one of the most extraordinary persons in history and has left a deeper impression of his presence in the modern world than any other except Columbus.”1
There’s no doubt that Luther recovered some wonderful truths that were lost to the body of Christ. He stood as a prophet against a corrupt Church. He restored the great doctrine of justification by faith, freeing God’s people from legalism and the need to go through human mediators to get to God. He gave the Bible back to God’s people.
Before you read on, keep the following in mind:
Luther lived in the sixteenth century. Life was cruel and harsh, and people were generally violent. To bring this point home, imagine this scenario. Suppose that Christians two hundred years from now discover that some of the items we use on a daily basis were destroying the planet. So they may think, How could those Christians in the twenty-first century be so selfish and sinful!?
Again, we have to understand Luther, Calvin, and others against the times in which they lived.
Repeat: The point of this chapter—and this book—is not for you to conclude, “Oh my, these guys were horrible. Put them on the chopping block!”
It’s the opposite. If the great theologians who shaped evangelical Christianity could be so right on some things, and so off on others, then certainly we need to be more tolerant, civil, and gracious with our fellow brethren today when we disagree.
With that said, what follows are some of the shocking beliefs of the great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther.
1) Luther despised Jewish people, believing that they deserved persecution.
At first, Luther was sympathetic to the Jews and critical of Roman Catholics for their mistreatment of the Jews, for “treating them like dogs” and thus making it difficult for them to come to Jesus Christ.9
But fifteen years later, he changed his tune entirely and began to excoriate the Jewish people in his writings.10
Despite the fact that Luther’s best friends disapproved of his contra-Jewish attacks, he wouldn’t relent. In fact, shortly before his death, Luther wrote, “We are at fault for not slaying them!”11
Church historian Roland Bainton wrote that it would probably have been better if Luther had died before he wrote his onslaught against the Jews.12
In his On the Jews and Their Lies, Luther stated,
I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed, . . . I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. . . . I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. . . . I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. . . . I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. . . . If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs, so that we do not become partakers of their abominable blasphemy and all their other vices and thus merit God’s wrath and be damned with them.13
In sum, they are the Devil’s children, damned to hell. If there is anything human left in them, for that one this treatise might be useful. One can hope for the whole bunch as one wills, but I have no hope. I also know no biblical text [that supports such hope].14
Note that Luther’s issue with the Jews didn’t appear to be racial, but theological.15
Luther was frustrated that they rejected Jesus, and he couldn’t convince them otherwise. On this score, he wrote,
Just as I may eat, drink, sleep, walk, ride with, buy from, speak to, and deal with a heathen, Jew, Turk, or heretic, so I may also marry and continue in wedlock with him. Pay no attention to the precepts of those fools who forbid it. . . . A heathen is just as much a man or a woman—God’s good creation—as St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Lucy.16
Luther also opposed the Jews because of his historicist eschatology, which viewed the Turks, the Pope, and the Jews as part of a great end-time coalition designed to wipe out Christians under the leadership of the devil.17
2) Luther held to several shocking views about marriage and sex.
Here are some examples:
When one resists the other and refuses the conjugal duty she is robbing the other of the body she had bestowed upon him. This is really contrary to marriage, and dissolves the marriage. For this reason the civil government must compel the wife, or put her to death. If the government fails to act, the husband must reason that his wife has been stolen away and slain by robbers; he must seek another.
We would certainly have to accept it if someone’s life were taken from him. Why then should we not also accept it if a wife steals herself away from her husband, or is stolen away by others?18
As to divorce, it is still a question for debate whether it is allowable. For my part I so greatly detest divorce that I should prefer bigamy to it; but whether it is allowable, I do not venture to decide.19
For my part, I confess that I do not see how I can prevent polygamy; there is not in the sacred texts the least word against those who take several wives at one time; but there are many things permissible that ought not becomingly to be done: of these is bigamy.20
3) Luther denied the canonicity of the books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation.
He did so for two reasons. One reason is that he believed these books went against the Protestant doctrines such as sola gratia (by grace alone) and sola fide (by faith alone).
The other reason is because these books had their canonicity questioned by others.21
In his preface to the New Testament, Luther ascribed to several books of the New Testament different degrees of doctrinal value, saying,
In a word St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. But more of this in the other prefaces.22
In another place, he wrote,
Though this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God. However, to state my own opinion about it, though without prejudice to anyone, I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle.23
The above is a short excerpt from ReGrace with the endnotes removed. There’s much more on Luther and his views in the book.
To order the book, go to ReGrace: What the Shocking Beliefs of the Great Christians Can Teach Us Today.
Here is the Back Cover Description:
The church is tired of seeing Christians act ungraciously toward one another when they disagree. Social media has added to the carnage. Christians routinely block each other on Facebook because of doctrinal disagreements. The world watches the blood-letting, and the Christian witness is tarnished.
But what if every Christian discovered that their favorite teacher in church history had blind spots and held to some false–and even shocking–views?
Bestselling author Frank Viola argues that this simple awareness will soften Christians when they interact with each other in the face of theological disagreements.
In ReGrace, he uncovers some of the shocking beliefs held by faith giants like C.S. Lewis, Luther, Calvin, Moody, Spurgeon, Wesley, Graham, and Augustine–not to downgrade or dismiss them, but to show that even “the greats” in church history didn’t get everything right.
Knowing that the heroes of our faith sometimes got it wrong will empower us to treat our fellow Christians with grace rather than disdain whenever we disagree over theology.