Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings by James R Payton Jr

Please notice the title of the book – it does not say that the reformation was wrong, but that there is misunderstanding about the reformation, especially in the Church today, which needs to be acknowledged. The author is a protestant evangelical scholar and he is not seeking in any way to undermine the (important) successes of the reformation. However, to view the reformation as nothing but a success is a problem. To assume that the reformation is beyond criticism or critical analysis is quite simply nonsense which is why , in my opinion, this book has been a longtime coming.

Payton’s analysis is simple. The reformation was a success. The medieval church had obscured the apostolic message and the reformation pulled back the curtain to reveal once again the gospel message. However, there is a tragedy to the reformation, and that tragedy is that the reformation is by nature schismatic. Even from the earliest times the reformers were divided amongst themselves. Eventually Lutherans denounced Melanchthon, Zwingli’s followers entered conflict with Bucer’s followers. Lutheran and Reformed camps viciously criticized each other, eventually claiming the truth for their side. This has continued in the aftermath of the reformation. We now have 26,000 Protestant denominations.

This is more than a historical issue for Payton. He challenges the reader to examine the words of Jesus in John 17:20-23 (I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one  in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. I have given them the glory  You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved  them as You have loved Me.)

Payton writes, “If as Christians (of whatever denominational stripe) we believe that Jesus Christ had some insight into what would affect the reception of the gospel as proclaimed by his apostles, then we cannot bypass the correlation he explicitly declares here (John 17). According to Jesus Christ himself, for those who would come to faith in him through the apostolic message to be one would constitute a compelling argument to the rest of the world that God the Father had, indeed, sent his son into the world. Conversely, for such believers not to be one would offer the world at least an excuse not to believe the gospel.

Too often, Protestants have divided over non-salvation issues such as the Lord’s Supper, predestination versus free will, eschatology, church governance, charismatic gifts, creation vs evolution, ordination of women, resulting in the fragmentation of the body of Christ. Payton’s book raises the question – is the church today really what it should be? 26,000 or more denominations fighting over small issues of theology?

This is a wonderful balance to reformation studies and a book which should not just be read but thought through. Yes, for some, this may be a provocative read. But it will be a worthwhile and challenging read. I would recommend this book as required reading for reformational studies.

Highly recommended.

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3 thoughts on “Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings by James R Payton Jr

  1. So, the message of this book is what? THAT we are to LOVE one another… and that means no divisions? May I suggest that we can love one another and still make distinctions in theology, distinctions in behavior, distinctions in what truth is, distinction in the Gospel. Boy, I know precious few churches that would say, “We are saved by God’s grace, apart from anything that we might add in our own ability.” That is a divisive statement. But, I can love all the brothers that say differently. Even those in my own camp. There is no way that any thinking Christian can read Chan’s Crazy Love and Horton’s books (such as, “Putting Amazing Back into Grace”)and think they are saying the same thing. No. They are not. Each is powerfully contending for different ideas of what it means to be a faithful Christian.

    Christ did not just hug the Pharisees and Saducees. He didn’t commend every Scribe and every Lawyer. He sharply drew a distinction between what he was teaching and living and what they were believing and doing. That is division. So, I don’t think we need to worry so much about the division as much as we do working on LOVE of those both within and without our camps. I can show love to the Pentecostal Pastor down the street, but draw sharp contrasts with his teachings. Yes?

    • Thank you for the comment. What you say does not conflict with the book at all – yes we are to love one another more – and a lot of the time we are really bad at loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. I would not say that Jesus’ approach to the Pharisees and Sadducees is the same – they were fundamentally rejecting God’s revelation – we can disagree with brothers and sisters who accept Christ as Lord and savior – but often (not always) our disagreements can bring the faith, sadly, into disrepute. The world looks at the body of Christ and simply sees division, fighting and dissension, and not often over salvation based issues.

  2. Pingback: Books Read In August « lukefourteenthirtythree

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