This is the third and final part of my interview with Mike Reeves.
Mike is the theological advisor for UCCF:The Christian Unions, the power behind the throne for Theology Network, and the author of The Unquenchable Flame: Introducing the Reformation (IVP). UK readers can get the book for the bargain price of £7.20 (that includes p & p) here. A US edition of the book will be out on 1st April 2010 and will be published by Broadman & Holman.
Downes: Some evangelicals and some Roman Catholics have worked toward joint agreements on justification. What do you think about this?
Reeves: I would love to see real and peaceful agreement on justification between all who profess to be Christian. And in that sense I admire and applaud the efforts of those who have sought such unity. However. The simple fact is that while some individual Roman Catholics have come round to what looks something like a Reformation understanding of justification through faith alone, Rome’s doctrinal position has not changed.
Those statements that purport to show true agreement on justification simply fudge the main Reformation position, papering over the cracks that still remain between Rome and the Reformation (typically, by vague wording and agreeing that justification is by faith, but leaving out the key word ‘alone’). And if that is the case, then evangelicals and Roman Catholics who think they have come to a common agreement are deluding themselves. Oh, for Roman Catholics and evangelicals to find true agreement on justification as a declaration, made on the basis of God’s grace alone! But as things stand, that agreement is yet to be found.
Downes: How should Christians and churches develop a passion for church history?
Reeves: Simply read good church history and historical theology! There’s all sorts of wonderful stuff out there: I put a list of further reading at the back of the book, and there’s more to be found on the website (theunquenchableflame.org). But I’m so glad you asked the question, because it’s moronic to cut ourselves off from the wisdom and lessons of the bulk of the church. If we forget church history, we just leave ourselves victim to our zeitgeist. In fact it’s for just this reason that I’ve written another book, out in January. It’s called The Breeze of the Centuries: Introducing Great Theologians (IVP), and I’m hoping it can do something to rescue us from being prisoners of our age.
Downes: You say in the book that the Reformation isn't over. Why not?
Reeves: You’re giving things away! But absolutely I think that, and essentially because the Reformation was not a mere historical response to a problem that has now gone away. The Puritans especially saw how easily the reforming of the Church could go off-track or be forgotten, and how necessary it is for the Church to remain ever a creature of the word of God. Sinners need constant reformation by the gospel of God’s free grace, and that was what the Reformation was all about. It cannot, then, be over.
But I think there is also a particular and pressing need for the Reformation to continue today. My fear is that right now in bible colleges and theological institutions, future preachers are being bombarded with many confusing interpretations of what Paul meant by justification and ‘the righteousness of God’. And even if they are not lured away from what I am convinced is the biblical truth of the main Reformation position, I worry that they will come out confused. If that happens, then we will have a generation where the pulpits are silent on the gospel of God’s gift of righteousness. And thus the Church will wither terribly.
Given that, today is a day of days when preachers must drink more deeply from Reformation waters and boldly hold out that gospel.