Shock and Awe: The Reformers and the Stunning Joy of Romans 1–8 -- By: Gwenfair Walters Adams

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 61:2 (Jun 2018)
Article: Shock and Awe: The Reformers and the Stunning Joy of Romans 1–8
Author: Gwenfair Walters Adams


Shock and Awe:
The Reformers and the Stunning Joy of Romans 1–8

Gwenfair Walters Adams*

* Gwenfair Walters Adams is Associate Professor of Church History at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 130 Essex St., S. Hamilton, MA 01982. She may be contacted at [email protected] She delivered this presentation at the November 15, 2017 plenary session at the ETS annual meeting in Providence, RI.

Abstract: In response to the suggestion of some scholars that the Reformers’ understanding of the gospel was unhelpfully skewed by the idiosyncrasies of their time period, this address (delivered at a plenary session of the 2017 ETS conference) argues that there are four factors in the late medieval world that prepared the sixteenth-century Reformers to understand the gospel at a deep level and respond to it with great joy. It draws on the life of Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli’s sermon preached to nuns in a Dominican convent, the Romans commentaries of the Reformers, and the art of Roger van der Weyden, the Lucas Cranachs Elder and Younger, and Michelangelo, to illustrate the transition from medieval to Reformation understandings of the gospel.

Key words: gospel, Romans, justification by faith alone, Reformation, medieval, Martin Luther, sola fide, joy, art

I wonder if you’ve had a similar experience, where you’ve spent a long time studying something, engaged with it intensely, and then taken it into the classroom—or pulpit—and failed to elicit the reaction you expected.

I was in the midst of editing the Romans 1–8 volume of InterVarsity’s Reformation Commentary on Scripture series.1 This past January, I spent four long days reading through an early but very thick manuscript draft of it that I had been working on for several years. It was a massive translation project since most of the excerpts had never appeared in English, so I had assembled a small team of gifted translators to assist me with the translations.

I had been prepping one Reformer at a time, perusing each commentary or sermon series or set of treatises in order, choosing the excerpts that were interesting, intriguing, inspiring, edifying. Now, for the first time, I would get to read a full draft where they all came together. It was as if I had spent months getting to know each member of an orchestra, but now, for the first time, I was sitting in the front row of the performance hall as they debuted a symphony. There were over a hundred performers in this orchestra, playing from a score of a thousand pages. And reading it indeed felt like listening to a symphony. There were themes, a...

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