Can This Bird Fly? Repositioning The Genesis Of The Reformation On Martin Luther’s Early Polemic Against Gabriel Biel’s Covenantal, Voluntarist Doctrine Of Justification -- By: Matthew Barrett

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 21:4 (Winter 2017)
Article: Can This Bird Fly? Repositioning The Genesis Of The Reformation On Martin Luther’s Early Polemic Against Gabriel Biel’s Covenantal, Voluntarist Doctrine Of Justification
Author: Matthew Barrett


Can This Bird Fly?
Repositioning The Genesis Of The Reformation On Martin Luther’s Early Polemic Against Gabriel Biel’s Covenantal, Voluntarist Doctrine Of Justification

Matthew Barrett

Matthew Barrett is Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri. He earned his PhD in systematic theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books, including 40 Questions About Salvation (Kregel, 2018); God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Zondervan, 2016); Owen on the Christian Life (with Michael Haykin, Crossway, 2015), and Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (P&R, 2013). He is also the editor of Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2017). Dr. Barrett is the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine and the series editor of The Five Solas series.

Turning The Turning Point

History is a series of turning points that hinge on decisions inherently theological in nature. The publication and posting of the ninety-five theses by Martin Luther in 1517 is, in the opinion of many historians, that turning point on which the entire modern era depends. Historical inquiries into those theses naturally focus on Luther’s growing discontent with the indulgence system. As Luther himself would increasingly discover, his own desire for reform would be pastorally motivated, troubled as he was by the way indulgences had swayed the average late medieval Christian to use what little money he had to secure the removal of temporal punishment for sins in purgatory. Tetzel’s dramatic sermon pressuring the purchase of an indulgence only confirms that Luther’s fears were warranted.1

Nevertheless, contemporary histories pay little tribute to the complicated

medieval soteriology behind Luther’s early outrage over indulgences in 1516 and 1517. The shape of late medieval soteriology, especially as it relates to a covenantal, voluntarist framework, has taken a backseat to the more conspicuous political, social, and ecclesiastical circumstances that surround October 31, 1517. For those unacquainted with the vortex of medieval soteriology, Luther’s earliest polemics, which are filled with reactions against certain late medieval schoolmen, leave one mystified. Unfamiliar with late medieval justification theories, interpreters of Luther may come dangerously close to misunderstanding the reformer’s own reaction, which is no small danger considering the momentous weight Protestantism has placed on Luther’s rediscovery of ...

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