A Jagged Contention: The Irrelevant Reformation


“Luther would find the modern world irrelevant right away because it no longer makes any distinction between human judgment and God’s judgment. What is important is strictly human judgment—what others think of us, or what we think of ourselves, what we call self-esteem. Self-esteem, Robert Schuller says, is the ‘new Reformation.’ Feeling good about ourselves is the goal of life. Therapy, not theology, is the way to go. ‘St.’ Sigmund (Freud) is the real patron of the modern age. It seems nobody worries about God anymore. God, if anyone thinks about him (her?) any more, is just love, love, love. God is a patsy. And so God just drops out of the picture for most folks. If God is just love, love, love, then no on need worry about him anymore. What is important is not to get right with God, as they used to say in the old days, but to get right with ourselves. What is important is not to live the godly life, but to learn how to affirm one another in our chosen lifestyles. Whatever happened to God? Does anyone believe in God anymore, i.e., that God is living and that he is not only love, but above all, the judge?  Does anyone believe that the ultimate question for our lives is not human judgment but God’s judgment?”

– Gerhard Forde, “The Irrelevance of the Modern World for Luther” in A More Radical Gospel.


If Forde’s assessment is correct and God is no longer a problem, that is, relevant to the modern person, how does one go about preaching the message of the Reformation? If God’s judgment is not a problem for us, and what matters in our age is the judgment of others, how are is the church to proclaim justification? Or, how are we to maintain the “old Reformation” way of preaching over and against Schuller’s “new Reformation” of therapy?

Share your thoughts in the comments below

7 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: The Irrelevant Reformation

  1. The word of the Lord is vital and active in and of itself as it addresses itself to those same human beings. It that were not true, no one could be saved. No one would be in church at all. We cannot trust in our preaching or in the hearers to know what they are supposed to be doing. Trust God to know, and trust the power of his word to change hearts, however it is that he ever has done it. It is certainly of note that there were no Christians at all when he came, and now he has many in this country and throughout the world. Truly there could be no hope at all, except for God’s living work and word among us.

    Schuller has repeatedly shown himself to know nothing about God. Freud never concerned himself with it in any kind of respectful way, and was entirely ignorant of the truth, even of the human psyche. I think Forde could use a bit more optimism about his Lord.


  2. “how are is the church to proclaim justification?”

    The church is moving into a minority period, but it was in a similar posture pre-Constantine. It must not be luke warm or forgetful of its first love. It must remain in but not of the world. It must re-learn living in exile.


  3. I would say that we still need to preach Law and Gospel. The period we are in isn’t necessarily a “new thing.” Take a look at the Reformation itself. Plenty rejected the Lutheran Doctrine of Law and Gospel. In fact, there were plenty who were threatened or martyred for this distinction. While our day and age has not (yet?) become that hostile, we see rejection nonetheless. Then what becomes essential, as Don points out above, is to trust through faith the efficacy of God’s Word, just as we are told many times throughout the scriptures.

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  4. I guess I don’t really understand Forde’s point. The Scriptures say that, basically, no one fears God. The few who do have some rumblings of fear probably have had the natural law in them reinforced by those giving them the law – not just do this or do that – but instruction more or less in line with the decalogue. And then there are the few who are really fortunate – who have also heard and believed the alien message of the Gospel. In short, if so few fear God, is that just some inevitable de-enchantment we have to deal with or might if have to do with the church not really articulating the law such that a good and salutary fear of God is either re-inforced or produced?



      1. Bob,

        OK – haven’t read enough Forde to really know myself. In which case, his point would be good, but I think possibly undermined by his higher criticism of the Scriptures….



  5. ” I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

    Those who perceive no need, are self-justified, are outside the church (even if they are in the pews) and, therefore, not hearing the Gospel. If Forde is speaking of churches where believers have lost any sense of sin, then the need for proper Law & Gospel preaching is essential. If Forde is decrying the self-righteous of modern society (as opposed to the self-righteous of any other age?) being blind to their sin and immune to Gospel, then the Church is as sorely needed as it ever was. I don’t believe that Luther would have found irrelevance, in either case.

    Where the Church is needed and is relevant, the message of the Reformation is also relevant.


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