Is the Reformation Over?

This article is from the The Gospel Coalition, written by Scott Manetsch is professor of church history and chair of the church history department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

“Is the Reformation over? At first blush, this question would appear to be a rather peculiar one to ask. Of course the Reformation is over—if by that term we mean the particular constellation of religious, political, and social events in sixteenth-century Europe that led to the division of Western Christendom and the renewal of early modern Christianity. In recent years, however, the question “Is the Reformation over?” has served as a placeholder for a different set of issues, addressing the nature of contemporary Roman Catholicism and its relation to historic Protestantism. The issues are complex and controversial: To what degree has the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council effectively redressed the central theological and religious concerns posed by sixteenth-century Protestant leaders such as Martin Luther or John Calvin? Has the historic agreement reached between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999—known as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ)—successfully pacified the centuries-long controversy over the doctrine of justification by faith alone? 2 And irrespective of real theological differences, is it strategic and wise for Christians in the Western world to continue to divide over matters of doctrine in the face of radical Islam and rampant secularism? Moreover, some contemporary evangelicals outside historic Protestant churches may wonder if the question “Is the Reformation over?” holds any relevance for them at all. Should evangelicals remain wedded to theological constructions framed by religious controversies that occurred nearly 500 years ago?”

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