Is the Reformation Relevant Today?


We contacted Christian apologist Thaddeus Williams (Ph.D., Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; Theology Professor, Biola University) and asked him if Reformation thinking is still relevant today (496 years later). Here’s what he said:

Is Reformation theology still relevant today? Absolutely! It reminds us that we have a big God and that salvation is found in Him alone. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for God’s glory alone. And we know this because Scripture alone is our highest standard for truth. We don’t determine what is good and true about God. God does.

I would argue that the biggest problem in the church today is that many of us have too small a view of who God is. We have shrunk an infinite being. We have diminished His glory and put Him into very small and manageable boxes. This ignores the objectively there God altogether to the point that He becomes (to us) just a projection of what we think He is like, what we feel He should be like.

We need a new reformation—a re-reformation.

We, as the church in the 21st century, need to recapture a sense of the grandeur of God—how vast and awesome He is. We need a biblical view of His glory. We need a biblical view of His sovereignty. We need a biblical view of what it means to say He’s both transcendently holy and imminently relational. We need a biblical vision of His love, His mercy, His justice, His grace. If we start there, awestruck by the infinite God at the center of our worldview, then many other issues in our church world will sort of self-fix. As true worship is happening, our marriages will get better, our churches will have less scandals, and our joy will be maximized in Jesus Christ.

Allow me to give a few historical examples of this.

Way back in the first century, we find Jesus Christ championing a big view of God. Meanwhile, there are these Pharisees who had shrunk their view of God by essentially saying, “At the end of the day, our rule-keeping and our mile-long lists of dos and don’ts, that is where we get our righteousness.” Jesus confronts this man-centered view of salvation (which, by the way, is no good news at all). He reminds the Pharisees that they are not the point. The glory of God is!

The same debate breaks out later in the first century. Only this time, you have the apostle Paul on one side and the Judaizers on the other. The Judaizers were a group of Jews who were telling all the Gentiles (non-Jews) that if you want to get saved, you’ve got to supplement God’s grace with circumcision and adherence to all kinds of rituals within the Jewish culture. The apostle Paul boldly rose to the challenge, confronted the Judaizers, and revealed that their message of salvation is a different gospel altogether. After all, if salvation is a man-centered endeavor that comes down to us jumping through religious hoops, then what’s so good about that news? Paul contended for a radically God-centered view of reality.

If we move forward in church history to the 4th century, we find the same scenario. Same question, new century. Pelagius was a monk who said that man had the power in and of himself to choose salvation. Augustine contended against him, claiming that Pelagius had strayed off a biblical course and down the dead-end road of works-based salvation. Augustine fought to bring the popular theology of the day back to the Bible alone—back to a God who does the saving. What’s interesting is that at this point, the fourth century Roman Catholic Church actually sides with Augustine and deems Pelagianism heretical.

In the 16th century, however, the Roman Catholic Church had slid from a God-centered view back into a man-centered view of salvation. Under their teachings, one could buy a plenary indulgence—a little sheet of paper that was basically a sure-shot passport to heaven. One could also visit a number of sacred sites and gaze upon the relics of Saint Peter and others. It was a man-centered movement about trying to reach God by the power of human volition. Then, Martin Luther shows up on the scene standing in the same shoes that Augustine stood in the 4th century, the same shoes that Paul stood in during the 1st century. Luther contended for a biblical view of salvation in which all credit goes to amazing grace of God. Thus, Luther helped start the Protestant Reformation: protesting what had become a man-centered institution.

Now, here we are in the 21st century.

A recent survey asked a large number of professing Christians how we get to heaven: Is it by good works or as an act of grace? An alarming 73% of Protestants in mainline denominations said that God let’s us into heaven based on our good works. Many of today’s Protestants have embraced the very anti-gospel doctrine that Protestantism originated to protest! It is the same pattern we’ve seen throughout history. We get pulled downward into our self-powered salvation attempts with an almost gravitational force.

So, this raises the question: Who are the Luthers, the Augustines, the Pauls of the 21st century? In other words, who are the people willing to stand up for the good news that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone? Where are the people willing to stand in those shoes?

How desperately we need God at the center!

God is salvation’s author.

He alone gets the glory.

This is reformation thinking, and we will need it always.

For additional articles on the contemporary need for Reformation visit Dr. Williams website:

You can also check out our Reformation Day resources here.

  • Based on my reading of the Bible, supplemented by the writings of Lloyd-Jones, Jeremiah Burroughs, Jonathan Edwards, and other Puritan authors, if not by the grace of God, we all would have erred with Charles Finney that grace wasn’t even a factor, and in our pride and arrogance, we would yet be dead in our sins. I’ll commend Arminius for at least being intellectually honest (to the extent the natural-minded can argue) and holding that if man chooses to believe, he could likewise rescind his belief and lose his salvation. Many today believe it is of their choice and by their good works, but believe still profess an assurance of salvation. I’ll stick with the Westminster Confession, thank you, and I commend you for the defense of our blessed Gospel.

  • George

    So, this raises the question: Who are the Luthers, the Augustines, the Pauls of the 21st century? In other words, who are the people willing to stand up for the good news that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone? Where are the people willing to stand in those shoes?

  • Martin Wright

    Hallelujah Praise the Lord! This is a timely reminder for our day in age. There are few willing to speak up and defend the purity of the gospel these days. I am happy to hear that BLB is among the faithful few! Thank you for all you do. GOD BLESS.

  • Callie

    Great article! Thank you for sharing. I am going to have to read more of his work.

  • Bob Demyanovich

    No wonder those who attend churches are confused. Triune is not a word found anywhere in the Word of God. Who does one pray to,the Father, The Holy Spirit, the Son? Until one truly knows who Jesus is they are following another work of man like those examples listed above. Try God in this, Jesus is denied by the very ones who claim to be His Church. Jesus is the one who came in the name of the Lord. Jesus is the Lord of hosts, who created all things, there is no other God. You who claim you have faith do you truly believe? You seek the righteousness of God, He is Jesus. Triune is the denial of Jesus. Proclaim blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Eat His body and drink His blood. The mystery of God revealed.

    • a sheep

      Amen Bob!!!!

    • Hi, Bob. You said “Triune is the denial of Jesus.” Does this mean you are of the Oneness or “Jesus-Only movement”? If so, what do you make of the Baptism of Christ and numerous other verses where the Plurality of God is clearly implied (Matt 3:16-17, Gen 1:26, John 1:1)? And Jesus Himself prayed to the Father (Matt 6:9-13), and He said “Pray then like this,” clearly instructing us to pray to the Father. We pray to the Father (Matt 9), through the Son (John 14:6), by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:26-27). Of course Jesus is God, (Col 2:9, John 1:1, etc.), and He created the world (John 1:3), but a belief in the Trinity is not denying Christ. There is only one God, but three Persons. There are not three Gods, but neither is there only one person. The Bible doesn’t use the word “triune” or “trinity”, but it is clearly taught in passages such as the Baptism of Christ, and many other areas. Sorry if I misunderstood you, God bless.

  • Tess

    This article does the very thing it claims should not be done. It promotes a man made theology. It fails to point out that the church is not a group of people. The church is you. I do not follow Judaizers, Pharisees, Paul, Pelagius, Augustine, the Roman Catholic Church, Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation or any other man made premise. I rely on every word of God and realize that my relationship is with HIM. It is not a religion. It is not a doctrine. It is not dogmatic or pragmatic. It is divine and it is personal. My relationship does not come with a 501c3. It does not require me to answer to a group or anyone other than God alone. My relationship with God is not my pastors or church affiliations relationship with God.

    Why does man mis-trust God so much that he feels he needs to do anything other than point others to God’s word. The Word is like a lion. Let it loose and it can take care of itself. It does not need us to agree with it, change it, place it in order of importance dependent upon our views. God promises us in His Word that those who seek will find and when He knocks and we open the door He will come in a dine with us. I don’t need to make sure there is a place setting for anyone other than He and I and I can fully trust that HE and HE alone will lead me to ALL truth.

    What is wrong with folks today is that they will not develop a personal relationship with their Creator through His Word. They will chase man’s theories, sit near sleep in church and never open His word or deal with the one and most important relationship of their lives. They prefer to follow the sheep rather than the Sheppard. They listen to the masses rather than the One and Only Lord. They insist on everyone accepting “their” belief rather than telling others about the beautiful relationship they have with God and encouraging others to go develop that special relationship also. I don’t sing hymns and worship God only when I’m in church. I sing hymns, worship and pray to God every day in so many ways.

    I loved this article but honestly labeling is the absolute worst thing that can be done. We can listen, read, learn and fellowship with each other but that will never be an adequate substitute for a one on one relationship with God and faith in HIM rather than a philosophy of man.

    Matthew 7:7
    [ Keep Asking, Seeking, Knocking ] “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

    NEVER trust man’s word for it. Let God lead you and have faith that every word in His book will be made known to you through the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is not one word over another in the bible. There is not “THE RIGHT WAY” to achieve a place in HIS kingdom. There is GOD’s way through HIS son only and we can always trust HIM but never trust man.

    What is wrong with the corp. church is that someone said “let me tell you what this means” if you believe it like we do you’re in the club.

    • Bob Demyanovich

      Eph 1:18, The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
      The eyes of the world are the primary entry point of knowledge. “Seeing is believing”, “could not believe their own eyes”, and other common expressions recognize this manner of human perception. The eyes of our understanding need to be especially awakened and attuned to the crucial component of our salvation.
      Job 23:8-17, Mat 13:13-14, Mar 4:12, Isa 44:18,

      John 6:36 But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.
      Calloused eyes or those afflicted with cataracts of indifference do not see the love and righteousness of our Father. Eyes of understanding are required to see the kingdom of God.

      Jhn 3:3, Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

      In order to see the kingdom of God we must be like Him.

      Hbr 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

      The image of God is righteous and holy and we must be justified by His righteousness, holiness, we must be like Him.

      1Jo 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

      The time that the Lord may be found is a special gift to mankind, it is grace. Too many will not see Jesus.

    • Michael Paola

      God help you.Yyou are confused.

  • Tess

    oops! Sorry! …through His Son..should be caps on Son.

  • Judith Kristich

    I agree with so much of what Tess has said. I have been very concerned for our generation because influential people can start something and so many begin doing the same thing without question. My only way of saying what I mean is to say people edit Jesus and or amputate the word. One really important example is quoting Jn 3:16 and not expounding the whole conversation. Today I hear allot of talk concerning judging and condemning that does not include what Jesus clearly said condemnation is and keeping in context that the word he spoke will judge us in the last day. I believe there are many people who know and love the truth of John 3:16 out side of the reality of the grace of God includes reproof,correction and chastening. What I am saying has nothing to do with man working on his own for his salvation, it is an acknowledgement of being his workmanship and his skill. I believe there is much more to the impart we are given to know then what is revealed in churches today. I want no part of the designer Jesus concept or the Jesus line of credit, you sin and I pay the debt. I hope there will be reform and restoring of all the knowledge of all the love of God even the tuff love. I hope people will read the word that says IF we sin not when we sin we have an advocate. I don’t think people really realize what God can expect in us because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Sincerely with love, Judith

  • Judith Kristich

    I hope people will understand my concerns when I say the way grace is preached in some places it seems like no more then a great line of credit with no limits and no restraint just you keep sinning and I keep paying the debt. I hope for and pray for the illumination of the cleansers that are provided by the grace of God. I have had Martin Luther on my mind for sometime because I truly believe we need reform that points us to the whole word of God.

  • Jerry S.

    While listening closely enough, not too far off in the distance… one can hear the stomp of the Jack Boot, fueled by jealousy, driven by hatred as they hit the ground in growing unison and conformity. Further back in the distance… the sounds of splintering doors under the covering of dark and imagine the horror of those, young and old, murdered for the cause of good.
    Faint not, there is still yet hope on the horizon.


    P.s. a too easily and oft forgotten part of church history.

    P.p.s. faith is nothing without honesty.

  • Tess

    You know God has been working on my heart about something.

    The problems in the church today are not what the author of this article suggest but I feel within my heart that the biggest problem we have today is that people are having a relationship with their religion rather than having a relationship with God.
    It’s something that keeps weighing on my heart and remaining there.

    • Bob Demyanovich

      Truth, we must be open to Him. To who? To Jesus. He is the one who will Judge you. The Word.
      Mat 7:21-23

  • The New Testiment clearly teaches Christ crucified as the central doctrinal foundation of Christianity. But does Christianity clearly focus herself on this teaching?
    I think no not enough. But why is that? I think it’s the real place to go. The real place of conversion. The real place of recognition of my own sin with a natural driven desire to revel in wickedness. My state of depravity at the cross of Christ is revealed. In the light of my low state I see Jesus die on a cross magnificant and glorious in His rightous holiness. Then I understand that Jesus is God and He is risen. My real conversion is taking place. The Holy Spirit is at work. I confess my sin. I ask for forgiveness. I know that my sin nature must die. I am born again. My faith is real. The very real life and death action of Jesus that took place on that cross must take place in the very center of my life. All of this at the cross of Christ. My relationship with God the Father is real and I know He loves me.
    I must ask Jesus to help me walk in a place that includes that cross in my life daily. It’s what the Bible teaches.
    The Cross of Christ is reformation.