Scott’s Column: Tasty Texts
Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
April 11 2017
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the oft-recognized beginning of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther stuck to the church door his 95 theses calling for theological debate on various doctrines. No biblical text was more influential on Luther’s thinking than St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Here’s what Luther wrote in the opening paragraph of his commentary on the biblical book:
This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.
So, we are going to turn our attention to Romans in the season following Easter, though I won’t expect you all to memorize the entire book word for word.
From the time of the earliest church fathers and mothers, Romans has been central to the debates in Christian theology. St. Paul was the great innovator who turned Jesus’ gospel into a global movement that changed world history. Romans is the fullest expression of his view of that gospel. Commentator Mark Reasoner calls Romans “a foundational text in Western civilization.”
In recent decades a “New Perspective” on Paul’s theology has upended many centuries- and even millennia-old theological ideas, including the issue of justification that so motivated Luther. Recent scholarship suggests that Luther got Paul wrong on that very point.
But we aren’t engaging in this study of Romans simply because of its importance to Christian history or Western civilization. We will study the book because it still speaks to us.
One of its primary concerns is who are the people of God? In particular, how our Jews and Christians both God’s people. This interfaith question is crucial to the 21st century.
Another is what it means to be the church. This is a perennial question that we must continue to explore in an age of growing secularism and dramatic demographic changes.
Romans is also about how we struggle to be good in the midst of evil and suffering that can draw us in the other direction. How do we draw upon the liberating power of God for our own salvation?
And probably the biggest question dealt with in Romans is can we trust in the righteousness of God?
This spring I encourage you to read the book on your own. And please ask any questions you might have, whether in person or on social media. Our Sunday morning worship will not be able to cover every verse and every topic in the book, so we may supplement worship with some Bible study opportunities, particularly for exploring some of the most difficult passages.
I hope, like Luther, you’ll find this influential, ancient letter to be a tasty text.