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Episode 2 - Interpreting the Lessons of the Reformation for Today


Date: May 9, 2018
Run Time: 12:18
Host: Dr. Gregory R. Perry
Guest: Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.
From the Series: True and Lasting Reform

Program Notes

In the wake of his recent visit to China, and with his approaching visit to Covenant College in view, Dr. Richard Pratt engages us with:

  • A Reformation Message for Christian Millennials
  • How duty is King Jesus’ command (and how most of us don’t like this)
  • Why the Chinese church shouldn’t become like the Western church
  • Whether or not a pastor must go to jail before he is ordained
  • How the word “gospel” is related to conflict between empires

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries. He served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary for more than 20 years and was chair of the Old Testament department. An ordained minister, Dr. Pratt travels extensively to evangelize and teach and has authored numerous articles and books.

Episode 2

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Podcast Transcript

Episode 2: Interpreting the Lessons of the Reformation for Today
Guest: Richard Pratt

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we believe every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor. To study Scripture deeply or to learn more about how you can partner with us to provide Biblical Education. For the World. For Free. download our App to your phone or visit our online classroom at Thirdmill.org. And now, your host 4 the World, Dr. Greg Perry.


Welcome back everyone. Thank you for making For the World part of your exercise routine, your daily commute, or the time you spend to keep up with what's happening out there. For the World is a weekly podcast of Third Millennium Ministries. I'm your host Greg Perry and our guest for a second week now is Dr. Richard Pratt, cofounder and president of Third Millennium Ministries. Thank you Richard for stopping by.

Last time we had spoken a little bit about the celebrations that are taking place around the world to remember the Protestant Reformation. In fact, on the very day that will mark 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg door, you'll be at Covenant College speaking at their celebration. So, can you give us a little snippet, a little taste of what you think Christian college students need to re-appropriate about the Reformation.

Richard: Yeah, I'll be glad to. It's been a hard one. It's something that I have really struggled because I'm of a different generation. In fact, I have a granddaughter who will be out there in the services where I'll be preaching and in the classroom where I'll be teaching.

Oh, in the congregation?

Richard: Actually in the congregation. And so it's very strange to me because in 1972 my wife and I were students at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. As I think about how much I am living in a different world, how my understandings of life are so different from let's say young millennials, because these are young millennials. Then I really did have to pray and contemplate, what were the essential pieces of the Reformation that were prominent back then and that are also needful today? So, in the American context, if when you have a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people, it doesn't take very long before you have religion that's of the people, by the people, and for the people. "I will be as a Christian as it feels right to me; I will be religious as feels right to me." If you listen to contemporary songs, this is a constant theme: I've got to be authentic, I've got to be genuine, I can't follow the rules, I've got to do what I want to do, what I think God wants me to do and so on and so forth. But even just recently I was preaching about this in a church, a good church, a great church, and a man came up to me later after the service and he said to me, "I didn't like that." And I said, "Well, what did you not like," which is fine with me. It doesn't bother me that people don't like my sermons. In fact, it probably means that there is some truth in them. But I said, "What part of it did you not like?" He said, "All that kingship stuff you're talking about, God being our king." And I said, "What didn't you like about that?" And he said, "Because I felt like you were telling me I had a duty to obey God."

Exactly. Doesn't the Bible say that?

Richard: Uh, yes. It does. But duty is not in the vocabulary. Duty is not in our way of thinking because even among evangelical Christians, even among people who call themselves reformational, duty is not a consistent theme. Rather, it is be all you can be, fulfill your existence, self-actualization, and all those kinds of things.


So there's a strong disconnect then with the language of Jesus of take up your cross and die daily and follow me?

Richard: Because the king commanded you to.

Right, right.

Richard: Okay, because the king commands it, because it's your duty to your divine king. That's what I'm trying to get across here. And so, here I am. I'm going to be — you can pray for me about this because I don't know who it will ring — but I'm actually telling them that they have to have a major, catastrophic cultural identity shift. They have got to change their vision of what the world is and their place in the world. They are not agents who have been put here to self-actualize. They are agents who have been put here to do their duty before the king. It's his empire, not theirs.


And yet there are other parts of the world where this idea of authority and serving authority is deeply engrained in the culture. You were just recently in China, and I've had the privilege of going with you there last summer, but you've been going for some time. What are some of the things that you have seen, some of the changes you've noticed in the Chinese church? In fact, how can our listeners intercede for their sisters and brothers there? How can they maybe even connect and pray for them?

Richard: Yeah, I've back and forth to China I suppose since around 1986 or so, off and on, at least once every other year, but sometimes more frequent than that. And so, yeah, I have had the opportunity to see some changes. Now, I don't know everything that's going on in China by any means and I get just little glimpses here and there.

It's a big place?

Richard: Yeah, it's a big place. But I do listen to people. I listen to leaders of the church who say things to me and as they describe the changes that are happening there, and I draw conclusions and opinions on the basis of that. One of the things I have heard is that — and I suppose this is true for every generation — that the older generation of evangelical Christians in China wonder about the level of commitment that the younger generation has.

Oh, there too?

Richard: There too. Exactly. But keep in mind now that part of the reason for this was because a generation ago to be an evangelical Christian meant, for the most part, usually, that you really could not pursue higher education, you could not pursue a great career and things like that. And so, in a nutshell, what I often say to people is this: what you can pray for about the church in China is that they not become like the church of the West.


I've been involved, and even with you, Richard, in doing some officer retreats, some officer training, and I have heard these stories and maybe you can speak into this of how even to become an elder at one time in China, and maybe this is still true in some places, you had to have gone to jail, you had to have gone to prison for your faith.

Richard: It's funny. One time here at Third Mill I was behind the glass watching a discussion of Paul's Prison Epistles, our lessons on Paul's Prison Epistles, and the discussion was held among three leading pastors who were Chinese. And I couldn't understand what they were saying, of course, but at one point they went on and on maybe for twenty minutes about something. They didn't take a break or didn't shift topics or anything and they were just going back and forth on the subject. So I asked the translator who was behind the glass with me, "So, what are they talking about?" And she said to me, "Well, they're discussing whether or not a pastor needs to go to prison before he can be ordained." And I said, "Excuse me?" She said, "Oh yes, because that's the way it used to be in many circles that you couldn't be trusted to be a pastor and not a government agent unless you had spent three or four months in prison for your faith." So it was sort of a test. I mean, here in America what we do is give them academic tests and test their knowledge of things. Over there what they would do is send them to jail, do something that gets you into jail, see if you can survive that, then we'll trust you as pastor.


So this generational and cultural shift is really impacting China. In fact, you were just there recently, in March, speaking at the Reformation 500 Conference, a celebration of the history of the Reformation. You spoke with Dr. Piper, John Piper, and Paul David Tripp. But what was the focus of your talks there? Why did you choose a particular focus? Was it… Did it relate to this generational shift? Did it relate to some of these things that are happening in the lives of university students?

Richard: Yeah, I'm aware of the kinds of emphases that John Piper has in his ministry and I love what he does. Because I assumed that what Paul Tripp would be doing, being the counselor that he is, is that he would talk about the emotional life of people and their problems, their family problems, their personal problems. He likes to talk about the heart a lot and the condition of the heart, so I assumed that's what he would do — and he did — and how the gospel addresses those aspects of our lives. I assumed that John Piper would be focusing more on the sort of traditional doctrinal issues related to justification by faith alone and various theological controversies. And I was right, he did. And I believe in both of those things. I believe in the importance of both of those things. But you can also imagine, knowing me as you do, if I'm going to go to a conference and I think the other guys are going to be talking about those kinds of things, I'm not.


Richard: I'm going to talk about something else. So, what I wanted to bring up was how gospel in the Bible, unlike in our theology in our common understanding, how gospel is actually a word that's related to conflict between empires. And so I was trying to juxtapose that vision of what reformation was, gospel of the kingdom, to add to the sorts of things that the other speakers were doing.

Right, the bigness of this gospel.

Richard: Yeah, because they were focusing more on the individual, more on the emotional and the sort of theological acumen of people, and I was much more concerned that the fact that China needs to be transformed by more than that. I was focusing on the fact that Chinese need to see themselves as those who send missionaries throughout the world.

Oh, yes.

Richard: This is the century of China, but it's probably only a century because it won't be long before the fastest growing part of the world, significantly larger than China, will be Africa. And so we are, probably most experts will tell you, we're sort of on the top, the peak of the growth of Christianity in China.

So, for the next couple of weeks we're going to unpack this idea of the gospel of the kingdom. Next week we're going to focus on the gospel of God's reign in the Old Testament, unpack that a bit more since you're an Old Testament scholar. And then the week after that talk about one of the unique emphases of Third Millennium's curriculum and how the New Testament unpacks this idea of the kingdom. This is an opportunity, then, to invite your friends and your family members and your church to tune in to For the World. We're going to put some notes on our podcast page so you can follow up on anything that we've mentioned on the show. So, for example, today we mentioned what happened in Hong Kong, the Reformation 500 conference. You'll find some video there. And also the celebration at Covenant College. So, plenty to chew on a digest until our next episode of 4 the World.

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we are reimagining biblical education for Christian leaders in a global church. Each week we bring you conversations to cultivate your curiosity about God's word, to inform your intercessions for God's people, and to equip your efforts in God's mission for the world. Our host is Dr. Greg Perry. Our sound engineer and editor is Christopher Russell. Our web designer is Ra McLaughlin. Production assistance is provided by Stephanie Mathis. And I'm your announcer, Cindy Sawyer. Today's podcast was brought to you by The China Partnership and by listeners like you. Thank you.