August 31, 2017

On Oct. 31 the Protestant Reformation will celebrate its 500th anniversary. Accordingly, President Philip Ryken announced at this year’s opening chapel on Aug. 23 that Wheaton will focus on “rediscovering the Reformation and rethinking its implications for the church in the 21st century,” as the student body gathers for chapel each week. Chapel speakers throughout the year will seek to address how the gospel message — which was critical to the Reformation — applies to Christians and Wheaton College today.

In selecting the year verse for 2017-18, Ryken and Chaplain Tim Blackmon had this monumental anniversary in mind. Which single verse in the Bible, they asked, best summarizes the Reformation?

There are so many things that you could pick,” Blackmon said. “We settled on Romans 1:16-17 mainly because when [Martin] Luther read that, he was so troubled by one word, and it was the word ‘righteousness.’”

As history — and Blackmon — tells the story, Luther’s theology was transformed by this single word.

“He realized in that verse that the righteousness of God was not a righteousness based on the law and on obedience and on moral perfection, but that it was based on the sheer, super-abundant gift from God Almighty for the undeserving,” Blackmon said. “It was a watershed moment for him. That’s what turned it around.”

Chapel gatherings will seek a similar rediscovery of and re-engagement with the gospel message, which Blackmon summarized as “the good news of everything that God is doing.” Blackmon hopes that this focus will bring about a new vibrancy both in Christian life and Christian action, at Wheaton and in the church at large.

According to Chaplain Blackmon, there is an incorrect assumption in Christian circles that sides must be taken concerning Christian action and Christian life. “People think that somehow you have to choose between those, that you’re either into the evangelism and Bible study and spirituality and worship side, or you’re all into social justice,” Blackmon said. “Wheaton’s in a unique place to not have to choose between the two.”

Wheaton will seek to provide a well-balanced examination of the Reformation, including its flaws. The deep division between Protestants and Catholics is a more unsavory aspect of the Reformation. Blackmon hopes that for Catholic students, this year’s study will lead to a better understanding not only of Protestantism, but of their own Catholic faith.

Romans 1:16-17 declares a shameless celebration of the gospel, “because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” In Edman Chapel this year, the College will seek to do the same.

“It’s almost like a good jazz tune,” Blackmon said. “You begin with the basic structure of the melody of the tune, and then you begin improvising on it. In some ways 2017-18 at Wheaton College is an improvisation on the gospel theme. We have to figure out what it means and what it’s going to sound like.”