Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther's view on justification – we are saved by faith alone, apart from meritorious works – divided Europe, started a century of conflict, and became the heartbeat of the Protestant Reformation. A decade ago, Lutherans and Roman Catholics signed a landmark agreement that some hoped would put the issue to rest.
It didn't. Today, the controversy over how we get right with God is as tempestuous as ever – and much of the dispute is within Protestant circles. Thankfully, no lives have been threatened this time around. But just about everything else has been. The debate over justification has spilled over into churches, schools, campus ministries, conferences, and personal relationships.
Take a casual stroll around a Christian bookstore, not to mention the hotheaded blogosphere, and you'll find Christians passionately divided over justification. Two leading figures, John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, have written books criticizing each other's views.
The stakes couldn't be higher
All of this may seem like petty squabbling over a trivial issue, but Protestant consensus on justification should matter to everyone.