Book Review: Reformation Theology A Systematic Summary

Does the Reformation still matter? I suppose a better question is, does reformed theology still matter? Does it still have a place in the Twenty First Century’s theological landscape? Many Christians are not familiar with names such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, or Tyndale. Even more, they are not familiar with the theological truths they championed and how these truths apply to their lives. As we approach the 500th Anniversary of the unofficial beginning of the Reformation, it is crucial that we champion once again these theological truths and remind the Church why they matter. This is what Matthew Barrett (General Editor) accomplishes in his new book Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary published by Crossway (2017).

“Reformation Theology” is a broad term. It encompasses varying ideas from a host of theological traditions including Lutheran, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, Anglican, etc. For the purposes of reformation studies a concise definition would be “the predominant theological truths rediscovered and propagated during the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.” Truth be told some of the reformers sharply disagreed on some theological viewpoints. Such as Luther and Zwingli over the issue of Christ’s presence in communion. However, there was a basic consensus that transcended regions during this period of time. Many of those ideas are still believed and practiced today by Christians the world over. This is the focus of Barrett’s systematic theology.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One gives an overview of the historical background and theological landscape of the sixteenth century. It discusses the varying reformations that comprised the Protestant Reformation, how they differ and how they intertwine. Part Two discusses the main teachings of reformation tradition via systematic overview of the theological ideas espoused by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Tyndale, etc. These topics include the attributes of God, predestination and election, the person and work of Christ, baptism, communion, the Church, and eschatology, etc. The reformers had varying views on each of these topics and many of them disagreed sharply. However, they were issues central to the heart of the Reformation of the sixteenth century and subsequent generations.

The main divide between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformers: the issue of authority. The crux of the Reformation and the theological truth from which all others flow is the teaching of Sola Scriptura, that Scripture alone is the final authority for all aspects of the Christian life. Roman Catholic theology held Holy Scripture in high esteem. However, it held the teachings of church fathers, church councils, and the pope on the same level. The scriptures themselves were translated into Latin, a language unknown by common folk. This prevented the laity from reading scripture for themselves, forcing them to trust the clergy and the pope to rightly interpret for them.

Due to the rise of the humanist idea of going back to sources, the New Testament was read in the original Greek, thanks to scholars such as Erasmus who compiled a version in 1516. Many of the reformers obtained copies of this New Testament and they began to translate it into their mother tongue, allowing the common folk to read the scriptures for themselves for the first time. For the reformers, Scripture alone was the highest authority for the Church and the Christian life. It was over this issue that many of the reformers eventually split from the Catholic Church. Some of the reformers even gave their lives for the sake of this truth. By reading the scriptures for themselves, this opened the dialogue for other theological discussions and doctrinal formations, the effects of which are still felt today.

Most Protestant traditions trace their heritage back to the sixteenth century reformation. Yet, even today many Reformation heritage churches disagree, as did the reformers, on issues such as the mode of Baptism, church polity, predestination and election, eschatology, etc. In reformation theology, there is room for disagreement and discussion. That is the beauty of having the freedom to read and apply Scripture in the context of the local church. However, what binds together most congregations of the reformed tradition are the five solas: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christus, and sola Deo Gloria. Namely, salvation preached as a gift from God by grace through faith in the work of Christ as revealed in Scripture to the glory of God.

Reformation Theology is an excellent source to further one’s understanding of the theological formation of the sixteenth century reformers. It is well laid out and clearly presents the material for ease of study. The contributors go in depth on the varying topics by leaning heavily on original sources such as formal writings and personal correspondence from the reformers in order to draw their conclusions. This book is a much needed contribution to the academic world regarding this period in Christian thought. It will serve as an excellent textbook or additional reading for seminary or graduate level classes on the Reformation. The book is also a great resource for the lifelong learner who desires to grow in their knowledge of the subject. I highly recommend this timely book and hope that it is utilized to rekindle the flame of the Reformation in our day.

I received this book through the Crossway Review program “Beyond the Page” in exchange for an honest review of the book. It is available for purchase at all major book retailers. 

5 Things We Can Learn from Ulifilas…who?

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When I mention the name Ulifilas, does he sound familiar to you? Well…don’t be frustrated because I had never heard of him before I studied him in my Church History class this past semester. He is not one of the most famous names from Church History. We tend to think about Paul, Peter, Stephen, Augustine, Gregory I, Luther, Calvin, The Puritans, and Billy Graham. For much of history, however, the advancement of the gospel and the kingdom of God has not come from famous popes, councils, priests, and preachers. The truth is that the gospel has advanced through the sacrificial work of un-named and less famous people like Ulifilas.

Ulifilas was born ca.311 to a culturally mixed family in Cappadocia (modern Turkey). His parents were not Goths by decent, but were Gothic slaves. He was predominately raised in Gothic culture. The Goths were pagans who originated from modern day Germany. During the fourth century the Goths were considered “barbarians,” partially responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire. They were ulimately seen as enemies of the empire, the Church, and society.

Ulifilas, having become a bishop, had a growing desire to be a missionary. The people whom he desired to reach with the gospel were his people, the Goths. So, he packed up his life and moved to live among “the enemy.” He is most noted for his invention of the Gothic alphabet which he used to translate the Bible into so that the people he converted could read God’s Word for themselves. Not much is know about him after this. Yet, he spent the remainder of his life being a faithful missionary to people that the rest of society did not want to be around.

So what can we learn from the life of Ulifilas. There are 5 things we can glean from Ulifilas about being a missionary to our culture.

  1. Loved Jesus – It should be a given, but to be a missionary we must love Jesus with all our heart. As our heart is transformed by the Holy pirit, we are then given the capacity to love Jesus. 1 John 4:19 puts it this way, “We love because he first loved us” (ESV). Ulifilas loved Jesus because his heart had been regenerated. Do you love Jesus?
  2. Heart for the Lost – When our hearts are regenerated by the Spirit to love Jesus, we then are given the capacity to love those whom Jesus loves. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, Ulifilas had a love for the Goths whom he knew needed to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. We too must think beyond ourselves and take a look a the world around us. Our culture today is in desperate need of the gospel! Do you have a heart for the lost?
  3. Engaged the Culture – Ulifilas engaged Gothic culture by spending time with them. It took him years to develop an alphabet that they could read. He had to learn the culture enough so that he could translate the Bible, not only in a way they could read, but also a way they could understand. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are all called to be missionaries in the culture around us. Each day we translate the Bible to the world around us. How are you engaging your culture?
  4. Pointed the Culture to Christ – Not only did Ulifilas engage the Gothic culture, he pointed them to Jesus. We too, as missionaries, point people to Jesus with the way we live and how we speak. This does not happen accidentally; we must intentionally live our lives in such a way that point people to Christ. How does your life point people to Jesus?
  5. Lived Faithful – Ulifilas lived faithful to the end. He helped found the national Gothic church that was used by the Lord to reach more people with the gospel. As disciples we are called to live faithful to the end. Times are getting tougher and we may find it harder to live as Christians in our culture, but this is no time to throw in the towel. The author of the letter to the Hebrews encourages us, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV). Are you living faithfully?

I encourage you this week to ask yourself these five questions. The truth is, each one of us has room to grow. We too are like Ulifilas, no one may ever no our name. But we don’t live our lives for others to know our name. We live our lives because Jesus already does and has written it in the Lamb’s Book of Life! Love Jesus, love the lost, engage your culture, point them to Jesus, and live faithfully. This is what the Lord has called his disciples to do. How are you doing?