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. 

Review of “The Cross of Christ”

ImageI just finished a book review of The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott for my Systematic Theology class at NOBTS. So, I thought that I would post a shortened version for your enjoyment. In the book Stott discusses the central Christian doctrine of the atonement of sinners on the cross. It is through the cross that sinners are forgiven and restored to fellowship with God the Father.

The best chapter in the book is chapter four entitled “The Problem of Forgiveness.” Many people have a problem with forgiveness. They wonder why God cannot just simply forgive sin. Stott reminds the reader that if God were to merely forgive sin without satisfaction for sin he would not be a good and just God. One reason why people do not understand the cross is because they do not understand the gravity of sin, nor the holiness of God. Humans are morally responsible for the sin they commit. The just punishment for sin is for the wrath of God to be poured out on the sinner. Yet, God in his love for mankind has chosen to make a way of salvation and forgiveness. In order for God to forgive there had to be someone to be a substitute in the place of sinners. Jesus Christ is the perfect substitute for sinners, because he fulfilled the law without sin. On the cross, God the Father poured out his wrath on Christ, thereby propitiating it from sinners.

Stott does an excellent job of insuring that his description of Christ’s atonement is biblically based and analyzed through the lens of Christian history. The atonement of Christ is the central doctrine that holds the Church together. Throughout the history of the church it has widely been accepted by Christians that Christ died on the cross for sinners. Christians may disagree on many other points of theology, but are unified on this point. If a person ceases to believe the doctrine that Christ’s atonement brings forgiveness of sin and restoration of fellowship with God, they cease being Christian. Stott painstakingly insures to keep the unity of basic Christian doctrine throughout the book.

The Cross of Christ is a blessing to the church universal. The bride of Christ differs on many points of theology, yet she is unifed by the cross. Stott is right when he “[Christ’s] death was central to his mission” (pg. 23). In coming to earth Jesus’ one desire was to glorify the Father and restore the fellowship between him and sinners. The Cross of Christ serves as an excellent reminder of what Jesus has accomplished for his Church. It is not a book for everyone to read because of it’s technical language and exhaustive content. The average church member might get lost in the academic nature of the book and neglect the beauty of what Stott is trying to convey.

In the end, The Cross of Christ may not be a book for every beleiver, however, it is definitely a book for the Church. Pastors and other church leaders need to read this book and remind themselves of the beauty of the cross. It is at the cross that the sinner remembers where they have come from and is reminded of where the grace of God can take them. Church leaders and proclaimers of the gospel must keep the cross in the forefront of their lives and ministry. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2, ESV).