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Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary Hardcover – March 31, 2017
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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Offering readers a comprehensive summary of the major tenets of Reformation theology, this volume convincingly demonstrates the Reformation?s enduring importance for the church today.
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The book starts off with a prologue and an introduction and is followed by two essays on the historical background of the Reformation. The essay on the historical background focuses on the late medieval understanding of grace and authority in the church. The second background chapter spends just under 30 pages summarizing the following Reformations: Lutheran, Swiss/Geneva, English, and Scottish.
The bulk of the book is devoted to summarizing the major Reformers’ positions on the basic headings of theology: Scripture, the doctrine of God, predestination, creation, Christ’s person and work, the Holy Spirit, union with Christ, the bondage of the will, justification, sanctification, the church, the sacraments, church/state relationship, and eschatology.
Each chapter of this 750+ page historical theology book more or less follows this outline: 1) A short section on the medieval understanding of the doctrine, 2) Luther, Melanchthon, and/or the Lutheran teaching of the doctrine, 3) Calvin’s teaching of the doctrine, 4) Zwingli, Bullinger, Knox, and/or other Reformers’ teaching, 5) Reformed confessions on the doctrine, and 5) opposing views (such as Arminian, Socinian, etc.).
For one example, the chapter on justification is outlined like this: 1) Justification in Its Late-Medieval Context, 2) The Lutheran Breakthrough, 3) Adoption and Adaptation of Justification Sola Fide (Calvin’s view, a comparison of the Lutheran view, Roman Catholic responses and some modern controversies).
This book isn’t really a systematic theology, although it does give a general summary of how major Reformers and early Reformed and Lutheran confessions talk about the main headings of systematic theology. It doesn’t really get into details of later Reformed theology, such as the scholastics or the Westminster Confession or Princeton (etc.). It also isn’t a resource for the exegetical grounds of Reformed and Lutheran doctrine. I’m not being critical here, I just wanted to explain what the book is not (for those interested).
Many of the articles in this book are very good and helpful. The articles are technical, detailed, and scholarly, so the book is for advanced readers. There are a lot of names, dates, philosophical and theological terms as well as longer quotes from various medieval and Reformation theologians. I have to admit that for me it does read like a textbook at times (a little dry). I’d say it is written at an upper college or seminary level, give or take.
I do appreciate and enjoy this book; it’s a nice addition to historical Reformation theology resources. However, I do have other books with much of the same information. If you own some of Luther’s writings, Calvin’s Institutes, a few Reformed systematic theology books and a few historical theology books from a Reformed perspective, you might not need to invest in this one. On the other hand, if you’re interested in a detailed, scholarly introduction to the theology of the major Reformers, you’ll for sure want to get it!
In spite of the title, the book is not a theology text, per se. It fits most closely under subject heading “historical theology”, but it does not quite fit there either. When I consider the topic of “historical theology” I expect to find the book or paper to follow the development of a theological theme over time - from the original scriptures and early church, to the church fathers, through the middle ages and the reformation, to its current understanding within the church. This book does not do that. Rather, this book takes a snapshot of the broad areas of theological study (from the doctrine of scripture to eschatology) as they were understood during the formative years of the reformation. Written as a series of essay, each dealing with a specific theological topic, the various authors attempt to examine the doctrinal issues through the eyes of major players in the reformation. As an example, let me draw from the “Abstract” on the essay entitled “Sola Scriptura” by Mark D. Thompson:
[See Attached Image]
The reader will notice that the author attempts to draw from the thoughts of Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingly, Bullinger, Calvin, and Cranmer. Other writers may draw from a subset of these individuals or extend their writing to include elements of the Counter-Reformation and other contemporaneous groups. Interestingly, Wesley’s name is mentioned only once, in the Prologue, which sort of serves as later limit of the book’s coverage.
I found the reading to be a bit uneven - the Prologue was very difficult, formal, scholarly; some essays followed the same pattern, while others were more readable by the typical seminary and graduate student. They were still scholarly and well-researched, but not so formal as to hinder the reader’s understanding. The book was not written as a defense of Reformed theology, but as an explanation of the reformers' theology at the time they lived. Some authors simply echoed the reformers' ideas, others tried to place those ideas into their cultural settings. Speaking of authors, the only name familiar to this Wesleyan reviewer was that of Michael Horton (who wrote the Prologue) - I expect that this is more a result of this reader’s background than the quality of the scholars chosen to be part of the project.
Though the Advanced Readers Copy did not include indexes, a Name Index, a Subject Index, and a Scripture Index are scheduled for inclusion in the final edition of the book. These will add significant value to the book.the
This book does belong on the shelf of all scholars coming out the reformed church or having an interest in historical theology. Having said that, I would recommend the book be read by Christian scholars of all stripes - whether a personal copy or one borrowed from the library. Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingly, Bullinger, Calvin, and Cranmer, each contributed to the protestant reformation in their own way. Understanding that contribution will be important to all of us.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.
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