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Theology of the Reformers Paperback – January 1, 1999
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'Theology Of The Reformers' will intrigue and inform all those who are concerned both with the church in the time of the Reformation and the church in the modern era. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Many today blame the reformation for shattering the universal church of Christ into innumerable factions. Like broken shards of glass, each denomination is severed from the whole and sharp to the touch. This is no doubt an unintended consequence of the reformation. Luther and Zwingly divided over the Eucharist. Calvin detested the Anabaptist schism. And what was originally intended as a correction of the church (from Luther) turned into a full split.
Timothy George however addresses the misconception that the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was one perfectly unified body. Curialism (for complete Papal authority), Conciliarism (desiring accountability for church leadership), Spiritual Franciscans, Waldensians, and the movements of Wycliffe and Huss--all represent different factions vying for power inside and amongst the Catholic church prior to the reformation. To say that the reformation alone caused the many schisms we see today would be dishonest; there was already great diversity of belief within the church long before the reformation ever occurred!
With that being said, the reformation was a necessary correction back to Scripture.The selling of indulgences, salvation through sacraments, the office of 'the great middle man" the priest, and the centrality of Mary-- had made the church something that it was not. Apostate. These five reformers--though not unified, were unified in these things: Authority of Scripture, Salvation through faith alone, and the belief that God's Word was for laymen. To say such things was revolutionary. For each of the reformers it guaranteed persecution. Tyndale was martyred. Calvin was banished from France. Simons was hunted down his entire life. Yet God's Word was proclaimed and we today reap the benefits.
We are indebted to these men. Each had flaws and George did not shy away from them. Luther, to his great shame, spoke ill against the Jews. Zwingly attempted to blend church and state. Calvin burned Servetus at the stake. It would be foolish to look for perfection in any man especially our heroes. But each man had a conviction to the Word of God and to His conscience. Each man stood against the falsehood and proclaimed the truth--despite great personal cost. "We are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants; thanks to them, we see farther than they."
Having read multiple biographies on Luther, as well as various works on Calvin and the Anabaptists, I was surprised by how many new insights Theology of the Reformers contains. Not only does Timothy George review some better-known aspects of the Reformation (such as how Luther and Zwingli disagreed on the Lord’s Supper), but he helps us understand how and why they arrived at their theological positions. Further, as this work examines two generations of reformers, we learn how the younger reformers sought to respectfully build on the insights of those who preceded them.
George also helps to see that the early reformers were far from perfect. Like Christian leaders and thinkers of the modern era, they struggled with various issues in their own lives as well as with what they found in Holy Scripture. We see how the reformers dealt with opposition, sometimes in a way that didn’t demonstrate love for one’s neighbor. In addition, the perspectives of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli on church and state and Menno Simon’s pacifism will likely not be well-received by modern readers.
Yet, in spite of their shortcomings, we can learn much from each reformer. They were all very much in love with their Creator, and sought to glorify Him in all their works. It is difficult to imagine evangelical life today without the Reformation emphases on the grace of God, the sovereignty of God, the Word of God, the priesthood of the believer, and rigorous discipleship (which included holy living). The Reformers, unlike what their opponents claimed, held a high view of local church life, yet wanted it to be experienced to a much fuller degree than the Roman system allowed.
There’s a lot more that I could write about Theology of the Reformers. For example, the author sprinkles his work with surprising humor and personality observations that lend much to the reading experience. Yet, it’s best to just read this book for yourself. Along with the author’s Reading Scripture with the Reformers, it’s one of the most spiritually and intellectually satisfying works on the 16th century found anywhere.