Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary

November 6, 2017 — Leave a comment

Last week we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Also, some of us sort of celebrated Halloween on the same night. I dressed up as an Astros fan and that proved providential the following evening.

Anyway, as with most parties, there is a sort of after party that could go on for who knows how long. The lead up to the 500th anniversary lasted several years, so I can only imagine that the post-party goes on for at least a couple more. It will certainly linger into next week when ETS meets and everyone theologically nerds out for a few days before Thanksgiving break.

In light of that, I thought it would be a good time to catch up on book reviews. And this is especially so as they pertain to the Reformation. The obvious place to start is with a volume that Crossway sent me and I finally managed to finish over the weekend. Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary is hefty (just under 800 pages) and features quite the list of contributors. There are 20 to be exact, and 21 if you count the lengthy prologue by Michael Horton.

Matthew Barrett is both editor and contributes the introduction as well as a later chapter on the bondage and liberation of the will. If you’re keeping score at home, that means he’s the editor of several Reformation related works in the past couple of years (The Five Solas Series). Not to mention his work as co-author on John Owen and The Christian Life. Makes you wonder how many college football games he manages to watch each weekend and how far along he is in Destiny 2.

After the introduction, the rest of the chapters proceed, get this, systematically. That’s not entirely true though. The first two chapters after the introduction involve Gerald Bray telling us about medieval context and Carl Trueman and a Ph.D student/TA of his giving us the rundown on the Reformers and their different reformations.

From there, it actually does proceed systematically starting with Scripture, and then moving to doctrine of God and through the rest of the doctrinal topics just like a systematic theology would. Since it is a work of Reformation theology, the authors primarily focus on the theology of Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and few other heavy hitters from that era. Each chapter ends with a short bibliography of primary and secondary resources so that interested readers can dig a little deeper.

One thing I was struck by while reading (although I did not cry out to St. Anne) is that this book almost had to be a team effort. Because of the level of detail in each of the essays on their particular doctrinal and historical context, it is hard to imagine any one scholar could have pulled it off. This is exactly what you want in a book like this. While it could have easily been a bunch of chapters that Barrett probably could have written himself on the weekends, it is instead a group of scholars brought together to flex their expertise muscles.

Because of that, I think the book fills a bit of a gap in available resources. If I wanted a snapshot of Reformation teaching on sanctification for instance, I could grab Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology. But, the section on that in there isn’t going to into much detail. If I really want to get a solid overview, but not quite a book length treatment, I probably can’t do much better than Mike Allen’s chapter in this volume (and then if I want more, I could read his new book, or see if he can grab Chipotle later this month).

In other words, this is a book that stands before you, justified by the works put into it. It doesn’t seem to have just been thrown together to take advantage of the Reformation party. Instead, it is a useful resource and entry point for anyone who wants to dig into the theology of the Reformation. The chapters are well organized and the bibliographies can take you further up and further in if that’s what you want. I’m glad I was able to read through this in the lead-up to the 500th anniversary, and I’m sure I’ll consult it more in the future as the need arises.

Nate

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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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