Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (My Review)

Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary by [Barrett, Matthew] Here’s a new resource I’ve been reading and studying: Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary.  It’s a scholarly collection of historical and theological articles by various teachers/theologians in the Reformation tradition.  I haven’t read every single essay, but I have read major sections of the book and spent quite a bit of time looking through it.  I’ll give a summary of the book and then share my thoughts and observations.

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.  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: Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

Pastors Staying Put (Miller)

An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office by [Garretson, James M.] I’ve come to appreciate this wise advice Samuel Miller gave to a young pastor laboring in a town called Frederick in 1854.  I’ve taken the word “Frederick” out of the quote and left it blank so fellow pastors can apply it to their own location:

I was especially gratified with the evidence that you begin to feel yourself at home in ______.  No man will be likely to be very useful to any people to whom he does not feel bound by the ties, not only of pastoral relation but also of pastoral affection; and no one will be likely to feel much of this toward a people among whom he regards himself as only a temporary sojourner, and from whom he means to escape as soon as he can.

If you wish to benefit your flock spiritually, and, at the same time to gain spiritual and theological strength yourself, regard them as your beloved people; try more and  more to take an interest in them, and resolve, in the fear of God, to stay as long with them as Providence shall make it your duty to stay.  Depend upon it, and you will find work enough to do in _______ to employ all your strength….  Let me beg you then to sit down contented and cheerful to your work in ______, resolved if it be the will of God, to spend many years, or even your life there.”

I agree, and I’m doing my best to follow Miller’s advice.  This is an important topic in our celebrity culture where pastors might be tempted to move to a bigger congregation in a bigger city with bigger venues.  I suppose it has to do with being content, as Miller noted.  Pastors too are called to be content where God puts them – urban, suburban, or rural.  Wherever the Lord leads, there we serve and there we show Christian love and pastoral care to God’s people – as long as the Lord wills!

The above quote is found in a letter by Samuel Miller, found in James Garretson, An Able and Faithful Ministry p.324.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

No Condemnation (Hodge)

Select Sermons of Charles Hodge Here’s a nice excerpt from a sermon Charles Hodge gave on Romans 8:1 (Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. NASB):

Behold, O Christian the deed of thy inheritance.  …Jesus Christ came down from heaven to seek and save his people, to accomplish the condition on which their salvation was suspended and [say] “It is finished.” For these he has suffered and obeyed. The demands of the holiness and justice of God are completely satisfied. And since Christ has died and God has justified, who is that condemneth? Can Satan their accuser before God effect it? We answer no, because he that died, has risen and standeth at the right hand of God where he maketh intercession for us and he it is whom the Father heareth always. Can our own corruptions condemn us? We answer no because the salvation of Jesus Christ is a salvation from sin, every believer has the promise of the Holy Spirit to abide with him forever, to be in him as a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. The believers’ hold of heaven is not the grasp of his own palsied hand, it is the upholding of the Lord, it is being kept by the mighty power of God through faith unto salvation.

Charles Hodge, “No Condemnation,” in Select Sermons of Charles Hodge (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Simplicity of Reformed Worship

Historic Reformed churches worship the Lord in simplicity.  That is, Reformed churches do not include ceremonies, festivals, crucifixes, processions, incense, relics, images, vestments, altars, and so forth in their worship services.  Reformed worship simply consists of the Word (read, preached, sung, confessed, prayed) and the sacraments (the Lord’s supper and baptism).

The main reason for the simplicity of Reformed worship is the teaching of Scripture.  The Bible doesn’t command God’s New Covenant people to worship him with all the images and vestments and ceremonies.  The Reformers believed that the external ceremonies and images didn’t elevate the mind to God, but domesticated God and therefore were idolatrous.  Furthermore, they said that all these non-biblical extras in worship throw a fog over the gospel.  Simple worship, therefore, means the gospel will not be obscured.  In 1560 the Reformer Guillaume Farel explained it like this:

The Church should be decorated and adorned with Jesus Christ and the Word of his gospel and his holy sacraments.  This great Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, and the light of his gospel, have nothing to do with our burning torches and our candles and candelabras.  God has instead ordained that by true preaching and by the holy sacraments practiced in their simplicity this light might be manifested and illumine us with all glory.

Similarly, Theodore Beza preached the following in 1585:

[God’s house is not a place] that we enter to see the beautiful shapes of vaults and pillars, or to admire the splendor of gold and silver and precious stones.  Nor is it a place that we visit in order to fill our ears with the signing of choirs and the music of organs.  Rather it is a place where the pure Word of God is clearly preached in the presence of each person, with words of exhortation, consolation, warning, and censure necessary for salvation.

In other words, the Reformers wanted worship to be ordered according to the Word and centered on the gospel.  They wanted to keep it simple so God’s word and his gospel would clearly be front and center.  In that way, he alone would receive all the glory, honor, and praise.  ‘Soli Dei Gloria’ goes hand in hand with Reformed worship!

The above discussion and quotes are found on pages 31-37 of Scott Manetsch’s book, Calvin’s Company of Pastors.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Calvin’s Company of Pastors

I’m very much looking forward to reading this book after finishing the introduction.  Here’s an edited snippet from the intro:

The reader will encounter three important themes wending their way through the chapters of this book:

First, the ministers of Geneva cannot be understood rightly unless one appreciates the religious natures of their sense of vocation. The pastors in this book emerge as men committed to the reformation of the church and devoted to the spiritual instruction and care of God’s people.

Second, it is inaccurate to portray Calvin and his pastoral colleagues as ivory-tower theologians, disengaged from the everyday concerns of their parishioners.  On the contrary, as evident in their ministries of preaching and pastoral care, the pastors of Geneva devoted much of their time and energy to addressing practical matters of Christian discipleship, enjoining townspeople and peasants alike to conduct lives characterized by faith, hope, and repentance. …’Theology for them was indeed always practical.’

Third, it will be demonstrated that while Beza, Goulart, and their pastoral colleagues jealously guarded the legacy of Calvin, they made subtle changes to the expression of pastoral ministry in Geneva in response to the practical challenges they faced.  This does not mean, however, that Geneva’s ministers after Calvin should be judged as bold innovators who betrayed Calvin’s theological and ecclesiastical program.  Their innovations were far too modest for such an assessment.  It is my primary concern not to employ a hermeneutic of suspicion when judging Geneva’s ministers, but to exercise both charity and critical subtlety in evaluating the pastoral behavior of Calvin and his colleagues in light of their unique historical and religious contexts.

Stay tuned!  I’m sure I’ll come back here with more quotes from this book as I read through it: Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 9-10.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

 

Israel, the Church, and Replacement Theology

Numbers (PTW) I appreciate and agree with Iain Duguid’s discussion of “replacement theology” in his commentary on Numbers 24:

Some Christians believe that Old Testament promises that speak of “Israel” are only intended for ethnic Israel and not for the church. For them, Balaam’s prophecies speak of a glorious future for the physical descendants of Israel, but they would call any attempt to apply these promises to the church “replacement theology.” I would suggest that this is a misunderstanding of what the Scriptures teach about Israel. It is not that the church has replaced Israel in the New Testament so much as that Old Testament Israel—ethnic Israel—finds its true goal and fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is himself the star of Jacob, the Israel of God.

In the person of Jesus, therefore, the true Israel has arrived, and all those who come to God by faith in him—Jews and Gentiles alike—become God’s children and are thereby incorporated into this new people of God (John 1:11, 12). In Christ, Jews and Gentiles together become the true heirs of the promise given to Abraham, his spiritual descendants (Galatians 3:29). Outside of Christ, on the other hand, there is no longer any true Israel. It is those who are in Christ who are the true chosen people: a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). We have been chosen by God for exactly the same special relationship that he had with his Old Testament people. In his incredible grace and mercy, God chose us before the foundation of the world, so that we might be blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3, 4). He has rescued us from the final judgment that awaits all those who remain outside his people and has given us the glorious inheritance of a relationship with himself. In Jesus, the star of Jacob has risen for us and for our salvation.

Iain M. Duguid and R. Kent Hughes, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 287–288.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Right to Choose?

We’re all aware of the pro-choice rhetoric about the “right to choose.”  Those who defend abortion say a woman has the right to choose whether to have the baby or terminate it in the womb.  However, this “right to choose” rhetoric is not at all airtight.  McQuilkin and Copan explain:

[The ‘right to choose’ language] is laden with questionable assumptions.  For one thing, right to choose what?  ‘Choice’ is a relative term – like saying ‘to the left of.’  A right to choose in relation to what?  We gain moral clarity when we ask: What is the object of one’s choice?  Is one free to rape or murder? Obviously not.

Second, the ‘right to choose’ assumes an individualistic outlook that undermines community; it fails to welcome ‘the least of these’ unborn children into the world, where they can be cared for and loved.

Third, this mindset fails to see life as a gift from God and thus a charge to keep.  We are not sovereign over our own lives or the lives of others God has entrusted to us.

Fourth, we do not choose our earthly family (or spiritual family for that matter), yet we are called to committed love – to seek the well-being of others, even if doing so is inconvenient and even challenging.  Abortion undermines the spirit of these loving commitments that make life meaningful.

McQuilkin and Copan, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, p. 370.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015