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


One comment on “Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (My Review)

  1. Alan Beagley says:

    40+ years ago, and optional essay question in a Church History unit on “Movements of Renewal and Reform” was:

    ‘”The Protestant Reformation replaced worship by a lecture.” Discuss.’

    I did not choose that topic at the time, but the older I get and the more I read, the more convinced I am that the quotation is substantially true — more so for the “Reformed” than for the Lutherans.

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