Saturday, 25 July 2009

The Unquenchable Flame

I enjoyed reading this book, subtitled Introducing the Reformation. The author Michael Reeves is the theological adviser of UCCF. He gives a chapter to each of the following: the background, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Reformation in Britain (despite it not really existing at the time), the Puritans, and a final chapter dealing with the question of whether or not the Reformation is over. The text is easy to read, contains humour, and also includes additional information in shaded boxes, some of which are over two pages in length. It is certainly a useful tool to give to a person who wants an idea of what the Reformation was all about.

The personal profiles of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin are well done. I was delighted to know that Luther put on weight after he had embraced Reformation doctrines (in this regard I confess to being a Lutheran). The author deals well with their courageous determination to reform the church and also explains the contexts of issues about which they are often criticised (Luther for his attitude to the Jews, Zwingli for getting involved in military battle, and Calvin for his involvement in the death of Servetus).

I do have a couple of criticisms. Scotland, in which the Reformation was more effective than England, only gets four pages. The chapter on the Puritans skims over a period in which many important events for the church took place (and while Richard Sibbes may have been an important Puritan, I was surprised that he was given a large section and some better known ones such as John Owen don't get much attention).

The closing chapter, dealing with whether or not the Reformation is over, discusses the relevance to the present day of the doctrine of justification, the most important of the many issues on which the Reformers majored. We are reminded that the Protestant doctrine of justification is still rejected by the Roman Catholic Church and is also under attack by several prominent Protestant theologians.

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