Book Reviews

Book Review: The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God (ed. Scott Manetsch)

What was the Reformation all about? Changing the social and politic order? No, first and foremost it was

“about recovering from Scripture the central message of Christianity—that God extends grace to sinners who trust in Jesus alone—and applying the theological insight to the spiritual needs of men and women as well as the practical concerns of church and community. In their view [that of the Reformers], the Protestant Reformation was a divinely orchestrated religious or spiritual event that found its origin in the recovery, reading, and faithful application of the Bible” (2).

As Luther saw it, the “central contribution of the Protestant Reformation was to restore to their rightful place in Christ’s church the Scriptures and the ‘free and pure gospel'” (3). This volume seeks to add to our knowledge of the impact of the sixteenth-century Reformation through nine chapters that were originally delivered as papers at a conference called “The Reformation and the Ministry of the Word” at TEDS in fall 2017.

Scott Manetsch, professor of church history at TEDS and associate general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture, is the editor of the book and the author of the first chapter.

  1. Part One focuses on biblical interpretation in the Reformation.
  2. Part Two is devoted to preaching and pastoral care in the Reformation.
  3. Part Three explores the doctrine of justification in the Reformation.
  4. Part Four addresses the christian life in the reformation.

As Scott Manetsch shows in the first chapter, one of the central benefits of the Reformation was the enormous amount of sermons delivered. He writes, “The sermon was the primary way in which Protestants imparted evangelical doctrine, promoted Christian sanctification, and cultivated biblical literacy” (22-23). An (almost) innumerable amount of books and pamphlets were published to help clergy and educated laypeople know how to read, study, and interpret the Bible (23). This included “printed sermons, hermeneutical guides, paraphrases of Scripture, Hebrew and Greek grammars, Bible concordances and dictionaries, Gospel harmonies, and biblical commentaries” (23). This age has often been called the “golden age of biblical interpretation” (23).

The Reformers viewed the sermons so highly that the main term to describe leaders wasn’t “priest” or “pastor,” but “preacher.” As Michael Haykin shows (ch 3), good preaching doesn’t suppress God’s Word but it brings it to light for the growth of the people. Yet preaching the word of God also brings persecution to both the hearers and the teachers (73). However a solid teaching of the Scriptures cannot be a rare thing like strawberries in the fleeting summer (75). The word needs to be preached faithfully, week by week, with hard work behind it to both understand what it says and how to relay its message to the specific congregation who sat before the preacher.

Michael Horton and Kevin DeYoung wrote the two chapters in Part Three. You may have seen Horton’s two-volume work on justification. Here, Horton (rightly) shows that Luther’s “new discovery” about justification wasn’t actually so new. Horton places it within the context of patristic exegesis and shows how the early church fathers (Irenaeus, Cyprian, Origen, Chrysostom, etc.) believed it too, only helping to confirm Luther’s view against his opponents. He then shows the similiarities between Luther’s opponents with today’s proponents of the New Perspective on Paul.

DeYoung, my favorite chapter, writes about the need for justification today. Guilt surrounds us. With the advent of globalization, 24/7 television, and internet which connects us to everyone, we can’t get away from the bad news that happens on the other side of the world. It is beneficial to know what happens in the world, but it can leave us with a sense of guilt, “Should I be helping? What can I do?” Despite Nietszche and Freud’s best efforts, their “aggressive secualrism” and “therapeutic revolution have proven no match for the nagging sense most of us feel that we aren’t doing enough and that what we are doing isn’t enough” (133).

The grace the world offers is “earned” grace, if even grace at all. Everyone has their –isms and phobias, parents fear not doing anything the “right” way, and the internet is a hole of unforgiveness. DeYoung writes, “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter has nothing on the never-ending shame that can be doled out on Twitter” (141). The internet offers no real forgiveness. You can only hope that people forget about your mistakes.

But the true God can offer true forgiveness for true sins. There is someone to turn to who declares us innocent. He doesn’t declare us to be innocent because he feels like it, but because something actually happened to allow that. Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification (Rom 4:25) so that we could be reconciled to God. “God would be unjust if he did not pardon those who belong to Christ” (142). And “by the imputation of our sin, Christ ‘deserved’ death, and by the imputation of his righteousness, we now ‘deserve’ eternal life” (143).

Recommended?

Pick up this book if you’re interested in church history, the reformation, or are a pastor in need of an encouragement boost on trusting in the power and effect of God’s word. The Reformers worked long and hard because they knew God works powerfully through his word. Let this book be uplifting to you, and maybe even help get you into the primary sources to see what the Reformers themselves believed and wrote.

Lagniappe

  • Editor: Scott M. Manetsch
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 28, 2019)

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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