Those who enjoy “heady” theological reading will most likely receive a ton of benefit from this massive volume. Numerous Reformed theologians, including Michael Horton, Graham Cole, and Carl Trueman, to name a few, have contributed to this work as principal authors. The book, as Barrett explains, “provides a systematic summary of Reformation thought.” If you’ve read or studied any other systematic theology works, then that word…systematic…should give you a good idea what you’re in for when you dive into this one.
I’m not a theologian of high-level academic education, but I am indeed a theologian in the sense that R.C. Sproul uses it: “Everyone’s a theologian”. I am a theologian merely in the sense that I enjoy reading and studying theology and learning to apply it to all of life. That said, Barrett writes, “This book is written in such a way that the specialist and the nonspecialist alike will enjoy it.” Barrett went on to explain how academic specialists will benefit from Reformation Theology, and then continued, “Nonspecialists, however, will benefit the most. Each chapter serves as an introduction to the doctrine at hand, explaining what the major Reformers believed, why they believed it, and what impact their beliefs had.”
I write all of that in order to explain that the term “nonspecialist” is very likely limited in scope, rather than broadly applied to all “interested readers”. When I first encountered the phrase, I thought I was the kind of nonspecialst Barrett in mind. While reading, however, I quickly discovered that Barrett may actually have had Master’s and PhD level readers in mind, general practitioners with higher education, so to speak. I’m no dummy, but I found that many of the concepts contained in the book required more than mere interest. Instead, a good grounding in deeper theological matters is crucial. However, even given some difficulties, I still took away from this book some lasting theological truths that will continue to shape and sharpen my understanding of God’s Word.
According to Barrett, Reformation Theology was written because “At the center of the Reformation was a return to a gospel-centered, Word-centered church. No question about it, this was the great need in the sixteenth-century church.” I concur, and would add that this is the great need even today in the church. Preachers abound who preach an easy-believism Jesus, a Jesus who merely wants to help us be successful or have better marriages, a Jesus who doesn’t require anything more from us than a slight wave of the hand on a Sunday morning to tell the preacher, “Yeah, I’m in.” The Reformers, however, fought and died for the doctrinal purity of the Church, something far different than we’re accustomed to reading and hearing today. Yet many today have allowed what the Reformers’ gave blood to obtain to slip away into obscurity. For that reason, I’m thankful for the resurgence of great books and works on Reformation theology.
As a general outline, each chapter following the history of the Reformation introduces 17 theological concepts: Sola Scriptura, the Trinity, Predestination & Election, the Person of Christ, Sanctification, Eschatology, etc. The chapters begin with an introduction to traditional Reformed views, followed by the evolution of what various reformers (such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, to name a few) have taught. Each chapter typically concludes with a short portion allotted to dissenting opinions.
Recommendations: I think this book would be a great gift to one’s pastor who has interest in deeper theological writings. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
Disclaimer: I received “Reformation Theology” free of charge from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it. All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review.