Book Review by David Gomez of Timothy George’s Theology of the Reformers

Over the next week I will be posting the excellent book reviews that my Advanced Study: Reformation Theology class wrote. Here’s one by David Gomez.

Timothy George. Theology of the Reformers. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1988. 1-339. $29.99

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Timothy George focuses on Theology and doctrinal history and writes Theology of the Reformers. The author’s central thesis is that the reformation was an initiation by the early Reformers to return to the authority of the Bible and proclaim God’s grace and glory in the protestant reformation period and the impact the reformation has on us today. Timothy George teaches church history and doctrine as the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. In addition to his experience, he received his M.Div. and Th.D. at Harvard University and published various books including Reading Scriptures with the Reformer, Amazing Grace: God’s Pursuit, Our Response, and Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?

Throughout the book, the author highlights all four Reformers and their contributions to the reformation including their background, experience, and education. In addition to the Reformers’ autobiographies, George also emphasizes the need and importance of the reformation and what it means to us today.

Theology of the Reformers consists of 7 chapters and begins with the “thirst for God”.Chapter 2 addresses the need of an awakening of the true church in the midst of a theological slumber and most importantly the need of a true savior that is Jesus Christ. There are different theological ideas that are presented along with the figures behind that idea and how their beliefs stir up more confusion within the early churches or as he defines as “theological flux” (40).

In Yearning for Grace with Martin Luther, George focuses on some of Luther’s important doctrines of the time including justification by faith alone and that is represented by “Jesus Christ where God has given Himself, utterly and without reserve.” (59) And out of that grace is the priority given to the Gospel as the main authority of the church to preach faithfully on. In addition George also outlines the Word and sacrament and the priesthood of all believers on his doctrines of the church.

Chapter 4, titled Something Bold for God with Huldrych Zwingli, highlights some of the important key themes of the Swiss reformation including the continued emphasis of sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola gratia. In particular, it is noted and emphasized by the author that the Bible “stood at the center of the Zwinglian Reformation” (126) and above all human tradition and understanding.

Chapter 5 briefly highlights the life of John Calvin while also providing his theological framework in which many Christians have followed and maintained today who are considered as Calvinists. Known for his Institutes, Calvin’s doctrines are explored, which includes: 1) the knowledge of God the Creator, 2) the knowledge of God the Redeemer, 3) the way in which we receive the Grace of Christ, and 4) external means by which God invites us into the society of Christ. George also outlines Calvin’s 4 rules of prayer: 1) Approach God reverently, 2) Pray with a sincere sense of want and with penitence, 3) We must yield all confidence in ourselves and humbly plead for pardon and 4) Pray with confident hope (230).

In No Other Foundation with Menno Simons, the author follows the radical reformation and the Anabaptists as they seek to proclaim the Gospel through any means necessary even when many of them accepted exile, torture, and capital punishment rather than deny the Lord. Simons and the radical Reformers held a via media position in between Catholicism and Protestantism but also wanted to develop their faith outside the confines of government, church, or any established order. (255) As radical as Simon’s Reformers were for their faith, Simons was against forcing someone to accept the Gospel. Also highlighted by George was the doctrine of baptism, in which only believers were to be baptized and infants weren’t.

In his concluding chapter, George recapitulates important theological viewpoints of the Reformers and their correlation and relationship with one another and what kind of effects took place in our modern church today as well as personal application for us readers who are Christians and even non-Christians. To conclude, each Reformer held true to the Holy Scriptures to be the sole authority of the church over human religious experiences (315). In addition to this statement, the overall goal of the Reformers is to glorify God by the means of the true church with the Bible as sole authority where George compared their vision to an important theme of the Augsburg Confession of 1530, which states, “Where the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered in accordance with the divine Word, there is the true church.” (320)

Timothy George does a good job in citing his sources and referencing footnotes that give readers insight from other scholars to support George’s views. However, in rare cases throughout the book there are introductory words to paragraphs such as “it’s been said”, “someone said”, or “legend has it” that doesn’t follow up with the source of the following statements he makes based off “he said she said” introductions. Overall, George’s thesis not only supports the Reformers’ works themselves, but other scholarly sources such as commentaries and past doctrinal treatises that are footnoted on almost every page were properly used in context and theme of this book to validate the reformation history (309-310). He also emphasizes the importance of the Lord’s Supper and their contribution to the Reformation period (319).

There are also some italicized words that aren’t defined in its immediate context or found in the glossary such as de novo, hoc est corpus meum, de potentia absoluta, and de potentia ordinata. Also, the author could’ve briefly included other reformation leaders such as Thomas Cranmer and more information on Philip Melanchthon. And lastly it would’ve been notable to hear from modern day Reformers on their perspective of the Reformers and how the reformation affected them and in their ministry to gain more perspective. Overall, it is a well-written book with plenty of sources and notes to support George’s main idea or thesis and the provided criticisms would prove to be more of nitpicking minor setbacks.

I definitely agree with the author’s conclusion because the early reformation was a time when there was a revival of bringing God’s truth back to the church via Scripture. Today, our secular society are in need of the convicting truth of the Gospel more than ever, especially with many different religions being established in this country and religion being abolished in other parts of the world.

One of his biggest strengths is his use of sources and referring us to the source of the works the author is writing his book on. Another strength is his interpretation of the Reformers’ doctrines in the way we can understand it and apply it as well. An area of improvement could be more key terms added to the glossary even though the glossary is really helpful. Perspectives from modern reformed leaders would also be beneficial for insight and perspective.

Theology of the Reformers would hold its place along with other reformation history books and under the category or genre of Christian biographies. I’d recommend this book to anyone who admires the reformation and holds it to be true in their lives today as it carries rich history and valuable insight from George’s knowledge and passion for the work of Christ in the early protestant church.

Reviewed by David Gomez (Biola University)

 

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