Book Review by Brianna Smith of Timothy George’s Theology of the Reformers.

Timothy George. Theology of the Reformers. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013. 428. $29.99.


It is in some people’s nature to constantly desire change. There are some that are not content unless they are seeking after a more correct or more efficient way of doing things. Those involved in the religious Reformation of the 1500s all had different ideas about what exactly needed change, but they all agreed that religious change was necessary. Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George is a very practical book about the theological ideas of the leaders of this Reformation. He argues that an understanding of Reformation theology is key to an understanding of the church and the “Christian story” (1). George’s understanding of the Reformation is that is was simultaneously “a revival and a revolution” (17). Because George sees the Reformation as a religious event with primarily theological concerns, he focuses on the “theological self-understanding” of five principle reformers: Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, Menno Simons, and William Tyndale. He sets out to provide a foundation upon which to dialogue with them in order to form one’s own opinions and questions (16). As a former professor of History and Doctrine and Dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as Beeson Divinity School, Timothy George is uniquely qualified to write this book. He is a prolific writer and served as the editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture. As an Evangelical Christian, George approaches this study as historical theology with an emphasis on understanding the story of the church better for the purpose of both admiration and emulation.

This book contains eight chapters each centered on a different topic. George introduces his book with an overview of different methods of studying the Reformation so that he can center in on his focus on the Reformation as a religious transitional period. This is followed by an exploration in chapter two of the theology of the late Middle Ages, the stage of history immediately preceding the Reformation. In discussing the Middle Ages, he focuses on the deep sense of “moral anxiety” and guilt in that era (24). The theological focus in this time was largely on human guilt and a wrathful God that “placed an intolerable burden on the penitent” (26). This laid an excellent foundation for religious change, which George outlines in the next five chapters, each focused on a different key reformer and their theology.

The next five chapters of George’s book focus in on the major reformers and their theology. The third chapter of the book is centered on Martin Luther, a German pastor and scholar who was above all deeply committed to the Word of God and to the Church. His theology was profoundly biblical and practical as he wrote contextually “to particular situations with definite ends in mind” (57). His legacy is most certainly his deep understanding of the centrality of Christ born in the midst of his deep sufferings. The next reformer spoken of is Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss parish priest and patriot. Zwingli’s primary concern was to unite the political and religious realms, believing firmly that “the kingdom of Christ is also external” (115). He was also deeply committed to God’s word and very cautious to maintain the strict “distinction between the Creator and all creatures” in order to avoid the great sin of idolatry (125). Chapter five is centered on John Calvin, the second-generation French reformer best known for his work in Geneva. Calvin’s greatest contribution to the Reformation, according to George, was that of creating a “clear, systematic exposition” of the Reformation ideas, largely through his Institutes (174). Calvin’s theology was centered on the glory of God and the teaching of Scripture.

George then moves his attention to the Radical Reformation as a whole, focusing on Menno Simons, perhaps the most well known of the radicals. After a struggle through the Gospel, George contends that Simons became committed to 1 Corinthians 3:11, “the motto of his life and his theology” (278). The Anabaptist leader emphasized new birth, biblical authority, and a Christocentric reading of Scripture. The last reformer that George speaks of is William Tyndale, the English reformer known for translating the Bible into English. This chapter is a new addition to the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Theology of the Reformers. Tyndale’s theology, centered on the centrality of Scripture, love of neighbor, and rich ecclesiology, was developed on the run until his untimely martyrdom. George’s last chapter summarizes what he views to be why the Reformation matters today, largely by pointing out that the Reformation, “challenges the church to listen reverently and obediently to what God as once and for all said and once and for all done in Jesus Christ” (379). George cites a wide variety of primary and secondary sources throughout his book, giving ample bibliographies at the close of each chapter.

George accomplishes his goal of providing the theology of the Reformers in order to promote learning from them. Each chapter gives a short biography of the reformer being spoken of and then moves into a succinct explanation of their main works and major theological ideas. His masterful use of quotations both by and about these reformers help to give a holistic view of them and their theology. Each chapter also builds on the others by comparing and contrasting the different reformers theological ideas and methods of reform. By doing this, George not only touches on their similarities and differences, he also gives an understanding of them as people, thus giving greater fodder for our admiration and emulation of them. Although George did use several primary sources and quoted them occasionally, it would be helpful to see more extensive usage of the reformers own words to describe their theology.

In Theology of the Reformers, Timothy George masterfully walks through the thinking of the Reformers in order to provide a framework for the church today to think about theology. He convincingly shows that we not only should learn from the reformers as historical Christian figures, but also recognize that studying their theology can help us “serve the true and living God of Jesus Christ” more fully (379). George’s broad brushstrokes makes the book more accessible for a wider audience. It would further enhance the book, however, to give more room for the reformers to have more of a say in their own theology. Because of the lack of primary source quotations, this book is probably most helpful for a beginning student of the Reformation to give them a brief overview of Reformation theological thought, or for a more advanced student that would like a quick review.

Brianna Smith, Biola University


Book review by Yuma Takei of Holder’s Crisis and Renewal

Holder, R. Ward. Crisis and Renewal: The Era of the Reformations. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.


When many historical theologians write on the Reformation, they tend to lean towards the theological or historical perspective. Crisis and Renewal: The Era of the Reformations by R. Ward Holder discusses both sides of the spectrum when observing the various Reformations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It attempts to point out the religious movements that occurred during the era of the Reformation, identifying the significance of each movement for the time then and the present. R. Ward Holder is an Associate Professor of Theology at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. His Ph.D. is in Theology, which he received from Boston College. His specialties are in historical theology of the fifteenth to seventeenth century, history of interpretation of scripture, political theology, and John Calvin. These credentials give him a unique credibility because he knows both theological and political sides of the era being observed.

 The first chapter is on defining the Reformation. The chapter gives a cohesive understanding of the several issues of the Reformation. These issues consist of how one ought to define the Reformation, the period of the Reformation, the character of change in the Reformation, the movements of the Reformation, and the confessions of the Reformation. From chapter two to three, Holder focuses on the Medieval Context and the humanistic movement that starts within this era. Significant events such as the black plague and religious and political scandals were highlighted throughout these chapters. This gives segue to the humanistic movement, a “loose movement that valued the classical works and sought to return to the wisdom of the ancient world” (37). Humanism attempts to go ad fontes and responds to the corruptions of the Late Medieval context.

Starting from the fourth through ninth chapter, Holder discusses various Reformations that occurred starting with the Lutheran reform. These chapters are formatted in a similar structure, progressing from the reformer’s life to their theological views. Chapters six, eight, and nine were formatted differently because there is no one reformer who can act as the representative for those specific reforms (Radical, Anglican, Catholic). The Lutheran reform is centered around Luther’s reforms in Wittenberg and his views on justification, Christian living, and two kingdoms. In chapter five, the differences between Zwingli and Luther were discussed. Holder writes, “In Zwingli, we find an almost exact contemporary of Luther, who forged his own path of reform” (92). Zwingli’s life and theology is then discussed to see exactly what those differences are. The Radical reform is described as “the radical response to Luther” and covered a variety of topics ranging from the Peasant’s War, Michael Sattler, and Munster’s apocalyptic kingdom (121). Biblicism and separation of church and state were highlighted in their theological views. Holder then writes about Calvin and Geneva, his specialty, discussing Calvin’s life and reforms in Geneva. A major portion of this chapter is dedicated to Calvin’s theology such as knowledge, grace, justification, sacraments, etc., but the uniqueness of this chapter comes from Holder’s description of Calvin’s sufferings and pastoral ministry. Soon after the English Reformation is hashed out, analyzing the power changes between kings and queens of England, ultimately leading to the 39 articles. The last chapter of this section, the Catholic reform, was broken up into three stages: the early, middle, and later stage. In each stage, important figures and events were discussed, some of them being Ignatius Loyola, Council of Trent, and the Inquisition. The theology of the Mystics was elaborated on towards the end of chapter nine.

Lastly, chapters ten, eleven, and twelve discussed other violent and minority reforms ending with the conclusion of the success or failure of the reform. Different wars between religious groups and minority reforms in Scotland, Netherlands, Romania, Hungary, Women reforms, and North America were briefly examined.

Overall, the author proved his thesis in a way that was understandable and clear. His arguments for each section of the Reformation were concise and easy to follow along. Holder did not make any radical theological comment on a certain era but kept his work purely historical theological. There was not much theological critique of each reform but it was a mere outlook of each reform. His evidences support the conclusion of his book fairly well. The discussion of the primary theology that circulated in each Reformation helped to support his conclusion that each reform found ways to continue the historic faith that comes from scripture. An example of this might be Calvin’s theology (153-159) in which his contribution to many areas of doctrine formulated Geneva’s position. The political and religious influences of each reform helped empower his thesis that these reforms were significant to all in the time of the Reformation. The significance of political and religious background is most clearly seen in the English Reformation (167-184) where politics and religion were everything. No sources were misused in any way and Holder accurately depicts each theological confession and primary source. Holder quotes from the confessions themselves to understand the goal and background of each confession, along with the primary sources he is interacting with. Although Luther’s commentaries were quoted properly as his view of righteousness was expounded upon (86), primary sources were not used in Zwingli’s theology, making his theological summary faulty in a minor way (109-112). Holder quotes directly from the Institutes to make theological statements about Calvin (153, 156). Holder does a great job in using the Schleitheim confessions to signify the purpose of the document (129). The book was well written because its flow was organized in a way that is easy to pick up. Generally each chapter of the book had a similar way of organization, making it easier to follow. Typically, the organization would be historical chronology of events then theological insights. An improvement that could be made is on the impact of the theologies of each Reformation in society today. Knowing the impact of each reform would strengthen his thesis and his conclusion. The significance of the Reformation would be brought out, proving his thesis that the Reformation ought to be studied because it is important to the church today.

I would agree with majority of the author’s conclusion. Holder discussed the phrase “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda”, showing the implications of the Reformation in our church today (246-47). We ought to constantly seek reform to better our worship unto God. I would disagree with Holder on the fact that the Reformation as a movement cannot be determined if it were successful or not. I would say as a movement it was a failure because it failed to reform the Roman Catholic Church, as Rome still exists today. But as individuals, the reformers succeeded in that the Protestant Church was formed and the core doctrines of the true faith were regained. Holder states, “The true success of the people of the Reformation era was that they found paths to maintain continuity with the historic Christian faith while responding to what they discerned as a divine call to reform it” (248). Some of the strengths that the book had were the comprehensive outlook of the history of each reform. The theologies discussed in each chapter gave a descriptive, theological summary of each movement, establishing a distinction between each theology so that the reader sees the differences with clarity. One weakness the book had was discussing how each theology of the reforms impacts our church today. As a historical theologian, one of the goals should be to examine how theology impacts modern day Christianity. This book should be introductory material for a class on the Reformation or even read to properly understand what happened in the Reformation and why it happened. It fits in the academic level of reading, and it is more concise in its length and argument compared to other books on the Reformation. Its value lies in the fact that it was a comprehensive overlook of each reform but not too lengthy. I would recommend this book to anyone who seeks to learn the history of the church, and especially, the history of Protestantism.

Reviewed by Yuma Takei, Biola University


Book reviewed by Jordan Swigart. Biola University of Stephen Nichols’ The Reformation

Nichols, Stephen, The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007. 159. $9.99.


In 2007 Stephen Nichols wrote The Reformation: how a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World. This book discusses the Reformation as an overview, going on a journey throughout different locations where the Reformation took place, along with describing the main Reformers. As Nichols introduces his topic he states, “Those who do not know history, as another saying goes, are doomed to repeat it (14). ” He not only provides the facts about the dramatic shift in religious beliefs in Europe, but also states why these things are important for today’s culture. He strongly believes that people from history are guides to the future, which is one of the main reasons why he wrote this book (15). This book shows the shift from a pope-centered religion to a Bible-centered religion.

Stephen J. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as the president of Reformation Bible College and has written multiple books on church history and theological matters. He uses a wide range of sources and adds notes for further reading towards the back section of the book. Nichols has written several books on the Reformation, especially focusing on Martin Luther. His book Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Thesis and Pages from Church History: A Guided Tour of Christian Classics were his own past sources that he pulled from. The vast extent that this author has written on about the Reformation proves his scholarly reliability, especially with his variety in primary sources that he takes advantage of.

Chronologically, the author takes us from Martin Luther nailing the 95 theses (Chapter 2) to the British Reformation (Chapter 7). To introduce the book, Nichols discusses the importance of history and why it matters today. He describes that “newer is not always better” when it comes to theology and church views. There is an immense amount of information that this generation can learn from tradition. He transitions chapters and focuses on Martin Luther, the man that could not “be silent no more (29).” Luther contained convictions in his soul that screamed to break apart from the Roman Catholic Church. Luther’s view of God was very different than the Medieval Church’s view for God. Luther viewed God as the righteous judge that earned believers righteousness for them. It was no longer a works-based salvation (31). One of the themes throughout the book is the government’s relationship and response to the reformers. Pope Leo X exclaimed that Martin was a “Drunken German (30).”

Chapter three then dove into the Swiss Reformation being led by Zwingli. The Sausage party was a huge part of the story in this chapter, Zwingli challenged the idea that abstaining from eating certain food during lent is human tradition and does not need to be held by all believers. After winning debates, Zurich broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and became reformed. Nichols transitions chapters only to discuss the Anabaptists and their “attempt” to join the other Reformation movements. Menno Simons mainly led the charge, submitting his life to Christ, but in a very different fashion than the other groups. They were pacifists and they believed in separation of the world. Mennonites today often cultivate small communities outside of cities and towns, trying to stay for away from the “world.” The author explains how this can be hurtful, because as believers in Christ we are to preach the gospel. If you separate from the non-believers who can hear the gospel? The Anabaptists, in a positive light, provide a beautiful picture of believers not adapting to the ways of this world. John Calvin and the second generation Reformers were next on the schedule, which he dives into some of the Calvinistic theology, but just as importantly mentions his life at home and pre-Calvinistic beliefs. The Institutes was probably his most well known work and rightly so. Many schools still use it today for seminary training and teaching. At this time, the Roman Catholic Church wanted to regain control of the city, but Calvin stood his ground (75). Religious diversity was almost becoming normal and John Calvin will go down as one for the most remembered theologians from this period.

Chapter six shifted to the British Reformation. Henry VIII decided that he wanted to have more authority than the Pope, continuing this theme of the government’s relationship with religious affairs. Once successful (and after having several wives in the pursuit of having a boy heir) books were written by Thomas Cranmer, such as the Common Book of Prayer. This along with the “Thirty-Nine Articles” will continue to impact that church. The Puritans were talked about next as Nichols wrote about the establishment and the origin of the Puritans. They desired to glorify God and live a holy and pleasing life without conforming to the dark powers of this world. To conclude the book, Nichols gave a whole chapter (8) to the women in the Reformation. Although men definitely led the charge and got almost the credit, women had an impact as well. The wives of the Reformers allied with them and even the view on marriage and religious leaders changed.

After reading the book, there were some things that I think were left out, which made the book a bit weaker in a few areas. The first was the introduction. I appreciated how Nichols discussed the importance of the Reformation today, but he failed to go into more depth about what was prior to the Reformation. He hardly mentioned the Medieval Church, and to understand the Reformation properly, this context is extremely important. Before diving into Luther, he should have discussed the Roman Catholic Church and the issues that were present, at least more than the two paragraphs that he did. The second was the small mention of Theodore Beza. He was so important that he joins Calvin on the Reformation wall statue in Geneva, yet Beza was written about in one paragraph in the entire book. On the other hand, the author proved his thesis. At the end of each chapter, he would end with a little conclusion that discussed the importance of the Reformation in today’s culture, which was simple and easy to understand. This evidence led to a correct conclusion and chapter-by-chapter his thesis was strengthened and supported.

Personally, I enjoyed the style of the book. It was simple and an easy read, and I think anyone from Junior High School on would enjoy this book. It is very well written, even though he wrote about Luther before giving background information, which if he improved that would make the book a lot more solid. His sources were used correctly, and it was beneficial that he had notes at the end of the book for further study. The primary sources at the back of the book helps bring all these writings to life, reading them first hand.

I would highly recommend the book for someone that is interested in learning more about the Reformation, but doesn’t want to spend a whole semester in a class. It is a simple overview that can be a very solid foundation for someone getting started in learning the history of the church. Again there are strengths and weaknesses in the book. Weaknesses include a better introduction and strengths are the simplicity and conclusions at the end of each chapter. This book also provides information about the reformers that you wouldn’t see many places, like their family life, struggles, etc. I also appreciated the chapter on the women that were apart of the Reformation period. I would not recommend this to someone that is taking the Reformation class, because it goes over everything that we learned in class. I would suggest something more in depth for an undergraduate or graduate, but for the average interested person, I would highly recommend.

Reviewed by Jordan Swigart. Biola University










Book Review by Joshua Shirey of Lewis Spitz’ The Protestant Reformation

Spitz, Lewis. 1985. The Protestant Reformation. 1517-1559. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 444 pages. $22.95. ISBN 0060139587


A book is not worth reading if the author does not love what he wrote. Lewis W. Spitz, the author of The Protestant Reformation: 1517-1559, loves the subject matter he wrote on. His book primarily reads as a historical source, and, secondarily, as a theological survey. He argues that the Protestant Reformation helped to reshape old Europe by motivating rulers to reassess their political power, peasants to challenge hierarchical systems, explorers to discover new areas with a missional emphasis, and people to change their view of God and themselves.

Lewis Spitz (1895-1996) graduated from Concordia Seminary, and joined faculty in 1946 where he taught a class on Luther’s theology.[1] Later in life, he earned his Ph. D. in history from Harvard and was a professor at Stanford University from 1965, and incumbent in the William R. Kenan Jr. Chair of History from 1974. His areas of interest and research were the Renaissance and humanism in central Europe.[2]

Spitz focuses on the historical figures and movements of the Reformation; his book begins and ends with commentaries on the political and social landscape of Europe. While he focuses on those who embraced Protestantism, the author displays how some retaliated, such as Emperor Charles V in the Schmalkaldic War (191). Old Europe also transitioned out of domestic affairs and the overthrow of dominant religious structures also influenced expansion, exploration, new ideas and thoughts (346-347). Laypeople were encouraged to think for themselves, both religiously and politically.

In the first two chapters Spitz introduces the reader into the demographics, political climate, and religious environment into which the Reformation started. Religion had blended with politics in old Europe and for those who were being exploited, they began to grow discontent with the oppressive regimes that held them in poverty and uncertainty, creating the tension necessary for Martin Luther to take his stand. Luther was not always stern and bold: Spitz reveals that Luther was, indeed, human; for example, he had doubts regarding whether he made the right decision to go against his father’s will, and he displayed passionate feelings in his relationship with his wife (62). Luther grew to stand by his convictions, and he could not agree with penance and the selling of indulgences (66). Spitz reveals Luther’s desire for people to have access to the Word and to God through faith alone. While Luther did not foresee it, the author shows how Lutheranism became cultish for some, such as Christian III in Northern Europe, and those who did not conform to it were sometimes severely punished and even executed (124-125).

As Luther’s movement began to spread, chapter three lays out the details of some of the other major Protestant movements, such as Anabaptism and Zwinglism. The Anabaptists were more radical in their reform, wanting to make the Church the Kingdom on earth (168). Spitz also argues that laypeople were inspired to start thinking for themselves and examining their own faith as Protestantism started to spread into cities. This chapter displays the atrocities that came about as the result of those who were too radical, such as Munster, but it also shows that the Protestants were becoming increasingly involved with the poor and disenfranchised (173).

Next, in chapter 4 Spitz goes to describe the second surge of the Reformation, capturing the response to Calvin in France’s Reformation. A mark of the French Reformation was the inclusion of all social classes, championing the idea of the Bible being accessible to all people (203). In addition, the separation between political and church affairs was introduced by Calvin (226-227). Calvin brought academic notary to the Reformation and helped develop theology that is influential to this day.

In chapter 5 the author address the idea that the shift to Protestantism did not come easily, and some nations, such as England, rulers varied from Protestant to Catholic until a middle way was established by Elizabeth (278). This chapter helps one understand that personal and political motives were involved in reform. It also revealed the risks that many took to preserve Protestantism, such as Thomas Cranmer’s execution in order to defend protestant ideals (276).

Chapter 6 speaks of spiritual renewal in the Catholic Church as well. Orders such as the Franciscans, Capuchins, and Dominicans brought an emphasis on spirituality and scripture into the Catholic realm (292). Councils, such as the one in Trent in 1545, were held in order to settle differences if possible (299). Continued wars spread regimes that were either Catholic or protestant, and some places known for being Protestant returned to Catholicism. Social work was also given more importance by the Catholic church.

The last chapters explain how political, explorative, and warring endeavors affected the Reformation. Emperor Charles could have quelled the Protestants, but he was constantly weary of the growing Ottoman empire (326-327). Spitz outlines how the Reformation had momentous impact on the conduction of daily life. Spitz ends with the cultural impacts the Reformation encouraged: literacy rose as people began to read the Bible, the distinction between a secular and spiritual job began to dissolve as vocation was emphasized, and the church began to be seen as distinct from the state.

The book reads as a textbook, as the author relies on an abundance of primary and secondary sources in order to compile a history of this period. The sources are used to give addition facts on the period rather than analysis on the Reformation (exemplified in his use of Wayne Baker’s book on 349). Thus, not much argumentation takes place as the author mainly summarizes the work of others, making the book a survey of the Reformation. One finds non-argumentative remarks, such as his closing thoughts that the Reformation is “of monumental importance for modern Europe…” (384). It would help for Spitz to provide more of his own insight and reaction to the period; his style while writing on the Spanish Inquisition, the deaths under Mary in England, and the violence of Protestant and Catholic authorities is cold. In addition, not much attention is given to the theology of this period as is given to the social consequences. The author does well, however, in providing a well-balanced, non-biased approach. It is valuable, but while many refer to this period to understand Luther’s view on grace and Calvin’s Institutes, those are glossed over in this work.

It is useful as a concise history of the Reformation, but it is better suited for an academic audience rather than being easily accessible to a common reader due to the depth of information. It serves of great value as a quick reference book and resource for further study. For students, this book would be helpful to read in order to grasp this period of history, but for the theologian, the value would lie in theological backgrounds. Indeed, Spitz lays a proper historical groundwork of this period, remaining committed to portraying the benefits and ills of the Reformation.

Reviewed by Joshua Shirey, Biola University.

[1] Robert Rosin, 1996, “Spitz, Lewis W, 1895-1996,” Concordia Journal 22, no. 2: (134-136) accessed November 17, 2016, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[2] Schaeffer, Peter. “Lewis W. Spitz (1922-1999).” The Sixteenth Century Journal 31, no. 1 (2000): 148.