Doing Theology with the Reformers. By Gerald L. Bray. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019. 277 pp. Paper, $23.99.
Bray is a professor at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. In this book, he discusses how the various strands of theological thought in the Reformation of the sixteenth century were the basis of the different denominational confessions of today. These strands include the theology of Luther, the Zwinglians, the Calvinists, and the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists are represented today by the Mennonites, Hutterites, and the Amish, among others. Baptists are much closer to the Calvinists. The Anglicans are also basically Calvinists, but with their own specific characteristics (p. viii). Bray makes it clear that he does not want to discuss the Reformation as much as he wants to discuss the theology of the Reformers.
One of the problems with studying the theology of the Reformation is that the Reformers thought in Latin. In translating Latin into English, the translator sometimes has the difficult task in determining which English word is the correct translation of the thought of the particular Reformer (p. 9). There is also a short but excellent discussion on how different countries were Catholic and others Protestant, and how that came about (pp. 11-13).
The Lord’s Supper became a sharp point of contention. Bray points out that transubstantiation was first introduced in the ninth century. This made the priests indispensable. It, along with other sacraments, became a way to receive grace. Bray also discusses how other issues, such as purgatory, were developed by the Catholic Church, and how the Reformers addressed the issues (pp. 26, 30).
The discussion is of necessity short, but Bray does a good job of explaining the rise of the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate. Bray says that the Vulgate is more accurate than the later Textus Receptus (p. 49). It is clear that Bray supports the Critical Text of New Testament Greek.
The Reformers also had to deal with allegory in the interpretation of the Scriptures since the Catholic Church had used it extensively (pp. 52-55). In addition, Catholic tradition often took the place of the Scriptures among Catholics. Bray says one of the biggest issues with the Protestants was the authority of the Pope. More than anything else, rejecting that authority is what defined a Protestant (p. 72).
The Reformers belonged to a culture in which it was taken for granted that baptism washed away sin and was necessary for salvation (p. 159). Different Reformers took different positions on the meaning of the sacraments.
Bray indicates that Luther had what would later be called a Calvinist view of salvation. He was a strong advocate of justification by faith but believed faith was given by God (pp. 168-69).
It was surprising for this reviewer that Calvin did not place a high value on the doctrine of the Trinity. He did not believe it was taught in the Bible but said that the orthodox teachings on the subject best reflected what we find in the Bible. It was not necessary to believe in the Trinity in order to be saved (pp. 98-99).
For the readers of the JOTGES, Bray has an interesting discussion on how the Reformers saw assurance of salvation (pp. 170ff). The Catholic Church spoke of the hope of going to heaven after a period of time in purgatory. Protestants claimed to know where they were going. Bray says they had assurance. However, these men then contradicted themselves by saying that a believer had to be obedient to the commands of the Lord since justification and sanctification are inseparable (p. 179). Luther said good works are inevitable (p. 183). Bray says the difference between Catholicism and the Reformers is that Catholics said good works contribute to our salvation, while Protestants said they are the inevitable results. Most readers will recognize that practically there is no difference in those positions.
There is also an interesting discussion on how the civilian government of a particular state often determined the religion of the people (p. 191). The Reformation impacted politics and society as a whole (p. 202). Some Reformers after Luther wanted to punish sins with civil punishment, including the death penalty (p. 207).
Chapter six shows how denominational confessions developed from the theology of the Reformers. The concluding chapter lists the core doctrines of Protestantism. These are the radical nature of the fall of man, the radical nature of salvation, and the radical nature of the authority of the Bible.
The book is easy to read. It contains a great deal of information about how the Reformers dealt with the theological issues they faced in opposition to the Catholic Church and even how the Reformation greatly impacted society as a whole. It also clearly points out that there were many different views among the Protestants. These differences explain much of the denominational differences we see in Christendom today. I highly recommend the book.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society