The Reformation

Its Roots and Its Legacy

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Pierre Berthoud, Pieter J. Lalleman
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , September
     246 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation have come and gone. What meaning and importance do its teachings have for Reformation Christians in the future? The essays in The Reformation focus “on the question [of] what to do with the message of the Reformation in the era after 2017.” They see the events of 500 years ago as the beginning of a Reformation which released a “new theology” that brought about “radical change with global effects,” which continue to inspire, correct, and guide the church today (xi). Thus, the essays in this book view the Reformation as an “ongoing movement of renewal and change,” taking into consideration the changes that have occurred since 1517. The authors write from the perspective “that the essence of [the Reformers’] theology does not need to be adapted to make it relevant” today (xii), thereby concentrating on “what is the calling of reformed churches and reformed people in the next 500 years” (xiii).

The first essay, by Gerald Bray, examines the divisions resulting from the Reformation that exist in Christianity today, Bray views the church as “a spiritual body of believers, called into being by the work of the Holy Spirit,” which also has “visible” outward forms. Bray encourages the greater cooperation of Christians, while also recognizing the separations resulting from the doctrinal divisions and “differences of opinion” that still exist (16).

Jan Habl gives an exposition of Jacob Comenius’s educational philosophy rooted in his view of the “ontological and moral character of human beings” (19). Comenius’s holistic, pansophic educational philosophy, rooted in the Christian faith, recognizes “the ambivalence of” human “ontological nobility and moral depravity” due to the fall into sin (30). This understanding helps Reformation Christians counter the “over-romanticizing of” the innate goodness of “human nature” evident in modern educational philosophy (29). 

Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker examines the artistic legacy of the Reformation, revealing its wide range of expression from bare walls to more recent visual artistic expression both inside and outside the church. Hengelaar-Rookmaaker encourages modern religious artists to see themselves as servants and not as autonomous cultural prophets.

Walter Hilbrands looks at the heritage of Reformation music, liturgy, and hymns, which many credit as helping the success of the Reformation. He notes the distinction between the Lutheran use of secular folk songs that were “spiritualized” (56), and the Reformed Genevan Psalter, which was more “Gregorian” in style. Reformation hymns expressed a wide range of faith and life experiences of Christians. Hilbrands wonders whether modern hymns will do the same.

Gert Kwakkel examines the Reformation perspective on scripture and contrasts it with modern historical criticism. The works of Hans-Joachim Klaus and Roy Harrisville are specifically addressed because both see the roots of historical criticism in the way Luther and Calvin approached scripture.

Anthony Lane’s essay on justification moves through Luther, Calvin, the Regensburg Colloquy, the latest Roman Catholic catechism, and the Joint Declaration on Justification and concludes that there “are still serious issues to be resolved,” and that there is “need for further progress” (100). 

Andrew McGowan studies Luther’s view of authority in the church, stating that, for Luther, scripture—not the church—is the final authority. In contrast to Luther’s view, McGowan sees the modern church “moving away from the conviction that Scripture” is the “final authority.” He sees modern church bodies “taking to themselves the right to articulate doctrine irrespective of the clear teaching of Scripture” (119).

Christoph Raedel studies changes in the view of guilt, shame, and forgiveness from the Reformation to the present. He attributes these changes to “a significant shift” in how people today “relate to authority,” the rise of “unbounded individualism,” and the “eclipse of God” from society (123-24). Hence, guilt, shame, and forgiveness are now primarily viewed anthropocentrically. Raedel’s essay challenges this modern view with a more Reformation-oriented view, centered in the gospel of Christ.

Jean-Paul Rempp examines the contemporary applicability of the Reformation’s view of the Jews. Luther’s original, positive view of the Jews led many Jews to see Luther as “the precursor of the Messiah,” and as “a crypto-Jew” (144). Rempp also states reasons for Luther’s changed perspective. Rempp makes a case for Calvin’s more positive view of the Jews, concluding that though Calvin was no “philo-Semite,” his theology “inaugurated a new era” in the Christian view of the Jews, which eventually led to “the Christian philo-Semite movement” (155).   

Thomas Schirrmacher looks at the Reformation’s view of Islam, noting Luther’s rejection of religious crusades and his positive evangelistic perspective towards Muslims. Three theses are set forth for the study of Islam: (1) the need to read original sources; (2) the need for Christian self-criticism; and (3) “the need for peaceful witness and mission” outreach to Muslims (161). Shirrmacher’s essay contrasts Islamic teachings with eight biblical Reformation teachings (162-74). This part of his essay is worth the price of the book.  

Frank-Ole Thoresen writes about the theology of the cross. Since many Christians today face persecution for their faith, his essay helps modern-day Christians understand that just as Christ and Christians were persecuted in the past, so they too might face persecution today; and that as the church in former days overcame persecution, so too the modern church will be “empowered” by God “to persevere” in their trials (189).

Paul Wells draws contrasts between the Christian view of the freedom of conscience and the modern view, which he understands as resembling “the worst forms of oppression and moral turpitude” as well as contributing to the “moral misery and moral blindness” that afflicts the Western world today (191-92). He offers a Reformation view of freedom in contrast.

As heirs of the Reformation, this book gives today’s Protestant Christians much food for thought as they attempt to live their Reformation beliefs.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Armand Boehme is Associate Pastor at Trinity Luthern in Northfield, Minnesota.

Date of Review: 
June 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Pierre Berthoud is professor emeritus of Old Testament and Apologetics at the Faculte Jean Calvin, Aix-en-Provence, France, and chair of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians.

Pieter J. Lalleman is tutor in Biblical studies at Spurgeon's College, London.


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