Skip to content

Summer reading for church historians – part 3 (Matthew Barrett)

So I promised in my last post that I would do a follow up post and recommend several series in historical theology and church history for this summer’s reading. I am going to limit myself to just three, and each of these tends to be academic. (Come back in future weeks for more recommendations for biblical studies!) Here we go…

41vrX6lENjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Oxford Studies in Historical Theology. Series Editor, David C. Steinmetz. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This is really an outstanding series. Each volume is high quality scholarship, well researched, and written by notable scholars who have unique specializations. I am always eager to see what the next book in the series is because the range this series covers is so extensive, not only covering a wide scope of historical eras but a variety of theological topics. Here are some of the most recent books to get your hands on:

Richard Snoddy. The Soteriology of James Ussher: The Act and Object of Saving Faith (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology)

Drawing on material from a range of genres, with extensive reference to manuscript collections, Richard Snoddy offers a detailed study of James Ussher’s applied soteriology. After locating Ussher in the ecclesiastical context of seventeenth-century Ireland and England, Snoddy examines his teaching on the doctrines of atonement, justification, sanctification, and assurance. He considers their interconnection in Ussher’s thought, particularly the manner in which a general atonement functions as the ground of justification and the extent to which it functions as the ground of assurance. The book documents Ussher’s change of mind on a number of important issues, especially how, from holding to a limited atonement and an assurance that is of the essence of faith, he moved to belief in a general atonement and an assurance obtained through experimental piety. Within the framework of one widely accepted scholarly paradigm he appears to move from one logically inconsistent position to another, but his thought contains an inner logic that questions the explanatory power of that paradigm. This insightful study sheds new light on the diversity of seventeenth-century Reformed theology in the British Isles.

Michael C. Legaspi. The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology)

The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies examines the creation of the academic Bible. Beginning with the fragmentation of biblical interpretation in the centuries after the Reformation, Michael Legaspi shows how the weakening of scriptural authority in the Western churches altered the role of biblical interpretation. Focusing on renowned German scholar Johann David Michaelis (1717-1791), Legaspi explores the ways in which critics reconceived the role of the Bible. This book offers a new account of the origins of biblical studies, illuminating the relation of the Bible to churchly readers, theological interpreters, academic critics, and people in between. It explains why, in an age of religious resurgence, modern biblical criticism may no longer be in a position to serve as the Bible’s disciplinary gatekeeper.

John Halsey Wood Jr. Going Dutch in the Modern Age: Abraham Kuyper’s Struggle for a Free Church in the Netherlands (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology)

Abraham Kuyper is known as the energetic Dutch Protestant social activist and public theologian of the 1898 Princeton Stone Lectures, the Lectures on Calvinism. In fact, the church was the point from which Kuyper’s concerns for society and public theology radiated. In his own words, ”The problem of the church is none other than the problem of Christianity itself.” The loss of state support for the church, religious pluralism, rising nationalism, and the populist religious revivals sweeping Europe in the nineteenth century all eroded the church’s traditional supports. Dutch Protestantism faced the unprecedented prospect of ”going Dutch”; from now on it would have to pay its own way. John Wood examines how Abraham Kuyper adapted the Dutch church to its modern social context through a new account of the nature of the church and its social position. The central concern of Kuyper’s ecclesiology was to re-conceive the relationship between the inner aspects of the church–the faith and commitment of the members–and the external forms of the church, such as doctrinal confessions, sacraments, and the relationship of the church to the Dutch people and state. Kuyper’s solution was to make the church less dependent on public entities such as nation and state and more dependent on private support, especially the good will of its members. This ecclesiology de-legitimated the national church and helped Kuyper justify his break with the church, but it had wider effects as well. It precipitated a change in his theology of baptism from a view of the instrumental efficacy of the sacrament to his later doctrine of presumptive regeneration wherein the external sacrament followed, rather than preceded and prepared for, the intenral work grace. This new ecclesiology also gave rise to his well-known public theology; once he achieved the private church he wanted, as the Netherlands’ foremost public figure, he had to figure out how to make Christianity public again.

Susan E. Schreiner. Are You Alone Wise?: The Search for Certainty in the Early Modern Era (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology)

The topic of certitude is much debated today. On one side, commentators such as Charles Krauthammer urge us to achieve “moral clarity.” On the other, those like George Will contend that the greatest present threat to civilization is an excess of certitude. To address this uncomfortable debate, Susan Schreiner turns to the intellectuals of early modern Europe, a period when thought was still fluid and had not yet been reified into the form of rationality demanded by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Schreiner argues that Europe in the sixteenth century was preoccupied with concerns similar to ours; both the desire for certainty — especially religious certainty — and warnings against certainty permeated the earlier era. Digging beneath overt theological and philosophical problems, she tackles the underlying fears of the period as she addresses questions of salvation, authority, the rise of skepticism, the outbreak of religious violence, the discernment of spirits, and the ambiguous relationship between appearance and reality.

In her examination of the history of theological polemics and debates (as well as other genres), Schreiner sheds light on the repeated evaluation of certainty and the recurring fear of deception. Among the texts she draws on are Montaigne’s Essays, the mystical writings of Teresa of Avila, the works of Reformation fathers William of Occam, Luther, Thomas Muntzer, and Thomas More; and the dramas of Shakespeare. The result is not a book about theology, but rather about the way in which the concern with certitude determined the theology, polemics and literature of an age.

Adam Ployd. Augustine, the Trinity, and the Church: A Reading of the Anti-Donatist Sermons (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology)

The legacy of Augustine of Hippo (354-430) continues to shape Western Christian language about both the Trinity and the Church, yet scholars rarely treat these two topics as related in his work. In Augustine, the Trinity, and the Church, Adam Ployd argues that Augustine’s ecclesiology drew upon his Trinitarian theology to a surprising degree; this connection appears most clearly in a series of sermons Augustine preached in 406-407 against the Donatists, the rival Christian communion in North Africa.

As he preached, Augustine deployed scriptural interpretations derived from his Latin pro-Nicene predecessors – but he adapted these Trinitarian arguments to construct a vision of the charitable unity of the Catholic Church against the Donatists. To condemn the Donatists for separating from the body of Christ, for example, Augustine appropriated a pro-Nicene Christology that viewed Christ’s body as the means for ascent to his divinity. Augustine also further identified the love that unites Christians to each other and to Christ in his body as the Holy Spirit, who gives to us what he eternally is as the mutual love of Father and Son. On the central issue of baptism, Augustine made the sacrament a Trinitarian act as Christ gives the Spirit to his own body.

The book ultimately shows that, for Augustine, the unity and integrity of the Church depended not upon the purity of the bishops or the guarded boundaries of the community, but upon the work of the triune God who unites us to Christ through the love of the Spirit, whom Christ himself gives in baptism.

Christopher A. Beeley. Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God: In Your Light We Shall See Light (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology)

Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 CE), “the Theologian,” is the premier teacher on the Holy Trinity in Eastern Christian tradition, yet for over a century historians and theologians have largely neglected his work.

Christopher Beeley’s groundbreaking study — the first comprehensive treatment in modern scholarship — examines Gregory’s doctrine of the Trinity within the full range of his theological and practical vision. Following an overview of Gregory’s life and major works, Beeley traces the central soteriological meaning of Gregory’s doctrine in the spiritual dialectic of purification and illumination; the dynamic process of divinization (theosis); the singular identity of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God; the divinity and essential presence of the Holy Spirit; and the interpretation of Scripture “according to the Spirit.” The book culminates in Gregory’s understanding of the Trinity as a whole — which is “theology” in the fullest sense — rooted in the monarchy of God the Father and uniquely known in the divine economy of salvation. Finally, Beeley identifies the Trinitarian shape of pastoral ministry, on which Gregory is also the foundational teacher for later Christian tradition.

Beeley offers new insights in several key areas, reinterpreting the famous Theological Orations and Christological epistles within the full corpus of Gregory’s orations, poems, and letters. Gregory stands out as the leading ecclesiastical figure in the Eastern Roman Empire and the most powerful theologian of his age, who produced the definitive expression of Trinitarian orthodoxy from a characteristically Eastern tradition of Origenist theology, independent of the work of Athanasius and in several respects more insightful than his Cappadocian contemporaries.

Long eclipsed in modern scholarship, Gregory Nazianzen is now brought into full view as the major witness to the Trinity among the Greek fathers of the Church.

Paul C. H. Lim. Mystery Unveiled: The Crisis of the Trinity in Early Modern England (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology)

Paul C. H. Lim offers an insightful examination of the polemical debates about the doctrine of the Trinity in seventeenth-century England, showing that the philosophical and theological re-configuration of this doctrine had a significant impact on the politics of religion in the early modern period.

Lim’s analysis of these heated polemics shows how Trinitarian God-talk became untenable in many ecclesiastical and philosophical circles, leading to the emergence of Unitarianism. He demonstrates that those who continued to uphold Trinitarian doctrine articulated their piety and theological perspectives in an increasingly secularized culture of discourse. Drawing on both unexplored manuscripts and well-known treatises of Continental and English provenance, he uncovers the complex layers of the polemic: from biblical exegesis to reception history of patristic authorities, from popular religious radicalism during the Civil War to Puritan spirituality, from Continental Socinians to English anti-Trinitarians who claimed an independent theological identity, from the notion of the Platonic captivity of primitive Christianity to that of Plato as “Moses Atticus.”

Among this book’s surprising findings are that Anti-Trinitarian sentiment arose in a Puritan ambience in which biblical literalism overrode rationalistic presuppositions, and that theology and philosophy were more closely connected during this period than previously thought. Mystery Unveiled fills a significant lacuna in early modern English intellectual history.

51-jnSpjyfL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Christian Theology in Context. Series Editors: Timothy Gorringe, Serene Jones, Graham Ward. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Here is another series by Oxford, except each book in this series is meant to introduce the reader to the life, theology, and social context of some of the most important theologians. Again, a very helpful series and one I would recommend digging into first if the previous series feels too specific in its topics. Here are the most recent books:

John Behr. Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity (Christian Theology in Context)

This book provides a full, contextual study of St Irenaeus of Lyons, the first great theologian of the Christian tradition. John Behr sets Irenaeus both within his own context of the second century, a fundamental period for the formation of Christian identity, elaborating the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy and expounding a comprehensive theological vision, and also within our own contemporary context, in which these issues are very much alive again. Against the commonly-held position that ‘orthodoxy’ was established by excluding others, the ‘heretics’, Behr argues that it was the self-chosen separation of the heretics that provided the occasion for those who remained together to clarify the lineaments of their faith in a church that was catholic by virtue of embracing different voices in a symphony of many voices and whose chief architect was Irenaeus, who, as befits his name, urged peace and toleration.

David M. Gwynn. Athanasius of Alexandria: Bishop, Theologian, Ascetic, Father (Christian Theology in Context)

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.295-373) is one of the greatest and most controversial figures of early Christian history. His life spanned the period of fundamental change for the Roman Empire and the Christian Church that followed the conversion of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor. A bishop and theologian, an ascetic and a pastoral father, Athanasius played a central role in shaping Christianity in these crucial formative years. As bishop of Alexandria (328-73) he fought to unite the divided Egyptian Church and inspired admiration and opposition alike from fellow bishops and the emperor Constantine and his successors. Athanasius attended the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea summoned by Constantine in 325 and as a theologian would be remembered as the defender of the original Nicene Creed against the ‘Arian’ heresy. He was also a champion of the ascetic movement that transformed Christianity, a patron of monks and virgins and the author of numerous ascetic works including the famous Life of Antony. All these elements played their part in Athanasius’ vocation as a pastoral father, responsible for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of his congregations. This book offers the first study in English to draw together these diverse yet inseparable roles that defined Athanasius’ life and the influence that he exerted on subsequent Christian tradition. The presentation is accessible to both specialists and non-specialists and is illuminated throughout by extensive quotation from Athanasius’ many writings, for it is through his own words that we may best approach this remarkable man.

Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt. Thomas Aquinas: Faith, Reason, and Following Christ (Christian Theology in Context)

Thomas Aquinas is widely recognized as one of history’s most significant Christian theologians and one of the most powerful philosophical minds of the western tradition. But what has often not been sufficiently attended to is the fact that he carried out his theological and philosophical labours as a part of his vocation as a Dominican friar, dedicated to a life of preaching and the care of souls. Fererick Christian Bauerschmidt places Aquinas’s thought within the context of that vocation, and argues that his views on issues of God, creation, Christology, soteriology, and the Christian life are both shaped by and in service to the distinctive goals of the Dominicans. What Aquinas says concerning both matters of faith and matters of reason, as well as his understanding of the relationship between the two, are illuminated by the particular Dominican call to serve God through handing on to others through preaching and teaching the fruits of one’s own theological reflection.

31sWuGB7q0L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Reformed Historical Theology. Series Editor: Herman J. Selderhuis. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Out of the three, this series is the most specific in its focus, zeroing in on the history of Reformed theology. I think it is also the most expensive of the three! But it is exceptional. If you want to grow in your knowledge of Reformed doctrine and history, here is a great series to dive into, though it will require some advanced knowledge at times. Also, some of the books below technically fall within the Refo500 Academic Series, also edited by Selderhuis. I highly recommend these volumes! What a service Selderhuis is to us, providing such a library on Reformation history and doctrine. (I especially recommend J.V. Fesko’s volume below. A must read!)

Herman J. Selderhuis and J. Marius J. Lange van Ravenswaay, eds. Reformed Majorities in Early Modern Europe (Refo500 Academic Studies)

This volume contains the papers of the international RefoRC conference on ‘Reformed Majorities and Minorities in Early Modern Europe’ as it was organized by the Johannes a Lasco Bibliothek, Emden in cooperation with the Faculty of ‘Artes Liberales’ of the University of Warsaw. The conference took place April 10-12, 2013 in Emden and was part of the research project ‘Doctrina et Tolerantia’ directed by the Johannes a Lasco Bibliothek. The contributions in this volume deal with the question how the relation between doctrine and toleration was dealt with in territories with a Reformed majority. Did the refugee-experience of the Reformed make them tolerant or militant? How did official policy relate to everyday practice? Were there different opinions on this issue within the Reformed tradition? The answers to these questions give more insights into the diversity of international Calvinism and the way theory was put into practice.

R. Ward Holder, ed. Calvin and Luther: Calvin and Luther: The Continuing Relationship (Refo500 Academic Studies) (Refo500 Academic Studies (R5as))

The reforms begun by Luther and Calvin became two of the largest and most influential movements to arise in the sixteenth century, but frequently, these two movements are seen and defined as polar opposites – one’s theology is Reformed or Lutheran, one is a member of a Reformed or Lutheran congregation. Historically, these were two very separate movements – but more remains to be understood that can best be analyzed in the context of the other. Just as surely as the historical question of the boundaries between Calvin and Luther, or Lutheranism and Calvinism must be answered with a resounding yes, the ongoing doctrinal questions offer a different picture. In the more systematic doctrinal articles, an argument is forwarded that the broad confessional continuity between Luther and Calvin on the soteriological theme of union with Christ offers still-unexplored avenues to both deeper understandings of soteriology. Through such articles, we begin to see the possibility of a rapprochement between Calvin and Luther as sources, though not as historical figures. But that insight allows the conversation to extend, and bear far greater fruit. Contributors are, J.T. Billings, Ch. Helmer, H.P. Jurgens, S.C. Karant-Nunn, R. Kolb, Th.F. Latini, G.S. Pak, J. Watt, T.J. Wengert, P. Westermeyer, and D.M. Whitford.

Jairzinho Lopes Pereira. Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther on Original Sin and Justification of the Sinner (Refo500 Academic Studies (R5as))

English summary: Pereira demonstrates how Augustine came to break with the patristic soteriology and anthropological theology and adopted the radicalism of grace with which he faced the theologians associated with the fifth-century Pelagianis. It was precisely that radicalism of grace that made of Augustine Luther’s favourite theologian. The same radicalism was adopted by Luther in his opposition to the recentiores doctores, the Nominalist theologians. Without overlooking the crucial role played by the Pauline corpus, the author says that Augustine’s anti-Pelagian thesis were at the core of the young Luther’s soteriological and anthropological claims and were the driving force behind Luther’s cry for reformation.

Jeongmo Yoo. John Edwards (1637-1716) on Human Free Choice and Divine Necessity: The Debate on the Relation between Divine Necessity and Human Freedom in Late … England (Reformed Historical Theology)

Yeongmo Yoo examines John Edwards’ (1637-1716) doctrine of free choice, focusing on his understanding of the relation between divine necessity and human freedom. Even though free choice is an important theme in the history of Reformed theology, Reformed teaching on free choice has gained much less attention by modern scholars than other Reformed themes such as faith, grace and predestination. Moreover, the traditional Reformed doctrine of free choice has been frequently criticized as metaphysical or philosophical determinism by modern scholars. The crux of this criticism is the claim that the classical Reformed doctrine of divine necessity such as divine decree, providence, and grace rule out human freedom or contingency of events in the world.Filling the historiographical gap, Yoo raises a fundamental question concerning the criticism of the Reformed doctrine of free choice in relationship to divine necessity as determinism. Unlike the deterministic interpretation of traditional Reformed thought on free choice, the substantive and careful study of Edwards’ writings on free choice in the intellectual context of the seventeenth and the eighteenth century shows that in Edwards’ view, human beings retain the natural freedom from compulsion and freedom of contrary choice even after the Fall, and divine necessity such as decree, predestination, and foreknowledge does not exclude human free choice at all. Therefore, in so far as human freedom and contingencies are maintained by Edwards, especially with respect to divine necessity, his thought does not conform to the stereotype of Reformed theology as a deterministic system. Consequently, the examination of Edwards’ view of free choice points toward the need for a broad reassessment of Reformed understanding of free choice in the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras.

Arnold Huijgen, ed. The Spirituality of the Heidelberg Catechism: Papers of the International Conference on the Heidelberg Catechism Held in Apeldoorn 2013 (Refo500 Academic Studies)

At the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism, an international conference on the spirituality of the Heidelberg Catechism was held at the Theological University Apeldoorn, 21-22 June 2013. This publication offers the plenary papers presented, and a selection of the short papers. While the papers center on the Catechism’s spirituality, a wide range of topics is covered, from both historical and theological perspectives. These topics include: the roles of Ursinus and Olevianus, controverse theologians, anabaptist spirituality, comparisons with Calvin’s Genevan Catechism and the later Synopsis of Purer Theology. Also, the distinct spirituality of faith, regeneration, the trinity, the law and prayer in the Heidelberg Catechism are scrutinized, besides the idea of mystical union and the art of dying and living. Three contributions reflect on the controversy on the Eucharist which has stamped the Heidelberg Catechism. From a practical-theological perspective, the preaching and teaching of the Catechism are discussed, as well as the mode of gospel presentation and the permanent character of catechetical instruction. So, this volume offers a broad range of scholarly perspectives on the Catechism. Its spirituality is famous for the first question and answer, on the only comfort in life and death: ‘That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.’

Donald John MacLean. James Durham (1622-1658): And the Gospel Offer in its Seventeenth Century Context (Reformed Historical Theology)

The free offer of the gospel has been a matter of significant debate within Reformed theology. However, despite this controversy, Reformed theologians such as James Durham preached a gospel offer which was a sincere and free invitation from God to all, to embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour. This gospel offer expressed God’s grace and goodness to all. Donald MacLean argues that Durham’s doctrinal position is representative of the Westminster Standards and embraced by his contemporaries and evidenced by the later disputes concerning the meaning of the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Daniël Timmerman. Heinrich Bullinger on Prophecy and the Prophetic Office (1523-1538) (Reformed Historical Theology)

It has often been noted that the Protestant Reformation of the early sixteenth century witnessed a revived interest in the scriptural notions of prophets and prophecy. Drawing from both late medieval apocalyptic expectations of the immanent end of the world and from a humanist revival of biblical studies, the prophet appeared to many as a suitable role model for the Protestant preacher. A prominent proponent of this prophetic model was the Swiss theologian and church leader Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575). This study by Daniël Timmerman presents the first in-depth investigation of Bullinger’s concept of prophecy and his understanding of the prophetic office. It also engages with the history of the Zurich institute for the study of the Scriptures, which has become widely known as the “”Prophezei””.

J. V. Fesko. Beyond Calvin: Union with Christ and Justification in Early Modern Reformed Theology (1517-1700) (Reformed Historical Theology)

The investigation of union with Christ and justification has been dominated by the figure of John Calvin. Calvin’s influence, however, has been exaggerated in our own day. Theologians within the Early Modern Reformed tradition contributed to the development of these doctrines and did not view Calvin as the normative theologian of the tradition. John V. Fesko, therefore, goes beyond Calvin and explores union with Christ and justification in the Reformation, Early Orthodox, and High Orthodox periods of the Reformed tradition and covers lesser known but equally important figures such as Juan de Valdes, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Girolamo Zanchi, William Perkins, John Owen, Francis Turretin, and Herman Witsius. The study also covers theologians that either lie outside or transgress the Reformed tradition, such as Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Faustus Socinus, Jacob Arminius, and Richard Baxter. By treating this diverse body of figures the study reveals areas of agreement and diversity on these two doctrines. The author demonstrates that among the diverse formulations, all surveyed Reformed theologians accord justification priority over sanctification within the broader rubric of union with Christ. Fesko shows that Reformed theologians affirm both union with Christ and the golden chain of salvation, ideas that moderns find incompatible. In sum, rather than reading an individual theologian isolated from his context, this study provides a contextual reading of union with Christ and justification in the Early Modern Reformed context.

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. Two forthcoming books include, Owen on the Christian Life and God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at

Back to Top