Skip to content

Barrett’s Book Notes: Chalcedon, Fathers, and the history of the Bible and its interpretation

William G. Rusch, ed. Henry Chadwick: Selected Writings. Eerdmans, 2017.

I was pleasantly surprised the other day to receive a copy of Henry Chadwick’s Selected Writings from Eerdmans. The more history I read the more I am drawn to certain historians of the past who have that rare talent of opening your eyes to facets of historical-theological controversy that you were not aware of before. Henry Chadwick (1920-2008) is one historian I keep returning to and his works deserve to be mastered. Some of the books that have occupied me in the past include his The Reformation, Alexandrian Christianity (LCC), The Early Church, Augustine’s The Confessions (OWC), and Augustine of Hippo: A Life (which I had the pleasure of reviewing). This new volume, however, adds further insight into this great mind. The book spans a wide variety of subjects, but one I especially enjoyed was “The Chalcedonian Definition.” So clear, so insightful, so informative. It’s a short chapter and one I may have my students read going forward.

Has a biography been written on Chadwick? I don’t know of one. Perhaps there is a historian out there who might take up that worthy task.

Bryan M. Litfin. Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction. Second Edition. Baker Academic, 2016.

The second edition of Litfin’s book is now out. His line—“Most Christians today haven’t met the fathers”—well, it’s so true. Litfin’s right, few in the church today and few students today know the fathers. I am trying to remedy this by having my students read, for example, Athanasius on the incarnation, Tertullian on the Trinity, or Augustine on grace.  Litfin’s book is a helpful primer to the Fathers and one that could be read alongside of them. I would suggest reading a chapter in Litfin and then reading the works he’s engaged in that chapter. What a tremendous exercise that would be.

Stephen and Martin Westerholm. Reading Sacred Scripture: Voices from the History of Biblical Interpretation. Eerdmans, 2016.

One of the most important questions you could ask is: How have those before me interpreted the Bible? Even better: How have the greatest Christian thinkers before me interpreted the Bible? I love contemporary commentaries on scripture and have walls of them. However, I often find myself drawn to those shelves where the “greats” have interpreted the scriptures. A Luther, a Calvin, an Augustine, etc. often have just as much, sometimes far more, insight into the biblical text. In this new volume the Westerholms takes us into the world of twelve different interpreters: Irenaeus, Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, The Pietists and Wesley, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Barth, Bonhoeffer. The Westerholms provide readers with an extensive treatment of each theologian’s hermeneutical method. I imagine this will become important reading for classes on hermeneutics…at least if they are paying attention to what anyone’s said prior to the 20th century!

Jennifer Powell McNutt and David Lauber. The People’s Book: The Reformation and the Bible. InterVarsity Press, 2017.

This collection of chapters is the product of the 2016 Wheaton Theology Conference. This book is worth reading through as a whole. Yet I will mention a few chapters that readers may be drawn to:

Bruce Gordon, “Teaching the Church: Protestant Latin Bibles and Their Readers.”

Randall Zachman, “Learning to Read Scripture for Ourselves: The Guidance of Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin.”

Michael Horton, “John Calvin’s Commentary on the Council of Trent.”

Christopher Castaldo, “The Bible and the Italian Reformation.”

Carl Trueman, “Reading the Reformers After Newman.”

Again, there are many more, but this gives a sense of the book. A valuable contribution to the growing literature on the Reformation and the Word of God.

Mark A. Noll. In the Beginning was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

I’m not sure I can capture Noll’s new book better than the description, so here it is:

In the beginning of American history, the Word was in Spanish, Latin, and native languages like Nahuatal. But while Spanish and Catholic Christianity reached the New World in 1492, it was only with the coming of the Mayflower that English-language Bibles and Protestant Christendom arrived. The Puritans brought with them intense devotion to Scripture, as well as their ideal of Christendom – a civilization characterized by a thorough intermingling of the Bible with everything else. That ideal began this country’s journey from the Puritan’s City on a Hill to the Bible-quoting country the U.S. remains to this day. In the Beginning shows how important the Bible remained, even as that Puritan ideal changed considerably through the early stages of American history.

It is no exaggeration to claim that the Bible has been ― and by far ― the single most widely-read text, distributed object, and cited or referenced book in all of American history. Author Mark Noll shows how seventeenth-century Americans received conflicting models of scriptural authority from Europe: the Bible under Christendom (high Anglicanism), the Bible over Christendom (moderate Puritanism), and the Bible against Christendom (Anabaptists, enthusiasts, Quakers). In the eighteenth century, the colonists turned increasingly to the Bible against Christendom, a stance that fueled the Revolution against Anglican Britain and prepared the way for a new country founded on the separation of church and state.

One of the foremost scholars of American Christianity, Mark Noll brings a wealth of research and wisdom to In the Beginning. This book is the first of a projected two-volume study of the Bible in American history, and provides a sweeping, engaging, and insightful survey of the relationship between the Bible and public issues from the beginning of European settlement. A seminal new work from a world-class scholar, In the Beginning offers a fresh account of the contested, sometimes ambiguous, but definite biblical roots of American history.

I find Noll’s categories—the Bible under Christendom (high Anglicanism), the Bible over Christendom (moderate Puritanism), and the Bible against Christendom (Anabaptists, enthusiasts, Quakers)—intriguing and will be curious to see how other historians react to them. Like Chadwick, Noll is one of the premier historians of our day and in this new study his thesis may prove to add new light to the establishment of Christianity in America leading up to the age of revolution and beyond.

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is tutor of systematic theology and church history at Oak Hill Theological College in London, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of several books, including Salvation by Grace (P&R, 2013), Owen on the Christian Life (Crossway, 2015), God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Zondervan, 2016), and Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2017). Currently he is the series editor of The 5 Solas Series with Zondervan. You can read more at

Back to Top