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Barrett’s Reformation Book Notes, Part II

Today I continue to highlight some of the many publications this year on Reformation history and theology in light of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This is Part 2 (see Part 1) of a four-part series.

Chris Wickham. Medieval Europe: From the Breakup of the Western Roman Empire to the Reformation. Yale University Press, 2016, 2017.

Now in paperback is Chris Wickham’s Medieval Europe. Here is a survey that covers an impressive amount of territory in just 250 pages. This book should be added to reading lists on medieval history. At times the book can feel tedious, getting into details as small as tax-collecting agendas. But it’s detail also means it is thorough, leaving readers with few stones unturned. The book is relevant historical background to the political and ecclesiastical winds that begin to blow at the start of the sixteenth-century.

Peter Marshall. Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation. Yale University Press, 2017.

Marshall, professor of history at the University of Warwick, winner of the Harold J. Grimm Prize for Reformation History, has written a massive, substantial, and impressive history of the English Reformation. Marshall does not merely regurgitate histories of the past however. His volume challenges past interpretations, claiming that there were “competing visions of ‘reform’” present in sixteenth-century England. How Marshall interprets those competing visions could prove controversial. Yet Marshall’s interpretation must be engaged and should be required reading for any study of sixteenth century reform under Henry VIII.

Kirk M. Summers. Morality After Calvin: Theodore Beza’s Christian Censor and Reformed Ethics. Oxford Studies in Historical Theology. Oxford University Press, 20147.

The OSHT series is an excellent model for PhD students in historical theology. Never short on academic vigor, the series continues to pump out books that offer fresh research, sometimes even introducing historical works yet unexplored. That is the case with Summers’s Morality After Calvin, which approaches Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor, from a new angle: his poetic work, the Cato Censorius Christianus of 1591. Doing so opens a door into the ethical life of the Reformed Church that John Calvin was so instrumental in establishing. More specifically, the book helps us better understand how the Reformed understood grace throughout the Christian life, not merely at its beginning or end. Also illuminating is the perspective the book gives to the Reformed use of the Mosaic Law after Christ.

Scott Manetsch commends the book:

“Much more than a penetrating commentary on Theodore Beza’s long-forgotten work Cato Censorius Christianus, Kirk Summers’ monograph Morality After Calvin maps out the ethical principles and moral practices that animated Reformed Christians in the early modern period. This erudite and expansive study will be essential reading for all who want to understand John Calvin and his successors’ moral vision for the Christian life and society.”

Robert Kolb and Carl Trueman. Between Wittenberg and Geneva: Lutheran and Reformed Theology in Conversation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017.

Now here is a book I’ve been waiting for. Despite the resurgence of Reformed theology and despite the anniversary year celebrating the Reformation, with all the attention on Luther, few studies have tried to cross denominational lines between Lutherans and Reformed Christians. Most studies go in a broader direction, i.e., ecumenism between Protestants and Catholics. So my hat is off to Baker Academic for choosing two notable representatives to sit down at the table together and explore where there has been, historically, common ground as well as significant disagreement in their traditions. The chapters cover the major loci: scripture and interpretation, law and Gospel, person and work of Christ, election and bondage of the will, justification and sanctification, baptism and the Lord’s supper, and worship. The book is informative on a number of levels, mostly because it allows you, as a reader, to see both traditions side-by-side. While the book may not convert anyone (not sure that is the goal anyway), it certainly will add clarity that often is missing in Reformed-Lutheran debates. Now if only a similar book would be published comparing Baptists to these traditions as well!

Stay tuned as the forthcoming Part III of Reformation book notes will turn from academic to popular level works.

Matthew Barrett is Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of several books, including Salvation by GraceOwen on the Christian LifeGod’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scriptureand Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary. Currently he is the series editor of The 5 Solas Series with Zondervan. You can read more at

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