Every Wednesday in 2018, Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).

These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here


Week 2 (1/8-1/14): I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)

When I saw that my friend Michael Lynch was going to Tweet/blog through Muller’s PRRD, it was a spur for me to re-read my way through. Then we decided to join forces. But since he’s a real scholar and not a pastor-“scholar”  like me, I told him my comments would be John Madden-esque as I read through a section: “Boom! Whack!!”

Seriously, the work of Muller and those who have dedicated the lifespan of their brain cells to reassessing the Reformation and Post-Reformation played a part in assuring my soul. As strange as that might sound, it’s true. I was a rootless 19-year old—I came from a broken family, I was saved a little more than a year before, went to play basketball at a Christian college because I thought that would be better for my spiritual life, only to find myself disillusioned by all the PKs and MKs who couldn't care less. A part of my journey to stability emotionally and theologically was finding on a used bookshelf in a Christian bookstore a copy of the 1988 edition of Muller’s, Christ and the Decree. I still have it! I hardly had any idea what he was saying, but I knew it was the kind of serious history into the Christian past I had to get more of if I was going to figure out what I believed and where I was going in life.

Here in PRRD I.1.1.2–3 we have a mini-history of Reformation­ through Post-Reformation theology. It’s not easy to give to a parishioner, but as a pastor, it’s the kind of summary I need to be familiar with so that I can distill it to my peeps.

I.1.1.2 contrasts the false narrative that the Reformation was alive, vibrant, and a period when the “living Word” had its way only to be quenched by “dead orthodoxy” in the Post-Reformation period. As Muller explains, the relationship to these two periods is doctrinal continuity through the means of methodological discontinuity (46). One way Muller accounts for this phenomenon is what he calls “the underlying drive of the Reformation…the drive toward true or correct doctrine” (47). In other words, of course theology is going to feel like it’s changed because the needs changed: from Luther-esque proclamation to catechetical instruction of newly Reformed people, to polemical precision between Catholics and Protestants (and Protestants and Protestants), then finally to establishing university faculty norms. Even Calvin’s own Institutes, so falsely seen by some as the Rosetta Stone of pure biblical proclamation, underwent significance changes in form and structure as the needs changed over the course of his life (56–58). So what is Reformed “orthodoxy?” Muller summarizes: “a conscious attempt to reflect in detail the early confessional synthesis of Reformed doctrine” (59).

The main thing I want you to take away from the heavy-going section I.1.1.3 is a practical point so necessary in today’s ecclesiastical climate. I write as a minister in the URCNA so my exhortation is to those of us in the über-conservative, ultra-confessional world of Reformedom. Muller says, “High orthodoxy…modified, developed, and elaborated extant system in relation to a changing intellectual environment” (74). Again, in relation to ad intra controversies and polemics within the Reformed churches surrounding Cocceian covenant theology, appropriating Cartesian philosophy, aspects of Saumur theology, Baxter’s soteriology, and how to respond to Socinianism’s denial of God’s ad intra attribute of punitive justice, Muller says, “On none of these issues, however, did the Reformed churches rupture into separate confessional bodies or identify a particular theologically defined group as beyond the bounds of the confessions, as had been the case at the Synod of Dort” (76). Too many of us today use the confessions as a rod and not as a staff. We view them as walls, not boundary markers. We’re more concerned with repristinating a “pure age” of theology, piety, and practice, which ironically is exactly what the “Calvin v. Calvinists” school of thought has tried to do with Reformed theology.

Join us next Wednesday as Michael Lynch blogs through the reading for Week 3 (1/15-1/21): I.1.2 (pgs. 85–146)!

 


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.


For previous posts in this series, see:

Week 1: I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46)

 

Matthew Barrett, ed., Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 784pp. Hardcover. $45.00.

Reformed theology aims to be biblical. Yet being Reformed also describes historic branches of confessional Christian churches. This means that Reformed theology must be both biblically faithful and historically informed in order to retain its name meaningfully. This impressive volume includes essays from authors who seek to achieve both of these aims. Reformation Theology presents the entire system of Christian theology in light of the writings of sixteenth-century authors with an aim towards ongoing reformation. The result is a highly readable and interesting introduction to Reformed thought that should appeal to believers at every level.

            Reformation Theology is an excellent introduction to early Reformation thought. Its authors represent some of the most well respected historians and systematic theologians in the Reformation traditions, both Reformed and Lutheran (Kolb). Michael Horton’s stirring and insightful prologue alerts readers to the need for recovering Reformation theology at the present day. This material shows readers what to do with what they learn from all subsequent chapters. The following three chapters represent the most heavyweight scholarship in the work, especially Gerald Bray’s superb treatment of late-medieval theology and its relevance to the Reformation. These chapters establish the broader historical context of the Protestant Reformation and its theological developments, helping readers grasp better what is unique to Reformed theology while disabusing the common notion that the middle ages were merely the “dark ages.” This is an important point for those of us who believe that Christ faithfully preserved the truth in his church in great measure in every age. The rest of the volume outlines Protestant theology from the doctrine of Scripture through eschatology, drawing from primary source writings of early Protestant authors, with heavy stress on Luther and Calvin throughout. In addition to the opening chapters, the material on the person of Christ (Letham), the Church (Kolb), the sacraments, (Denlinger and Mathison), and the relationship between church and state (Lillback) stand out for depth of research, setting broad historical contexts. All of the chapters are interesting and edifying and readers will gain a stronger grasp of the theology of several first and second generation Reformers.

            Reformation Theology, however, illustrates the difficulty of blending historical and systematic theology. The challenge of writing historical theology is asking historical questions of historical figures rather than looking into the proverbial well of history in order to see our own reflections. Understanding past authors on their own terms and in the contexts of their times provides us with perspectives that sometimes differ widely from our own. Believers rightly desire to evaluate what they find from Scripture and appropriate ideas in their present generation. Doing so, however, entails at least three questions: What did Reformation authors teach? Is their teaching biblical? and, What should we do with their teaching today? Theologians need to distinguish such questions initially in order to bring them together effectively and accurately later. This is not as easy as it sounds. For the most part, the authors of Reformation Theology lean in the direction of answering the first question rather than the last two. While this reviewer believes that this slants the volume in the right direction, it is not easy to see why the editor’s stress on the authors’ holding to Reformation theology matters much in most cases. People can write good history whether or not they sympathize with their historical subjects. However, the few authors of this volume who attempt to evaluate and apply Reformation thought often blur the distinction between historical and contemporary theology. For example, Douglas Kelly spends a large amount of time asking what the Reformers would have thought about theistic evolution (289-293), even though such views became prominent in the nineteenth-century. A better approach would have been to ask what issues faced the Reformers in their own times in relation to the doctrine of creation, to evaluate their conclusions, and then to apply their ideas to present controversies. This some judgment applies to importing anachronistic terms, such as “sphere sovereignty” (687), into sixteenth-century theology. The only chapter that clearly combines historical analysis with clear and distinct biblical evaluations and contemporary uses is Korey Maas’ chapter on Justification by faith alone (511-548). While criticism should not detract from the usefulness of this work it sheds light on the kind of discernment that readers need to digest some of its assertions.

Reformation Theology is an excellent introduction to the theological developments of the Protestant Reformation. The large size of the book should not hinder broad readership. This volume has the advantage of placing theology back at the heart and center of the Reformation without neglecting the broader historical context (45). This reviewer agrees with the editor and authors of this book that we need to recover the depth, beauty, and power of the historic Protestant proclamation of the Gospel. May the Lord use this work to push the church in the right direction.

Answering the question, “What is Puritan Theology?” may sound too much like attempting to define Puritanism, a slippery term that evades a crisp definition or at least agreement on one. Indeed, there exists a great deal of overlap between Puritanism and Puritan Theology, but I hope to add a little something to the discussion.

Yes, I will begin with the term, “Puritan,” and know we find more questions than answers initially when considering it. In this brief post, I will not even try to address such questions; John Coffey and Paul C.H. Lim in their introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism (2008) provide a helpful discussion on the term, and I have gleaned much from them in my perspective.

In my discussion, I will start with the first part, “Puritan,” though in the process I cannot help but treat the second, “Theology,” at the same time.  In general, those considered Puritans were:

  1. Heirs of the Protestant Reformation in their focus on salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, according to the Scriptures, to the glory of God – alone;
  2. Reformed rather than Lutheran in their theological convictions and part of what we consider Reformed Orthodox;
  3. Concerned, in the 17th century primarily and in the Church of England initially, with carrying the English Reformation beyond its semi-Reformed theology and partly-Romish liturgy;
  4. Vigorous proponents of personal reformation and practical divinity.

In connection with the description above, I believe Puritanism to be limited historically and geographically as a contextualized phenomenon. It arose in England within the national church in the late 16th century (during the reign of Elizabeth I), not long after the term “Puritan” was first used to mock those pushing for deeper reform. Puritanism grew up, but not without struggles, under James I and Charles I (up to the 1640s); flourished and fragmented during the rule of Cromwell (1650s); waned during the Stuart Restoration (1660s-1680s); and fizzled around the time of the Glorious Revolution (1688) and The Toleration Act (1689). This was at least the case for England. In New England, where Puritanism had been exported (along with other areas such Ireland and Wales), it thrived well into the 18th century.

My approach, then, does not employ the label “Puritan” for big British names of other centuries, who impact or were influenced by Puritanism (e.g. William Tyndale of the 16th, John Gill of the 18th , Charles Spurgeon of the 19th, or Martin Lloyd-Jones of the 20th). Likewise, Puritanism really does not encompass (even for the 17th century) the Scottish Covenanters (e.g. Samuel Rutherford) or “Further Reformation” of the Netherlands (e.g. Wilhelmus à Brakel). This by no means minimizes the vibrant Puritan connections in these countries.

Concerning theology, there exists no unanimity for the Puritans, with its ranks including (not without debate!) neonomians, antinomians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Erastians, Baptists, Arminians, and even possibly an Arian. Still, in general, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) provides the closest summary (along with support from the Larger and Shorter Catechisms) of a Puritan Theology with its: Foundation of faith and practice found in the Scriptures alone; historic orthodox understanding of the Trinity and Christology; Reformed soteriology highlighting union with Christ for his benefits as prophet, priest, and king; overarching covenantal structure of works and grace stressing a two Adam theology in relation to both the history and order of salvation; two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; requirement for church discipline; accent on the third use of the law; Sabbatarianism; and eschatological outlook concerning the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead for eternal judgment or glory. The substance of such a theology was upheld by those called Puritans who nonetheless made minor changes to this confession in the Savoy Declaration (1658) highlighting congregationalism and the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) demanding believers-only baptism.

Finally, I want to discuss a pronounced theological emphasis for Puritans and, I believe, essential to understanding “Puritan Theology.” Joel Beeke and Mark Jones encapsulate this focus in the subtitle for their monumental Puritan Theology (2012), namely, “Doctrine for Life.” They stress how practical the Puritans were in their theologizing, which certainly connects to the foundational work of William Ames, in The Marrow of Sacred Divinity (1627). There, he says “Theology is the doctrine of living to God.” In this way, what God reveals to us in his Word serves to lead us back to him in our lives.  

Certainly, the Puritans were not the first to link the study of theology with piety. As heirs of a maturing Reformed theology, they no doubt knew of Calvin’s twofold knowledge of God and self, which was related to wisdom and intimately connected to our worship of and life unto God. Thus, the Puritans have been known for their “experimental” (experiential) Calvinism which saturated not just their sermons but all of their writings, even the most theological and academic.

Many criticize Reformed theology then and now as cold, dead orthodoxy, which it can at times and must never be. Puritan Theology shunned such a tendency. May we do the same.

Every Wednesday in 2018 Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).

These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here



Week 1 (1/1–1/7): I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46)

The crowning achievement of Richard Muller’s work on early modern theology is undoubtedly his four-volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics which are currently in the process of being updated and expanded for a third edition. This year, marking the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Synod of Dort (1618–1619) and the 501st anniversary of the Reformation, makes for a fitting time to read through Muller’s magnum opus. For those participating, these weekly posts will help to elucidate some of the more important or interesting points found in each week’s reading. It will also give us a chance to think critically about Muller’s interpretation of the Reformed orthodox (hereafter, RO), especially at those junctures where subsequent scholarship has either objected, or (more typically) further enhanced Muller’s sketch of early modern RO.

This week’s reading (it’s never too late to begin…it’s Muller after all!) is an introduction to the series as a whole as well as to the first volume focusing on the nature of RO prolegomena. A few brief remarks are in order.

First, I hope you read the two prefaces for the first and second edition. Prefaces can tell you a lot about both the author and the book! When Muller wrote the first edition of PRRD his access to primary sources was much more limited than in the early 2000s. By that point access to databases like Early English Books Online was available. One of Muller’s most important methodological points is that one can only truly understand and appreciate the theology of the RO when one has read widely—their contemporaries and their theological forbearers (the patristics and medievals). How can one give a “broad description of what Reformed orthodoxy in fact was” (I.16) unless he or she has read widely?

Second, in the preface to the first edition (I.20–21), did you notice that Muller thanked Brian Armstrong (d. 2011) “for hours of enlightening discussion and for several important references to Protestant orthodox authors and their writings?” Who was Brian Armstrong? He has been one of Muller’s favorite foils in light of Armstrong’s negative treatment of scholasticism. Yet despite such strong polemic Muller thanks him! Of course, there are numerous lessons here. You cannot blame Muller for not listening to Armstrong. He had, we are told, “hours of enlightened discussion.” In short, Muller listened to his detractors. But—and I find this to be even more notable—Muller clearly respected Armstrong as a scholar. Muller thanked Armstrong for making him a better historian. As a young historian of theology, I am thankful for both scholars.

Finally, one other element in these introductory pages is worth highlighting. Muller’s anti-“Calvin vs. the Calvinists” thesis is often (mis)characterized as presenting a monolithic Reformed faith that never changed, was never modified, and hardly allowed for any disagreement within the tradition. Those who say such things, apart from having completely ignored some of Muller’s most recent publications, must have also ignored these introductory sections. Not only does Muller (as we saw in the preface to the second edition!) attempt to paint a wide and diverse picture of early modern RO in its various ecclesiastical, geographical, and confessional expressions, but he, in fact, admits that the RO tinkered with the theology and method of doing theology bequeathed to them by the Reformers:

“If by [the use of the term] Calvinist, one means a later exponent of a theology standing within the confessional boundaries described by such documents as [list of some significant Reformed confessions] ... then one will have the problem accounting for the many ways in which such thinkers [list of many well-known RO theologians] ... differ from Calvin both doctrinally and methodologically.” (I.30)

Muller is sensitive to the ways in which the RO modified the theology of the tradition that came before them. The methodological point at issue in Muller’s PRRD is how one ought to go about identifying and tracing such discontinuities (and continuities).

I do hope these brief thoughts whet your appetite to read more Muller. More so, however, I hope that reading Muller’s PRRD whets your appetite to read the Reformers and RO themselves. After all, if that is not the outcome of reading through Muller’s four-volumes, I can assure you that he would find such an endeavor to read through his four-volumes largely useless—after all, there really is no substitute for understanding the RO than reading the primary sources. To that end, Muller is a helpful and able guide for navigating the often-complicated early modern Reformed theological world. Tollite legite.



Join us next Wednesday as Danny Hyde blogs through the reading for Week 2 (1/8-1/14): I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)!

 

Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books, Meet the Puritans has a number of copies of The Fading of the Flesh by George Swinnock, Stop Loving the World by William Greenhill, and Triumphing over Sinful Fear by John Flavel to give away. One entry per household please. Deadline to register is Friday, January 19, 2018.

Enter the giveaway here!

One of the interesting things I have discovered in my reading is a link between the Puritans and contemporary sayings. Statements that we put on bumper stickers, repeat to ourselves and others, or use to teach biblical truth—I have found these, some almost verbatim, in puritan writings. I will share one of them with you in this article.

Do you remember the WWJD craze from the 1990’s? WWJD stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” and was plastered everywhere: wristbands, mugs, T-shirts, bumper stickers, necklaces and earrings. The start of WWJD movement is generally attributed to Janie Tinklenberg, a youth leader in Holland, Michigan. After reading and then discussing Charles Sheldon’s book, In His Steps: What would Jesus do? with her youth group, she abbreviated the subtitle and had them printed on wristbands. The rest, as they say, is history.

Asking the question, what would Jesus do, however, did not originate with Charles Sheldon. Two hundred years earlier, Edward Reynolds was exhorting his hearers to do the same. Reynolds (1593-1676) was an important member of the Westminster Assembly, vice-chancellor of Oxford University and after the restoration, Bishop of Norwich. In his work, The Life of Christ, Reynolds elaborated on “the doctrine of our conformity in holiness to the life of Christ.” At one point, he warned against “a will holiness,” that is, governing our lives according to our own rules and ways. Instead, he gave this advice: “Whatever action therefore you go about, do it by rule; enquire out of the Scriptures, whether Christ would have done it or no,—at least, whether he allow it or no.” Reynolds added the qualification “at least, whether he allow it or no,” because he understood that there are some things that are “lawful and expedient with us, which were not suitable unto the person of Christ.” One example that he gave is marriage. Reynolds then gave concrete illustrations of how to use this rule (WWJD) in everyday life. He wrote:

“When thou art tempted to looseness and immoderate living, ask thy conscience but this question, Would Christ have drunk unto swinishness, or eaten unto excess? Would he have wasted his precious time at stews [brothels], stages, or taverns, or taken delight in sinful and desperate fellowship? Did Christ frequently pray both with his disciples, and alone by himself,—and shall I never, either in my family, or in my closet, think upon God? Did Christ open his wounds, and shall not I open my mouth? Was his blood too precious to redeem, and is my breath too good to instruct, his church? Was Christ merciful to his enemies, and shall I be cruel to his members? Again, For the manner of Christ’s obedience; Did Christ serve God without all self-ends, merely in obedience, and to glorify him; and shall I make God’s worship subordinate to my aims, and his religion serve turns? Shall I do what I do, without any love or joy, merely out of slavish fear, and compulsion of conscience? Thus if we did resolve our services into their true originals, and measure them by the holiness of Christ, and have him ever before our eyes, it would be a great means of living in comfort and spiritual conformity to God’s law.”

If he had been a youth leader, if he had been surrounded by the proper marketing team, and if the technology had existed, then Edward Reynolds may have been the one to spark a popular trend!

Article 19 marks the third division of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Built on the two articles that precede them, articles 19-22 define the marks of the true church, its visible and invisible character, the nature of its authority in relation to Scripture, and the hallmark of a false church that seeks to overthrow the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness.

XIX — OF THE CHURCH
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

At the time of the Reformation it was essential to define the doctrine of the church against the error of Roman Catholicism where too much emphasis was being placed on the visible church. Cranmer’s Reformatio Legum tells of “the insanity of those who think that the Roman church was founded on a rock of such a kind that it has neither erred nor can err” [Bray, 209]. Article 19 is also similar to article 7 of the Augsburg Confession of 1530 reflecting the shared concern of the Reformers.  

It is significant to note that of all the controversies of the period, the marks of the true church defined by Cranmer in 1553 remained unchanged when the articles were promulgated in 1571. His genius here is to look beyond the various practices of the apostolic era. The source of unity is not an outward ecclesiastical unity, but unity is grounded upon the one who is true: God himself. If we are to have true unity with one another in the church, then we must have true unity with the one who is the Truth which means then that we need to ground the doctrine of the church in election. If we were to lay the Reformation confessions side by side we would see that the doctrine of the church arises out of the doctrine of election. Once again, we must pay attention to the narrative of the articles. Article 17 and 18 on election and on the uniqueness of Christ for salvation must logically precede this article. As we are united to the Lord Jesus Christ, the necessary consequence is that his pure Word is preached by legally authorized and properly trained ministers (article 23), and the sacraments administered according to his command: the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper (article 25). Cranmer echoes Ephesians 4 here. The essence of the church is that a congregation of faithful people must be in union with this one God, this one Lord, through his ordinary means of grace.

Cranmer fixes the gaze of the visible church on the invisible church. He was well aware of this visible/invisible Church distinction, as is evident in the Thirteen Articles (1538), where we read in article 5 that “true believers, who really believe in Christ the Head” make up the invisible Church, and the visible Church comprises “all who are baptized in Christ, who have not openly denied him nor been lawfully and by his Word excommunicated” [Bray, Documents of the English Reformation, 189]. True unity begins with the one who is true, and that unity must cohere with our union with him. It is interesting to note how in an age when the Roman Catholic Church pushed hard toward the visible, Cranmer pushes hard toward the invisible and he indirectly sets up what is to follow in the succeeding articles concerning the foundation of the visible church in a series of “nots”. 

  • The true church is not in one government system (article 23 – clergy are lawfully appointed, not necessarily ordained by a bishop). 
  • It is not found in unity of worship (article 34 – it is not necessary that customs and forms of worship be the same everywhere). 
  • It is not found in church councils (article 21 – Councils have indeed erred, even in things relating to God). 
  • It is not found in human succession (article 20 – the church is the witness and guardian of Holy Scripture). 

The article towards its close mentions the three historic patriarchates of the Eastern Church, “Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch”, powerful churches, which, though founded by apostles, had still fallen into error. How then is the true unity of the visible church understood? It is the common testimony of the truth in a biblically faithful confession like the Articles of Religion (pure Word of God) and the order of worship that Christ commands like the Book of Common Prayer (sacraments administered according to Christ’s ordinance). Cranmer returns to the Scriptures in which all knowledge and things pertaining to salvation reside to flesh out the hallmarks of his ecclesiology. In so doing he also acknowledges that it is God’s providence that takes time to bring the church to its fulfillment. The church is moving toward its consummation. There is an almost eschatological flavor to it.  Cranmer sees a distinction between the existence of the church and its perfection in Christ Jesus through the lens of the Scriptures. 

When you begin to see as Cranmer did how the existence and perfection of the visible church are founded upon a God who is true who is bringing us into union with himself, then this becomes the foundation for the existence and perfection of the visible church. We need not be concerned to be under one organizational umbrella or a human succession. We should be concerned with the truth. When we are concerned with the truth, then we can come together to discuss differences between us. We are not to minimize the truth so that we can come together to feel good.

Which brings us to the modern, pragmatic “feel good” description of the church within the Anglican Church of North America masking as doctrine, the so-called “three streams of the church”: Catholic, Evangelical (or Protestant) and Pentecostal (or Charismatic) traditions or “tributaries” being channeled into a single “river” to create some kind of doctrinal synthesis. Such a synthesis has abandoned Cranmer's biblically faithful doctrine of the church in its common testimony of the truth. Two of the three streams, for example, reject the classical Pentecostal teaching about a post-conversion baptism of the Holy Spirit or the normative practice of glossolalia and prophecy. Two of the three have historically repudiated the Roman Catholic understanding of the ordained ministry as sacerdotal and would have a very different view of the nature and number of the sacraments. And one of the three does not understand justification as primarily the gracious imputation of Christ’s righteousness to individual believers received through faith alone. It reminds one of Philip E. Hughes observation on Roman Catholic and Anglican dialogue during the early 1970s, that to resort to fine-sounding but ambivalent terminology is to paper over the cracks and then to call attention to the attractiveness of the wallpaper. Without a thorough revision of its doctrine of the church along biblically faithful lines, the Anglican Church of North America has merely turned back the clock to restart in the early 1970’s when concern for the truth had already been abandoned and is set to repeat the tragic history which followed. 

 


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.


 

Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015). 168pp. Paperback. $21.00.

Catholicity is as important as it is often misunderstood. In search of a deeper connection to historic Christianity, some study Roman Catholicism only to become Roman Catholic. Others study Eastern Orthodoxy and adopt that system of thought, in whole or in part. The great strength of post-Reformation Reformed theology is that it provides an example of how to glean from the entire catholic tradition of the church without adopting alternate theological systems. In Reformed Catholicity, Allen and Swain make a persuasive case why we need to learn to do the same thing today. They argue for building a distinctively Reformed theology, in conversation with the entire Catholic tradition of the church, under the authority of Scripture, in the church, and for the church. This is precisely the kind of theological maturity that Reformed churches need so desperately today.

This book points the church in the right direction with regard to doing systematic theology. It stresses primarily the meaning and application of the Reformed principle of sola scriptura in conjunction with confessional theology in formulating Reformed theology. The authors rightly note the importance of texts, such as Eph. 4:11, for establishing the necessity of teaching as an instrument by which Christ through the Spirit teaches the church and builds believers up to maturity. They make a biblical case for the special role of historic creeds and confessions in this process followed by an outstanding concluding chapter “In Defense of Proof-Texting.” This section shows the nuanced exegesis that ought to stand behind proper proof-texting in theology. The only weakness to this treatment is the absence of discussing theological inferences and their proper use in light of Scriptural example.

One thing that should be added is that recovering Reformed Catholicity highlights the necessity of Latin for Reformed theologians. English-speaking theologians draw predominantly from British and American texts, effectively cutting themselves off from the continental Reformed tradition. This is unfortunate, since most Reformed systematic theology in the Reformed orthodox period was written in Latin on the continent. 

In spite of the many virtues of this work, the book highlights as well that Reformed Catholicity is easier to formulate than to practice. For example, appealing explicitly to the churchly context of theology would strengthen their treatment of “proof-texting.” They suggest that in order to keep theology biblically grounded, systematic theologians should engage in writing theological commentaries or articles on parts of Scripture. While this counsel is valid, if theology is truly a churchly activity, then what better place for systematicians to ground their theology in Scripture than ministering what they learn in the context of the church from the pulpit? Preaching naturally gravitates towards exegetical and biblical theology. However, systematic theology, if used properly, has the potential to make preaching more precise, edifying, personal, and practical. It is possible for professors to stress the churchly context of theology without giving a churchly solution to contemporary problems. In the past, the best ministers were the best professors. Laboring prayerfully in the study in the context of ministering to God’s people in the local church has greater potential to produce sound and useful systematic theology than writing theological commentaries, though both are important. It is telling that older forms of church order, such as the Scottish Second Book of Discipline, charged the doctors of the church with teaching in theological schools and with catechizing the youth. This is how it should be.

The generally excellent appendix by Todd Billings take a tragic turn when he appeals to City Church in San Francisco as example of what it means to be catholic-Reformed. He calls this congregation, “a distinctively Reformed church that seeks to draw upon the larger catholic tradition of theology and practice, for the sake of its mission and witness in the world. The felt needs of the culture do not drive its agenda” (157). Having recently moved from the San Francisco Bay area, this reviewer finds this assessment puzzling if not shocking, since City Church declared itself independent from an established Reformed denomination in order to ordain women elders, rejected ministerial vows to uphold historic Reformed creeds, and now accepts practicing homosexuals into their membership. It is hard to conceive how City Church embodies either catholic or Reformed theology and practice. 

Reformed churches today desperately need to recover the theological maturity exemplified by their forefathers. This entails critical and appreciative engagement with the entire catholic tradition of the church, with the conviction that Christ has spoken and continues to speak to and through his bride. However, there is a fine line across the spectrum trying to repristinate the seventeenth-century, appropriating and adapting historic Reformed theology to a new generation, and transforming the content of that theology into something entirely new. The authors of Reformed Catholicity aim at the second option, but the appendix by Billings appears to drift into the third one. Yet in an age in which there are almost as many methods as there are systematic theologians, Allen and Swain provide much sage wisdom for students, professors, and scholars. In particular, this review hopes and prays that Reformed pastors would develop a healthy Reformed catholicity that will prevent believers from being tossed about by every wind of doctrine and build them up into unity and maturity in the Lord and with his church in all ages.

[This review appeared in Puritan Reformed Journal]

In this article, I want to look at a fourth reason that suggests that the Westminster Confession of Faith does not teach baptismal regeneration, and that is the conditional nature of baptism.  
 
The sacraments are not efficacious and effectual means of salvation to all recipients, but only to some who are referred to as “worthy receivers (WCF 27.3),” those to whom the grace belongs (WCF 28.6), and those who believe (WSC 91). If faith is required in order to receive the benefit of baptism, then baptism does not convey regeneration or work faith in the recipient. In other words, the conditional nature of baptism necessarily precludes the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
 
In the context of discussing baptismal justification, Anthony Burgess says the sacraments do not convey grace unless faith is present. Even as food does not benefit the dead, so the sacraments will not be effectual “where spiritual life is not laid as a foundation…But although the Sacraments God hath appointed be not empty mockeries, yet they are effectual onely, where there is due preparation.” One of the differences, according to Samuel Rutherford, between a sacrament and a civil seal is that faith is required in order for the sacrament to be effectual. The seals of grace are conditioned upon faith. Without faith the sacrament is blank and null, yet when used in faith, grace is exhibited and conferred.
 
Stephen Marshall was a leading member of the Assembly who chaired the sub-committee that drafted the Directory for Public Worship. In his book on infant baptism, which was dedicated to and appreciated by the Assembly and personally recommended by Robert Baillie, Marshall notes that there are both absolute and conditional elements in the sacrament of baptism. One of the conditional elements is the person’s interest in the thing signified. In this respect all sacraments are conditional seals, “sealing the spirituall part of the Covenant to the receiver, upon condition that hee performe the spirituall condition of the Covenant.” Marshall then approvingly cites Ames who taught that “Sacraments are conditionall Seales, and therefore not seales to us but upon condition.” By making the membership of the covenant broader than the elect and the sacraments conditional, Marshall is accused of leaning towards Armininianism. He responds with a claim to orthodoxy.  He writes: 
And are not the Sacraments signa conditionalia, conditionall signes and seales? and did any Orthodox Divine before your self charge this to be Arminianism, to say that the Gospel runs upon conditions? I confesse it is Arminianisme to say any thing is conditionall to GOD, this I never asserted, but that the Gospell is both preached and by the Sacraments sealed to us upon condition of faith, will passe for orthodox doctrine, when you and I are dead and rotten.
The Westminster Standards’ teaching on the conditional nature of baptism is yet another reason to doubt the claim that they teach baptismal regeneration. Baptism does not exhibit initial grace because baptismal grace is received by faith.
 
For previous posts in this series, see:
  1. The Nature and Purpose of Baptism
  2. The Word & Sacraments
  3. The Subject of Baptism
David VanDrunen, God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life, The 5 Solas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).
 
It may surprise some readers to learn that the Solas of the Reformation (God’s glory, Scripture, grace, faith, Christ) do not appear in this form in the writings of any early Protestant Reformer. A friend of mine, who has done substantial research in this area, struggled to find any explicit reference to the Solas prior to the nineteenth-century. The Solas represent the attempts of a later generation to summarize why the Reformation of the sixteenth-century was so important. Even though this fivefold description of Protestant teaching arose after the fact, it continues to be a useful summary of some of the central truths of the Christian faith.
 
If the Solas summarize the heart of Protestant teaching, then Soli Deo Gloria, “to God’s glory alone,” is, in some respects, the summary of this summary of Christian doctrine. However, as David VanDrunen illustrates well, our sinful hearts still make it possible to shift the emphasis of Soli Deo Gloria from God to us (171). His treatment of God’s glory as the heart of the gospel, and of all things related to faith and practice, is clear, simple, devotional, and refreshing. This volume is an excellent introduction to a God-oriented view of faith and life that focuses on what unites rather than what divides those who love Jesus Christ.
 
VanDrunen's book unfolds his exalted theme in three sections, treating God’s glory in Reformed theology and in Scripture, concluding with directions to live to God’s glory today. One of his primary aims is to promote “a shift in emphasis” (152) in how we approach Soli Deo Gloria. He contends that it is possible to study the glory of God in a self-centered rather than a God-centered manner (16). While this suggestion may appear to be surprising at first glance, he argues that Soli Deo Gloria first relates to who God is and what he does before it tells us how we should live in order to glorify God. This reorientation does not, however, detract from VanDrunen's overarching goal of teaching believers the implications of Soli Deo Gloria for every area of faith and life. Instead, he highlights the fact that it is possible to detract from the glory of God by putting how we live ahead of who God is and what he does. This makes VanDrunen's presentation of his theme both convicting and encouraging. It is far to easy for believers to lose sight of the fact that Soli Deo Gloria directs us, first, toward considering the glory of the Triune God and, secondarily, to how we should live before him. While we should never pit such things against each other, it is important to keep them in their proper order in light of Scripture. One of the primary ways that VanDrunen pushes readers in this direction is by emphasizing the glory of God as Triune, and especially as revealed in the person and work of Christ. This means that our primary response to Soli Deo Gloria should be worship. This emphasis pervades this book and it makes it convicting, edifying, and encouraging to read all at the same time.
 
VanDrunen's treatment of practical Christian living in light of God’s glory is highly insightful as well. In particular, he wrestles seriously with contemporary challenges that believers face in seeking to do all things Soli Deo Gloria. One of these challenges comes through the prevailing distractions accompanying modern technology (117-122). While not denying the value of technology, VanDrunen illustrates how the distractions accompanying it can militate against important Christian duties, such as prayer and meditation (122). His counsel in this regard is pastorally sensitive, balanced, and timely for those who desire to live for God’s glory in a contemporary world. His practical treatment of his subject include a number of other useful directions including areas such as self-control (123), developing good communication with our families (125), honoring the Sabbath (125-126), cultivating the fear of God (chapter 7), and other areas. Such teaching makes VanDrunen treatment of Soli Deo Gloria a careful God-centered approach to faith and life that prioritizes public worship without neglecting the cultivation of personal godliness in Christ.
 
God’s Glory Alone is suitable for Christians of all levels of growth in Christ. It is non-technical and largely non-controversial. Even where VanDrunen introduces potentially controversial issues, such as the so-called two kingdoms theology (155-157), he does so broadly enough to secure agreement from most readers. The result is that this book presses something important that should unite all Christians. We must learn to marvel at the glory and beauty of the Triune God as well as to live in light of his glory. This book consists in a helpful set of meditations and encouragements that will help us do so.
 
Carl R. Trueman, Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God, The 5 Solas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).
 
The grace of God stands at the heart of the gospel. Carl Trueman is a gifted scholar and pastor who is able to write for a general audience just as effectively as he can for an academic one. The combination of these things make his book on grace alone an excellent introduction to the grace of the Triune God in saving sinners. This book will strengthen the faith of believers who desire better to appreciate the depths of God’s grace and to live in light of it in a fallen world.
 
This book has many strengths. It is well written and compelling. After demonstrating what the grace of God means in light of Scripture, Trueman draws lessons on the grace of God from the teachings of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin. He argues that none wrote about the grace of God more fully and with as wide-reaching influence as Augustine did. Any theology of the grace of God must reckon with his work. Trueman then adds that Aquinas is an unexpected ally for Protestants in unfolding the grace of God. While Protestants will reject many points of Aquinas’ sacramental theology, he introduced important concepts into theology, such as the distinction between habitual and actual grace. He also rooted all grace from God to man solidly in the person and work of Christ. Trueman’s critical evaluation of Aquinas illustrates usefully that, even where an author provokes disagreement at points, Christ has always faithfully preserved the grace of the gospel in every generation of church history. His treatment of Luther an Calvin is more expected in a Reformed context. After an insightful analysis of Luther, Trueman contends that, even though predestination was not a central dogma in Calvin’s theology, his writings on this subject, coupled with his emphasis on union with Christ, highlight the nature of God’s grace to sinners exceptionally well. Both in Trueman’s biblical treatment of grace and in his historical analysis, he explains the glory of God’s grace in Christ to sinners from eternity to eternity, while stressing the Spirit’s work in uniting us to and keeping us in Christ. The last section shows that God communicates his grace to sinners primarily in the context of the church through the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer. This results in a carful balance between the corporate means by which God communicates grace to his people and the need for individuals to know Christ personally. The theological and historical balance in this book is particularly helpful and readers across confessional boundaries will likely profit from reading it.
 
There is always room for disagreement with even the best authors on this side of glory. In this case, such disagreements are relatively minor. Trueman relegates the grace of God to human beings after Adam’s fall into sin (48, 101). This assertion stands in contrast to medieval authors, such as Aquinas (99), as well as to post-Reformation Reformed theologians, such as Francis Turretin and Patrick Gillespie (101). Older Reformed authors, in particular, taught that while the terms of the covenant of works between God and Adam were legal, the promise of everlasting life was gracious in that the promised reward was disproportionate to the obedience that God required of them. In light of such nuances, it does not seem necessary to remove grace in every sense of the term from our pre-fall condition in order to safeguard the distinctive nature of God’s redemptive grace, which is Trueman’s primary concern (102). The grace of God may be radically different under the covenant of grace than it was under the covenant of works, but this reviewer is convinced that our Reformed (and medieval) forefathers were correct in appealing to God’s grace in both settings. This is a relatively minor issue, however, since there is no question that the Scriptures stress the free grace of God in redeeming sinners in Christ.
 
Trueman’s Grace Alone is a good introduction to the grace of the Triune God, which is central to the gospel. He prevents us from truncating the grace of God or from transforming it into a nebulous concept devoid of meaning. The grace of God encompasses every aspect of the gospel, all parts of Christ’s person and work, and the Spirit’s work in every step of the Christian life. Reading this book will promote useful meditation and Spirit-filled prayer and worship in all believers.
Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture, The 5 Solas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).
 
Scripture has served as the cognitive foundation of Reformed theology for centuries. Apart from Scripture, there is no saving knowledge of Christ and, ultimately, no true knowledge of God. The importance of Scripture in Reformed theology cannot be overstated, since Scripture is the means by which the Spirit of God brings us into saving union with Christ. It should be no surprise, then, that the doctrine of Scripture has come under assault in every generation of the Christian church. Approaching his topic with particularly solemnity, Matthew Barrett has written one of the best books that this author has read on the doctrine of Scripture. His treatment of the authority of Scripture is well-rounded, carefully nuanced, biblically sensitive, and eminently practical. His heavily research account coupled with his clear and simple writing style makes this volume accessible to the widest possible audience.
 
God’s Word Alone accomplishes many things in a single volume. Barrett traces the church’s view of the nature, authority, and attributes of Scripture from the early church up to the present day. His treatment is up to date by including an extensive analysis of postmodern and other assaults on the intelligibility of language in relation to the Bible’s view of itself. This includes striking statements, such as, “Even though I walk through the valley of Postmodernism, I will fear no subjectivism, for your Word and Spirit help me” (303). He makes the nature, authority, sufficiency, perspicuity, and other attributes of Scripture inescapably clear by presented both biblical theological and systematic analyses of his themes. Throughout the book he illustrates that, far from being a construct of “fundamentalism,” such a high view of Scripture is integrated into the pages of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Those familiar with his others writings will rightly expect large amounts of careful research behind this book. In addition to these things, Barrett’s trinitarian focus enables him to stress the gospel of Christ throughout this book. He also interacts fairly, yet critically, with modern theologians, such as Karl Barth, on the question of the nature of Scripture. Barrett’s treatment of such authors is charitable, recognizing what they got right, yet it is bold, clearly distinguishing between truth and error. As a whole, God’s Word Alone is a clear and forceful defense of the self-attesting and self-authenticating authority of Scripture, with its resultant attributes, and the foundational nature of these things for Christian faith and life.
 
It is difficult for this reviewer to praise Barrett’s God’s Word Alone adequately. He hopes and prays that this book will not get lost or overlooked due to its inclusion in a series of books on the Solas. This is an excellent piece of historical, biblical, systematic, and practical theology. As such, it is not only a highly readable and non-technical treatment of the doctrine of Scripture, but it is a model of what sound systematic theology should look like. The best part is that it is accessible to believers at every level. Reading this book will bolster your confidence in the Bible and drive to adore and worship the God who reveals himself in its pages.
 
Stephen J. Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, The 5 Solas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).
 
Jesus Christ did not merely proclaim the gospel. Christ himself is the gospel. We must receive Christ and, in him, all the benefits of redemption, if we would receive those benefits at all. While some of those benefits, such as justification by faith alone, are central to the gospel, we can never reduce the gospel to anything less than Christ himself. The burden of Stephen Wellum’s Christ Alone is to press home such great biblical themes, largely in light of biblical theology and historical reflection. He does so persuasively in a way that honors the Savior and that invites all of his readers to do so as well. Like the other volumes in this series, this book aims to reach a broad readership. 
 
Wellum’s basic contention in this work is that, “Who Christ is determines what he does; what he does reveals who he is” (107). This simple distinction between Christ’s person and work drives his entire treatment, making his arguments clear and easy to follow. After unfolding the plan of redemption from Scripture, he turns his primary attention to Christ’s threefold office and his work of atonement. Reflecting standard Protestant Christological formulations, he notes rightly that Christ’s priestly office stands out as preeminent (157). While Christ must be our prophet and our king as well as our priest in order to save us, his priestly office marks the climax of his work for us and it informs his other two offices. After defending the penal substitutionary view of the atonement and showing how this aspect of Christ’s work on the cross encompasses all other biblical images related to it (193, 214, 221, 228), he closes his work by defending the exclusivity of Christ as the only way of salvation (276). The author’s treatment of Christology is biblically robust in many areas, though he lacks depth and clarity regarding Christ’s two natures in one person and the bearing that both of his natures have upon his work in relation to his person. Overall, Wellum’s treatment is a helpful introduction to who Jesus is and what he has done.
 
The primary area that requires expansion in this volume relates to the author’s development of historical theology. His treatment of historical figures depends heavily on secondary rather than primary source material. While this is a partial necessity in a series like this one, this leads to a lack of precision in relation to some historical terms and movements. For example, the author asserts that some people reject penal substitution in favor of a governmental atonement theory while remaining orthodox (180). He cites the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius as an example. Since this reviewer has some familiarity with Grotius in the context of seventeenth century views on the atonement, he found this assertion puzzling. Grotius denied that Christ was a substitute for sinners, arguing instead that Christ died to restore God’s moral government over the world. It was precisely this aspect of his thought that led some authors, such as John Owen, to associate Grotius with the Socinian heresy. However, careful readers will soon discover that Wellum appears to confuse the Grotian (and Arminian) governmental theory of the atonement with the hypothetical necessity of the atonement (184). Yet many who taught the hypothetical necessity of the atonement retained the idea that Christ was a substitute for his people. Such authors argued that Christ’s atonement was not necessary in an absolute sense on the grounds of God’s essence, but rather it was necessary on the grounds of God’s decree. By contrast, Wellum conflates a governmental view of the atonement with hypothetical necessity, arguing that the latter position broke with “the central theological insight of the Reformation, namely, that God cannot forgive sin without the full payment of our sin by Christ as our penal substitute” (184). While it is true that the governmental view rejected the absolute necessity of the atonement, it is not true that all who rejected absolute necessity adhered to a governmental view or that they denied penal substitution. Examples of those who did not do so include Reformed authors such as William Twisse and Samuel Rutherford. The early John Owen taught hypothetical necessity as well, though he later rejected this view during his disputes with the Socinians. This example illustrates the general limitations that characterize Wellum’s historical analyses.
 
Christ Alone is a helpful introduction to what the Bible says about who Jesus is and what he has done to save sinners. While it has some limitations in relation to systematic and historical theology, the church always needs more books directing her to meditate on the glory of Christ. The greatest strength of this volume lies in its engagement with relevant passages of Scripture. The author will help readers better know and love Christ as the Word of God presents him.
Thomas R. Schreiner, Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification, The 5 Solas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).
 
Justification by faith alone in Christ alone is not the only theme of the gospel. Yet it must always remain central to any biblical articulation of the gospel. Without the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and unless we receive Christ through faith without works, we cannot be saved. Schreiner’s Faith Alone is a solid and exegetically satisfying defense of justification through faith alone in Christ alone. It is written clearly and its conclusions have the potential to bring much joy and comfort to all who read it. His treatment is full and persuasive while being simple enough for readers of all levels.
 
This book has many virtues. The author treats his topic in relation to historical reflection, biblical and theological development, and contemporary challenges. He introduces historical figures from the early church, from early Reformed and Roman Catholic theology surrounding the Protestant Reformation, and from post-Reformation thinkers including John Owen, Richard Baxter, Francis Turretin, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley. The obvious omission in this list is any reference to medieval theology, but the author notes repeatedly the limitations of his historical sketch. In addition, the material treating early church views of justification is too dependent on secondary literature to be convincing. However, the general effect of this brief survey of historical theology is useful in getting readers oriented to the subject of justification by faith alone.
 
Schreiner’s greatest strength in this work lies in his biblical and theological treatment of his subject. He shows decisively the forensic nature of justification as a response to human sin. He argues, both from the Old Testament and from the New, that faith justifies because Christ is the object of faith and that justification involves the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. He excludes the works of the law and human obedience from the grounds of justification in every respect, directing his readers to rest exclusively on Christ in his person and work. He tackles key biblical words and phrases carefully and accurately without limiting his theology of justification by faith in Christ alone to mere word studies. He includes critical interaction with contemporary Roman Catholic authors as well as N.T. Wright in a manner that is simultaneously critical at key points and graciously appreciative of the insights these authors have to offer at others. The tone of Schreiner’s critiques of false views of justification is as refreshing as his fidelity to biblical doctrine. It is not enough to hold to the right things if we do not hold to them in the right way. Schreiner shows readers how to do both at once throughout his book, making him a model scholar and Christian all at once.
 
Schreiner’s treatment, however, will likely raise questions for some readers at points. For example, he correctly argues that good works are a fruit and evidence of faith. However, he does not adequately make a conceptual distinction between faith and works. He stresses rightly that faith must be living and active in order to be true faith. However, some may conclude from this explanation that faith is equivalent to faithfulness, which differs from treating faith as receptive of the promises of God in Christ. While nothing that Schreiner says in this regard is unorthodox, it runs the risk of being unclear to some extent.
 
Some readers will also be concerned about Schreiner’s emphasis on justification as eschatological (chapter 12). Yet they should bear in mind that he argues that believers are presently justified through faith in Christ, in which Christ’s righteousness is imputed to them. Whether readers agree with the author fully in relation to his assertion of eschatological justification, he argues that the reason why believers are justified by faith alone in Christ alone in this life is that God announces the sentence of the last day to them beforehand (156). It is important to understand that Schreiner maintains that justification is through faith in Christ alone and that believers stand in Christ’s righteousness as a present reality and not merely an eschatological one. The issue of eschatological justification relates to some of his statements regarding the relationship between works and our justification. While he often makes statements that may alarm readers initially, such as “good works are necessary for justification,” he clarifies these assertions by adding, “these good works aren’t the basis of justification” (210). Faith alone justifies because faith alone lays hold of Christ, who is our righteousness (185, 264). It would have been clearer to state that good works always accompany justification rather than saying that they are necessary “for” justification. Similarly, it is more accurate to say that justification does not depend on good works, but only those who show their faith by their works are justified before God. In evaluating such statements, readers should imitate Schreiner by reading his views in the best light possible even as he does towards those with whom he disagrees.
 
While Schreiner may provoke disagreement at points, this reviewer believes that it is an excellent introduction to and forceful defense of an issue that is an essential component of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you read this book correctly, then you will walk away not with a great confidence in faith but with a great confidence in Christ. This is ultimately what justification by faith alone is about. Faith, strictly speaking, does not save. Faith unites us to the Christ who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This book made this reviewer more thankful and joyful in his walk with Christ by reading it. May the Lord use it to lead others to worship and bow before him as well.