Why the Reformation still matters
By: Michael Reeves and Tim Chester
Inter-Varsity Press, 2016, ISBN:978-1783594078, 176 pages
The ecumenical movement, represented by developments such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together, the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, and the recent Together2016 Conference have led many to declare that the work of the Reformation is over, and now is the time for a reunion between Protestants and Catholics. In Why the Reformation still matters Reeves and Chester set out to answer whether it is still true to say ‘ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est’ (the reformed church is always to be reformed), or whether it’s time to call a halt to the process, and look on the Reformation as something to be though upon with a little shame. The contention of the work is that “The Reformers are not embarrassing grandparents- they are vital conversation partners with the potential to renew and reinvigorate our churches” (Reeves and Chester, 2016, 18).
The authors contend for this truth by examining a key area in turn, setting the ideas of both medieval Roman Catholicism and the Reformers beside each other, then explaining how it why the Reformed view is relevant for modern believers. The areas examined are as follows:
- The theology of the cross
- Union with Christ
- The Spirit
- The sacraments
- The church
- Everyday life
- Joy and glory
The authors provide a good (if basic) summary of Reformation thought in the areas examined. This is done so in a warm, winsome tone, rather than the combative/polemic tone one might expect from such a work. The aim of the authors appears to be to contend for the truth, rather than attacking untruth. A particular highlight was Chapter Ten: Everyday Life, which is subtitled “What difference does God make on Monday mornings?” For Reeves and Chester, the Reformers’ view on everyday life is encapsulated in the phrase Soli Deo Gloria (‘to God’s glory alone’). While these applications to modern life were included at the end of each chapter, it was nice to have a full chapter dedicated to the subject, which is, sadly, often neglected in theological works.
A personal comment (rather than criticism) is that the authors focus perhaps a little heavily on Luther, particularly in the earlier part of the book, to the sidelining of the other Reformers. This is rectified in the latter part of the book, particularly in Chapter Eight: The sacraments. This chapter includes a very helpful chart comparing Lutheran and Zwinglian views on the Lord’s Supper. More of these charts throughout the book would have helped, especially when comparing Roman Catholic and Reformed ideas. Something else which would have been of benefit would be some concrete examples of everyday life, perhaps case studies, with Reformed doctrine applied to the cases to show its use.
In conclusion, this book is an incredibly helpful offering by the authors, which will be of use to the following groups of people: those who find themselves doubting the use of the Reformation, those who find themselves having to defend the Reformation, those who are new to Reformed theology, and those exploring it.