Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Day Book Reviews of The Roots of the Reformation and Reformation Commentary on Scripture--Vol. 1: Genesis 1-11

The Roots of the Reformation
by G.R. Evans
ISBN 978-0-8308-3947-6
Intervarsity Press

Reformation Commentary on Scripture--Old Testament Vol. 1: Genesis 1-11
ed. by John L. Thompson
ISBN 978-0-8308-2951-4
Intervarsity Press

Today is Halloween. Now, there are many pastors out there that make a big deal about the evils of dressing up for Halloween. I am not one of them. And, to be honest, I think most of these folks that have nothing better to do than look behind every bush for Satan and tell little kids dressed up as a dinosaur from a PBS cartoon that they are worshiping the devil really need to get a life, stop being so friggin' cheap and just buy the candy to give away to kids. Most of these folks also need to get their kids out of their little home school ghetto as well, but that is all for another blog post.

The thing is, for theologically nerdy folks like me, October 31 is also a day to celebrate for another reason. That is that today is Reformation day. Four hundred and ninety five years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the Wittenburg Door. So, in celebration of this fine event, I thought I would put together a couple of book reviews for all of you skim over, and see if you enjoy the idea of having and/or purchasing either of these books.

I only have the first edition of the Roots of the Reformation, but the second edition was just released last month. It will be important, if you are wanting the best resource to get the second edition of this book. The first edition was riddled with controversy, pulled from the shelves, and then reissued after corrections were made to several errors in the first edition. Errors in dates and place are not good for history books. I am thankful that IVP stuck with this book and reissued it. It has some great thinking in it, and the crux of the book is less about dates and times than it is about historical process.

G.R. Evans is a historian who is an expert on medieval history. And she uses the knowledge from this expertise to connect the Reformation to other currents of thought and historical movements that paved the way for the Reformation to take place. This is refreshing. Much of what we look at in the Reformation centers on doctrinal manners, not socio-historical influences that created the perfect environment for the Reformation to happen.

Evans understands the Reformation has having multiple forms and influences, that in many ways kind of converged at the same time to form a river of ecclesiastical and theological transformation that has flowed forward into the next 5 centuries. She also acknowledges how different parts of the Reformation influenced one another.

The one thing I struggled with in Roots of the Reformation was the discussion of residual issues coming out of the Reformation. For me, the issues she chose seemed to be tangential and not germane to mainline believers like myself. Others, however, may enjoy discussing the merits of the King James Version in relation to other translations.

The Genesis commentary in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series is even more helpful to me, and a great edition to my personal library. Like each of the commentaries in this series, Reformation authors and theologians are resourced and quoted in a commentary that covers Scripture verse by verse and section by section. Some of the theologians resourced are more well-known. Others are not as well known, but still influential. Also, like each of the commentaries, the introduction is a great read, and gives insight to what you will read in the pages that follow.

What I find refreshing about this commentary on Genesis is that it avoids pitfalls in the study of Genesis that come to readers from both the theological left and the fundamentalist right. You will find little debate on "young earth" creationism vs. Darwinism. For the most part, the story is assumed to be literal, and thus it is the point of little debate. Also, you will find very little arguing against the historicity of Adam and Eve, or about source theory. The Reformers were much more interested in how we understand the first 11 chapters in Genesis in light of Christian living than they were interested in getting bogged down in issues like this. The Reformers were interested in what the text was saying, and how to teach it.

As the introduction deftly points out, however, the Reformers did have issues that they were focused on due to their location in history. In Genesis 2-3, they ponder the nature of marriage for instance. They also look for Christian typology quite a bit. In addition, they focus on how an individual relates to God without a magisterium to dictate interpretation and behavior. Several themes of the evangelical faith are drawn out from Genesis, such as the nature of the fall, the nature of salvation, and the power of sin.

So, if you feel led, on this fine Reformation Day, drop by Amazon or Intervarsity Press' website, and pick up for yourself a book on the Reformation movement. IVP has several good reads on this pivotal point in history, and their library of books on the issue is only getting better.

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