The theology of the Reformation is a deep, complex issue. Gerald L. Bray is the editor of a number of commentaries, including Reformation Commentaries on Scripture and numerous other books. He brings much experience to the questions related to bringing the theology of the Reformers to light for modern readers. Bray’s book Doing Theology with the Reformers is an excellent place for readers to start gaining an understanding of the questions, controversies, and ongoing conclusions of the Reformation.
Bray divides the book into six major topics, each with a chapter dedicated to it: the education of a reformer, the sources of theological authority, the interpretation of the Bible, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Godly commonwealth, and the emergence of confessional theology. Each of these chapters has several subdivisions that help readers learn about each major topic.
The book excels at bringing to the forefront topics that will challenge readers to be careful in their interpretation of the Reformers’ theology. The Reformers clearly situated within their own cultural contexts (often with theology tailored to speak to then-current events), and those contexts are important for understanding how to read them and why their thoughts developed in the directions they did. The chapter on education is a great example of this, demonstrating that the Reformers’ had their own academic experiences that are far different from those of today.
The chapter on the sources of theology was fascinating, showing how the Reformers sought to go back to the source—the Scriptures–while also acknowledging the difficulties presented by attempting such an approach. The following chapter on the interpretation of the Bible in the Reformers’ thought is enlightening, as it shows that the modern debates over the same often experience similar difficulties to those of today. Bray argues that the Reformation Hermeneutic, however, is intensely personal in the sense that it is primarily about transformation: the Reformation hermeneutic demanded the work of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of believers and the Bible could not be rightly understood outside of that experience (103-104).
The work of the Holy Spirit was taken in different ways by many Reformers and led to some of the greatest rifts theologically both then and today. Such issues as the Sacraments and the Christian life served as dividing lines for the Reformers. These issues continue to divide Christians today. Additionally, the question of what it means to have church and state is dramatically divisive, just as it was in the time of the Reformation. During the Reformation, there was also a revitalized interest in confessionalism, proclaiming the specifics of different faith traditions as they emerged. Bray ties the book together with an attempt to show some of the core theological emphases of the Reformation. These are the radical character of the Fall, salvation, the church, and spiritual authority.
Doing Theology with the Reformers is a fascinating introduction to the Reformers’ thought. The exploration of the Reformers’ emergent and emerging thought–along with how it developed and its origins–makes the book a valuable resource for those interested in Reformation theology today.
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