Carl Trueman. Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Ross-Shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, May 20th, 2011. 127 pp.
Rating: 4 out of 5
The author Carl Trueman is the professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary although he authored this work originally back in 1999 before he was a professor at Westminister. At that time Trueman was the Senior Lecturer in Church History at University of Aberdeen in which he confesses was written in haste so that it can be delivered at a conference in Wales for the Evangelical Theological College. Trueman. In the book’s forward Trueman tells us that he is delighted to find that he agrees with the book even though he originally wrote the book before his 40s and now he is older and mature. This book is not a history book per se about the reformation as it is about the heritage of the Reformation having its impact and importance for today and the future.
The book is divided into four chapters. The first chapter argues for the relevance of the Reformation today. The second focuses on Christ since the Reformation puts Christ at the center of theology. The third chapter is on the Scriptures while the fourth is on the importance of Christian assurance of salvation which Trueman argues is an important motif and theme for Protestants from the time of the Reformation onwards.
I personally found the first two chapters to have been the most delightful:
- Chapter one was incredibly nuanced. For instance Trueman makes it clear that he thinks the Reformation is important but that doesn’t mean he’s trying to make contemporary Christians and the church today go back to the sixteenth century. Nor is Trueman cultish in his esteem of the Reformation in which he argues like some would do in an unbiblical fashion that just because the Reformers did something therefore it means it must be right, true, etc. Here Trueman talks about “unhelpful friends” who have good intention in defending the Reformation but which the Reformation must also be rescued from as well.
- Before I began reading the book I was also curious as to how Trueman would define the Reformation especially since the title suggests it isn’t used to described only the movement in the sixteenth century. I know today there can be some debate as to what constitute Reformed theology. I like Trueman’s working definition given in the first chapter of the book: “the Reformation represents a move to place God as he has revealed himself in Christ at the centre of the church’s life and thought” (17). I thought this was a very good definition because it transcends the sixteenth century and it definitely is something that is relevant for today and tomorrow.
- Chapter one profoundly reminded me that the Reformation primarily was a theological movement and not merely a campaign for moral reforms of the Catholic church which no doubt some of the counter-Reformation Catholics would agree needs some kind of moral fixes. Trueman articulates in chapter one how the issue for the Reformers was one of theology. If one gets the theology right, then the moral problem will be fixed as a result of the implication of right theology. The opposite is also true: bad theology produces bad fruits.
- I enjoyed Trueman’s discussion in chapter two about Martin Luther’s “theology of the Cross” as opposed to theology of glory. Here Trueman gives the historical understanding of what Trueman has meant. While I have read and heard in the past about Luther’s theology of the Cross it wasn’t until I read this book did I truly understood what Martin Luther was trying to say and saw how earth shaking it is as theological paradigm. The implication of Luther’s theology of the Cross is very relevant for today though it is counter-cultural in that it tells us of how to be comforted with hardship and trials.
The following is my constructive criticism:
- Trueman is doctrinally sound when it comes to the Gospel. However it wished Trueman would have quoted and interacted more from the Bible. For instance I believe we do not see any Bible verses quoted or cited until on page 100. This is quite amazing considering that the book is only 127 pages and that it is a book that also acknowledges Sola Scriptura. If the book is adapted from Trueman’s message for a conference I wonder how the people fared in the conference to sit through that long without Scriptural reference.
- I wished Trueman could have talked more about the theme of Christian assurance. Specifically I thought that the book could have benefited from more practical questions to diagnose one’s spiritual identity and whether one is truly saved, etc. He is right though that Reformed or Protestants can have assurance of their salvation because of what God has done and has promised. This is contrary to Catholic theology.
I do recommend this book and believe this would be edifying for the readers.