Thursday, January 28, 2010

Church History, with Wit

Introductions to the Reformation are seldom styled as page-turners. Michael Reeves' The Unquenchable Flame is precisely that. Written with an unambiguous appreciation for Reformation principles and the people who propelled them, Reeves also exposes their flaws alongside explanation, not excuse. But what sets this book apart to me is Reeves' masterful narrative style and a characteristically British dry wit.

How do you inject wit in Reformation history (apart from telling juicy Luther anecdotes)? A couple examples:
If ever you should be so unfortunate as to find yourself in a roomful of Reformation historians, the thing to do to generate some excitement is to ask loudly: 'Was Christianity on the eve of the Reformation vigorous or corrupt?' It is the question guaranteed to start a bun-fight.
And my favorite, concerning King Charles I of England's re-establishment of high churchmanship and his Catholic sympathies:
[Charles] even managed to appoint his dream Archbishop of Canterbury, the diminutive William Laud [reading this, MLJr?], and Oxford academic who would never be trusted by the Cambridge Puritans. Laud was never a man much able to win people over; he seemed to reserve all displays of warmth for his pet cats and giant tortoise.
No doubt the most practical portion of the book is its concluding chapter, "Is the Reformation Over?" Here, Reeves defends the centrality of justification to the question, and thoroughly repudiates Mark Noll with a combination of logic and centuries-old parallels. The implication that Noll is a contemporary Erasmus is thinly-veiled.

Less practical, but more foundational, is Reeves' conclusion: The Reformation was not a negative movement—away from Rome, but a positive one—towards the gospel. May such movements, keep moving.

Ok, so the bad news . . . the American B&H edition isn't available yet through the above link, but you can obviously pre-order. PLUS, if you can't wait (and I'm glad I didn't) you can buy the original British IVP edition (the one I read) right now, here.


Mike said...

At the name of Laud I hiss...

Ben said...

Yessssssssss! I feel like the universe is slightly more in order now.

PJ Tibayan said...

Thanks Ben! I'll order one in April...