Long Before Luther: Tracing The Heart Of The Gospel From Christ To The Reformation, by Nathan Busenitz
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
My feelings about this book when I was reading it were deeply complicated, but mostly positive. The author’s approach to looking up historical antecedents of the heart of the Gospel in the Bible and the writings of various Church Fathers is not unlike some of my own similar researches , and this identification certainly makes me feel more positively about the author, even when in my own particular religious background looking at the quotations of church fathers is not something that would help to prove a point. More positively, though, I happen to be in full agreement with the author that not only is “Faith alone” biblical, but that it makes a genuine gulf between biblical religion and the ditches of antinomianism and legalism on both sides . Seeing, therefore, that the author’s point is interesting to me even if I do not believe that appealing to Hellenistic Christians is necessarily valuable except that it forms a basis of shared authority between the writer and his largely Catholic opponents in the debate, I read as an interested outsider.
The book fully meets the author’s expectations. He has clearly done his homework in showing the long chain of belief in justification by faith (alone) from the Bible through the Middle Ages to Luther and the other early reformers. There are page after page of detailed endnotes as well as a lengthy appendix of quotations from thinkers like Anselm of Canterbury and Bernard of Clairvaux among many others that show proto-Reformation beliefs about justification. The author starts from looking at the writings of the early Reformers themselves and who they cited as fellow belivers in sola fide and then proceeds to follow the writings back. While the author is honest in conceding that the writers of the Middle Ages were not as consistent or as precise in their use of language about justification, he manages to find plenty of evidence of belief in justification by faith alone, enough to clearly prove that Catholics err in believing it to be a Protestant innovation. His research is extensive and his analysis is sound, and what started as an internet challenge makes for a compelling volume that defends the legitimacy of the Protestant Reformation and for later groups seeking to restore biblical Christianity.
I feel it is necessary to say that while I believe that the author has gone above and beyond what was necessary to demonstrate the biblical and historical pedigree of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in terms of forensics and imputation, for example, I do not think that the author is fully aware of the nature of the argument that he uses to justify Protestant positions in general. Although the author can certainly be taken as a foe of false ragamuffin gospels as well as false legalistic gospels of grace and works, the author’s belief that the Protestants were successful in restoring genuine biblical Christianity in all aspects is more than a bit too sanguine. Even so, this was a very enjoyable book and the approach of the author in research and writing is a very welcome one. This is precisely the sort of book that is very useful when one is dealing with polemics regarding the very serious and momentous difference between Catholics and Protestants (as well as Restorationists) with regards to beliefs about justification and sanctification. Coming in at under 200 pages of core material and a whole host of endnotes and sources that sound like interesting reading, this is a book that encourages you to read more, and that is a good thing.
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