BOOK REVIEWS

Long Before Luther

longNathan Busenitz, Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017, 243 pp. $10.49

Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation by Nathan Busenitz recently hit the shelves. Busentiz sets out to discover whether or not the doctrine of justification by faith alone was taught and stressed prior to the days of the Protestant Reformation. Anyone familiar with the Reformers understands the motto, post tenabras lux (after darkness light). This little Latin phrase suggests that there was a darkness in the land in the days preceding the Reformation. Such an assertion is true. However, Busentiz asks whether or not any light existed at all. The answer is a resounding “yes!” Indeed, the author discovers that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is not an invention of the Reformers. Rather, they unearthed and recovered this doctrine which can be traced back to the apostles.

Dr. Busentiz utilizes Alistair McGrath’s book, Iustitia Dei, which he admits is “widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive treatments of the subject.” But comprehensive does not necessarily mean accurate as we shall see. For McGrath essentially argues that Luther and his Reformation buddies concocted what we understand now as justification by faith alone. Busentiz adds, “Because the doctrine of justification lies at the heart of the gospel, the implications of this charge are serious.”

McGrath delineates the three pillars of the Reformers’ view of justification which include 1) Forensic Justification, 2) Justification Distinguished from Regeneration, and 3) The Imputed Righteousness of Jesus Christ. McGrath argues that these distinct doctrines are missing in the first fifteen hundred years of church history. Thus, as Busentiz notes, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “a theological innovation introduced in the sixteenth century,” at least according to McGrath.

With this vexing concern before his readers, Dr. Busentiz carefully guides them on a journey where they discover that sola fide was taught by Augustine and the church fathers. The three pillars the McGrath identifies are used as a sort of litmus test which Busentiz uses to his advantage and I might add, with great skill.

In the final analysis, Busentiz argues that justification by faith alone is not an invention of the Reformers, nor is it a theological novelty. Indeed, this doctrine was taught by the apostles and the church fathers. While it was largely neglected for the first fifteen hundred years of church history, it was, nonetheless a part of the warp and woof of Christian orthodoxy.

While McGrath’s assertions concerning justification are troubling, the three pillars he identifies in Iustitia Dei actually serve Busentiz quite well as he looks backward and ultimately makes a compelling case for the historic doctrine of justification. Busenitz should be commended for his work as he settles the score on this crucial matter that concerns the gospel.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · Church History · Theology

FAITH ALONE – Thomas Schreiner (2015)

Faith Alone by Thomas Schreiner is much-needed treatment of the scrinedoctrine which was rediscovered during the days of the Protestant Reformation, namely, justification by faith alone. The author makes it plain from the beginning that he does not intend to offer a comprehensive treatment of this doctrine. Rather, he guides readers through a tour of the doctrine of justification. The contours of this fascinating tour are informed by history, theology, and biblical/exegetical arguments.

Dr. Schreiner is unique among theologians as he fairly represents opposing positions and graciously refutes them. His stance toward Rome, in particular, is refreshing and sure to pose a challenge to Roman Catholic thought.

Despite the gracious intent of the author, his arguments are robust and biblical. His allegiance to the Sola Scriptura principle is evident throughout and his love for the doctrine of justification by faith alone is clear.

I commend this work highly and expect it shall receive a wide reading.

Biography · BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · History

JOHN KNOX AND THE REFORMATION – Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Iain Murray

Buried deep in the catacombs of church history lie heroes that deserved to be revived from time to time.  John Knox stands among several men who faithfully raised the banner of the gospel and defended the truths of the Protestant Reformation.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Iain Murray guide readers through the life and legacy of the great reformer, John Knox.

Chapter one is an overview of the Protestant Reformation with an emphasis on the Scottish Reformation.  A few themes that are developed include the sovereignty of God over all things, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and justification by faith alone.  Lloyd-Jones reminds readers that “John Knox and other men risked their lives, day after day” in order to promote the aforementioned realities. The author also stresses the reformers were men of prayer and men who we faithful in the pulpit.  “Such a man was John Knox, ” writes Lloyd-Jones, “with the fire of God in his bones and in his belly!  He preached as they all preached, with fire and power, alarming sermons, convicting sermons, humbling sermons, converting sermons, and in the face of Scotland was changed …”

Chapter two is Lloyd-Jones attempt to credit John Knox as the founder of Puritanism.  The author points to several noteworthy qualities in the Scottish reformer – ability, energy, shrewdness, wisdom, originality, and courage.  But his preaching stands out: “His great characteristic as a preacher was vehemency.  Great preachers are generally vehement; and we should all be vehement.  This is not the result of nature only; it arises from the feeling of the power of the gospel.  Vehemence is, of course, characterized by power; and John Knox was a most powerful preacher, with the result that he was a most influential preacher.”  Lloyd-Jones continues, “When the Lords and others were alarmed, and frightened, and all ready to give in, Knox would go up into a pulpit and preach a sermon; and the entire situation was transformed.  One man ‘more influential than the blustering of five hundred trumpets in our ears.'”  The reader is left to determine whether or not Lloyd-Jones is successful in defending his thesis.

Iain Murray concludes with biographical overview of John Knox.  Several themes emerge including the fervent prayer life of Knox and his commitment to Reformed theology.  Murray, like Lloyd-Jones emphasizes the preaching ministry of Knox: “His authority came from the conviction that preaching is God’s work, the message is his word, and he was sure the Holy Spirit would honor it.  This was the certainty which possessed him.”  Indeed, such a certainty should possess every preacher of God’s Word.

John Knox and the Reformation is a powerful look at a potent preacher.  It is an important reminder of the need for courage in the face of adversity and faithfulness in a faithless generation.  John Knox stands as an inspiration for Christ-followers and is an exemplar for pastors who make it their aim to faithfully feed, lead, and protect the flock of God.

4 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

WHAT IS JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE?

J.V. Fesko answers the all-important question, “What is Justification by Faith Alone?”  The author begins, “All people must at some point in their existence stand in the presence  of God and be judged.  There are two possible outcomes, either a guilty or not-guilty verdict.  Or, in biblical terms, God will either condemn or justify the person who stands before him.  In order for God to justify a person, he requires absolute perfect righteousness, that is, obedience to his law.”  It is within this framework that Fesko unpacks the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Fesko walks readers through a primer on redemptive history.  God promises to reverse the terrible consequences of the fall in Genesis 3:15.  Additionally, God promises to make Abraham a great nation, to make his name great, and a blessing.  Paul calls this promise the gospel: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed'” (Gal. 3:8).

Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).  God therefore views Abraham not as a guilty sinner, but as one who is justified; positionally righteous in his sight.  Abraham places his faith in another, what Luther calls an “alien righteousness.”

Fesko includes a terrific summary of the covenant that God makes with Abraham.    In his discussion of Gen. 15:9-12, he writes: “Significantly, God promises to Abraham that if the patriarch or God himself violates the terms of this covenant agreement, then God alone will bear the penalty  for transgressing the covenant.  Seeing that God cannot die, we also see the certainty that God will keep his promise … It is God who is active, who makes the covenant promise, who justifies Abraham by imputing righteousness to him by faith, and who swears an immutable and unchanging covenant oath to bear any penalties for the covenant’s violation.”Fesko rightly argues that justification is by faith alone in the Old and New Testament (Rom. 4:1-5).

The author continues to summarize how Christ fulfilled the law, paid the penalty of the law, and was raised for our justification.  It becomes clear that each part of Christ’s work is essential, namely, his life, death, and resurrection.

Overall, Fesko succeeds in answering the question, “What is justification by faith alone?”  His exposition is clear, bold, and biblical.  He responds graciously to the typical arguments that are leveled against the doctrine.  And he reminds us of the utter importance of justification.  Indeed, Luther declared, “Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls.”  His words ring true in our culture where the doctrine of justification by faith is once again under attack.

5 stars