Recently, The Economist published an article about the rise of Calvinism among evangelical Christianity and specifically, Southern Baptists. While that particular article offers a puzzling description of the “New Calvinist” movement, it’s publication illustrates just how significant the movement is across the evangelical landscape. In recent years, the popularity of Calvinism, Puritanism, and Reformed Theology has grown in leaps and bounds among young evangelicals in particular.

Yes, you read that right. Young evangelicals are rapidly embracing the age old doctrines of the reformation. It was at a conference for these types that I received a copy of Michael Reeves’ The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of The Reformation. As New Calvinism takes hold, I have noticed that it is not just the doctrines of the reformation that attract people. The reformers themselves are the heroes of the movement. Luther is a favorite, and the ability to discuss the differences between Calvin and Zwingli is crucial. Likewise, just as Erasmus was emboldened with the charge, “To the source!” so the New Calvinists clamor to read the works of the reformers and the puritans. Reeves book is a helpful volume for anyone trying to make sense of the new fascination for very old people.

The Unquenchable Flame is a short, easily read book which chronicles the reformation in order to uncover the true motivation and character of it. Reeves begins with a brief description of medieval Catholicism and the various tensions therein. The doubt of papal authority cast by the Great Schism ushers in a time of unrest and a desire for reform. From there, he gives a thorough account of the life of Martin Luther. After that, attention is turned to Zwingli and reformation in Switzerland. A chapter is devoted to Calvin, reformation in England, and the puritans, each. By the way, if your view of the Puritans is solely based on the works of Hawthorne, Arthur Miller, etc. then the chapter on Puritanism is a must. Finally, he considers arguments from Mark Knoll that the reformation is effectively over; that in general there is agreement between Catholics and Protestants on justification.

All is written from a very personable viewpoint. Reeves looks to the motivation of the various reformers. He does an excellent job differentiating between those reforms which came from a desire for be pure church, a desire for a pure theology, and a desire for political power. He seeks to present the reformers for who they were, not just what they did, and he succeeds.

Ultimately, Reeves argues for the heart of the reformation. Was it a negative movement of rebellion? Did it destroy or tear down? Reeves argues that it did not. It was not a movement to destroy but to build. It was not a movement away from Catholicism, but towards the Gospel. It is this that draws the reformers together and best describes the Reformation.

As more and more evangelical thought is influenced by the reformers, it is increasingly valuable to understand Reformation history. Reeve’s book is a great place to start.

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