Where was the gospel before the Reformation?
Contemporary evangelicals often struggle to answer that question. As a result, many Roman Catholics are quick to allege that the Reformation understanding of the gospel simply did not exist before the 1500s. They assert that key Reformation doctrines, like sola fide, were nonexistent in the first fifteen centuries of church history. Rather, they were invented by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others.
That is a serious charge, and one that evangelicals must be ready to answer. If an evangelical understanding of the gospel is only 500 years old, we are in major trouble. However, if it can be demonstrated that Reformers were not inventing something new, but instead were recovering something old, then key tenets of the Protestant faith are greatly affirmed. Hence, the need for this book.
After reading Long Before Luther, readers will:
This book is a fresh look at the Reformation teachings and reminds us not to over-glorify the achievements of the early reformers for they were not the original proponents of the five solas of the Reformation. They renewed the emphasis on the fundamentals of the Christian faith, especially after many decades of Roman Catholic Church teachings that had eroded these basics. Perhaps, the Reformers' work was more of a reaction against the Roman Church rather than some brand new set of teachings. Busenitz has shown us that the patristics taught the same things too, even though there are some differences. Readers will be encouraged to know that there is ample historical continuity of the faith. We give thanks to God for enabling these faithful servants who had stood up and fought successfully to maintain the purity of the gospel. With each generation, people change. Cultures change. Contexts change, but the Word of God stands forever. Long before Luther, there were the Church fathers like Augustine, Clement, Cyril, and so on. Long before Augustine were the faithful testimonies of the Early Church and the first disciples. It can only be surmised that there is one constant guide through it all: The Holy Spirit.
As most of you are aware of, this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This is the time where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church. There have been many book on the Reformation for the past few years leading up to this anniversary as well as books on Martin Luther. There have some wondering, if gospel-centered theology came into the church during the time of the Reformation, how was the gospel taught before the Reformation. Was Catholicism the norm until Martin Luther came into the picture?
Nathan Busenitz has written a book that takes a look at the proclamation of the gospel prior to the Reformation. The book is titled Long Before Luther.
In the beginning of the book, Busenitz looks at whether gospel-centered theology was a new thing or something that needed to be revitalized. The answer is the Reformers were not looking to make a new religion, they were looking at going back to the Bible and the proclamation of the gospel, which teaches we are saved by faith alone. The Roman Catholic Church had a lot of confusion when it came to being justified which affected the people they were teaching. The Reformers were seeking clarity in Biblical Theology and what it truly meant to be justified.
Busenitz then addresses how theologians handled church doctrine in regards to justification and Christ being our ultimate sacrifice before Augustine came into the picture. Then he addresses what Augustine taught about justification and being saved followed by what was taught after Augustine passed away. Busenitz states that the Reformers were right in looking into Augustine's theology especially in how he viewed justification which was closer Biblically speaking than what the Roman Catholic Church taught.
Church History is very important for Christians to study. We must know what the church believed in the past and also did in regards to faith and practice. I am grateful the gospel was proclaimed properly before the Reformation, even though there were not as many voices as there during the time of the Reformation and centuries later. This is one book I highly recommend in one's study of Church History and the Reformation.
One thing that always intrigued me about the Catholic faith is their history. I used to wonder where Protestantism was before Luther came along. Which is why I was anxious to get my hands on this book. With 2017 bringing the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I thought this was the perfect time to really sit down and dig into the history of my church.
The author, Nathan Busenitz, is an Assistant Professor of Theology at the Master’s Seminary and holds a doctorate in church history with a specific focus on patristic theology. He first takes us through how the reformers defined “justification,” which I found fascinating. I had a vague working knowledge of Luther’s definition of justification, but to learn his reasoning in depth…as well as the Bible verses he was working from…was a dream for this forever-Bible-student. The book then takes us through many writings of the church fathers, all of which show that the Reformation had it’s roots long before Luther spoke up and changed the face of Christianity.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book is at the end. The author includes an appendix entitled “Voices From History,” which includes many quotes from church history, further affirming us being saved through faith, by grace alone. I could study these writings over and over.
While the author made every effort to create an easy read (and succeeded, I might add), Long Before Luther is not a book to be read quickly. It was a joy to dig into, a joy to study, and further grounded me in my Protestant beliefs. But if I hadn’t taken the time to really absorb the depth of the teaching within the pages, I feel that I would have missed all that was included inside for the reader’s benefit.