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:
I received a free book from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review (Thank you!). All thoughts are 100% my own.
Justification, by grace, through faith alone (latin: sola fide) is one of the five solas of the Protestant Reformation. This doctrine is essential for a right understanding of the Gospel, and it sets Christianity apart from every single world religion.
Nathan Busenitz refutes those who say the doctrine of justification by faith alone (apart from works) never existed before the Martin Luther’s 1517 Reformation. In less than 200 pages, Busenitz goes over 1,500 years of church history— from Jesus all the way to Luther— and quotes the works of the patristics, Augustine, and post-Augustine theologians. Busenitz shows how church history confirms a forensic, imputed justification by faith alone can be found long before the Reformation. Some early theologians also wrote on the distinction between justification and sanctification. The Reformers weren’t inventing new doctrine, they were going back to Biblical teachings that were corrupted by man-made traditions.
This book is straight-forward, organized, and easy to read. This is a great place to start if you’re wanting to research church history and the Reformation. Each chapter has a multitude of quotes. The book itself is around 165 pages followed by 25 pages of quotes, and 40 pages of references.
I will be getting a lot of use out of this book.
The title of this book was what initially drew me in. Being a bit of a book nerd, I typically catch wind of newly published books and remain vaguely familiar with most relatively well-known evangelical authors. However, I was completely unacquainted with both this book and its author, Nathan Busenitz. Having its foreword written by John Macarthur is what sealed the deal for me, convincing me to give it a read.
And I’m grateful that this book found its way into my library. Busenitz, in this book, seeks out to combat what he calls a common objection to Reformational theology, which is that the Reformers essentially invented their “5 solas,” and most notably, “sola fide,” the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone, which Busenitz often refers to as “forensic justification.” He goes on to emphasize two additional points of supposed contention: 1) the distinction between justification and sanctification and 2) the imputed righteousness of Christ. So, as the book progresses we see Busenitz systematically visiting and re-visiting these three major points of contention in an effort to cite these doctrines/views all the way back through the Medieval period and its prominent theologians, through the early church fathers, and eventually back to Scripture itself. All of this is done precisely to plead the case that the Reformers in no way invented what has come to be known as Reformational theology, but rather recovered what had been lost as a result of corruption creeping its way into the church. Though I’m sure there are other questions that need to be answered in order to convince naysayers of his conclusion, Busenitz presents a strong case in Long Before Luther.
Considering all that’s been mentioned above, I’m convinced that the real value of this book comes in the form of the massive amount of quotes and citations that he includes in his work. From Chrysostom, to Melanchthon, to Edwards, Augustine, and others, this book is teeming with rich theological truths splashing off page after page. About mid-way through the book, I found myself deeply encouraged by the sheer amount of these quotes the author forced me to read through repeatedly. Busenitz is a competent writer, and while there is no poetic or particularly artistic style to the way this content reads, the pages don’t quite drag by either. It’s an enjoyable book in that regard. But the real bang for your buck here is the centuries-old troves of theological wisdom he’s throwing onto these pages. He even includes a glossary of meaningful quotes from church history in which 100 notable theologians speak specifically to “salvation by grace alone and the truth that believers are justified solely through faith in Christ.” It’s incredibly rich.
For anyone interested in the topic of the Reformation, I would recommend this book for all of the above reasons. I can’t say that it exhaustively answers all of the questions in this particular debate, but I think Busenitz makes a really compelling case. I’m convinced he’s right.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Many people believe that Protestantism began in the 16th century with the Reformers. However, this isn’t the case. In his new book titled Long Before Luther, author Nathan Busenitz sets out to prove that the doctrines used by the Reformers existed long before the Protestant Reformation even took place. One would think that a book such as this would be a deliberate one-sided affair, but the author uses both sides of the argument in order to make his case, using criticism brought against the Reformers in order to make the case for them. By using Scripture throughout the book along with his expert knowledge of church history, Mr. Busenitz is able to prove that the doctrines used by the Reformers are traced all the way back to the time of Christ. He also explains how the interpretation of doctrine used by the Reformers was clearly in line with Scripture and was also used by the early church fathers prior to the 16th century. For those who are not well informed of Reformation doctrine, the author explains in detail with precise expertise, the teachings of the Reformation and how the Reformers themselves looked to early church leaders from prior generations in order to validate support for their own beliefs. I was highly impressed by the amount of Scripture and historical evidence that was used by the author in proving his point when writing this book. You can tell that Mr. Busenitz thought out his topic very well and the book was accurately researched, making the time reading it enjoyable. There’s no doubt that this book should be on every bookshelf. After reading it, I’m sure that many will be able to look at Reformation doctrine from a whole different perspective.
I've been a Christian for over 20 years. I've done numerous Bible Studies and have led many of them. In all my years as a believer, I've never really understood the Reformation and the role Martian Luther played. I assumed that the knowledge of "faith alone" was common knowledge and didn't understand why other denominations struggled with that belief.
It wasn't until I read Long Before Luther did I really begin to understand the rich history of the church and our break from the Roman Catholic belief system. Nathan Busenitz has an amazing way of taking a deep and delicate subject and writing it in a way a layman can understand.
The heart of the Gospel and the true beginning of the Church leads back to Christ and Christ alone. Long Before Luther brings us back to the truth of our salvation and that the real beginning of the church was not at the Reformation but in Acts. All signs lead us right back to Christ and the in faith alone are we saved.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has had questions of the beginning of the Protestant church and the split from the Catholics. Understanding our church history makes us more effective in worship and witnessing.
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.