Godfrey, professor of church history and president of Westminster Theological Seminary in California, has written a delightful little book of essays on the major influential figures of the Reformation. As expected, he addresses Martin Luther and John Calvin, but he also sketches Philip Melanchthon, whom Godfrey calls “The Forgotten Reformer,” and Peter Martyr Vermigli, designated “An International Reformer.” Brief chapters on the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort expand from the influential figures to include confessions of faith as well as persons.
This book is not a comprehensive or a critical treatment of these influential persons and confessions. It is not intended to be. The reader who is interested in finding more complete discussions of these people and confessions might wish that Godfrey had included a brief bibliography of the major works for further study. But as a series of “sketches,” this book fulfills the author’s intention. A scholar of church history and a mature Christian leader, Godfrey has written a book which makes the material accessible for readers of all ages. This is a book that both laypersons and professional scholars will find helpful.
In a concluding chapter Godfrey discusses the value of the confessions for the contemporary church. He correctly notes that a danger of “many American churches is that they will lose the center of faith. They risk getting caught up in something peripheral and missing the essential” (p. 134). He asserts that “the great Reformed confessions contain for us the center that we need” (p. 134), they “show us the pattern of biblical revelation” (p. 134), they “remind us that the truth of God is not only coherent but also broad and deep” (p. 135), they “are also a deposit” (p. 135), and they are “sound teaching” (p. 136). Although non-Reformed Protestants might find Godfrey’s allegiance to the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort a bit too limiting, all owe a great theological debt to the figures he sketches. And all can affirm his call to appreciate and value the heritage of the Reformation.
A vibrant Christian church has a healthy understanding and appreciation for the past and a hopeful expectation for the future, as well as a robust passion for the present. Any tool that aids one’s appreciation for the history of the church is worth having.
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