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Reformed Catholicity by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain

D. Scott Meadows

Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation, by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015, vii + 168 pages, $19.99, paper.

The fiercest proponents of sola Scriptura must ever guard against disdain for the Church’s fallible tradition, as well as the concomitant sin of neglecting it. Allen and Swain sound a clarion call to repent of historical isolationism and to work toward healing what ails us, both doctrinally and ecclesiastically, by self-critical engagement with the best of our forefathers’ theological legacy.

It is ironic that the doctrine of sola Scriptura has been twisted beyond historical recognition by violating it as conceived and expressed in the Protestant Reformation. Reformed Catholicity provides the nuance concerning tradition that we need in order to recover the vitality of this important slogan in our own time. This book is recommended especially for believers inclined to a “no creed but Christ” mentality, or, “all I need is the Bible and the Holy Spirit.” No, we properly interpret Scripture in fellowship with Christ’s church of all ages. Even Reformed readers will find their appreciation intensified for the indispensable contribution of dogmatic theology to modern biblical interpretation and theological reflection.

Chapter one admirably surveys recent attempts of renewal by retrieval, each with its own distinctive theological orientation and agenda. This book argues that Reformed principles, growing out of Scripture, require us to seek unity among Christians with the help of the doctrines that have been most assuredly believed by Christ’s church through the centuries. Chapters two and three address the historic sense of sola Scriptura as it pertained to ecclesiastical fellowship and tradition going back to the apostles and church fathers. Chapter four very astutely defends a confessionally-informed reading and interpretation of Scripture. This chapter is the most excellent of all in my judgment. Chapter five argues for responsible “proof-texting” which has fallen into disrepute, demonstrating the venerable and sophisticated interplay of Scripture and theology in the examples of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, both careful exegetes and towering theological figures. J. Todd Billings wrote the afterword, which is an appeal for today’s Christian teachers to implement these perspectives.

The authors are clearly informed and articulate in making their case. The tone is winsome and the arguments generally persuasive. The topic is rarely addressed to this degree of detail, and it is an important one. Readers may profit immensely from this well-argued plea. It is a welcome antidote to the prevalent “chronological snobbery” (C. S. Lewis) of today’s evangelicalism.

Note: This review has been revised since its initial publication online.

D. Scott Meadows is a Reformed Baptist minister serving as the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed), in Exeter, New Hampshire. Ordained Servant Online, January 2018.

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