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The Reformation: Faith and Flames

Andrew Atherstone

Reviewed by: Glen J. Clary

Date posted: 11/18/2012

The Reformation: Faith and Flames, by Andrew Atherstone. Published by Kregel, 2011. Hardback, 192 pages, list price $24.95. Reviewed by OP pastor Glen J. Clary.

This beautifully illustrated book traces "the story of the sixteenth-century reformation from its origins in the European renaissance to its dénouement in the wars of religion" (p. 7). There is no shortage of popular-level histories of the Reformation, but more recent works tend to approach the subject from social, economic, or political angles and pay less attention to theological issues. While not ignoring the "non-religious" factors of this critical period of ecclesiastical history, Atherstone returns to the more traditional approach of viewing the Reformation as fundamentally a theological movement. Moreover, says our author, the chief theological issue was the doctrine of justification.

The deepest chasm between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism concerned the questions: "How can I be saved? How can I be in a right relationship with Almighty God? How can I be sure of a place in heaven?" (p. 181). The rediscovery that salvation is a free gift from God, received solely through faith in Jesus Christ, had massive implications for the Christian church. "Tens of thousands lost their lives, and nations went to war, over the question 'What must I do to be saved?' Catholics and evangelicals offered incompatible answers, but all were agreed on the eternal significance of this most important of questions" (p. 7).

By making the doctrine of justification the focal point, Atherstone's portrait of the Reformation appears more Lutheran than Reformed. Although the Reformed confessed that justification was "the main hinge" (Calvin, Institutes 3.11.1), the scope of their reform was much broader. If Carlos Eire is correct, the chief concern of the Reformed wing was to purge the church of idolatry and purify her worship (see Eire, War against the Idols). Another criticism that we have of this book is its preponderance of material on the Reformation in England. Two out of ten chapters are dedicated to England, yet other major Reformed centers, such as Strasbourg, are barely mentioned.

Aside from these minor faults, The Reformation: Faith and Flames presents an excellent overview of Reformation history. Containing copious endnotes, an index, wide margins, many pictures, and helpful maps, it is a great introduction to the subject and a helpful reference for students of history.

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