Reviews

Is The Reformation Over? – Part 2

A book review by Dr. Herbert Samworth   Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism. Baker Academic, 2005 This is the second of a two part-review of the book written by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom and published by Baker Academic. Although the book was published nearly six years ago, the issues involved are extremely pertinent to today. In this second article, we will seek to point out what are believed to be the two main weaknesses of the book. As stated before, it is a well-written and extremely informative review of the relationship between Catholic and Protestants. Our two main contentions or criticisms of the book deal with the subjects of history and theology. In the area of history, the writers fail to state clearly two important and pertinent facts. The first omission deals with the development of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution while the second omission is the failure to answer the question as to why there was a reformation in the first place. Throughout the book the writers encourage the reader who desires more information regarding the Roman Catholic Church and where it stands on doctrinal issues to purchase a copy of the Catholic Catechism and read it carefully. Frequently the authors state that an Evangelical will find much in the Catechism with which he can agree. In one paragraph, Mark Noll stated that while reading the Catechism, he was led to put it down and worship in prayer and thanksgiving because there was so much with which he agreed. Note page 116 where Mr. Noll states this. No one who has an understanding of Church History would necessarily dispute that statement. However, a study of Church History reveals a pattern of the Roman Church in deviating from the faith over a period of time. Much of what the Church Fathers wrote would be accepted as orthodox today. For example, one would be in agreement with the Nicene Creed and its statements about the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many Protestants Churches recite the Nicene Creed as part of their liturgy. One also would agree with Augustine in his controversy with Pelagius regarding the sinful nature of man. However, the further one proceeds on the path of Church history the more he encounters certain doctrines that transformed the Roman Church into a sacramental church....

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Is The Reformation Over? – Part 1

A book review by Dr. Herbert Samworth   Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism. Baker Academic, 2005 Why take the time and effort to review a book that was published nearly six years ago? Events have moved on and there are certainly more current issues that demand our attention. The reason for the review is that Is the Reformation Over? is an extremely important book and the questions that it raises are pertinent today. The title of the book is worthy of our attention. What do the authors mean when they ask the question concerning the Reformation? Do they mean that the Reformation is over because it has accomplished its objective? Could they possibly mean that the Reformation is over because it has failed? The tone of the book remains rather coy regarding the answer to the question. Perhaps the sub-title of the book can aid us in formulating an answer to the authors’ question. The book is an evaluation of the contemporary Roman Catholicism by two pronounced Evangelicals. We can note that even the subtitle carries an implied question. It has been the glory of Roman Catholicism that the Church is always the same: semper idem. If the Roman Catholic Church is, and always has been, the same, there would be little reason for the qualifying adjective. Although one does not wish to give a final judgment, it appears that the authors believe that both the Roman Catholic Church and Evangelicals have changed. We will give reasons for this opinion later in the review. The authors have written the book to chronicle some of the changes that have occurred in Catholic/ Protestant relations over the past years. According to their analysis, the differences in the current situation have been the result of three significant events. The first is Vatican II that was convened in 1960 by Pope John XXIII. This was the first general council since Vatican I that took place in 1870. There was a new openness about the church and things were questioned that would have seemed improbable just a few years before. This new attitude of openness caught the attention of Protestant observers who attended the sessions. Perhaps the most intriguing thing was that no longer were Protestants considered to be non-Christians. Indeed, they were called “separated brethren.” To be sure, Roman Catholics are...

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J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future

A book review by Dr. Herbert Samworth   We are going to take a break from reviews of books that deal with the history of the Reformation and the Bible. Rather we will review a book edited by Timothy George entitled J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: the Impact of His Life and Thought and published by Baker Academic in 2009. The book consists of a series of essays analyzing the life and impact of J. I. Packer on the Evangelical resurgence of the last sixty years. The occasion was the celebration of his eightieth birthday in 2006. In some ways it must be considered a different, if not a strange, book because books of this type are usually not written during the individual’s lifetime in order that a more balanced perspective of the person and his work can be given. The book itself is a series of essays by contributors who have been associated closely with Dr. Packer and his career. They include Charles Colson, Richard Neuhaus, Alister McGrath, Mark Dever, and others. When the name of J. I. Packer is mentioned, most people would recognize him as the author of one of the best selling book in recent years. That book is Knowing God and it is nearly impossible to gauge fully its impact since it was published in 1973. It has been used to introduce many to a rare combination of theology and practical application to their understanding. Packer has always striven in his books to write theology for lay people. Although he is certainly capable of writing academic theology, he has been led to write primarily for the non-specialist. However, to understand the purpose of the book, it is necessary to know somewhat of the life of J. I. Packer. Born in 1926 and educated at Oxford University (DPhil for his work on Richard Baxter) Packer has taught at a number of schools and universities both in England and Canada. There were three formative influences on his life. The first was his education at Oxford where he studied the classical curriculum majoring in Latin and Greek studies. During that time, although nominally a member of the Anglican Church, Packer came to faith in Christ. In addition, it was at Oxford that Packer came to discover the Puritans through the writings of John Owen, the second major influence on his life. A third influence was...

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The Writings of J. F. Mozley – John Foxe and his Book

A book review by Dr. Herbert Samworth   This is the third book written by J. F. Mozley that we are reviewing. However, it was the second that he wrote. It is entitled John Foxe and His Book. The name of the book itself is a clue to the manner in which Mozley writes. The book of course is Acts and Monuments or more popularly known as The Book of Martyrs. Undoubtedly there are few persons who have never heard of the book. However, the opposite would be true regarding the life of the person who compiled it. Perhaps some would know that it was compiled by John Foxe. But who is John Foxe? What do we know about his life? It is probably true to say that very little is known about Foxe himself. To rescue Foxe from this undeserved anonymity is the purpose of Mozley’s book. Certainly he does not neglect the book itself. Rather he gives us a very clear account of its origin, its publication and subsequent editions. There is probably no other book that accomplished the repudiation of the Roman Church in England as did the Acts and Monuments. However, I believe that a strong case can be made that this was not the original intent of the work. Certainly it possesses an anti-Roman bias but this was because of the intolerance and cruelty imposed on those who disagreed with its teachings. However, Foxe did not limit his disagreement against temporal forms of punishing heresy to the Roman Church. He was totally opposed to any form of temporal punishment against false teaching whether it was practiced by the Roman Church or the Protestant Church. However, if we are to understand this we must know something of the man himself. Foxe matriculated in 1534 and graduated from Oxford University around four years later because he became master in 1539. There was always one consistent thing about John Foxe and it was his pronounced Protestantism. Indeed, his faithfulness to its teaching cost him his fellowship because it required ordination to hold it. However, to be ordained meant to take the vow of celibacy and Foxe remained unconvinced that this was what the Word of God taught even though the Church had made it a sacrament. Not only was Foxe a person of integrity he was also known for his unwillingness to seek preferment in the church...

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The Writings of J. F. Mozley – Coverdale and his Bibles

A book review by Dr. Herbert Samworth   This is the second of the three books written by J. F. Mozley. The first, the Life of William Tyndale, was reviewed previously. The title of the second book is Coverdale and His Bibles. While it is quite different from the life of Tyndale it is very valuable. Before we begin our review of this book, it would be good to state that taken together, these two books give us the history of the translation and printing of the English Bible until the year 1560. It was in that year that the Geneva Bible was first printed. Coverdale and His Bibles takes up the account in 1535, the year that Tyndale was imprisoned. Even the title of the book Coverdale and His Bibles is somewhat of a misnomer because the work of Coverdale was built on the foundation that Tyndale laid. So the person and work of William Tyndale is never far from the situation. But what about the work itself? Let us first look at the basic outline of the book. Mozley begins with a biographical sketch of Coverdale’s life and work. In contrast with Tyndale, we could say that the life of Coverdale was rather prosaic. However, that would be unfair to the man because he was willing to endure exile and hardship for the sake of the Gospel. Although he did not die as a martyr as did Tyndale, had it not been for the intervention of the King of Denmark, Coverdale’s life would have ended in the fires of Smithfield during the reign of Mary Tudor. There were certainly highlights to his life. He has the honor of the first one to print a complete edition of the Bible in English. The fact that it is known as the Coverdale Bible is testimony to his work. There is also good reason to believe that he made some contribution to the Geneva Bible although how important we are unable to say. Certainly he had a high reputation among his peers and was unwilling to capitalize on his record of having printed the complete Bible. He sided with the Puritan faction and refused positions of honor in the English Church under Elizabeth because of his conviction. Perhaps the fact that in later life he was referred to as “Father Coverdale” bears testimony to the respect that he had earned...

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The Writings of J. F. Mozley – William Tyndale

A book review by Dr. Herbert Samworth   This is the review of the first of the three books authored by J. F. Mozley and deals with the life of William Tyndale. When the Society for Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) published the book in 1937 it was the first major biography of Tyndale that appeared since the work of Robert Demaus in the late 19th century. It was not until 1994 that another major biography of Tyndale was issued. This was the biography written by David Daniell in commemoration of the five hundredth year of his birth. Thus in the span of about a hundred years three major lives of Tyndale were written. Therefore it has been more than seventy years since Mozley’s life of William Tyndale first saw the light of day. What value is there in reviewing a book of that age? I would submit there are a number of reasons for so doing. The first is found in the statement of Mozley himself. In the preface to the book, we note the following words: It is full time that a new life of Tyndale were written. Demaus laid a good and true foundation sixty-six years ago, but much knowledge has been gained since then… When I began to study Tyndale for myself two and a half years ago, I speedily discovered the state of the matter. Here is a man who has never yet received his due, whose reputation has been at the mercy of ignorance and partisanship: and so I determined to enter the field. It is not our intention to review the book chapter by chapter as to duplicate his life. That aim can be better achieved by reading the book itself. Suffice to say that Mozley does a superb job in laying before us the life and labors of Tyndale. The book reads more like a mystery novel except that the individuals are real persons, who make real decisions, and are influenced by real circumstances. It is the reviewer’s opinion that the value of this biography lies in the words that are quoted above. Mozley, after beginning his study of Tyndale, came to the conclusion that he had never received his due. Just exactly what that does that mean? Certainly Tyndale had been recognized as the primary translator of the English Bible for a period of time. Of that there was no...

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The Writings of J. F. Mozley

By Dr. Herbert Samworth   J. F. Mozley was the author of three books that are foundational to the history and translation of the English Bible. The first was entitled William Tyndale and was written and published in 1937. This was followed in 1940 by his vindication of John Foxe and his book Acts and Monuments. The third and final book dealt with the work of Miles Coverdale, called Coverdale and His Bibles, and was originally published in 1953. As a result Mozley’s writings basically cover the period from the birth of Tyndale until well into the reign of Elizabeth with the death of John Foxe in April 1587. Students of the English Reformation will notice that the publication of his books were not in chronological order as Foxe published his great book in its first edition in 1563 well after the translation work of Miles Coverdale was completed although Coverdale himself did not die until 1569 at the advanced age of eighty-one. It is the purpose of this article to comment on these books. However there are several things that we can note about each of them. The first deals with the author himself: James F. Mozley. Despite the efforts of the writer of this article, he has been unable to find any additional information regarding Mozley, except what is contained in the books themselves. An internet search has proven to be fruitless in adding to knowledge of his life. The first two books add the degree of Master of Arts to his name on the title pages and his volume on Coverdale adds that he had received the degree of Doctor of Divinity. This would lead to the assumption that he was a clergyman and probably from the Church of England. If any person who reads this article would have additional information about Mozley and his life, the writer would be appreciative if that information would be forwarded to him. Although the outward details of Mozley’s life and career are hidden from us, there is more than one hint regarding his personality. Although Mozley was an historian, and a very accurate one at that, from time to time he revealed something about himself. For example in the introduction to his work on Tyndale, he remarked that he started his study of his life around two years ago, i.e. 1935. In his book on Foxe he confessed that...

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Sir Thomas More – A Man for All Seasons

A Review by Dr. Herbert Samworth   I recently had the opportunity to see a film on the life of Sir Thomas More. It was subtitled “A Man for all Seasons.” The film swept the Academy Awards when it was first released over forty years ago. It would be interesting to consider exactly why that subtitle was chosen. It may have been because of More’s varied career as a humanist and social critic, after all he was the author of Utopia, an idealized place that unfortunately does not exist as the word itself implies. Perhaps he was because of his role as a lawyer or a member of the English Parliament. Or even because he served as Lord Chancellor after the fall of Thomas Wolsey from King Henry’s favor because Wolsey failed to secure the Papal annulment of the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Certainly there is much to admire in the character of Sir Thomas More. From what we can learn from history, only Cardinal John Fisher and he were the only prominent persons who refused to consent that Henry’s divorce from Catherine was permissible. Both men paid with their lives for their convictions. When an individual is prepared to pay the ultimate price for his convictions, he certainly merits our respect. This is especially true in the case of More because other prominent individuals including Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer and others demonstrated a less pleasing moral flexibility on the issue. However, there is another aspect to the character of Sir Thomas More that we wish to discuss in this short essay on his life. It is not for the purpose of denigrating his character but to show another, and unfortunately less attractive, side to his personality. To do this, we must begin with the religious convictions that More held. At the time of his rise to influence, Henry VIII was King of England and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey combined the offices of Papal Legate and Lord Chancellor. The Church of England was in full communion with the Church of Roman and Popes Leo X, Adrian, and Clement VII were firmly in control. Thomas More was raised in the church and remained a faithful member of it all throughout his life. He was faithful in attending Mass at his parish church and sang in the choir according to some reports. He was even reported to wear a hair...

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How We Got the Bible

A BOOK FOR EVERY LIBRARY A book review by Dr. Herbert Samworth of Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, third edition, revised and expanded, Baker Books, 2003 When one reads a review of a book, he frequently meets such words as multum in parvo, a book that belongs in every library, or a book that provides a good starting place. Seldom do books live up to such enthusiastic commendations, but such is not the case for the book under review. How We Got the Bible does indeed justify the use of such words. The book is the third edition of what can be considered a minor classic. Minor in this case is used because of the relatively few people who are acquainted with it. Originally written to provide a brief and lucid introduction to the process of how the Bible came to us, the third edition improves on that basic purpose. Its two hundred and twenty pages contain a myriad of facts about the formation and transmission of the Scriptures. Included in the book are chapters that deal with the history of ancient books, the manuscripts of both the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament, canonicity, and other topics of interest. Dr. Lightfoot has brought his book up to date with inclusion of information about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the significance of textual variants of the New Testament, a lucid account of textual criticism, and additional information. It is important to note that this is a book about the Bible. It does not deal with the message or interpretation of the Biblical message, but how the Word of God has been transmitted to us over the course of centuries. Dr. Lightfoot wears his learning lightly because he possesses the ability to write about such controversial topics as the importance of the Alexandrian manuscripts, the science of textual criticism, and recent English translations in a lucid and straightforward manner. There are several reasons why this book, in the opinion of the reviewer, is valuable. The first is that it contains a comprehensive, yet concise, overview of how the Bible was transmitted to us. He begins with the obvious, but often forgotten, fact that the Scriptures originally were given in the Hebrew and Greek languages and they were given in manuscript form. For those who live in the 21st century and are only familiar with the printed...

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God’s Bestseller

A book review by Dr. Herbert Samworth One of the more interesting phenomena of the present day is to note the number of books issued from secular book houses that deal with Biblical themes. The present volume, under review, is no exception. It is entitled God’s Bestseller, authored by Brian Moynahan and published by Saint Martin’s Press. At first blush, the title conveys the idea that it is a book about the Bible but we get the true gist of the book by its subtitle: William Tyndale, Thomas More and the Writing of the English Bible. A story of martyrdom and betrayal. Thus, it is a book that deals with the translation and printing of the English Bible carried out by William Tyndale. However, the real story of the book is the account of the betrayal of Tyndale and his death by strangulation and burning in October 1536. It is a fascinating read and one can learn much from its content. Moynahan sets the book in its proper context by recounting the history of the first translation of the Bible into the English language through the work of John Wyclif. He relates that after the death of Wyclif in 1384 as an orthodox member of the Church of England, the English clergy banned vernacular translations under the Constitutions of Oxford of 1408. Wyclif himself was declared a heretic by the Council of Constance that met in the years 1414-18 in the German city of the same name. Finally, in 1428, on the express orders of Pope Martin V, Wyclif’s bones were disinterred, his skeleton chained to a post and burned. This penalty could be executed on the body of a dead person because the penalty for heresy could be inflicted even after the death of the individual. However, how could this penalty for heresy be executed at all? Moynahan tells in vivid detail that even before the decision to ban vernacular translations of the Bible, a statute for the burning of heretics had been enacted in 1401. The first person to suffer death by burning in England was a Lollard, or follower of Wyclif, named William Sawtry. The enactment in England of the civil punishment of heresy had its roots in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 convened under Pope Innocent III. That council decreed that heresy could be punished by the civil authorities and the highest punishment was...

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