The Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

by J. R. Cuevas

Carl Trueman’s book Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is an examination of the core doctrines of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Protestant Reformation, how they affected the evangelical scene of that period, and how they address the current state of evangelicalism. 

In the first chapter titled “The Pearl of Great Price,” Trueman argues for the current relevance of the Reformation. He emphasizes a dangerous trend in evangelicalism to treat the new as good and the old as bad. He states as his goal in the chapter to show how the theological principles underlying the work of the Reformers ought to be applied today—because God and our theology have not changed while certain aspects of our culture and society have changed. In the second chapter titled “Meeting the Man of Sorrows,” Trueman expounds on Martin Luther’s “theology of the cross” and how his emphasis on Christ grates against the current “gospel of self-fulfillment.” He argues that the Reformation’s emphasis on the centrality of Christ’s person and work ought to shape the lives of both individual Christians and the church as a whole. 

In the third chapter titled “The Oracles of God,” Trueman focuses on the Reformers’ theology of the Bible—what the Bible is and its role in the community of faith. He shows how the current popular attitude toward the Bible simply reflects the church’s lack of understanding of what the Bible is and how it relates to the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the church. Trueman shows the need for the church today to return to the high view of Scripture that the Reformers emphasized. In the fourth chapter titled “Blessed Assurance,” Trueman examines the doctrine of assurance of salvation. He surveys the current problems sprouting in the evangelical field—legalism and emotionalism—and addresses how it is that the Reformed understanding of assurance challenges these modes of thinking. 

Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is an excellent resource for both leaders and laymen in the church. Trueman’s style of writing combines both simplicity and depth. His simplicity enables believers from all stages of maturity to understand what his major premises. His depth will cause even the most seasoned of Christian leader to examine his own ways and better assess current trends of evangelical Christianity. In short: the book is both easy to read and thought-provoking.

But more important than the style of the writing is the content of the book itself.  Trueman’s examination of three key doctrines—Christology, Bibliology, and Assurance—are all accurate and applicable. His treatment of the meaning and implication of these doctrines present a truthful and righteous challenge to the contemporary church’s understanding of these three vital topics. The church currently struggles with self-fulfillment and self-centeredness, rather than on bringing glory to Christ. 

The professing church is also guilty of neglecting and mistreating the Scripture. church leaders often mislead people as to how to find the assurance of their standing before God.  In addressing these topics, Trueman demonstrates how the battle for certain doctrinal truths in the Reformation were not meant to be simply admired as historical relics in church history; the preservation of these doctrinal truths were meant to shape the church today. 

Another one of the book’s strengths is its applicability. To explicate Luther’s theology of the cross is one thing; to show how such a Christology ought to shape the ministry and character of the church and Christian community is a something else. It is crucial for Christians to understand that the doctrinal truths that were passed down from one generation of history to another were not meant to simply be known, but to also be applied in the lives of individual Christians and the life of the Christian community. Trueman challenges the church not so much in the teaching of sound doctrine, but in the application of it. 

Trueman accurately diagnoses of the Church’s preoccupation with novelty. In an effort to address the culture in which they live, many churches sacrifice doctrine truth for cultural relevance in their teaching and ministry. It is thus important for the believer to see his or her connection with the greater history of God’s people. Theologically, a church must not be driven by a desire for worldly esteem; rather the church is called to be faithful in the preserving biblical doctrine and entrusting these doctrines to subsequent generations.

Let Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow challenge you to consider whether the doctrines emphasized by the Reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century are emphatically represented in your life.

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