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Trueman Review of Noll’s Is the Reformation Over?

I want to keep the discussion on baptism going (from the two earlier posts), but I have also just come across a really good article that deserves the attention of pastors and church leaders (as well as many others). Mark Noll’s latest book, Is the Reformation Over?, raises important questions about the continuing validity of the Reformation, and the difference or lack thereof between Evangelicalism and Catholicism. I have not read the book but have read an excerpt in Books and Culture and been in a number of conversations concerning the book. I have ended up concerned with what appears to be the thesis of the book. Thus, I was excited to see that my friend Carl Trueman had written a review of the book. The review is not short, but it deserves reading. Trueman is a careful scholar (church historian), sound theologian and a churchman (i.e. one who thinks all of this must be lived out in the local church and loves the church). Thus, his thoughts are significant to me.

Trueman, while conceding a number of strengths in the book, finds himself in disagreement with the basic argument of the book. I appreciated the discussion because I find myself increasingly uneasy with how many evangelicals seem to embrace Rome. While I appreciate the conservative Catholic affirmation of absolutes in the arena of truth and morality (e.g. abortion), significant problems remain with official teachings like purgatory, penance, indulgences, mass, etc. which reveal deep seated differences in how we understand the gospel.

Here is the concluding paragraph. I hope the heart of the matter comes across from this passage:

It Ain’t Over ‘Till the Fat Lady Sings A Review by Carl Trueman

When I finished reading the book, I have to confess that I agreed with the authors, in that it does indeed seem that the Reformation is over for large tracts of evangelicalism; yet the authors themselves do not draw the obvious conclusion from their own arguments. Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot go down that path myself, primarily because of my view of justification by faith and because of my ecclesiology; but those who reject the former and lack the latter have no real basis upon which to perpetuate what is, in effect, an act of schism on their part. For such, the Reformation is over; for me, the fat lady has yet to sing; in fact, I am not sure at this time that she has even left her dressing room.

His point is well taken, that, in fact, the Reformation is over in many churches. But, this is something to be mourned rather than celebrated. He argues at various places that one reason why there is sometimes more agreement today between evangelicals and Rome is that Rome knows her clearly defined positions but evangelicals often lack such definitions and have forgotten their history.

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