Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Write-Up: Samuel Rutherford

Richard M. Hannula.  Samuel Rutherford.  Grand Rapids: EP Books, 2014.

Samuel Rutherford was a seventeenth century Presbyterian minister in Scotland.  In Samuel Rutherford, which is part of the series Bitesize Biographies, Richard Hannula tells the story of Rutherford’s life, devotions, and personal sufferings, as well as the persecution that Rutherford experienced for his beliefs, and even the morals charge that dramatically affected Rutherford’s early career.

Hannula not only provides insight into Samuel Rutherford the man, but his book is also an excellent window into the role of Scotland and Presbyterianism during the seventeenth century English Revolution, in which King Charles I was killed and then replaced by Puritan Lord Protectorate Oliver Cromwell.  Rutherford was persecuted by Charles I for resisting Charles’ attempts to impose on churches what Rutherford deemed to be non-Scriptural practices (i.e., kneeling before the Eucharist), and yet Rutherford also had clear differences from the Puritan Cromwell: Cromwell was a congregationalist who believed in independent congregations, whereas Rutherford was a Presbyterian who believed in governance of churches by a church board.  Rutherford was also critical of the beheading of Charles I.  Rutherford would contend against other schools of thought as well, such as one that proposed placing churches under the control of secular authorities.

The book provides a helpful timeline at the beginning.  In my opinion, however, it should have also included a glossary in the back of the book of personalities and political and religious movements, since that could help readers refresh their memories about which political or religious school believed or did what.  Moreover, while the book talked about Rutherford’s enthusiasm for Jesus Christ, I wish that it had explained what exactly it was about Jesus that Rutherford found so compelling.  I also was not entirely satisfied with the book’s definition of Arminianism, a belief that Rutherford criticized.  While Arminianism does emphasize human free will in coming to Christ, whereas Rutherford held that humans come to Christ solely by divine grace, I wish that Hannula mentioned that Arminianism holds that prevenient grace is what makes coming to Christ possible.  Hannula did say that “Arminius taught that salvation was not wholly a gift of God’s free grace” (page 53), and perhaps one can argue that Hannula acknowledges that Arminius granted some role to God’s grace in salvation.  He should, however, have mentioned the Arminian belief in prevenient grace.

Rutherford was a man who continually made lemonade when life handed him lemons.  When he was exiled and forbidden to preach, he still found a way to encourage people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And he continually ascended, descended, and ascended again, with his faith as his companion wherever he was.  Hannula did well to write this lucid biography of Samuel Rutherford.

I received this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.

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