Jennifer Powell McNutt and David Lauber, ed. The People’s Book: The Reformation and the Bible. IVP Academic, 2017. See here to purchase the book.
As the title indicates, this book is about the Protestant Reformation
and the Bible. It consists of essays from the 2016 Wheaton Theology
Conference. In this review, I will comment on each essay.
Chapter 1: “Teaching the Book: Protestant Latin Bibles and Their Readers,” by Bruce Gordon.
This essay dispels the Protestant myth that places the Roman Catholic
church on the side that was against vernacular Bibles and for the Latin
Bibles, and the Protestants on the side that was for vernacular Bibles
and against Latin Bibles. Not only did Catholics produce vernacular
Bibles, but Protestant scholars also valued Latin Bibles because Latin
was the language of biblical scholarship during the time of the
Reformation. The Roman Catholic stance on vernacular Bibles is an issue
that recurs throughout this book (pp. 143, 180, and 230): another essay
affirmed that the Catholic church supported vernacular Bibles (while
opposing the Protestant ones), and two essays said that the Catholic
church was reluctant to place Bibles in the hands of the masses. In my
opinion, the authors in this book should have attempted to integrate
these different facets into a coherent picture. This essay by Gordon
was also interesting because it discussed the view of humanists and
Protestants towards different versions of the Bible: the Hebrew, the
Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate.
Chapter 2: “Scripture, the Priesthood of All Believers, and Application of 1 Corinthians 14,” by G. Sujin Pak.
The main argument of this excellent essay is on page 50: “In effect,
while in the early 1520s early Protestant reformers called upon 1
Corinthians 14 to empower laypersons, from 1525 forward Lutheran and
Reformed leaders increasingly employed 1 Corinthians 14 to consolidate
Protestant clerical authority.” You can read the essay for yourself to
see how the interpretation of I Corinthians 14 played a role in that!
Chapter 3: “Learning to Read Scripture for Ourselves: The Guidance of Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin,” by Randall Zachman.
According to this excellent essay, Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin
emphasized different things in their argument that people should read
Scripture. Erasmus stressed discipleship and the spiritual life, Luther
emphasized being able to answer the devil’s accusations by appealing to
God’s grace at the last judgment, and Calvin wanted a widespread
familiarity with Scripture so that people would be able to test what
their pastors were teaching, as good Bereans.
Chapter 4: “The Reformation and Vernacular Culture: Wales as a Case Study,” by D. Densil Morgan.
This chapter concerns the production of Welsh-language Bibles in
sixteenth century Wales. The pastor at a church that I attended for
four years would probably appreciate this chapter, since he is Welsh and
enjoys reading about Welsh religious history. What interested me in
this chapter was its description of the Protestant myth that the
Elizabethan faith re-established the authentic Christianity of the Old
Celtic Church, which Joseph of Arimathea allegedly instituted, and which
Augustine of Canterbury allegedly corrupted.
Chapter 5: “The Reformation as Media Event,” by Read Mercer Schuchardt.
This essay provides background about Gutenberg, who initially made
mirrors that were used to capture relics on pilgrimages. (You will have
to read the chapter to see what that was about!) Schuchardt argues
that the printing press not only assisted the Protestant Reformation,
but also what Martin Luther opposed: the indulgences, which the printing
press produced in mass numbers. In addition, the essay interacts with
Victor Hugo’s profound claim that hearing contributes to community,
whereas seeing (and, by implication, reading) fosters individualism.
Chapter 6: “The Interplay of Catechesis and Liturgy in the Sixteenth
Century: Examples from the Lutheran and Reformed Traditions,” by John D.
This essay argues against Catholic Virgil Michel’s argument that
Martin Luther emphasized the catechism and divorced it from the
liturgy. This essay includes Protestant hymns that tried to teach
people the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and Christian doctrines.
Chapter 7: “Word and Sacrament: The Gordian Knot of Reformation Worship,” by Jennifer Powell McNutt.
This chapter explored different Protestant views on the sacraments
and their relationship with Scripture. It is an informative chapter:
for instance, it includes critical statements by Luther of
transubstantiation. A criticism I have, however, is that the chapter
said that the Catholic Church served bread but not wine to congregants
at communion, without (as far as I could see) explaining its rationale
for that policy.
Chapter 8: “John Calvin’s Commentary on the Council of Trent,” by Michael Horton.
This chapter provides the historical background for the Council of
Trent. According to Horton, many Protestants expected it to be a farce,
even though they may have supported the existence of some council to
serve as a check on the papacy. John Calvin defended Protestant ideas
such as the notion that a Christian can be assured of forgiveness, but
he also appealed to history in arguing against Trent. Calvin argued,
for example, that the priority of the Roman bishop did not go back to
the time of the church fathers. From Horton’s telling, Calvin valued
the fathers, and Calvin defended some of his Protestant beliefs about
church tradition and the marginalization of the apocrypha in reference
Chapter 9: “The Bible and the Italian Reformation,” by Christopher Castaldo.
This chapter will interest people (like me) who did not know about
the Protestant Reformation in Italy during the sixteenth century.
Castaldo actually says that this “may come as a surprise” to a lot of
people! But there were Catholic reformers and Protestant vernacular
translations in Italy, the “bastion of the Roman church” (page 171).
Protestants challenged doctrines and were persecuted there. Castaldo
also discusses how Protestantism may have influenced Michaelangelo’s
Chapter 10: “Reading the Reformers After Newman,” by Carl Trueman.
John Henry Newman was a Protestant who converted to Catholicism in
the nineteenth century. As Trueman argues, other people did that, too,
but many talk about Newman because of his effectiveness in explaining
his conversion. Trueman counters some of Newman’s claims: that
Protestantism devalued church history, and that Luther was an
antinomian. Trueman also observes Newman’s odd relationship with the
usual conservative-liberal boundaries: Newman criticized liberalism
because he stressed the importance of dogma, but his insistence that the
dogma be upheld by Rome placed him on the opposite side of Protestants
and evangelicals, who themselves emphasized dogma. Moreover, Trueman
contrasts trends in contemporary Protestantism with classical
Protestantism: whereas prominent elements of contemporary Protestantism
emphasize religious experience, classical Protestantism focused more on
dogma, Luther’s tower experience notwithstanding. This chapter was
informative, but it was slightly unclear on page 198, where it discussed
the question of whether “Christ is mediator according to his person,
not simply according to his human nature[.]” Trueman seemed to be
saying that the Catholics believed Christ was mediator according to his
person and that the Protestants challenged this position, but then he
appeared to depict the Protestant argument as saying that a person, not a
nature, intercedes. But was that not the Catholic position? Trueman
could have been clearer here, but Trueman provides references to Aquinas
and Calvin in a footnote, so those may provide greater clarity.
Chapter 11: “From the Spirit to the Sovereign to Sapiential Reason: A Brief History of Sola Scriptura,” by Paul C.H. Lim.
John Calvin believed that the Holy Spirit interpreted Scripture for
the believer. Would that not lead to subjectivism, as each Christian
asserts that his or her interpretation is Spirit-led? As Lim points
out, Calvin was aware of this problem, for it was occurring in his
time! Lim did not thoroughly explain how Calvin got around this
problem, however: Lim merely says that Calvin acknowledges that our
understanding is partial right now and will be full in the eschaton (a
la I Corinthians 13). Perhaps Lim should have raised certain
considerations that other essays in the books raised: the importance of
scholarship and the church in biblical interpretation. That could have
improved, not only this essay, but also the book as a whole, by showing
how Calvin held different concepts (i.e., scholarship, community, and
Spirit-led interpretation, even by the laypersons) together. This
chapter was interesting in that it discussed how Hobbes and Locke
interacted with the problem of individualistic interpretation. Hobbes
said that the sovereign should have the primary authority to interpret,
like Moses, whereas Locke stressed the importance of reason in
interpreting the Bible. Lim did not really explain Hobbes’ rationale,
unless that rationale was that somebody needs to give the final
interpretation lest there be chaos, and that somebody had might as well
be the sovereign!
Chapter 12: “Perspicuity and the People’s Book,” by Mark Lamberton.
Is Scripture perspicuous? As Lamberton notes, Calvin affirmed that
it was, and yet Calvin still felt a need to write volumes of
commentaries to explain it! Lamberon affirmed the importance of
Christian community in interpreting Scripture, but, really, the chapter
was more impressive in its questions than its answers. To quote from
page 232: “Is a highly trained, technical reading of…1 Corinthians 13
necessarily a better reading than an obedient and embodied, nontechnical
My critiques notwithstanding, I am still giving this book five stars. It is informative, thoughtful, deep, and sophisticated.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!
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