Confessors and confessions

I wonder if I might draw your attention to a series of volumes that ought to be known to church historians and historical theologians, and those who are interested in the same? The series is published by Reformation Heritage Books, and each volume so far has been compiled and introduced by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Professor of Church History and Biblical Theology and Academic Dean at Northwest Theological Seminary). The series is entitled, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation. The volumes are not cheap, but serious historians and those interested in the confessional heritage of the church will certainly appreciate them.

Volume 1 ( / / Westminster / RHB) covers the years 1525 to 1552. Several of the thirty-three texts included are here in English for the first time. Each is simply and clearly set out, preceded by a brief introduction. If nothing else, it gives a rich and encouraging sense of one's inheritance as a Christian confessor. This volume carries us from Zwingli's Sixty-Seven Articles of 1523 through to the Consensus Genevensis of 1552.

Volume 2 ( / / Westminster / RHB), covering the years 1552 to 1566, provides a further 35 confessions, each with a lucid and brief introduction. This volumes includes both the Forty-Two and the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, the Heidelberg Catechism, and such lesser-known works as the Geneva Students' Confession (1559), Beza's Confession (1560), productions from Tarcal and Torda and Enyedi, and the delightfully named Synod of Gönc (1566). Particularly fascinating are those truths which our forefathers thought primary (and therefore worthy of confessing), and which today are often discounted as secondary (and vice versa). One of the values of such a study is to send us back to our Bibles to recalibrate our sensitivities, informed both by the necessities of the present and the instruction of the past.

Volume 3 ( / / Westminster / RHB) surveys the years 1567 to 1599. Again, while the price of this volume cannot be denied, it is a worthwhile investment, especially for seminaries and scholars. Several features stand out here: one is catholicity, for here we are roaming through Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, Germany, Scotland, England and Holland, yet tracing patterns that are often familiar from the first volumes and which stretch across vast distances. At the same time, we see that unity and uniformity are not the same thing, for - while there is no doubting the common causes evident in this material - we can also see how they are adapted for and expressed in concrete situations. Here the introductions come into their own, showing the fires in which these documents were forged. Then we see the brilliant thoroughness of these various confessors. These are no lightweight constructs built of shoddy materials, but masterpieces of theological reflection and conviction. Such collections as this push us out of our own time and place and bring scriptural truth before us with a freshness and liveliness that belies the suggestion of dry and musty academia that might lurk around such volumes.

Volume 4 is just being published ( / / Westminster / RHB) and completes the series. It brings us from 1600 to 1693. If I am able, once I set my eyes on it, I will add a few words here. I can suggest that, if it maintains the standard of scholarship as well as the quality of production of the previous volumes, it will be equally worthwhile. Dennison is doing those who love the Reformed heritage a rich service, and I hope it is being properly valued.