D G Hart
Yale University Press
Star Rating: 4
For all readers whose love of church history is combined with a commitment to the doctrines of grace, this book will come as a delight.
It is plainly the product of wide-ranging research and is packed full of information, including some fascinating sidelights. Did you know, for example, that a key moment in the Reformation took place when a group of Swiss Christians decided to eat sausages on a Friday?
The author’s thoughtful analysis places the movements that transformed the religious life, first of Europe and then subsequently of the New World, in the context of the politics of the times.
In the providence of God, the tensions within the Holy Roman Empire in the sixteenth century provided fertile ground for the spread of the Reformation. Likewise Henry VIII’s personal predilections allowed the rediscovery of biblical truth to spring up in England.
Commercial interests and political factors brought Puritans across the Atlantic. Indeed, the writer goes so far as to suggest that the political dimension, as much as religious principles, might well explain Puritan separatism (p.106).
This connection between the politics of the day and the growth of Calvinism is a recurring motif in Hart’s treatment, but for all who are persuaded of God’s over-ruling sovereignty this approach is no problem and the author is careful to emphasise this point.
In some ways it is a sad story, as it recounts the many disputes and divisions within Reformed groups, and these come in such a rapid and bewildering fashion it is sometimes difficult to keep pace.
However, as the writer brings us up to the present day and comments on the rapid growth of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches in global Christianity, he is able to show that Calvinism still exerts a powerful influence. For this we, who stand in this tradition, thank God.
Inevitably, covering 500 years of the Christian story in 340 pages results in broad brush strokes and, as the title indicates, it is a history, and so the writer does not explore in great detail the theology that underlies Calvinism. Nevertheless, the book provides an instructive and readable overview of the movement of God that changed the religious world.