Monday, May 27, 2013

"Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: Volume 3, 1567-1599" by James T. Dennison: A Review

The Christian church has always been a professing church. Being that Christianity is built on Divine Revelation in both the Word of Scripture and in the Person of Christ, orthodoxy must be defined and limited. Thus from the beginning, the church has expressed its faith - its orthodoxy - through various confessions, creeds, and catechisms. By the time of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century, new confessions and creeds arose in abundance. The Reformers and their heirs were in protest against the doctrinal and practical abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, the 16th and 1th Century produced an abundance of confessions.

In recent years Dr. James T. Dennison has been translating and publishing in modern English the many confessions of the Reformation beginning in 1523. Volume one covers the years of 1523-1552. Volume two covers the years of 1552-1566. Volume three (titled, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: Volume 3, 1567 1599), which dominates this review, cover the years of 1567-1599.

The book, volume three, follows the same pattern as its predecessors. The author's introduction to the series is found only in volume one and thus in volume three no introduction is given and the author immediately publishes the first of twenty-three confessions of faith. Each confession, however, is introduced by the editor giving its historic context, the reason for its publication, and what role it played.

The one that interests me the most regards the 1581 Craig's Catechism written by Scottish theologian and John Knox colleague John Craig (1512-1600). Though there are few modern updates of Craig's Catechism, Dennison has put published the best and his introduction to it and the necessary corrections made to it are excellent. The introduction to Craig's Catechism consists of two lengthy paragraphs. Here is the second:

Craig's catechism was a Scots staple until the Westminister Catechism (Larger and Shorter) were completed in 1647. Our text is based on that printed in A Short Sum of the Whole catechisme, Wherein the Question is Propounded and Answered in fewe Words, for the greater ease of the common people and Children (London: Printed by Thomas Creede for Thomas Man, 1608[?]). We have modernize some spelling and punctuation and inserted the proof-texts in the body of the catechism. We have attempted to make sense of these proof-texts and to correct them (were necessary), but admit that many of them remain a mystery. Nonetheless, where we have not been able to provide the obvious correction, we have inserted them as they are printed in the margins of the original. (544-545)

This is typical of Dennison's approach. He explains the confession's influence, the story behind it, and explains any changes made to the confession. To use Craig's Catechism as an example of editorial changes, consider the one on page 549. It reads:

Q. Was all Cain's [sic: read Adam's] posterity delivered and restored (Rom. 4:3; John 17:31).
A. No, but those who believed the promise.*


In this example, Dennison highlights and corrects the clear mistake of Craig and gives the reading which Craig intended. It was not the posterity of Cain that received the promise, but of Adam. This is typical throughout this great Reformation resource. The editor does more than compile old confessions of the Reformation, he goes through great trouble making them more accessible and readable. He careful seeks to balance publishing old confessions as original as possible and yet making any and necessary changes.

Overall, this ongoing series will continue to live on in scholarship in decades to come. Dennison is providing Reformation studies with an invaluable resource. History has almost forgotten many of these confessions and, thanks to Dennison and these volumes, they will continue to live. The Reformation changed the world and such works of theology ought to be preserved for generations to come. Dennison makes sure that that happens.



* Compare this to Horatio Bonar's publication of this same question and answer:


Q. How did Adam and his pofteritie receive the promife?
A. Onely through their owne lively Faith in Chrift

Likewise, compare T. F. Torrance's publication of this same question and answer:

Q. How did Adam and his posterity receive the promise?
A. Only through their own lively faith in Christ. (The School of Faith, 103)



For more on John Craig:An Introduction to the Life and Works of Scottish Reformer John Craig
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism: A New Translation - Introduction
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism: A New Translation - Chapter 1
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism - Chapter 2
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism - Chapter  3
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism - Chapter 4.1
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism - Chapter 4.2
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism - Chapter 4.3
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism - Chapter 5.1
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism - Chapter 5.2
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism - Chapter 6.1
A Short Summary of the Whole Catechism - Chapter 6.2 
"Scottish Theology" by T. F. Torrance: A Review


For more on Confessions:
"The Creedal Imperative" by Carl Trueman: A Review
"The Good News We Almost Forgot" by Kevin DeYoung
"The School of Faith" by Thomas F. Torrance: A Review
 


For more on the Reformation:
"The Reformation for Armchair Theologians" by Glenn S. Sunshine: A Review
The Theology of the Reformers  
The Unquenchable Flame  
"On the Necessity of Reforming the Church" by John Calvin
John Calvin:  A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology 
Christianity's Dangerous Idea
"Five Leading Reformers"     
 Was Calvin a Calvinist?  Helm Weighs In 
He Turned the Water Into Wine: MacArthur, Alcohol, & Christian Liberty
Theology Thursday | Calvin on the Redemptive Necessity of the Resurrection
Calvinist Baptists and the Many (False) Misconceptions
"Without the Gospel": A Gem From John Calvin
Calvin on God in Theology and the Christian Life
Calvin on Providence
Calvin on Treasures in Heaven
Calvin on Fasting
Calvin on Prayer: Why Bother?  
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