A Survey of Church History, Part 4, W. Robert Godfrey, and The English Reformation and the Puritans, Michael Reeves. Sanford, FL: Ligionier Ministries, 2014, DVD format $43.20; CD $27.90; download $19.20. [Reviewed by Douglas J. Kuiper.]
Are you interested in learning about church history, but not interested in reading? Or looking for something educational to listen to/watch in the car on a long trip? Then check out the “Teaching Series” of Ligonier Ministries (www.ligonier.org). Every set in the series comes as a DVD (video), a CD (audio), or a download to your device (video), and consists of 12 lectures of 23 minutes each. The short duration of the lectures means you can cover one quickly. As regards format, the download is the most economical, and if you download to a tablet, you can watch it anywhere. But, although all the series I have so far are in DVD or download formats, I do not need to be watching a speaker and seeing others in the audience; I am as happy with a CD to which I can listen while driving or doing other lighter activities.
The two series under review complement each other. Godfrey has taught four series covering the history of the New Testament Church, and a fifth series is promised. The fourth series treats the years from 1600-1800. Godfrey covers some of the doctrinal developments and challenges of the continental Reformed church in those years, spends four lectures on the Puritans in England and one more on the Puritans in New England, then treats the Enlightenment, John Wesley and George Whitefield, The Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards, and the American Revolution.
Whereas Godfrey crosses over into the New World, Michael Reeves confines himself to the history of the English Reformation from the time of Tyndale through the 1600s. The English Reformation, one might remember, was not so much doctrinal as political, and the pendulum kept swinging from Catholicism to Protestantism, until it finally stopped swinging when Anglicanism prevailed by the end of the 1600s. In five lectures, Reeves does justice to the political intrigue of the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth, James I, Charles I, and Charles II. With this historical background he teaches us about the theology of the Puritans, as well as focusing on three specific men—Richard Sibbes, Thomas Goodwin, and John Owen. Throughout, he defends the term “Puritan” and the men called “Puritans” from the current negative connotations. “Puritan” means first that they sought to keep the Church of England pure, and second that they sought to live godly lives.
Both men present their material ably. Reeves’ drew me in with his soft-spoken voice, British accent, and colorful analogies. On the other hand, Godfrey’s digressive commentaries, by which he demonstrated that past history is being repeated today, were also interesting. I appreciated his analysis of the difference between the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution a decade later, as well as his advice in concluding his lecture on Jonathan Edwards: if you must choose between reading Edwards and John Calvin, read Calvin—he is easier to read, more balanced as a theologian, and more reliable as a pastor. Any guilt I have felt for reading very little of Edwards, I feel no longer.
Again, I recommend these videos, as well as others in the series, to those who wish to learn about church history without reading.
Yet, I still prefer a book.