THE REFORMERS AND THEIR STEPCHILDREN,by Leonard Verduin; Baker Book House, 1980; 292 pp., $7.95 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.)
I read this book by Verduin when it first came out about sixteen or seventeen years ago. But now that it has been republished, it has been sent to the Standard Bearer for review and I read it once again. My opinion of the book remains pretty much unchanged.
The reprinting of the book was brought about in part by the fact that many Baptists have rather recently discovered the book and find in it some support for their basic position. The Baptists claim that their position on infant baptism, on the relation between church and state, and on other related matters,is a position which can be traced back to the Anabaptists, the Waldensians, the Cathari (both Medieval dissenting movements), all the way to the Donatists of Augustine’s day and the early New Testament Church. This book, though written by a Christian Reformed minister, gives some support for this claim of the Baptists. They like the book very much.
Verduin is very much interested in the whole question of the relation between church and state. In this book, in another book which he wrote, (Anatomy of a Hybrid), and in magazine articles Verduin has written again and again on this subject. He finds the relation that existed between church and state in the first three centuries of the church’s existence a proper one. Constantine the Great spoiled it all by making the church a kind of state church. The Roman Catholic Church established an elaborate- sacerdotal system in which the church and the state were identified. The Reformers were first of all inclined to repudiate this close alliance between church and state, but finally, under various pressures and for various reasons, they went back to the same notion which Rome held. That situation continued for many years until finally the church began to get it straight that the church and state could not have any such close alliance. The position of the First Amendment in this country is Verduin’s position—emphatically!
The book is written mainly to show how the Anabaptists of Reformation times repudiated the Reformation because of a correct conception of the relation between church and state which the Anabaptists held, but which was repudiated by the Reformers. It is, therefore, an urgent and passionate defense of the Anabaptists’ position.
There are good features about the book. It is packed full of interesting historical data concerning dissenting movements in the Middle Ages and concerning the Anabaptist movement. It has many interesting quotes in it from very obscure sources (although, for the general reader, these quotes are of not much value because they are in original languages). It is written in a lively style and makes for interesting reading. It correctly points to grave weaknesses in the appeal of the Reformers to the state for protection. It justly criticizes the Reformation for trying to advance the cause of the Reformation among Anabaptists by putting recalcitrant Anabaptists to death. It gives a side to the Anabaptist position which is not very well known and which ought to be better known. For all these reasons and for others the book is worth reading.
However, it must be read with caution. Verduin seems to be of the opinion that the church—state issue is the only real issue of importance in the whole history of the church of Jesus Christ and that all church history ought to be interpreted in the light of the struggle to come to a proper conception of this matter. The result is that the book has in it historical inaccuracies and wrong emphases which could easily lead the unwary reader astray or could give to one who does not know a great deal of church history wrong conceptions of the past history of the church. We will mention a few such. Verduin argues that the Donatist movement was nothing more than a protest against Constantinianism when, in fact, it was much more. The rise of Anabaptism was only over the one issue of the relation between church and state (p. 36). Verduin claims that the Anabaptists wanted to get the state out of religious matters. The words of the reformers which contradict this are simply pushed aside by Verduin with the remark that the reformers misunderstood the Anabaptist position (p. 48). However, a prima faciecase can be made for the assertion that the Reformers knew more about the Anabaptists than Verduin does. Calvin comes in for some hard treatment at the hands of Verduin. He is said to be chiefly to blame for the burning of Servetus. His views on the relation between church and state are misrepresented. Verduin should have read Hughes’ “Introduction” to “The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the time of Calvin” for an interesting and enlightening discussion of this point. He takes the position that the “sacral” stance of the Reformers led them to deny sanctification-something patently false (p. 105 ff.) He accuses the Reformers of refusing to maintain and teach church discipline. He claims that anyone in the Medieval Period who objected to the Roman Catholic view of the sacraments was also one who believed in the separation of church and state because the Romish Church used the sacraments to maintain a sacral society. He makes a great deal of the notion that the difference between the Reformers and the Anabaptists was one of a believers’ church-an issue closely related to the matter of separation between church and state (p. 157).
But the position of Verduin also leads him to serious doctrinal errors. He bases his view of the separation between church and state on the doctrine of common grace: the state is the area of common grace; the church that of special grace (p. 81). In a footnote on p. 87 he speaks somewhat favorably of the French Revolution because it was anti-sacral. He holds that the Reformers taught infant baptism only as a defense of sacralism and comes perilously close to denying infant baptism. He rejects an excellent statement of Bucer on this subject (p. 213).
His quotations are not always the strong support they seem to be. Sometimes his quotations are from secondary sources; sometimes, and this happens at crucial points in the argument, the source of a quotation is not given; and sometimes the quotations are subject to quite different interpretations than Verduin gives them (pp. 177,213). And so this interesting book is marred by historical inaccuracies, by a stretching of historical points because the author has an ax to grind, and by generally poor historical work in some areas which ought not to be present in a book by a scholar.
SERMONS ON THE SAVING WORK OF CHRIST, John Calvin; Selected and translated by Leroy Nixon; Baker Book House, 1980; 302 pp., $7.95. (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)
These sermons were first published in 1950 under the title, “The Deity of Christ.” My edition of them was published by Eerdmans in hard cover. This is a paperback edition. The volume contains sermons selected at random: one on the birth of Christ, one on the nativity of Christ, eight on the suffering, one on the resurrection, four on the ascension, four on the outpouring of the Spirit and one on Christ’s second coming.
The sermons of Calvin, many of which have now been published, are quite different from sermons which we are accustomed to hearing. They are different for various reasons: they often treat large sections which contain many more than one main idea; they are analytical in character, i.e., rather than consisting of a theme with divisions, they proceed through the passage explaining each sentence briefly; they are very practical, calling the attention of the audience to many practical aspects of their life and calling. This latter is not to say that they have no doctrine in them; but Calvin shows a remarkable ability to weave the doctrinal and the practical into a consistent unity.
They make for excellent reading and we recommend these sermons to our readers. They are fine gifts also and are worthwhile additions to anyone’s library.