Through Another’s Eyes: The Reception Of Luther Among Early English Baptists -- By: Jonathan W. Arnold

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 21:4 (Winter 2017)
Article: Through Another’s Eyes: The Reception Of Luther Among Early English Baptists
Author: Jonathan W. Arnold


Through Another’s Eyes: The Reception Of Luther Among Early English Baptists

Jonathan W. Arnold

Jonathan W. Arnold is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History and the Director of The Augustine Honors Collegium at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He earned his DPhil from Oxford University. Dr. Arnold also serves as a fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a visiting fellow of the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage at Oxford. He has published The Reformed Theology of Benjamin Keach (CBHH, 2013) and is currently working on projects focused on the theology of seventeenth century England. He and his wife, Lindsay, have four children.

In 1682, in the midst of a substantial polemical ministry, Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), the early leader of the association of churches that formulated and signed the so-called Second London Confession of Faith (1677), announced to what must have been an unsurprised readership his deep respect for the work of Martin Luther.

What Darkness did Martin Luther (that Star of the first Magnitude) drive away! That blessed Light which he afforded the World hath shone so gloriously, that the Devil, the Pope, and all their Adherents, notwithstanding all their Skill, have not been able to put out to this day.1

That glowing language—written over a century and a half after the dawning of the Reformation and repeated in various forms throughout the late

seventeenth century, did not—at least taken in isolation—belie the intense battle over the legacy of that earliest Reformation leader. However, as J. Wayne Baker has helpfully noted, even the most basic theological foundation of that Star of the Reformation, namely “the very idea of justification sola fide, sola gratia,” “was [by the 1680s] in bad repute: Luther’s doctrine of justification was upheld by only a few high Calvinists, dissenting Baptists and Independents.”2 Baker argued his claim by detailing the far-reaching effects of the antinomian controversies that spanned seventeenth-century dissent, with the “high Calvinists” filling one side of the aisle and their opponents the other. Caught in the middle, Luther’s legacy was pulled to and fro and shaped according to the various views of the competing sides.3 That very battle—the tug-of-war over Luther’s support—provides helpful insight into the respect with which the seventeenth-century Protestants viewed Luther. Howe...

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