Book Review: -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Chafer Theological Seminary Journal
Volume: CTSJ 07:1 (Jan 2001)
Article: Book Review:
Author: Anonymous


Book Review:

The Reformers and their Stepchildren, by Leonard Verduin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1964), 292 pages. Paperback $28.00. Reviewed by Timothy R. Nichols, third year Th.M. student at Chafer Theological Seminary.

“The history of the Church is, to a large extent, the story of a tension between two extreme tendencies: the one extreme makes so much of the principle ‘in the world’ that the Church loses her identity; the other extreme makes so much of the principle ‘not of the world’ that the Church becomes irrelevant.”1 Anyone familiar with church history and ecclesiology has already learned the basic facts behind The Reformers and their Stepchildren. Even so, Verduin’s synthesis, unifying various dissidents to the mainstream Reformation under one banner, may come as a shock.

That banner is their opposition to sacralism, the union of the church and the secular state. Christian sacralism began with Constantine, who “had been pontifex maximus hitherto, the High Priest of the Roman state religion, and… entered the Church with the understanding that he would be pontifex maximus there too.”2 At first, the Reformers viewed existing dissident movements as kindred spirits, because they (initially) agreed in rejecting sacralism in principle. This adoption was short-lived, because mainstream Reformers recast themselves in Catholicism’s sacralist image, when they gained ascendancy. The dissidents opposed the new form of sacralism as much as the old, and thus became the Reformers’ Stepchildren.

Every sacralist church regards all people within its territory as part of it: “By sacral society we mean society held together by a religion to which all the members of that society are

committed.”3 The Stepchildren—and, Verduin correctly observes, the New Testament—had a radically divergent ecclesiology:

It is implied in the New Testament vision that Christianity is not a culture-creating thing but rather a culture influencing one. Wherever the Gospel is preached human society becomes composite; hence, since culture is the name given to the total spiritual heritage of an entire people, there can never be such a thing as a Christian culture; there can only be cultures in which the influence of Christianity is more or less apparent.4

The eight chapter titles cite German epithets directed against the Stepchildren and their ecclesiology. Chapter 1 (Donatisten!) conc...

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