Reformation Month: Day 15

31 Days, 31 Books

In 1955, the year that I was born, Dr. E. Harris Harbison gave me a present.  The next year, 1956, he gave me another present.  I was too young to know it at the time and Dr. Harbison never knew me.  The first present was his book The Age of Reformation and the second present was his book The Christian Scholar in the Age of the Reformation.  Dr. Harbison (1907-1964) was a professor of religious history at Princeton University.

The Age of Reformation is simply a really good and readable and fairly short survey of the Reformation.  I have read it a couple of times.  One can read more recent scholarship; one can read more in-depth; one can read more technical studies; but the prime benefit of this book is the masterful summary of the events.

The Christian Scholar in the Age of the Reformation is another fine book.  Harbison devotes a couple of chapters to the topic of scholarship in the Christian tradition.  The rest of the book consists of chapters devoted to Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin as scholars.  Harbison said, “The Protestant Reformation began in a scholar’s insight into the meaning of Scripture. It was to a large extent a learned movement, a thing of professors and students, a scholars’ revolution….There is no better age than the Reformation in which to study the Christian scholar and his vocatio, divine calling and professional occupation.”

The topic of scholarship is all too often suspect in Christian circles.  Reformation and revival, which are needed in our churches today, certainly depend upon faithful pastors and congregations.  But the Christian community needs scholars.  Although the Scriptures declare that “not many wise are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26),  the Scriptures do not declare that not any  wise are called. Several years ago, I read an amazing article by James Jordan called “The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind.”  The article was a wake-up call for me that reminded me of the vast depths of Calvinistic thinkers who not only influenced James Jordan, but also had impacted me.  I began combing through my library to see how many of the books on the list I had.  Next, I set out to acquire all the ones that I did not have.  I also began reading or re-reading the books and soon starting writing on these authors and their insights.  I also had several occasions to travel around the country, once to Virginia to the Christian Worldview Student Conference and once to Alaska, to lecture on Calvinistic thinkers.

There are many mission fields calling and begging for us to come over and help.  The academy, the Mars Hills of our day, the centers for thought and discussion, yearn for what Christian scholars can provide.  We are always in need of Reformation in this world and the reformation of scholarship demands that we look back at such Biblical and literary scholars as Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin.

Both of Harbison’s books can still be found at Amazon in used editions, some new editions, and on Kindle.

The more recent paperback edition of Harbison’s book.

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