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Modern Reformation: Thinking Theologically

Fall Book Preview

Published Thursday, July 1, 2021 By Noah J. Frens

A Companion to the Theology of John Webster

Edited by Michael Allen and R. David Nelson
Eerdmans, June 2021
336 pages (hardcover), $50.00

When it comes to the late John Webster, my general philosophy is that if he wrote something, you should read it. While Webster’s sudden death in 2016 was a great loss for the church, this attempt to summarize and capture his insights on a number of theological topics looks promising. The book covers the whole range of Webster’s writings, from his earlier work on Eberhard Jüngel and Karl Barth to his turn toward constructive theology since about 2001. The most significant part of the book is the section that looks to sketch out Webster’s thought on traditional dogmatic loci, from Scripture to soteriology to ecclesiology—an attempt by his former colleagues, friends, and admirers to draft the planned systematic theology he was never able to write. This volume should also pair well with the recently published T&T Clark Reader in John Webster, also edited by Michael Allen.

Contemporary Arguments in Natural Theology: God and Rational Belief

Edited by Colin Ruloff and Peter Horban
Bloomsbury, July 2021
352 pages (hardcover), $108.00

Although there has been no shortage of volumes on natural theology over the past couple of decades, this collection of seventeen different arguments for the existence of God, by a lineup of accomplished scholars, looks quite interesting. The chapters cover some of the typical arguments for the existence of God, such as the ontological argument, as well as some that people may not have come across, such as the argument for mathematics.[1] But even though a number of “typical arguments” for the existence of God are discussed, readers will likely find the arguments presented here to be fairly new. For example, Joshua Rasmussen, author of the first chapter, has in the past few years presented his own version of the argument from contingency with which readers may not be familiar.[2] Quite a few of the authors writing on some of the traditional arguments for God will likely present their own versions of the arguments that readers may not be aware of unless they read widely in contemporary philosophy of religion. A couple of chapters also look to present new arguments not published at length elsewhere. Both Greg Welty (“The Conceptualist Argument”) and William Lane Craig (“The Argument of Mathematics”) have offered sketches of their arguments in other publications, but not any sustained essay-length arguments (to my knowledge). Those interested in recent developments in natural theology will want to pick up this monograph.

The Oxford Handbook of Calvin and Calvinism

Edited by Bruce Gordon and Carl R. Trueman
Oxford University Press, July 2021
704 pages (hardcover), $145.00

For many years now, I have been looking forward to this volume. It has been in the works for a long while and is now finally going to be published. Though the volume’s title is The Oxford Handbook of Calvin and Calvinism, it focuses more on Calvinism than on Calvin. What intrigues me most is how the volume covers a wide chronological range, from the sixteenth century to the present, while also touching on the global influence of Calvin and Calvinism. Typical topics, such as Calvin’s influence in the English Long Reformation, are placed alongside the influence of Calvin and Calvinism in Korea, China, Ghana, and Brazil. It’s a mixture of classic Calvin scholarship, while also showing influences from the recent trends in scholarship, such as the turn toward Global Christianity. There are also a number of essays on topics readers may not always associate with Calvin and Calvinism, such as William Dryness’s essay on visual culture or Kenneth Minkema on angels.


By Gregory Mellema
Notre Dame University Press, August 2021
130 pages (hardcover), $30.00

This looks to be an intriguing and short volume on sin. Mellema, emeritus professor of philosophy at Calvin University, has spent much of his academic career writing on various topics in ethics, especially on complicit action and collective responsibility, and I’m interested in how he applies this work to the topic of sin. For whatever reason, over the years Protestants haven’t always been good at developing a doctrine of sin (or a rich practical ethic) outside of the fairly narrow topic of original sin.[3] In this vein, the book’s coverage of being an accessory to another’s sin looks tempting—as well as how Mellema understands and distinguishes mortal and venial sins, a topic usually eschewed by Protestants. The book aims at a wide audience and should provide insightful observations for anyone on the thorny subject of sin.

Fountain of Salvation: Trinity and Soteriology

By Fred Sanders
Eerdmans, September 2021
248 pages (paperback), $24.99

In recent years, the doctrine of the Trinity has garnered a lot of attention and heated debate, and one of the most important Protestant authors on the topic has been Fred Sanders. While the aftermath of these debates has produced a number of excellent works defending classical views on the Trinity, what separates Sanders’s work from much of the rest is his emphasis on how the Trinity shapes all aspects of Christian thought and practice: e.g., his The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Crossway, 2010). This monograph will certainly be a nice addition to his previous work, outlining how the Trinity echoes throughout all the various loci of theology related to salvation, from the atonement to the Christian life. In recent years, the best works on the topic have tended to be Roman Catholic works. I’m thinking particularly of the works of Gilles Emery, O.P., Matthew Levering, and Dominic Legge, O.P. While these are quite good, they definitely have a Catholic bent that can’t completely be harmonized with Protestant beliefs. Thus Sanders’s work should provide a helpful Protestant account of the Trinity and salvation.

Other Titles to Look For

From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the Church in Less Than a Century
By James R. Edwards

Baker Academic, April 2021
304 pages (hardcover), $49.99

Hearing and Doing the Word: The Drama of Evangelical Hermeneutics
Edited by Daniel J. Trieier and Douglas Sweeney

T&T Clark, October 2021
320 pages (hardcover), $190.00

In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration
William Lane Craig

Eerdmans, September 2021
420 pages (hardcover), $38.00

Noah J. Frens (Philosophy, Calvin College; MAHT, Westminster Seminary California) is currently a history of Christianity PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University.

  • Noah J. Frens

1. The only comparable work I am aware of is Jerry L. Walls and Trent Dougherty, eds., Two Dozen (or So) Arguments for God: The Plantinga Project (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).
2. See Alexander R. Pruss and Joshua L. Rasmussen, Necessary Existence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), ch. 3.
3. One recent exception that comes to mind is Thomas McCall, Against God and Nature: The Doctrine of Sin (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019).
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