Where was the gospel for 1500 years before the reformation? Were the reformers innovators of doctrines such as the imputation of Christ’s righteousness or sola fide? If doctrines central to reformation theology cannot be found before the reformation, we have a serious problem. In his book “Long Before Luther,” Nathan Busenitz addresses these questions and more. As the front cover says, he traces the heart of the gospel from Christ to the reformation.
In part one, Busenitz lays out the reformers’ stances on things like imputation, positional righteousness and personal holiness. He makes solid use of the scriptures from which the reformers primarily derive their theology.
In parts two, three, and four, he examines church fathers before Augustine, Augustine himself, and theologians after Augustine. Quotes from men such as Polycarp, Ignatius, Victorinus, Ambrose, and many others show where men long before Luther used forensic language regarding justification, taught imputation, and were aware of the distinction between sanctification and justification.
The author is fair and honest where he needs to be, such as acknowledging that Augustine was not always as precise or clear as the reformers. He states that controversy sometimes forces terminological refinements and writes “While the Reformers may have articulated the doctrine of justification in a more precise way, they were not the first to posit notional distinctions between justification and sanctification.”
The book ends with 100 wonderfully well-curated quotes to really drive the point of the book home. For further study, there are also 40 pages of notes which I would recommend the reader look into, especially the original works of the church fathers cited.
Busenitz does an excellent job of showing the continuity between church fathers and reformers. I find this book to be very well researched and would suggest it for anyone who has questioned whether the Reformers invented the doctrine they taught.