Book Review: Commplaces

Commplaces: Loci Communes 1521

Philip Melanchthon, translated by Christian Preus
Concordia Publishing House 2014
We have experts all around us on all matter of things, and the Church is no exception.  I can’t count how many times a colleague or friend approaches me with “Have you read the new book by…?”  Publishing a book these days seems easier than ever.  Yet as breathlessly as people often gush over the latest evangelism how-to book or the latest primer on how to live an outrageous, on-the-edge Christian life, those books are practically forgotten in no time.  Saying something that stands the test of time is a lot harder than just saying something.
So it is that, literally on a whim, I ordered this book after seeing a short review of it somewhere.  The appeals were several-fold.  I haven’t read any of Melancthon’s work in its entirety, despite his role as a major intellectual asset in the early years of the Reformation.  I liked the idea of reading someone who has stood the test of time instead of whoever happens to be on the Top 10 of Christian books today.
I am pleasantly surprised.
First off, the translation here is excellent.  While I can’t vouch for the technical accuracy, the effectiveness of the translation is fantastic.  You will easily forget that you are reading a book that is nearly 500 years old.  The language is fresh and very accessible.  
This is a book of systematic theology.  It is concerned with presenting the “chief topics of Christian doctrine” (p.20).  Melancthon has a large ax to grind with the prevailing intellectual assumptions of his day in Roman Catholic circles, namely Scholasticism.  For three hundred years, Christian doctrine had been regulated less by obedience to the Bible than by processing through logic and philosophy.  This resulted in doctrines that made sense from a certain point of view, but were Biblically untenable.  In blunt terms, Melancthon seeks to dismantle this tradition, returning Christians everywhere to the Bible as the source and norm of their faith, and encouraging them to read the Word of God for themselves for instruction.  
As such, he treats the topics herein in what he considers to be a brief manner.  His goal is not an exhaustive presentation but rather a summary that highlights what he perceives to be common errors in treating the various doctrinal topics from a Scholastic point of view, and an emphasis on the Biblical text itself.  Topics include Sin, the Law, the Gospel, Grace, Justification, the role of the Law in the Old and New Testaments, Signs, Love, Magistrates, and Scandal.  As such, the doctrines presented here span from issues relating to faith and salvation to issues related to sanctification and the Christian life.
As such, this is an excellent historical primer on the Christian life.  What matters?  What is to be our mindset as followers of Christ in the world?  Where do we draw comfort and reassurance in the midst of suffering and sin?  At just under 200 pages, this is an excellent introduction to systematic theology that is also a practical exposition of Biblical Christianity from the Lutheran perspective.  It could also be a useful quick reference.  
I enjoyed reading this a great deal.  I hope you do as well.

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