Saving the Reformation

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I have observed an exodus from orthodox theology recently from “unknown” local believers to those in the public eye and it seems the common denominator is a departure from sola scriptura! 
This book draws us back to the basics. It’s a thorough investigation of the cannon of dirt as founded at the synod of Dort. Very rich and beneficial to the pastor and laymen alike
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It is at the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619) that the Calvinistic orthodoxy was forged on the anvil of Arminianism. The Calvinistic orthodoxy has often been described as the five points of TULIP - although the Synod of Dordt developed what has become known as the five points, the acronym TULIP was not part of the formulations at Dordt.

TULIP does not sum up Calvinism. Even if it does sum up the discussions at the Synod of Dordt - although the order here was ULTIP.  Godfrey, a professor of church history at Westminster Seminary, California, in this fresh look at the Canons of Dordt, makes a pertinent point:

“Calvinism is summarized in full confessional statements such as the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Confession of Faith.”

The aim of this book is to help Christians “appreciate the important work of the Synod of Dort in the history of the church.” Godfrey focuses on the ”fundamentally religious convictions of the synod and the canons.” In this Godfrey does an excellent job. He succeeds in showing the importance of the synod and of the canons in Reformed theology. What is missing, however, is a critical engagement with the philosophical presuppositions that were inherent in the confession - South African, Christian philosopher, Bennie van der Walt, has done this, though his main work is in Afrikaans, a useful summary in English is found here . This though is undoubtedly beyond Godfrey’s remit. And Godfrey seems happy with the Reformed scholasticism that is at times evident in the confessions.

The first part of the book examines the historical and theological background to the synod and goes on to look at the character and the work of the synod.

The second part provides a new ‘Pastoral’ translation and in part 3 there is an extremely accessible and engaging exposition of the canons. This alone is worth the price of the book. There are several appendices, including a helpful brief biography of Arminius And a detailed outline of the canons.

Godfrey has succeeded in what he set out to do. Anyone who wants an introduction to the synod and its canons could do no better than start here.
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Book Review
Saving the Reformation:  The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort
By W. Robert Godfrey (Reformation Trust; 2019)
The Canons of Dort are a historic document, along with the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, which formed Reformed Protestant rules to direct churches in the Netherlands (much as the Westminster Confession did Britain) on how to understand and apply the central truths taught in the Bible.  Dr. Godfrey is a known scholar and pastor who has undertaken to provide what he calls a “pastoral translation” of this important part of Protestant church history for modern-day readers.
Part One of the book presents the historical and theological background to the Synod that produced the Canons in the early 1600’s.  After establishing that contextual framework, Godfrey then provides his translation of the Canons of Dort in Part II.  Part III then presents an analysis and exposition of the articles of the document to help those in the modern church to better understand the important teachings contained there.  Part III is the main portion of the study, expounding on the topics covered in the different “heads” of the Canon, including predestination, the redemption of humans through the death of Christ, and the perseverance of the saints.
For those who wish to go more in depth of the teachings, background and implications of the Canons of Dort, there are numerous appendices that cover topics such as the life and theology of James Arminius (whose disputes of several teachings of Reformed theology was the impetus of the Canons); how and why and the Canons are arranged as they are; how the “positive” teachings of the Canon relate to the “rejection of Arminian errors,” and finally an in-depth translation and explication on the subject of the Sabbath.
As someone who generally holds to most tenets of Reformed, I had little direct familiarity with the Canons of Dort, but Godfrey’s cogent yet relatable explanation of this foundational church document proved quite enlightening and illuminating to me.  I would recommend this book for any pastor, teacher, or interested layperson who wishes to build up their mental foundations on the vital piece of Reformed thinking and erudition.
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Pastoral.  Not necessarily the one word or statement or description that I imagine comes rushing into the mind for the majority of the confessing church when thinking about either the subject of Church History; or Synods and Councils of the Church.

However, that is the conclusion and opinion of W R Godfrey in his contribution to a number of works written and published in this 400th anniversary year of the Synod of Dordrecht/Dort (an international Synod held in Dordrecht in 1618–1619), which gave the Church Catholic not only the 'Canons' for which it is mostly remembered, but also a Church Order, and a Bible translation and Commentary, among a few other matters.

In his latest work, Godfrey seeks to show that the Synod was vital to protecting the great 'Solas' recovered at the time of the Reformation, especially the doctrine of Justification by faith alone in Christ alone which the author indicates was under an internal doctrinal attack from Arminianism.  Not only was a defence necessary, but at this crucial moment a positive restating of the orthodox position held by the consensus of the Reformed Churches was required. 

Not only was the doctrine of Justification at threat, but as a consequence so too is the comfort and assurance of those church members within the churches.  So we can see the connection between doctrinal formulations and decisions of Synods and a direct pastoral concern.  Therefore the Synod desired that the conclusions of the Synod would not be formulated in an overly academic style of the period, but rather in a form that made for easy transmission to ordinary folks.  Other examples of the Pastoral concern include the Synods discussion about the administration to Baptism to household servants, a topic raised by a growing Colonial Power; and; comfort to Christian parents upon the death of an infant.  Godfrey highlights that the theology threat of Arminianism was also a deeply pastoral threat.  Proper, sound, and healthy theology should be truly pastoral.

In this same attitude of pastoral concern, Godfrey has included a fresh translation of the Canons including a fresh translation of the original Remonstrance of 1610 by the Arminians which gave rise to the calling of the Synod to discuss the 5 points of the Remonstrants (Arminians).  With a faithful translation of the Canons in updated, yet accurate language, it is Godfrey's aim that the church today may be encouraged and built up in the faith.

It is my opinion that the inclusion of the Remonstance of 1610 is vital within this work.  In fact at first glance many may not see the real issues or dangers, and yet those men at Dort understood the real significance and the doctrinal nuances to understand that the Remonstrant's articulation of the faith undermined and threatened the biblical teaching especially on the point of justification.  However, by including the Remonstrance and then as the reader works his way through Godrey's work, the glory and beauty of the Reformation teaching becomes so apparent and the dangers of the Arminian position become abundantly clear.

Further, it will familiarise readers with a proper understanding and exposition of Reformed thought by seeing the contrast between the Arminian and Calvinist positions, and appreciating that it is not merely theoretical and bookish discussion, but vital, real, practical, and pastoral at its heart.

In terms of formatting the book is set out in the following way:

Historical Introduction
Fresh Translation of the Canons including the Rejection of Errors
Pastoral Commentary on the Cannons
Historical & Analytical Appendices
Each Section could be taken as a stand alone entity and can be read as such, with the reader not being required to read in sequence.  However, perhaps approaching the book for the first time it would probably profit the reader - especially those not frequented with the Canons or the theological debate behind their formation - to read in sequence. 

The Pastoral Commentary whilst I found to be helpful and engaging, may not be as in-depth as other readers may expect.  Rather the Commentary provides the intention of the particular portion being covered and background to the Arminian/Calvinist debate.

In all this is a very welcome and accessible volume to have, not just because of the anniversary, but because of the simplicity of the volume, the accessibility, and the quality of the teaching expounded and covered in the work.  Not only is it helpful to have reliable translations of the Canons contained within the volume but some of the Appendices are extremely helpful.   The volume would make a reliable resource for any layperson to have available on their shelves, never-mind Church Libraries making the volume available.

For a snippet about the book and a short video by the author himself, click here, for a link through to the Ligonier site.

I received a free copy of this book from the Publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest and fair review.  I was not obliged to post a positive review.
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This was a very thorough read and one that left me with a far deeper understanding of both Calvinism and the Reformation. I was anticipating a much more difficult read but was surprised by how accessible it was.
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On November 13th , 1618, in Dordrecht, Holland, delegates would meet to address the Remonstrance of 1610. The Remonstrance of 1610 caused a significant controversy with its five theological points and it was the mission of the Synod of Dort to reply to the challenge of the Remonstrants, who would later be known as Arminians. While a confession of faith did not emerge from the Synod, nor a complete summery of Reformed Theology, the Canons of Dort provided, “five answers to the five errors of Arminianism.”

Dr. Robert Godfrey, brings forth this history surrounding the Synod of Dort in while also walking readers through the Canons of Dort. Dr. Godfrey establishes the history prior to the meeting at Dordrecht, and then proceeds to walk readers through the Canons of Dort, with explanations to each section in wonderful detail. Godfrey breaks down the carefully crafted document while providing readers with a better understanding of, not only history, but the challenges that remain today. Within this work we learn that many of the same discussions that occurred in the 17th century remain front and center, and thus we learn how the delegates at the Synod sought to handle those discussions.

In this book, both Arminians and Calvinists can find a great deal of knowledge that can better inform their own personal histories and encourage more understanding of the other’s position. For those who are Reformed and who have studied the Canons of Dort, you can expect to deepen your understanding of the events at Dordrecht in some shape or form. Additionally, the book offers a more modern reading of the Canons of Dort, while also providing interesting Appendices that can help inform the reader of the history prior to the Synod as well as inform the reader of the structure and nature of the canons.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book for those who are interested in church history as well as those who are reformed or wanting to better understand the reformed position. While my recommendation is specific in one sense, I would say that all Christians would benefit from learning about this historic event and document, especially in having a more balanced understanding of reformed theology in the context of church history.

An e-copy of this book was provided to the reviewer in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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First sentence from the foreword: Reformed confessional theology is a statement of faith set within a story of faith. If we neglect the church’s historic statements of faith, we end up with mindless and spineless Christianity—more fit to drift like a jellyfish than to swim against the stream of this world. (Joel Beeke)

First sentence from the introduction: Most meetings of church assemblies are neither interesting nor significant.

Saving the Reformation by W. Robert Godfrey is an exposition of the Canons of Dort. The Canons of Dort is one of three major documents in the Dutch Reformed tradition. (The other two are the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.) Godfrey argues that the Synod of Dort essentially "saved the Reformation for the Reformed churches."

Godfrey writes,
"Calvinists saw clearly that a proper understanding of election was necessary to protect the Reformation’s “grace alone.” The proper understanding of Christ’s atoning work was necessary to protect the Reformation’s “Christ alone.” A proper understanding of the regenerating and preserving work of the Holy Spirit and of the Christian’s comfort in these doctrines was necessary to protect the Reformation’s “grace alone” and “faith alone.” Implicit in the canons’ conclusions is their commitment to the Reformation’s “Scripture alone” as the only source of religious truth." 
The canons were written "as a specific response to the Arminian challenge against salvation by God’s grace alone—specifically, the objections to Reformed doctrine expressed in the five points of their Remonstrance."

Godfrey does a good job placing the Canons of Dort in context. Without establishing context--genuinely elaborating on the who, why, how, where, when, and what--one would never fully understand or appreciate the Canons of Dort and/or the Synod of Dort. This is what Godfrey does in the first part of Saving the Reformation. (The appendices provide further details for establishing context. For example, one appendix provides a new look at Arminius. Another appendix provides a detailed outline for the Canons of Dort. There are five appendices in all.)

In the second part of Saving the Reformation, Godfrey provides readers with a NEW TRANSLATION of the Canons of Dort. This translation--in his own words--was written to make it easier for readers to understand. Godfrey breaks long Latin sentences into shorter English sentences.

In the third part of Saving the Reformation, Godfrey provides exposition or commentary on the Canons of Dort.

Believers may not have heard of the Synod of Dort or the Canons of Dort. But perhaps they've heard of the FIVE POINTS OF CALVINISM. The "five points of Calvinism" originated with the Canons of Dort. There were "five points" not because that number sums up the whole of Calvinist thought or doctrine but because the Arminians in their Remonstrance used FIVE POINTS. This was a reaction--a rejection--of those specific Arminian errors. Godfrey points out, "Calvinism is summarized in full confessional statements such as the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Confession of Faith. To be very accurate, Calvinism does not have—and never has had—five points."

I really enjoyed reading this one. I absolutely loved the second part. At first I was determined to highlight all the good parts, all the parts where I wanted to shout AMEN or PRAISE THE LORD. I soon determined that to do so would be to nearly underline it in its entirety. The commentary was also excellent.
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I think the biggest problem with critics of reformed theology and Calvinism is that they actually have no idea what reformed theology and Calvinism is.  This book would be an excellent resource for someone who is new to this theology or to someone who has spent all of their time and energy speaking out against it without having studied it.  

The book is not too weighty or academic, it would be suitable for the average person.  Part three is an exposition on the Canons of Dort and it was easily my favorite part of the book.  That's not to say other parts of the book are bad though.

There are times that it does seem like the topics are being repeated but that is expected with a book like this because there is only so much you can do.

I'd recommend this book.  Really enjoyed the read.  Godfrey is a fantastic author with a plethora of knowledge on the Reformation and what it actually means and how it applies to your life today.
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Saving the Reformation
The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort
by W. Robert Godfrey

Reformation Trust Publishing

Pub Date 24 Jan 2019

I am reviewing a copy of Saving the Reformation through Reformation Trust Publishing and Netgalley:

If you're looking to be educated on the Reformation, Saving the Reformation is just the book for you.

There has been a renewed interest in the five points of Calvinism amongst today's Christians.   These doctrines are not a product of the twenty first century, so what are they and why are they so important?  In this book Dr. W. Robert Godfrey takes us back in time  to 1618-19 when the Canons of Dort were written in response to a mounting theological assault on Reformed Christianity. Now, for its four-hundredth anniversary, he offers a new translation and pastoral commentary on the canons, equipping the next generation with these God-glorifying truths.

I give Saving the Reformation five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!
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I am a just a layperson who has not been to seminary.  My husband and I have been members in the Reformed church for several years and though we have studied plenty and and understand the Doctrines of Grace, I think this book is utterly fascinating for clarifying reformed church history and also understanding Arminianism and the history of it.  I wonder bother outlining this as it has been done in other reviews, but from the perspective of your “average Calvinist” this book has been one I have had trouble putting down!  I want my husband to read it first-hand instead of me just reading him snippets!  He is also intrigued!  

I received this eARC via Netgalley from the publisher, but the opinions on this review are entirely my own!  I often run titles from there past my pastor and he commented he has read this author and found him solid.
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This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
I'm halfway inclined to just copy and paste the Table of Contents here and say, "If you want to know about any of this, here's where you start." Slap a nice little graphic with some stars on it, and we're done. But I'm not that lazy. This is a historically-based study of the Synod of Dort's major product -- the Canons of Dort (although it does look at some other concerns), the defense of the Reformed doctrines in answer to the challenges of Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants that took up and furthered his cause following his death. The Canons gave us the so-called "5 Points of Calvinism" and are often misunderstood because of that and as mischaracterized as those points themselves. If this book only helps people stop doing that, it'd be well worth the effort (it won't, but it's pretty to think so) -- but it's so much more.

There are four parts to this book -- any one of which can be read independently from the others. I'm not sure why you would do that, but they're self-contained enough that you don't have to.

Part I focuses on the historical and theological context for the calling of the Synod, those who attended and the topics it would address. Godfrey is a Church Historian and former History professor, this is his bread and butter, and you can tell that from these chapters. You also get the impression that he could've written a book about the same length as this one just on the historical matters without breaking a sweat. This isn't the best part of the book, but it gets things off to a great start.

Part II is a "Pastoral" translation of the Canons prepared by Godfrey for this book. I'm not familiar enough with other translations to really have much to say about this. I've read others, but I don't have them committed to memory. Besides, I don't know Latin well enough to evaluate the translation. But I can say that this was a clear translation, it didn't read like something written in Latin for experts, but something written to help me and other Christians to wade through some weighty topics. As the problems caused by the Remonstrants were in the churches more than in the academy, the language matched that.

The heart of the book is in Part III, An Exposition of the Canons of Dort. Godfrey beings with some observations about the Canons as a whole -- how they're structured before he dives in to the Canons themselves. In addition to the errors of the Remonstrants, the Canons address other issues related to the doctrines involved, providing a resource for believers for generations not just an answer to their contemporary problems. The pastoral focus of the Canons -- and Godfrey -- is evident throughout the Exposition, he's frequently talking about comfort, encouragement, and assurance. It's not just an explanation and defense of the Reformation and Protestant teaching, it's an aid and comfort to believers.

It may come as a surprise to see what Godfrey points out as a result of compromise, and the reasoning behind those things that needed no compromise. The behind-the-scenes portions of the book are as interesting as the exposition (giving an indication to those of us who didn't sit under Godfrey's Church History lectures that we really missed out on something). Godfrey also points out how the Canons weren't as successful in some ways as they wanted to be -- not as a failure, just that some of their goals were out of reach of the assembly.

Some of this section gets repetitive -- because each Head of Doctrine is complete in itself, capable of standing alone -- so similar points are covered repeatedly. Godfrey's exposition both points that out and is written to keep the repetition from being dull, but instead an indication of the importance of the various points. This section is so helpful that I really can't do justice -- my copy is full of highlighted lines/paragraphs. I will be returning to it often, I know that. Concise, clear, insightful -- everything you want in this kind of study.

The remainder of the book is Appendices. There's an outline of the Canons, an explanation for the pattern of each head of doctrine (very similar to the same idea in the Exposition) and a handy guide to the relation of the positive articles to the rejection of errors. The last appendix is a new translation of the Synod's provisional position on the Sabbath, giving some insight into the relation of the Synod's stance to that of British Puritanism. The largest, and probably most helpful (and maybe controversial) is an extended look at Arminius and his overall project. Godfrey takes a position that argues against some recent scholarship (as I understand) and insists that he wasn't a moderate Reformed churchman, but someone seeking to overturn segments of the church's teaching and introduce serious Pelagian error.

In this anniversary year, I know this will not be the only book about the Synod released (I have another pre-ordered, and am sure I'll pick up others) -- but I can't imagine that it won't be one of the better. It is well-researched, careful, encouraging and pastoral -- this is not dry and dusty history, nor dry and dusty doctrine. This book, like the Synod it focuses on, seeks to defend, protect and further the cause of the Protestant Reformation, the Gospel itself. As such, it succeeds and you'd do well to study it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.
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Rating: 5 out of 5

Length: 9 hrs. to read (265 pages)

Where did the five points of Calvinism come from? In the 400th anniversary year of the Synod of Dort, Dr. Robert Godfrey walks the reader through this landmark of church history and explains its theological significance.

Who Should Read This Book?
Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort is a book for lovers of church history as much as it is for students of theology. Those who are already familiar with the canons will be enriched through the book’s historical background material. In addition, Dr. Godfrey’s new translation of the canons themselves is made all the more helpful by his careful exposition.

The How:
The book is divided into three parts. Part I gives important historical and theological background information. Part II contains a new translation of the Canons of Dort, one that sacrifices some of the precision of the original Latin to make it easier to read in English. Finally, Part III contains the real heart of the book: Dr. Godfrey’s analysis and explanation of the canons. Appendices put the teaching of the canons in outline form and also provide additional historical information about the life and teaching of Jacobus Arminius.

Anyone who is already familiar with Dr. Godfrey’s teaching style will find nothing new here. This book is no dry, academic presentation, but rather an account of events and explanation of teachings that keeps the reader engaged throughout.

The Why:

In the introduction, Godfrey makes the bold claim that there is a “profound sense” in which the Synod of Dort “saved the Reformation for the Reformed churches.” If one views the Protestant Reformation as one of the most important events in church history, then it is difficult to underestimate the significance of the Synod of Dort.

The reforms made in the church in the first hundred years after Luther’s posting of his ninety-five theses were not as secure as many now regard them to be. Whether the “grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone” battlecry of the first generation of the Reformation would be preserved for generations to come was something of an open question. Not only were the doctrines of the Reformed Church in the Low Countries endangered by forces within, but from outside the church, the shift in philosophical thought that would lead to the Enlightenment threatened them as well. “Yet,” writes Dr. Godfrey, “Dort remained an invaluable witness to the truth of the Bible and the Reformation.”

Christians know, of course, that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The challenges faced by the church in the 17th century are ultimately no different from those it faces in the 21st century. Thus, this book will help Christians understand the importance of what happened at Dort in 1618-1619. Godfrey’s larger goal, however, is to help “contemporary Christians to deepen their faith by seeing the greatness and goodness of God in his electing love and saving work in Christ.”

If Dr. Godfrey had taken me out for a cup of coffee and asked what kind of book I was interested in, he couldn’t have produced a work more tailored to my interests. In that sense, then, I admit that I was predisposed to enjoy this book.

Perhaps many Christians have at least a passing familiarity about the existence of a debate between Arminians and Calvinists. Fewer could probably give more than a general definition of what that debate has been about or what role it has played in church history. Given the generally low level of education on church history “in the pews,” Dr. Godfrey had something of a tall order in writing this book. Saving the Reformation succeeds in setting the Synod in historical context, explaining the theological issues of the time, and in demonstrating how the truths of the canons remain important for the church today.

An essential part of understanding the importance of the canons is understanding what led to the formation of the synod that drafted them in the first place. At the same time, to lay out the full political and religious landscape leading up to the events of 1618-1619 would bog the reader down quickly. Dr. Godfrey deftly navigates a course that gives sufficient historical background without venturing down potentially interesting but ultimately unnecessary side trails.

Dr. Godfrey brings all his usual passion for the history of the church to this book. The book shines even brighter, however, in Part III, where Dr. Godfrey gives his exposition of the canons. He guides readers through each “head of doctrine,” explaining the Synod’s positive statements of Biblical truth as well as the sections of the canons titled “Rejection of Errors.”

Godfrey labels his exposition of the canons a “pastoral” exposition. One example of that pastoral approach can be seen in the section dealing with the fifth head of doctrine. He writes: “Our loving heavenly Father does not leave us to doubt and confusion and uncertainty. Scripture nowhere makes a virtue of doubt about our relationship.” The doctrines laid out in the canons, Godfrey shows, are not abstract theological musings, but rather vital truths for everyday Christian living.

“The essence of the Reformation,” writes Godfrey, “was the recovery of biblical religion. And that is what the Synod of Dort helped to save.” After reading this book, few thoughtful readers, I think, would be able to disagree with Dr. Godfrey’s basic thesis about the significance of this part of Christian history. Four hundred years after the Synod concluded it remains an event that, as Godfrey puts it, is “well worth remembering and celebrating.”
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Over the years, there has been a resurgence of Reformed Theology. Many have reading books from men such as John Calvin, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards. Some have embraced a Reformed confession whether it is the Westminster Confession or the London Baptist Confession. These confessions are just simply an affirmation of what the Bible teaches. These statements of faith has been around for hundreds of years. 

 Of course over the years, Reformed Theology has been assaulted by those outside of it. Many have defined Reformed Theology and have written books on the subject. 400 years ago, there was a document was written in response to these attacks on Reformed Theology called the Canons of Dort. Robert Godfrey's latest book, Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort, takes us through what this document is all about. 

 Godfrey gives us the historical and theological background as to why the Canons of Dort were written. Godfrey clarifies that this is not a confession but rather "a clarification and defense of some points in the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Confession." So in a sense, you can say that the Canons of Dort is a commentary to the two confessions that Godfrey mentions. 

 The next part of the book is the entire Canons of Dort in five heads of doctrine with Godfrey giving his own interpretation to it. The heads of doctrine deal with predestination, Christ's death, the corruptions of humans, conversion, and the perseverance of the saints. Each head of doctrine express what it affirms based on what God has revealed in His Word and what it rejects. This is followed by an exposition by Godfrey on the Canons of Dort. 

 This was good book on a document from years ago that defended the Christian faith. Not to mention it is also a good read on church history. This book is another great edition to add to your study on the Reformation and church history.
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This is not a book you will read through quickly because there is so much information that you will need to take your time. This book looks at the Canons of Dort that along with the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism provide the foundation for the statements of faith in Reformed Theology. Within the first few pages, you will learn so much about the historic events surrounding Reformed Theology that it will be well-worth the time invested in reading. With the various challenges faced today by people presenting their own theologies, this book does not just present another point of view. Instead, the information presented is backed by the Scriptures. 

I voluntarily reviewed an Advanced Reader Copy of this book that was provided by the publisher through Net Galley. However, the thoughts and opinions presented here are my own.
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