Book Review: The Old Faith

The Old Faith

Henry Bullinger

Church of England (Continuing), 2021 (ISBN: 9781739974008, 92pp, £5)

The sensationalist move to rebrand Whitsun as Pentecost and as ‘the church’s birthday’ was challenged in the 1980s by theologians such as James Cook at Western Theological Seminary. Such scholars were deeply conscious of the historic reformed consensus that God did not begin gathering an eternal people only in 33AD, but that this project has been ongoing throughout redemption history. The volume now before us is one shining example of this aspect of the Reformers’ theology.

Despite the worthy writing of Zwingli’s successor, ‘Bullingerism’ has unfortunately and ironically come to stand for the dispensational system of his distant descendant Ethelbert Bullinger, secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society for most of the later nineteenth century. It was not his ancestor to blame for this swerve from the truth, for in Heinrich’s treatise, first published in 1537, is set out simply and firmly the covenantal position. Cornelis Venema has identified The Old Faith as among a significant group of early Bullinger tracts which could not ‘be described as a comprehensive statement of the Christian faith, though they are written in a clear and systematic manner’. 

The value of such tracts to the modern church is twofold in reminding us of the vibrant and Biblical spirit of the early Reformation and also doing so in a thoroughly digestible format. The freshness of thought will assist any reader in reconsidering old problems. For example, Bullinger’s treatment in chapter four of Adam’s act of naming Eve in Genesis 3:20, though it may not carry all in agreement, does nonetheless provide a good case for Adam’s place among the redeemed.

The Old Faith was of sufficient value that within as little as four years a translation of the work into English was made by Miles Coverdale, no doubt in hopes of aiding the then-threatened advance of reform in Henry VIII’s realm. The character of the English church was again menaced by ritualism three hundred years later and the Tractarian spectre prompted a republication by the new Parker Society of many classics, including the works of Coverdale. It is this edition which is re-typeset now and given an up to date foreword. 

Edward Keene, Little Shelford