Saturday, August 13, 2005

I read it so you don’t have to . . .

Since I'm about to leave for a vacation, I decided I'd give you all some heavy posts to chew on.

Having finished Alister E. McGrath’s Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (second edition) let me say first that it reminds me somewhat of a Ron Howard movie. All the loose ends are tied up so neatly, one feels a bit deflated at the end. "Was it really that simple? Is that all there is?" It almost seems more like the Cliff Notes to Prof. McGrath’s magnum opus than the real thing. It’s a convincing analysis, strongly researched, full of information, and easy to read but somehow a little too processed for my taste.

But the advantage is, it’s very easy to summarize on a blog. And unless you want the footnotes, you probably won’t have to read the book, once you've read the summary. McGrath has a beautiful outline-style table of contents and the major points can be summarized in a sentence or two below each subsection. OK, some of the summaries took a bit more than a sentence, but over all, there isn’t a whole lot more in the book than what I’ve digested here.

McGrath is clearly more sympathetic with the Reformed than with the Lutheran Reformation. (These are his terms by the way, and reflect his belief, implicit throughout, that while the Lutheran Reformation was based largely on the errors and idiosyncrasies of one irascible academic, the Reformed Reformation was a broad social movement that responded to real human needs.) One very serious problem is that he covers the Reformed up until Calvin in the 1540s, but essentially stops his coverage of the Lutherans around 1520. Like most Anglican and Reformed writers, he thus places Lutherans within a master narrative of obsolescence, implicitly saying: "You Lutherans finished your task in 1520, so now please have the deceny and maturity to get off the stage!" Also as an intellectual historian, McGrath seems to dislike original thinking. Theologians like Luther who aren’t restricted to their "influences," "sources," and "schools" apparently irritate him.

Thank you again to William Tighe who sent me a copy of the book.

Continued . . .

Originally posted at Here We Stand