The Reformation Experience: Living through the turbulent 16th century
320 pages, £9.99
Star rating: 3 stars
The ‘turbulent’ in the sub-title of this book might well be applied to those recent historians whose debates concerning the events and significance of the Reformation have at times been rather heated. No less ‘turbulent’ are those evangelicals who have argued that the Reformation was a mistake which should now be put right.
This book, by a former Professor of English History at Birmingham University, is very different in tone. Its approach is irenic, and it freely recognizes the importance of many of the positive aspects of the Reformation. The late author writes ‘as a Protestant with a background in English evangelical nonconformity’, argues that ‘the Reformation was essentially a religious event’, and is broadly sympathetic towards the Reformers and their achievements.
His aim is to present the overall story of the Reformation in the light of recent scholarship. He seeks especially to provide an insight into the response of ordinary people —particularly in England — to the religious beliefs and political events of the period.
There is much helpful information here for those who would value a broad survey of the Reformation. However, in attempting to present a balanced picture the author does not really convey the spiritual power and stirring passions that energized Reformers and Puritans. Indeed, he is rather wary of such ‘zealots’ as John Knox. His sympathies appear to lie more with ‘Prayer Book Christianity’ than with thoroughgoing Puritanism, and with the ‘Nicodemites’ who compromised during periods of persecution rather than with those who had the courage of their biblical convictions.
Some important matters discussed in the book are open to different interpretation. The author also makes a number of rather provocative statements for which no evidence is provided, and sometimes uses injudicious language, such as ‘revival’ for the restoration of Catholicism under Mary.
This is certainly a more reliable introduction to the Reformation than the revisionist polemic of, say, Eamon Duffy. However, readers would be better served by turning to N. R. Needham, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Part Three – Renaissance and Reformation, Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, and R. Tudur Jones, The Geat Reformation.