The Reformation: Faith and Flames
by Andrew Atherstone, Oxford: Lion Hudson Plc, 2011.
Andrew Atherstone, tutor in History and Doctrine, and Latimer Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, has written several books on Christian history. In the prologue to The Reformation: Faith and Flames, he declares the purpose of the book: “This is the account of Christianity in crisis as the people of Europe engaged in their common quest for eternal salvation.”
In 10 chapters the author takes us from the Renaissance and the Reformation at the beginning of the sixteenth century to the wars of religion at its end. He sets out, with clarity, the religious issues and political factors that assisted or retarded the Reformation.
The writing is of a high standard with no obscurity or sectarianism informing the narrative. The author writes in a fair and factual perspective in laying out the positions taken by all the participants: Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Loyola, Erasmus, the English Reformers, the Anabaptists, and the papacy.
The Reformation is a paradox, for we see incredible courage blended with gross stupidity. Religious tolerance found no place in the thinking or behavior of the magisterial reformers or the papacy, and the carnage they let loose upon the Anabaptists defies understanding. Personal prejudice blinded intelligent men to the basic principles of Christianity. In a very real sense, the possibilities inherent in the Reformation were arrested.
The efforts of Philippe of Hesse to forge evangelical unity by calling the Reformers together at the Marburg Colloquy foundered largely on Luther’s intransigence to interpret Christ’s words, “This is my body,” in any but a literal sense. Both Luther and Zwingli, though they were children of their age, held back the progress of the Reformation. Luther’s diatribe in which he said of the Zwinglians, “Before I would have mere wine with the fanatics, I would rather receive sheer blood with the pope.”
Atherstone brings out the vital role Erasmus played in the development of the Reformation and also how the Anabaptists championed religious toleration, especially in the work of Menno Simmons. This well-illustrated book has several clear maps showing the geographical progress of the Reformation. For anyone interested in obtaining a wide perspective on the Reformation, this will prove as a really helpful book.
The year 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting his 95 theses and, with the hindsight of history, there is a tendency to revision and reinterpret his life and writings. The author concludes with an epilogue including a final sentence pregnant with meaning. “The Reformation caused a cataclysmic and permanent rupture throughout Europe, divided families and communities as never before. Yet they were willing to pay that painful price in their pursuit of eternal salvation.” This book spells out the reasons for their commitment.
—Reviewed by Patrick Boyle, MA, a retired pastor living in Watford, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom