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The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence and Rupture
The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence and Rupture
G. R. Evans
IVP Academic, 2012
480 pp., $30.00

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Chris Castaldo


The Roots of the Reformation

Reform rooted in tradition.

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Another example is the way Evans treats the familiar storyline leading up to Martin Luther (i.e., the 15th-century bid for conciliarism instead of primatial government of the church following the Council of Constance, John Wyclif, Jan Hus, and the demise of the consensus fidelium at the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence), explaining how it encouraged the freedom to dissent and formed the conceptual framework with which Luther and his contemporaries launched the Reformation of Catholic doctrine (102-111). But Evans then pans out further, showing how these issues related to the medieval concept of ordo (the hierarchical order or religious and civil power) in the body politic of the church. This is one of many ways in which 16th-century theological discussions are put into a context that would have appeared self-evident to Catholics and Reformers of the day.

Every critical reader will identify some favorite topic that Evans slights or perhaps omits. Personally, I would liked to have seen more explanation of voluntarism and nominalist theology (surprisingly, Gabriel Biel's name doesn't even appear in the index). Other topics that receive short shrift include Catholic renewal movements such as de emendanda ecclesia under Pope Paul III and the history of Evangelisme in Italy. There is nothing about the spread of alumbrado spirituality from Spain, the Valdésian circle of Naples, or publishing activity that produced works such as the beneficio di Cristo. Evans describes the influence of continental reformers, men such as Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr Vermigli, during the Marian dispersion and Elizabethan Settlement, but there is nothing about their significance during the reign of Edward VI, when these men assisted Thomas Cranmer in composing the Book of Common Prayer from Cambridge and Oxford, respectively. Most disappointing is Evans treatment of the sacramental system. Hardly two full pages are dedicated to the subject under the proper title, with few passing references elsewhere.

There are a number of special features to this volume that set it apart. Its organization and indexing are extraordinarily clear and accessible. Inner textual links appear throughout its pages, directing readers to fuller treatments of topics elsewhere in the book. Biblical references and dates of noteworthy events are ubiquitous. Latin phrases are translated and footnotes furnish enough primary sources to be helpful without distracting readers with pedantry. The final chapter, "Bible Questions Continue," is of durable worth, considering contemporary issues of particular relevance. An appendix offers resources for further study, followed by author, subject, and Scripture indexes.

Evans resists the tendency, which sometimes plagues Reformation historians, to ossify Protestantism in fragmented communities in juxtaposition to one another around narrow doctrinal tenets. While recognizing distinctive beliefs and practices, she excels in portraying the common narrative to which Reformation figures and institutions belong. It is here that her subtitle, "Tradition, Emergence and Rupture," is best understood. These words capture the paradoxical nature of the Reformation—that while it is severed from preceding centuries it is simultaneously rooted in tradition so as to ensure its continuation. In her words, "Cries of schism began to give way to a pragmatic acceptance that there could be a variety of modes of being the church. In parts of northern Europe the church was no longer the Church of Rome but perhaps the Church of England or the Church of Scotland. Those who still held firmly to the view that there was only one church and it was theirs were nevertheless faced with the undeniable reality that others were able to sustain their similar claims elsewhere."

For all of these reasons, this learned, humane, and vibrant book deserves a place among your favorite church history texts.

Chris Castaldo serves as director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He is the author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic and a main contributor to Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Anglicanism. He blogs at chriscastaldo.com.

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