The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves

I meant to do some substantial reading this year about the Reformation to mark the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the All Saints’ Church door in Wittenberg. Instead, I ended up reading this excellent concise (just under 200 pages) book by Michael Reeves.

Chapter 1 provides some background on the medieval Catholic church, highlighting issues that would become important in the Reformation and introducing some forerunners, like John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

Chapter 2 is on the life and career of Martin Luther. Chapter 3 covers Ulrich Zwingli and the Radical Reformation, which Reeves says includes the Anabaptists, Spiritualists and Rationalists. I could have used more about the Anabaptists; Menno Simons gets less than a page. Chapter 4 covers John Calvin and beginnings of Calvinism.

Chapters 5 and 6 covers the Reformation in Britain and and the Puritans, respectively. The amount of detail about the Tudors and Stuarts seemed a bit much for such a short book, and the “slow death” of Puritanism made for a depressing end to this section.

In chapter 7, “Is the Reformation Over?”, Reeves take issue with the claim (by Mark Noll among others) that Protestantism and Catholicism are now in agreement about the issues of the Reformation. Reeves says that Catholic teaching hasn’t changed since the Council of Trent and the 1999 Catholic/Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification skirts the central issue of justification.

Obviously, a book of this length gives only a brief overview of each topic it takes up, but if you’re looking for a good introduction to the Reformation, this is one.


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