Pinpointing Protestantism with Alister McGrath: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea

The following quotations and comments come from:

Alister E. McGrath: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History From the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First, New York, HarperOne, 2007. (478 pages + 78 pages of notes, references and index.)

  1. The dangerous new idea, firmly embodied at the heart of the Protestant revolution, was that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible for themselves. [previously this idea] was associated with individual writers or sectarian groups. The point is that this marginal idea became mainline as it moved from the fringes of respectable church life to take a central place in the major religious transformations of the sixteenth century.   (p2 and fn2 p479)

2. Luther’s radical doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” empowered individual believers. It was a radical, dangerous idea that bypassed the idea that a centralised authority had the right to interpret the Bible. There was no centralized authority, no clerical monopoly on biblical interpretation. A radical reshaping of Christianity was inevitable, precisely because the restraints on change had suddenly—seemingly irreversibly —been removed.  (p3)

3.  The outbreak of the Peasant’s War in 1525 brought home to Luther that this new approach was dangerous and ultimately uncontrollable…too late Luther tried to rein in the movement by emphasising the importance of religious leaders, such as himself, and institutions in the interpretation of the Bible. (p3)

4.  By its very nature, Protestantism had created space for entrepreneurial individuals to redirect and redefine Christianity….From the outset, Protestantism was a religion designed for global adaptation and transplantation.  (p4).

5. The English Civil War of the C17th was ultimately a battle for the soul of Protestantism, as rival visions of what it meant to be Protestant collided, with disastrous results. (p4)

6.  Whereas many older studies thought of Protestantism as being analogous to a seed, capable of development and growth along predetermined lines, the evidence presented in this analysis suggests that this model is inadequate and misleading. To use an alternative biological imagery, Protestantism turns out to be more like a micro-organism: capable of rapid mutation and adaption in response to changing environments, while still maintaining continuity with its earlier forms.  (p4)

7. Many of the developments that have shaped the modern religious world can be traced back to American influence. Yet a series of recent studies have suggested that the era of the Protestant majority in the United States is coming to an end, possibly within the next few years. (p5)

8.  The use of the term “Protestantism” to refer—somewhat vaguely, it must be said, to this new form of Christianity appears to have been a happenstance of history. Its origins can be traced back to the Diet of Worms (1521) which issued an edict declaring Martin Luther to be a dangerous heretic and a threat to the safety of the Holy Roman Empire.  Luther was given protection by sympathetic Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, in Warburg Castle where he began his great German translation of the Bible. (p5)  …The second Diet of Speyer was hurriedly convened in March 1529..a resolution demanded the rigorous endorsement of the Edict of Worms throughout the Holy Roman Empire….Outraged, yet ultimately powerless to change anything, six German princes and fourteen representatives of imperial cities entered a formal protest against this unexpected curtailment of religious liberty. The Latin term protestantes (“protesters”) was immediately applied to them and the movement they represented….the [name of the] movement rapidly came to be applied to related reforming movements …(p6f)

9.  Protestants, for their part, saw a revitalised Catholic church as posing a serious threat to their continuing existence. Anglican and Lutheran, Reformed and Anabaptist —four main evangelical strands present by the 1560s —saw their antagonisms, divisions, and mutual distaste eclipsed as the need for collaboration against a coordinated and dangerous opponent became clear. (p7)

10. …recent scholarship has moved decisively away from the older tendency …to underplay the social and economic aspects of the emergence of Protestantism in order to emphasize its religious and political elements. (p8)

11. It is unacceptable to determine the state of the pre-Reformation European church through the eyes of its leading critics, such as Luther and Calvin. It is increasingly clear that attempts to depict the late mediaeval church as morally and theologically corrupt, unpopular, and in near-terminal decline cannot be sustained on the basis of the evidence available. (p8)

12.  Protestantism is best thought of as a “movement of movements” that share common aspirations while differing  on how these are, in the first place, to be articulated and, in the second, to be attained.

13.  Protestantism itself has changed, decisively and possible irreversibly, in the last fifty years, in ways that would have astonished an earlier generation of scholars and historians….the astonishingly rapid growth of Pentecostalism.

14.  The church was the only international agency to possess any significant credibility or influence throughout the Middle Ages, and into the end of the Renaissance. It displayed a decisive role in the settling of international disputes. (p18)

15. The Conciliarist movement argued that ecclesiastical power should be decentralized: instead of being in the hands of a single individual. it should be dispersed within the body of the church as a whole, and entrusted to a more representative  and accountable group —namely, “general Councils”.  (p19) But…following “the Great Schism” when there were three popes, the election of just one, Martin V in 1417, Conciliarism was no longer seen as a serious option.  (p21)

16. Sociologists of knowledge argue that in every human society there is what Peter Berger terms a “plausibility structure,” that is, a structure of assumptions and practices, reinforced by institutions and their actions, that determines what beliefs are persuasive. This must not be confused with the pure idealism of a “worldview”. What Berger is referring to is a socially constructed framework that is mediated and supported by social structures.” [Peter L. Berger & Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, (New York, Anchor Books, 1990). In the Middle Ages, the most important such social reality was the church and its rites, from baptism through marriage through funerals; the church mediated and affirmed a view of reality….Salvation had been institutionalized. (p21)

17.  By the end of the fifteenth century, the position of the church within Western society seemed to many to be a permanent fixture of a stable world. Yet..growing pressure for reform developed…abuse and corruption within the church…increased confidence on the part of clergy—and increasingly laity—-to voice their complaints and expect to be heard….there was much to criticize…financial excesses..papal preoccupation with social status and political  power..Pope Alexander VI, a member of the Borgia family bribed his way to victory in the 1492 election despite having several mistresses and at least seven known illegitimate children…influence of wealthy families e.g. Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy secured the appointment of his eight year old son to the senior position of bishop of the city of Geneva…clergy rarely resided within their diocese regarding their spiritual and temporal charges as little more than sources unearned income…Antoine du Prat (1463-1535), Archbishop of Sens, was so preoccupied with state duties that he found time to attend only one service at his cathedral…it was his funeral…lower clergy were often the butt of crude criticism..reflecting their low social status…chaplains in Milan had incomes lower than those of low-skilled labourers…monasteries were regularly depicted as lice-infected dens of homosexual activity….clergy illiteracy was rife .. (p22f)

18.  Yet it is important not to exaggerate the extent of such anticlericalism….In rural areas, where levels of lay literacy were low, the clergy remained the most highly educated members of the local community. More importantly, many of the great monasteries of Europe were respected on account of their social outreach…but…a rumbling discontent remained, often expressed in what is known as “grievance literature”.  Underlying such criticisms was a significant change taking place within the laity…they demanded a form of Christianity that was relevant to their personal experience and private worlds and capable of being adapted or mastered to meet their personal needs….lay literacy had soared, enabling lay people to be more critical and informed about what they believed and what they expected of their clergy. Studies of inventories of personal libraries of the age show a growing appetite for spiritual reading.With the advent of printing books became more widely available and now lay well within the reach of an economically empowered middle class. (p24f)

19. Erasmus wrote Handbook of the Christian Soldier in 1503…the future of the church, Erasmus argued, rested on the emergence of a biblically literate laity….without the advent of printing, there would have been no Reformation, and there might well have been no Protestantism either. (p25)

20. Reformation was occurring inside church structures prior to “the Reformation” for example the work of the Franciscan provincial of the kingdom of Castille, Spain in the 1480s by Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo e.g. the Complutensian Polyglot multilingual version of the Bible….also in the activity of Lyonnais merchant Valdes in 1170 based on injunctions to poverty and biblically based preaching (the Waldensian movement)….this movement survived and allied itself with the Protestant Reformation in 1532. Similarly..the movement often known as “catholic evangelicalism” penetrated the Italian church without being regarded as in any way heretical, schismatic, or even problematic. (p26)

21. ….the most persuasive account of the origins of Protestantism points to a double shift within Western cultures at this time concerning values and ideas, on the one hand, and personal and social aspirations, on the other….The advent of printing allowed both discontentment with existing paradigms and enthusiasm for an alternative to spread with unprecedented rapidity. (p27).  [McGrath does not draw attention to it but there are some similarities with the twenty first century’s love affair with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with their potential to spread outrage/useful information and damaging misinformation with impunity and extreme rapidity quite apart from its ability to be harnessed for influencing decision-making in purchasing, electoral voting and other more serious forms of criminality ( as well as providing amazing opportunities for evangelism!]

22. Alongside the difficulties an increasingly well educated laity were having with the church McGrath notes that the velvet revolution in the world of ideas …the rise of humanism at the time of the Renaissance [had significant] implications for the transformation of Christianity. (p28)

23.  Regarding Christianity and the Bible at this time, McGrath notes three fundamental questions: How is the most authentic form of [the Bible] to be determined? How is it to be translated? And how is it to be interpreted? [p29]

24. Renaissance humanism called into question the late mediaeval emerging consensus that the church itself was the supreme interpreter of the Bible….Humanists argued for the bypassing of the “Middle Ages”  [being inspired by] the glories of the classical world and their renewal in the Renaissance….(p30)

25. Erasmus’ production of the Greek text of the New Testament caused a change in attitude by challenging the actual Vulgate text of the Bible at several points e.g. replacing “do penance” with “repent” in Matthew 4:17 and removing additions to 1 John 5:7-8 that were added to the Latin Vulgate, probably after 800….The demand that the Bible be read in its original languages found wide acceptance throughout western Europe. (p31f)

26. The rise of the “new learning” promoted an alternative vision of interpretative authority in the church  —that of the scholarly community rather than the church….Without humanism, there would have been no Reformation. (p33)

28. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 -94), one of the Italian Renaissance delivered his precocious “oration on the dignity of humanity” in 1486 at the age of twenty-four. This “Manifesto”, written in a highly polished and elegant Latin, depicted humanity as a creature with the capacity to determine its own identity, rather than be compelled to receive this in any given form….”you are constrained by no limits, and shall determine the limits of nature for yourself, in accordance with your own free will, in whose hand we have placed you.”…the ideas of this oration proved to be enormously influential in the late Renaissance, and in the longer term they can be seen as setting the scene for the Enlightenment assertion of human autonomy in the eighteenth century. (p.34)

29.  In the short term, however,  it galvanised a new understanding of human nature and capacities. There was no “fixed” order things, everything could be changed. Humanity was mandated by God to change the social and physical world….Yet the mediaeval church was seen to be strongly conservative, lending theological support to the existing social order…the traditional authority of influential families, monarchs, and principalities was not to be challenged. It was a source of frustration for the entrepreneurial middle classes, who were held back by the stifling force of tradition. (p.34)

30. The rise of Protestantism is widely held to be linked with the transition between a medieval notion of worldly order, founded upon an order imagined to be natural and eternal, and a modern order founded upon the acceptance, even encouragement, of change as a means of pursuing the good….Luther’s cardinal doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” marked a decisive break with the medieval idea of vocation as a calling to a monastic life; Christians were called to serve God actively in the world and its affairs. (p.35)

31. Protestantism thus came to be linked with the longing for social progress and reform. It is not correct to say that Protestantism caused this change, which was already underway at the time of its emergence. e.g. Erasmus’ text of the New Testament was published in 1516. Just one year later Martin Luther nailed a document to a church door! (p36)

32.  Luther’s demands for reform rested on a religious idea, which rapidly became the watchword of reforming movements in the region….the doctrine of justification by faith alone. (p39). …By about 1516, Luther was clear that the primary source of Christian theology was not the scholastic tradition, still less the philosophy of Aristotle. It was the Bible, especially as interpreted through the writings of the early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430). Luther increasingly came to speak of “the Bible and Augustine” as the sources of his ideas.  (p41) ..Luther wrestled with the text of the Bible, anxiously trying to discern what it really says about salvation. There are few ideas with the capacity to dismantle great institutions  and invert the judgments of previous generationsFor Luther, the great question of life was simple and profound: how could he find a gracious God?  (p42)[actually not unlike Rob Bell in 2018!]

33. When Paul speaks of the “righteousness of God” being revealed in the gospel, he does not mean that we are told what standards of righteousness we must meet in order to be saved. Rather, we are confronted with the stunning, disarming, overwhelming declaration that God himself provides the righteousness  [ie acquittal] required for salvation as a free, unmerited gift. God’s love is not conditional upon transformation; rather, personal transformation follows divine acceptance and affirmation…More radically still, Luther insisted that the believer is “at one and the same time a righteous person and a sinner.  (‘simul justus et peculator)”. While Luther admired Augustine for his emphasis on the unconditional love of God in justification [acquittal], he suggested that Augustine become muddled in relation to the location of righteousness. Augustine located this gift within humanity, as a transforming reality; Luther argued that it is located outside us, being “reckoned” or “imputed” to humanity, not imparted.   (p42f)

33. The most radical element of Luther’s doctrine of justification is its conception of salvation as a matter effecting God and the individual. The individual’s relationship with God is direct, determined by faith[fulness] in God’s promises and the salvation procured by Christ’s death and resurrection There is no longer any need for intermediaries — for the intercession of Mary or the saints. There is no necessary role for the church, its sacraments, or its priests in the dynamic of salvation. (p43f)

34. The evidence suggests that Luther took some time to think through the implications of this idea and was even at times reluctant to accept the inner logic of his own thinking..Luther’s doctrine of justification undermined the credibility of the medieval worldview and put in its place something quite different—a way of thinking that placed the relationship between an individual and his or her God at the centre of all things. This was an idea that made a powerful appeal in an increasingly individualist culture. (p44f)

35.  It was, however, a second fast track through purgatory that aroused Luther’s ire….the church began to finance military campaigns and the construction of cathedrals through the sale of “indulgences” which reduced the amount of time spent in the torment of purgatory…the sale of indulgences seemed to deny the essence of the Christian gospel, as Luther now understood it. And if the church denied the gospel, was it really a Christian church at all? (p47)

36. A surge in German nationalism played no small role in propelling Luther’s protest into the forefront of popular debate and discussion….indignation was directed against the pope, reflecting popular irritation at the manner in which ecclesiastical revenues (including the proceeds of indulgence sales) were destined for Rome and the maintenance of the somewhat extravagant lifestyles, building programs, and political adventures of the Renaissance popes. (p48)

37.  Luther had learned from Erasmus the importance of the printing press in projecting intellectual influence within society. IN 1520 he began to advance the cause of his reformation by appealing directly to the German people, over the heads of clerics and academics, through the medium of print…and Luther would use the vernacular…it made a statement about the inclusive nature of the reformation he proposed to pursue. To publish in Latin was to exclude the ordinary people….From that moment onward, one of the hallmarks of Protestantism would be its use of the vernacular at every level. Most importantly of all, the Bible would also be translated into the language of the people. Luther published three popular works in quick succession in 1520. The Appeal to the Nobility of the German Nation,  The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of a Christian.   (p50f)

38. Luther opposed the church’s fundamental distinction between the “temporal” and “spiritual” orders — the laity and the clergy as well as the church’s denial of the right of the laity to interpret the Bible. Luther began his critique by setting out one of the greatest themes of the Reformation— the democritization of faith. He used the German word Gemeinde  (“community”) to refer to the church….fundamentally a gathering of believers…Luther noted an important corollary of this doctrine: the clergy should be free to marry, like all other Christians. This right to clerical marriage became a defining characteristic of Protestantism. [p52]

39. Luther insisted that ..there is no “spiritual” authority, distinct from or superior to ordinary Christians..the right to read and interpret the Bible is the birthright of all Christians….Luther insisted that all believers have the right to read the Bible in a language they can understand and to interpret its meaning for themselves. The church is thus held accountable to its members  for its interpretation of its sacred text and is open to challenge at every point…. [p53]

40. Luther denied the doctrine of transubstantiation, which held that the bread and wine of the mass were transformed into the body and blood of Christ…In its place, Luther proposed a doctrine now known as “consubstantiation,” which asserted that Christ’s body and blood were somehow  received alongside the bread and wine in the communion service. [p54f]

41. In 1521 at the Diet of Worms, Luther refused to recant his ideas or promise to conform….”Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” McGrath notes that the  famous phrase  “Hear I stand, I cannot do otherwise”  is not included in the official transcript of the proceedings at Worms and may have been added to Luther’s words by a printer.  [p55&fn ch2:19]  At this stage, Luther had no intention of breaking away from the church. Nothing, he commented, could be achieved through schism. His hope was to reform the church from within. Yet his excommunication by Leo X in 1520 and his open condemnation by the Edict of Worms the following  year seemed to rule out any such possibility. 

But there was another alternative—a dangerous, radical, and ground-breaking possibility that was open to Luther only on account of the political circumstances of Germany at the time and the cautious support of his local prince. [p55]

42. The fundamental themes of Luther’s reforms:

  1. The Bible is the ultimate foundation of all Christian belief and practice
  2. The text of the Bible, and all preaching based upon it, it should be in the vernacular.
  3. Salvation is a free, unmerited gift of God, received by faith.
  4. There is no fundamental distinction between clergy and laity.
  5. The reform of the church’s life was not about beginning “ab initio” but to reform an existing church…Not every aspect of the church’s life and thought required reform. Renewal, not innovation, was Luther’s watchword…

What requires explanation is why this local reforming movement went on to achieve such significance and to play such a defining role in the shaping of Protestantism. [pp56-59]

43. Other reforming movements were springing up elsewhere in Europe around this time, initially without any knowledge of Luther’s activities or aspirations….Recent scholarship, in stressing the intellectual and sociological heterogeneity of the first phase of the Reformation, has made it virtually impossible to think of it as a single coherent movement. [p61]

44.  The concept of “Protestantism” arose from an attempt to link a series of events in the early sixteenth century to form a common narrative of transformation. For the historian, there has never been a thing called “Protestantism”, rather, there were a number of movements, each with its own distinctive regional, theological, and cultural agendas….Yet that identity was initially conceived primarily in terms of two movements—the Lutheran Reformation in southeastern Germany and the Zwinglian Reformation in eastern Switzerland.  [p62]

45. Even within ‘Lutheranism’ there were alternatives with more radical approaches supported by Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt and Thomas Müntzer. [P63]

46. Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531) was  captivated by the humanist vision of ‘Christianismus renascens’ — a Christianity that would be born all over again, restored to the simplicity and vitality of the apostolic age…Zwingli, like so many reformers in eastern Switzerland, did not see any need for fundamental changes in what the church believed. His vision of reform was primarily institutional and moral: the church needed to return to the simple ways of the New Testament and behave according to the moral teachings of Christ. [p67]

47. Zwingli’s reforming program makes no reference to Luther’s core doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone.’…In common with Luther and Erasmus, Zwingli held that the church needed to realign itself with the Bible. Yet Zwingli’s understanding of how that process should happen, and what form it would take, bore little relation to Luther’s and was much closer to Erasmus’s vision for institutional and moral reform based on an educational program grounded in the classics and the New Testament. [p69]

48. Luther and Zwingli differed on the meaning of Jesus’ statement, “this is my body”…Luther’s interpretation was much more traditional, Zwingli’s more radical…The question was not simply whether Luther or Zwingli was right: it was whether the emerging Protestant movement possessed the means to resolve such questions of biblical interpretation. If the Bible had ultimate authority, who had the right to interpret the Bible? [p70]

49. Zwingli was confronted with the growing threat from more radical reformers in Zurich, and was personally involved in their suppression and execution, including the 1527 execution of Felix Manz..formerly one of Zwingli’s closest allies, who held that there was no biblical warrant for infant baptism. Refusing to recant his views, he was tied up and drowned in the River Limmat. [p71]

50.  The five Catholic cantons of Switzerland, increasingly alarmed at the rise of Protestantism in the region, declared war on Zurich in October 1531….Zwingli served as chaplain to the Zurich army, inexpertly led by Georg Göldli at the critical battle of Kappel…the Protestants were ambushed while withdrawing, and many more dead and wounded were left on the battlefield including the mortally wounded Zwingli. [p72 ]  Zwingli was replaced by Bullinger.

51. The Reformation also led, perhaps without anyone realizing it, to diversification. The emerging Protestant movement simply included too many variables to remain tightly defined…Furthermore each city had its own resident reformer—in several places, groups of reformers—and each possessed a somewhat different version of the nature of the gospel and its implications for individual and corporate life. [p73]

52.  Strasbourg had Hebrew scholar Wolfgang Capito; Matthew Zell;   humanist Caspar Hedio and Martin Bucer, who established a Europe-wide reputation as a scholar, theologian and skilled ecclesiastical diplomat. Basel had Oecolampadius; Zurich Heinrich Bullinger; [p74]

53, ..the Colloquy of Marburg (1529), convened by Phillip of Hesse [was] attended by such Protestant luminaries as Bucer, Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Oecolampadius, and Zwingli…yet Luther and Zwingli failed to resolve their disagreements.  When the Emperor Charles V convened the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 he was presented with no less than three quite different proposals for restoring unity including famous Lutheran “Augsberg Confession” of Melanchthon. [p75]

54. Charles V’s refusal to take up any of these confessions as the basis for reunification of the German church did more that place clear blue water between Catholics and Protestants: it also exposed the emerging differences among the latter….Within a decade the Reformation had split into two. The wounds would never heal; indeed, within decades they would become worse when Lutherans discovered to their horror that their rivals were gaining a foothold in the German territories. [p76]

55. But worse disunity was to come! An emerging ‘third way” was threatening to destabilise western European society …Anabaptism! Although Luther’s reforming program is often referred to as “radical” and “revolutionary,” these are relative, not absolute terms. We have already noted how Luther’s proposals were considered rather tame and conservative by writers such as Bucer and Zwingli. To others they were reactionary. Luther had betrayed the movement that he initiated. It was time for others to take control. The debate centred around the term “biblical”.

  1. Biblical means whatever is explicitly and unequivocally stated in the Bible.  [Anabaptism]
  2. Biblical means whatever is explicitly stated in the Bible or is consistent with this.  [Luther and Zwingli]  [p77]

 

56. The thought and life of the church was to be grounded in scripture, but interpreted in the dialogue with leading,  reliable biblical interpreters of the past. As it happened Luther turned to Augustine for an interpretative guide, and Zwingli turned to Origen but both argued for continuity with the past. 

Anabaptists on the other hand [like Conrad Grebel at Zurich; Simon Stumpf at Hongg and Wilhelm Reublen at Wittikon] wanted a revolution, not a reformation.  [p78]

57.  Anabaptists opposed traditional doctrines such as infant baptism, swearing oaths to secular authorities, any use of or involvement in or with violence, weapons or warfare, the death penalty and private property. They opposed justification by faith alone as incompatible with moral regeneration, and called into question traditional doctrines such as the trinity, the two natures of Christ, and in some cases moved towards an apocalyptic frenzy based on the imminent millennial return of Christ including taking over the city of Münster causing its inhabitants to flee.  [p79-81]

58.  The historian can only conclude that Protestantism designated a spectrum of possibilities so diverse that we must perhaps speak of “Protestantisms”. [p82]

59. Lutheranism’s battle with Emperor Charles V waxed and waned especially after the death of Martin Luther himself. At times it appeared that Lutheranism would be completely overwhelmed by political and military force but eventually in 1555 Charles V was forced to accept the “Peace of Augsburg” which allowed each territory to follow the religion of its ruler. Lutheranism became effectively landlocked in Germany. Those who disagreed were free to migrate to other territories. Switzerland’s reformed cantons also looked like finishing up as small surrounded Protestant territories but by 1560 the consolidation of reformed Protestantism under John Calvin in Geneva had created a form of Protestantism capable of crossing political and social frontiers with ease. [pp83 – 87]

60. Calvin studied civil law at Orléans and in Paris encountered Lutheran ideas  and associated with reforming groups. When Francis 1 turned against Protestantism Calvin fled to Basle and with time on his hands penned a little book that set out the basic elements of the Reformed view of the Christian faith that he personally espoused. In addition to setting out his views on the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, Calvin wrote a preface, addressed to Francis 1, pleading for toleration of this moderate evangelical form of Christianity and distinguishing it from the excesses and violence of Anabaptism. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in 1536, would eventually become one of the most influential publications of the sixteenth century…because of its lucid, systematic, and persuasive account of the basic elements of Reformed Christianity. [p89]

61. Calvin eventually achieved success in Geneva after a rocky start and his revised and expanded edition of the Institutes as well as a French translation became a best-seller and went through five expanded editions in Latin and four in French….the work’s seventeen chapters set out a clear, accessible account of the basics of Christian belief, including the doctrine of God, the Trinity, the relation of the Old and New Testaments, penitence, justification by faith, the nature and relation of the Old and New Testaments, the nature and relation of providence and predestination, human nature, and the nature of the Christian life….It addressed head-on the central weakness of Protestantism up to this point: the problem of the multiplicity of interpretations of the Bible….the definitive edition of 1559, consisting of eighty chapters arranged in four books was five times larger than the first. Translations into Dutch, English, German and Spanish soon followed. [pp90-96]

63. Calvin’s growing influence led to Geneva becoming the epicentre of the Reformed world during the second phase of Protestant development….The “Genevan Company of Pastors” secretly supplied reformed pastors and preachers to congregations throughout France. Heidelberg in the German Palatinate became a centre of reformed church in the 1560s and Calvin’s ideas were aggressively propagated in Scotland by John Knox, who had fled to Geneva during the reign of Mary Tudor…Calvin’s form of Protestantism also became a significant movement in the Netherlands, at that time a Spanish province, supported by French Protestant — or “Huguenot” —militias as well as a force of 4000 from England. By 1591, Calvinism seemed to have made irreversible gains throughout western Europe, distinguished from Lutheranism in particular by differences regarding the doctrines of predestination and the “real presence”.  [pp96-104]

64. A mass of local factors shaped the Reformation, giving rise to patterns of reform that defied the simplifications of its more uncritical supporters and opponents alike. While shared beliefs and attitudes enabled local reformations to enjoy at least a degree of unity and direction with the larger movement, each of these smaller groups also pursued its own interests, whether subtly or more emphatically, and thus the movement’s fragmentation remained a constant threat.  [p105]

65. Careful historical analysis of the origins and development of Anglicanism has been hindered to no small extent by the lingering agendas of religiously biased writers who, in attempting to perpetuate their own accounts of the English Reformation, have been primarily motivated by vested interests over what Anglicanism ought to be. [See Diamaid McCullough, “The Myth of the English Reformation”, Journal of British Studies 30 (1999): 1-19. Many nineteenth-century Anglican writers sympathetic to the High Church revival movement often known as the “Tractarianism” or the “Oxford Movment” were dismissive of any suggestion that this most English form of Christianity could be called “Protestant” and pointed to the roots of their “Anglo-Catholicism” in the early seventeenth century….Whereas for earlier conformists the Church of England was a champion of true religion against anti-Christian Rome, the latter Jacobean and Caroline ecclesiastical establishment sought to extricate itself from the confessional struggles of European Protestantism, seeing these struggles as a liability rather than an asset. Under Charles 1, this group began to gain the ascendancy; William Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury and Richard Neile became Archbishop of York.  Yet such figures cannot for that reason be designated “Catholics,” partly because they were generally so affirmative of their Protestant credentials, and partly because their sacramental views could easily be accommodated within the spectrum of Protestant possibilities. [pp105 – 107]

66.  One of the most remarkable developments in the recent historiography of the English Reformation under HenryVIII is the general abandonment of the term “Protestant” to refer to its leading reforming representatives. [eg Alec Ryrie: The Gospel and Henry VIII: Evangelicals in the Early English Reformation, Cambridge, CUP, 2003, ppxv-xvi]  English reformers simply did not refer to themselves by this term, which they tended to use instead to refer to German Lutheranism, especially seen from a political perspective. The term “evangelical” is increasingly being used to designate the English reformers of the 1520s and 1530s, who did not regard themselves as confessionally “Protestant” but rather saw themselves as “Catholics” who believed their church required reform and renewal from within. [Peter Marshall: Religious Identities in Henry V111’s England, Aldershot, UK, Ashgate, 2006 pp4 – 8.] The perception that England’s religious reformers were Protestant dates from the reign of Edward VI and marks a significant shift of understanding in the transformation the under way within the English church. [p107f].

67.  English church life on the eve of the Reformation was not moribund  and yearning for reform. Indeed studies can demonstrate vitality and diversity although there was hostility over the quality of the clergy in urban contexts.  Studies from local contexts have shown that the English Reformation was largely, from its outset, imposed “from above’ by successive governments on the English people, who were generally unsympathetic to the official “new religion”. [Norman L Jones: The English Reformation: Religion and Cultural Adaptation, Oxford, Blackwell, 2002] [p108]

68.  Luther’s ideas began to be imported into England in the early 1520’s via Antwerp….Perhaps the greatest interest in his writings as this stage was among academics, particularly at Cambridge University..The ‘White-Horse group’, named after a long-vanished inn where Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith was a lively topic of conversation. Luther’s appeal to the English church may have been enhanced through the influence of Lollardy, a pre-Reformation indigenous movement that was associated with activists such as John Wycliffe and was severely critical of many aspects of church life. McGrath notes that role of Lollardy is contested. [p108]

69.  The causes of the English Reformation, though complex and various, are widely held to be linked primarily to Henry’s attempt to set up a smooth transition of power after his death by ensuring that he had a son as an undisputed legitimate heir to the English throne. [p109]

70.  It is impossible to speak of any coherent English “Protestantism” at any point during Henry’s reign, in that Henry appears to have had no interest in adopting either Lutheranism or Zwinglianism. Nor did evangelicals use the term “Protestant” to refer to each other. Rather, we may identify a variety of evangelical factions, which became radicalized as Henry’s religious policies seemed increasingly erratic in their direction and inconsistent in their application. [p110]

71. Henry moved: the Succession Act ..(the crown would pass to Henry’s children);  the Supremacy Act.. (Henry would be recognised as the “supreme head” of the English church.)and The Treasons Act: (denial of Henry’s Supremacy Act an act of Treason, punishable by death.).  This act led to the execution of both Thomas More and John Fisher. (p111)

72. Henry tracked both ways, Catholic and Protestant to avoid offending Catholic beliefs….there are reasons for supposing that Henry’s agenda was political, dominated by his desire to safeguard his succession and secure his own authority throughout his kingdom. (p112)

73.  On Henry’s death, England changed direction significantly. The word “Protestant” now finally became entirely appropriate to describe the new religious situation….The religious changes unleashed during Edward V1’s brief reign would have a formative impact on the shaping of the Church of England, and through it, on determining the contours of the English-speaking Protestant world.  [p113]

74. In England…sovereign power had to be exercised collaboratively, in the light of rival Protestant visions and aspirations associated with those who advised the new Josiah. Of these aspirations, the most important is thought to have been the revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and again in 1552. The use of an “authorized” prayer book for public worship proved to be a significant method of social and intellectual control.  [p114]

75. …by 1552, [Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury] had shifted his position and now identified with Zwingli’s  doctrine of the eucharist..that it represents a memorial of Christ’s saving death in which believers “do spiritually eat his body, and [are] spiritually fed, and nourished by him….Recognizing that the reforms introduced to date needed firmer theological grounding, Cranmer invited leading established Protestant theologians from continental Europe to settle  in England and lead a new theological direction and foundation to the English Reformation.  [Peter Martyr Vermigli to Oxford and Martin Bucer to Cambridge. [p115]

76.  …there was little open public criticism of the reform measures apart from the forced suppression of the “Western” or  “Prayer Book” rebellion of 1549  [which had to be put down with the use of foreign mercenaries].  Yet signs of discontent were nevertheless evident. Non-attendance at church became a problem; some of those who did attend public worship were known to shun their own Reformed parishes and to frequent those offering more traditionalist forms of worship.

Edward’s early death in 1553 put an abrupt end to this State sponsored Protestantization of the English national church. To bring about a total religious conversion of England was the work of a generation, not a mere seven years….Mary Tudor, who succeeded to the throne, immediately began to put in place a series of measures designed to bring about a restoration of Catholicism in England… In 1554 Parliament agreed to declare void all religious legislation passed over 1529…Protestant bishops were arrested and deposed….Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were arrested… and eventually burned at the stake…with relations with the papacy now restored, Reginald Pole…was installed as Archbishop of Canterbury. England was once more a Catholic nation. The clock had been turned back by twenty-five years. [p117f]

77.  Yet Mary’s attempt to reimpose the traditional religion suffered a series of setbacks. In 1556 Pole became embroiled in controversy, souring relations between England and the papacy. The revisionary measures became particularly unpopular when Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were publicly burned at Oxford. Mary’s diplomatic relations with Spain created the impression that Catholicism was a foreign religion, imposed by foreign influence….It was no longer safe to be a committed Protestant in England. By early 1554, realising the gravity of their situation, most Protestants with the ability and means to do so had fled England to seek refuge in Europe. The new era of Protestant renewal and reform in England sustained the English Protestants during their exile..that time came unexpectedly and suddenly, on November 17,1558, Mary Tudor and Reginald Pole died within hours of each other. [p117]

78.  Elizabeth 1st’s own inclinations were unquestionably Protestant and returning Marian exiles became Protestant leaders; bishops and vestments however were retained. (p119)

79. The Elizabethan Settlement proved to be a seedbed of discontent, catalysing growing discontent within Protestantism that subsequently led to the emergence of the Puritan party…the term “Puritan” is problematic for the historian though it accurately denotes…a passionate, occasionally obsessive quest for further reformation…the Spanish defeat of 1588 reinforced Protestantism in England whilst the appointment of John Whitgift as Archbishop of Canterbury showed the Puritan party that they would never achieve their goals. (p120)

80. Under Sir Walter Raleigh, a Protestant colony was established at Roanoke Island, eventually to be known as “Virginia”….Elizabeth desired to create a sustainable form of Protestantism, adapted to the realities of the English situation, which would represent a “middle way” between the religious extremes of her day. This “via media” nevertheless demonstrated her desire to have clear points of contact with Lutheranism and Calvinism (p121)

81. Elizabeth adopted a religion which included all the cardinal beliefs and practices of Protestantism including:

  • rejection of papal authority
  • the insistence that preaching and all public worship should be in the vernacular
  • the insistence upon communion in both kinds for the laity
  • the affirmation of the clergy’s right to marry,
  • a set of official pronouncements of faith – 39 Articles, prayer book which included an affirmation of core Protestant beliefs of justification by faith, the sufficiency of scripture and the rejection of purgatory.

NB: RIchard Hooker’s (1554-1600) attempt to replace the “word-centred” piety characteristic of this age with one that was more ‘sacrament-centred” was not typical of the era….Some Anglo-Catholic apologists of the nineteenth century tried to portray Elizabeth as constructing a reformed Catholicism at this time, which is simply historical nonsense. By every criterion of her age, Elizabeth implanted a form of Protestantism in England —and was universally recognised at the time as having done so. (p122)

82. When James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth as James 1 of England English puritans thought their day had come but this was not to be. (p123)

83.  James 1 took a middle ground and produced the King James Version of the Bible and also promoted the “Book of Sports” to allow Sunday games.  The result was the emigration of many Puritans to America (p125-6)

84.  The Catholic Counter-Reformation resulted in a  unifying of forces on both Catholic and Protestant sides. John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs made a strong impact not the Protestant side, especially the murders of Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer. Some 30,000 French Protestants were massacred in the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, resulting in the radicalisation of many Protestants. Pope Gregory X111’s celebration of the massacre was as jubilant as it was undiplomaticic : the bells of Rome rang out to mark a public day of thanksgiving, the guns of the Castel Sant’ Angelo were fired in salute, and a special commemorative medal was struck to honour the occasion. Gregory even commissioned Georgio Vasari to paint a mural depicting the massacre. Such tactless actions could not fail to produce a total distaste and disgust, and the “anti-popery” that subsequently spread throughout Protestant regions of Europe remained a persistent element of Protestant definition until very recently. (p130f)

85. The essential dynamic of Protestant identity, as disclosed by the events of the second half of the sixteenth century, was that of a fragmented and largely disunited movement that was able to set its internal divisions in their proper perspective by the very real threat of being overwhelmed by Catholicism…Historically, Protestantism has always needed an “other,” an external threat or enemy, imagined or real, to hold itself together as a movement.  (p131)

86. These tensions between different understandings of Protestantism finally erupted openly in the English Civil War (1642 – 51)….Puritan and Anglican battled for the soul of England.. (p132)

87. James 1 supported the divine right of kings. The English establishment led by Sir Edward Coke argued that the king should be under the law not above it. The Geneva Bible of 1560 had marginal notes critical of the divine right of kings theology. Charles 1 was more pro-Catholic and anti-Puritan. Charles 1 appointed high churchman William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633.

Under Charles 1 Parliament resolved that anyone who brought religious innovations into the country was to be regarded as an enemy of the State…the king dissolved Parliament and ruled directly.  The “Court of the Star Chamber” was used to dispense legal judgments, without any recourse to appeal. Puritans got around the banning of the Geneva Bible by printing the King James Verson with Genevan notes! Wars began in Ireland and Scotland and in 1641 in England. Once Oliver Cromwell took over in 1645 with his “new model army”  Charles 1 was done for and gave himself up in 1646. He was eventually tried for murder in 1649, found guilty and beheaded.

Under Cromwell’s republic the Church of England was systematically dismantled including the proscribing of bishops, the Book of Common Prayer, Christmas celebrations. (pp133-141)

88. Yet disenchantment and disillusion soon set in. The religious ideas might have changed, but in just about every other respect England seemed to have swapped one rather oppressive regime for another.  Even the Puritan poet John Milton wrote “On the New Forces of Conscience Under the Long Parliament” In 1646 arguing that those who had overthrown Archbishop Laud were subverting Christian freedom, declaring the orthodox to be heretics for their own ends, and setting up a dogmatic religious institution that rivaled anything produced by the Council of Trent.  The closing words of that poem were:…”The New Presbyter is but the old Priest writ large.”  ( p140)

89. In the end, the Puritan Commonwealth died of exhaustion, infighting, disillusionment, and lack of vision. The decision to invite Charles 11 to return from exile was ultimately a counsel of despair, reflecting a wish to avoid anarchy rather than any firm conviction that it was right in itself. The Puritan Revolution lasted ten years (1646 -1660).  Having been suppressed for more than a decade, the Church of England was put back in place with surprising ease,…By 1662 a new prayer book was in place, and bishops, deans, and the clergy were back in their places in restored cathedrals, dioceses, and parishes. The King James Bible, which had languished in earlier generations  on account of its association with an unpopular monarch, became a potent symbol of a new ecclesiastical stability. (p142).

90. Satirical Puritan poet Andrew Marvell helped shape Restoration attitudes to Charles 1; by the time Marvell had finished with it, the image of Charles had been refashioned from that of “icon” to “sentimental story.” ….Radical Protestantism would never again be a serious presence in England. Even when, for a brief period, it seemed as if Catholicism might be imposed on the nation during the short and difficult reign of James 11, none seem to have entertained even the possibility of restoring Puritanism….The Toleration Act of 1690 gave the successors of the Puritans the right to worship ..it also made possible another alternative…not to worship anywhere at all. (p143)

91. By 1700 western Europe was exhausted by seemingly endless wars of religion that had caused social disintegration and economic hardship. Religious idealisms…had run riot.  e.g. The Thirty Years War (1618 – 48), a German civil war involving Lutheran, Reformed, and Catholic regions and nations….the scene was set for the Enlightenment insistence that religion was to be matter of private belief, rather than State policy. In both intellectual and political circles, religion came to be viewed as a source of international and national conflict, as a burden rather than a blessing. The emerging dislike of religious fanaticism was easily transmuted into dislike of religion itself. [p143f]. [NB, So also today in the C21st with the new atheist view that religion is responsible for international warfare and tension. cf Dawkins: The God Delusion, etc.]

92. The scene was set for the rise of a secular Europe…In England, Just 40 years after the failed Puritan social experiment, John Locke argued that the “great and chief end of men uniting into governments  and putting themselves under government is the preservation of their property. However McGrath also notes that Jeremy Waldron’s recent study argues that a Christian, rather than a secular agenda underlined Locke’s thought. See Jeremy Waldron: God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations of Locke’s Political Thought,  Cambridge, CUP, 1991.  (p144 and fn31)

93. The crisis in England over the unpopular reign of Catholic James 11,  was solved by the secret invitation to Protestant William 111 of Orange and his wife Mary (daughter of James 11) to “invade” England which he promptly did to popular acclaim. William arrived in 1688 and James 11 fled to France!  (p144f). William and Mary were declared king and queen of England after agreeing to sign a “Bill of Rights” that guaranteed free elections and freedom of speech. The ‘glorious revolution ‘ had averted another civil war and neutralized the power of religion in English public life.   Reason and Deism were on the march in England following Newton’s amazing analysis of a mechanical universe. (p145)

94. In the C18th Calvin and Knox gave way to Rousseau and David Hume. The appeal of the Enlightenment proved greatest in Reformed circles. For reasons that remain unclear, rationalism gained acceptance in many Calvinist strongholds….In marked contrast, the Enlightenment had relatively little impact on Catholicism during the C18th—unless of course, the French Revolution (1789) is seen as a political extension of the ideas of the Enlightenment. On the other hand in Germany, Pietism grew after the disaster of the Thirty Years War led by Philip Jakob Spener (1675); Nikolaus Ludwig Graf von Zinzendorf  1700-1760) founded the Pietist community the “Herrnhuter”, named after the German village Herrnut. In England John Wesley (1703-91) founded the Methodist movement within the Church of England, joined by the hymns of his brother Charles and his fellow spruiker George Whitefield. With their passionate pleas for conversion they had to hold off the criticism of undue “enthusiasm”.  Methodism itself displayed the innate tendency to fragmentation that is characteristic of Protestantism, dividing into “The Methodist New Connection”; “Primitive Methodists”; Wesleyans and “United Methodists..an amalgamation.  (pp146-149)

96. In America, the first English-speaking Protestant Colony was established in Virginia—named after the “virgin queen” (Elizabeth 1) – in 1585. The fate of this “lost colony” remains unclear. (A settlement of French Huguenots Protestant refugees at Fort Caroline in Florida in 1562 was quickly wiped out by Spanish forces.) Jamestown, an Anglican colony was founded in Virginia in 1607. One early convert was Pocahontas, daughter of the great chief Powhatan, who died during a subsequent trip to England. (p153-4).

97. Due to a navigation error, “the Pilgrim Fathers”  arrived at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in November 1620…a month later, they finally landed at Plymouth Rock and established a community there…Between 1627 and 1640, some four thousand individuals made the hazardous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean and settled on the coastline at Massachusetts Bay. Most of these Puritan separatists whose beliefs were more characteristic of the Anabaptists than of Calvin …were convinced that each congregation had the democratic right to determine its own beliefs and choose its own ministers….Further south a more Anglican form of Protestantism developed amongst the “planting colonies” from Delaware to Georgia. (pp152 – 154)

98. Three “Great Awakenings” occurred in North America. The first in 1734 following the Salem witch trials of 1693. Jonathan Edwards, son of a local pastor was a leader in a massive spiritual revival which took place in New England in 1734-5.  From England George Whitfield and John and Charles Wesley joined in and personal spiritual conversion became central to Protestant faith. The American Revolution was opposed by southern Anglicans but supported by a variety of northern Congregationalists although Anabaptists and Quakers refused to be involved.  Unlike the French Revolution the American Revolution was not hostile to Christianity but fought to remove the excesses and privileges of the English ruling class. They had no intention of eliminating Anglicanism. The “Protestant Episcopal Church” was reconstituted in 1789 at Philadelphia. No Protestant denomination was designated as the “established church” in its place….In 1786 Thomas Jefferson’s “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” set out the separation of church and state and ended any legal oversight or enforcement of religious belief. (pp155-162)

99. Between 1800 and the eve of the Civil War, the population of the United States expanded from about 5 million to 30 million. Immigration brought large numbers of Irish and Italian Catholics and German refugees. Nevertheless Protestant church attendance rose by a factor of ten per cent over the period 1800 to 1860 largely due to the Second Awakening led by Charles Finney (1792-1875) who introduced many of the standard features of revivalist preaching including the altar call. The technique was picked up by Dwight L Moody, the greatest revivalist preacher in the second half of the nineteenth-century, and thus passed into virtually all of nineteenth- and twentieth-century revivalist preaching from Billy Sunday through to Billy Graham…

The emergence of the “holiness” movement is often seen as a response to the ideas and values of revivalism…and ..came to be linked with support for the abolition of slavery especially through Finney’s role as professor of Theology in Oberlin College which also promoted advocates of radical feminism. The impact of music through the teamwork of Moody and musician Ira Sankey was also a big factor in the growth of Protestantism. In this period distinct differences emerged between the conservative “Bible belt”  in the Southern States led by Baptists  (in particular  the Southern Baptist Convention founded in 1845) and Methodists and the more personal and individualistic Presbyterian and Congregationalist dominated North Eastern States. Black Protestantism was also on the march in the South…If any one factor can be identified as sharpening up a sense of shared Protestant identity, it is “oppositionalism” — the belief that an outside agency threatened the future of all Protestants in America…Catholicism was regularly and aggressively portrayed as “the other” or “the threat” , and as fundamentally at odds with libertarian and republican principles of the United States….By about 1910  the role of Government was in transition: it was turning form the enforcement of a particular moral or religious order to …a new set of tensions as American culture appeared to move in a more progressive, secular direction. [pp162-172]

100. Protestantism and Mission: By the end of the nineteenth century, Protestantism was well on its way to becoming a global faith. In terms of landmass in Europe Protestantism had collapsed from roughly 50% in 1690 to 20% 1900….Yet Protestantism would soon make up for its losses as it underwent global expansion…as Great Britain became a global power…Early Protestant views that the Great Commission of Matthew 28 was limited to the first apostles  (eg Theodore Beza and Johann Gerhard) and that the end of all things was close at hand gave way to the missionary zeal of the likes of William Carey, Adrian Saravia, Rufus T. Anderson in the US, John Ryland, German Moravian Pietists, the rise of voluntary Missionary societies, slave captain John Newton’s conversion (and his amazing hymn Amazing Grace), William Wilberforce and the anti-slavery movement, John Wesley, the Dutch Reformed church in South Africa, David Livingstone, the London and Norwegian Missionary Societies, chaplains to the English East India Company, Humphrey Prideaux, Dean of Norwich (1684-1724), James Hudson Taylor, Francis Xavier, Captain Cook, Samuel Marsden, Bishop George Selwyn, Silas T. Rand, Asher Wright, Franz Michael Zahn (Bremen Mission), Adoniram Judson, George Müller, C T Studd, Eric Liddell, Nate Saint, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, Albert Schweitzer, the World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh 1910.

The great era of Protestant missions came to an end in 1914 with the outbreak of the Great War…many of the tentative patterns of collaboration between missionaries across national and denominational boundaries were overwhelmed by a tidal wave of nationalism unleashed by the war and the economic and political uncertainties that ensued. [pp173-196]

101. Protestantism and the Bible: 

William Chillingworth (1602 – 44) in The Religion of Protestants the Safe Way to Salvation, (1637) famously declared that “the Bible, the Bible alone, is the religion of Protestants.”  …The Latin phrase sola Scriptura (“by Scripture alone”) is characteristic of Protestantism as a whole…At its heart, Protestantism represents a constant return to the Bible to revalidate and where necessary restate its beliefs and values, refusing to allow any one generation or individual to determine what is definitive for Protestantism as a whole. This might suggest that Protestantism is a text-centred religion like Islam. There are indeed parallels between the two, particularly in relation to how texts are interpreted  [hermeneutics] and the problems that arise through an absence of centralised authority figures and structures. While some conservative Protestants do treat the Bible as if it were the Christian Qu’ran, the majority are clear that the Bible has a special place in the Christian life on account of its witness to Jesus Christ rather than its identity as a text….the real contrast is thus actually between the Qu’ran and Jesus Christ, not the Qu’ran and the Bible.

cf Stephen Neill: The historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth is the criterion by which every Christian affirmation has to be judged, and in the light of which it stands or falls. [Crises of Belief, London, Hodder & Stoughton,1984, p23] For Protestantism, Christ is both the focus and foundation of the Bible.

cf Karl Barth: From first to last, the Bible directs us to the name of Jesus Christ. [Church Dogmatics, Vol 11/2:52-54] See also: N T Wright: Scripture and the Authority of God, London, SPCK, 2005, p17-25]   [pp199-201]

102. The first generation of Protestants regarded an appeal to the supreme authority of the Bible as both theologically correct and ecclesiastically liberating. The authority of the pope could be resisted…the slogan Verbum Domini manet in eternal (“the Word of the Lord abides in eternity”) became emblematic for Lutheranism in the 1520s. Important tools became: Biblical translations; Biblical Commentaries; Lectionaries; Works of Biblical Theology e.g. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. 

Two subsidiary ideas…(i) the sufficiency of Scripture…no doctrines other than those clearly set out in the Bible are necessary for salvation.  [cf The Anglican 39 Articles (1571) article 8]

(ii) the clarity/perspicuity of Scripture…the basic meaning of the Bible can be ascertained by ordinary Christians.    [pp201-202]

103. It is a simple fact of Protestant history that in four major areas of biblical interpretation, the consensus of has shifted between 1500 and 2000. 

  • the changed understanding of Matthew 28:19 re world mission limited to the age of the apostles.
  • ‘adiaphora’ = “matters of indifference” [Melanchthon] …sometimes the interpretation or application of the Bible is not clear. e.g. clergy outfits; forms of worship; should hymns be sung in church; etc..cf Richard Baxter, (1615-91): “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity. “
  • the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus..a cautious yet decisive willingness to give Mary a place in Christian devotion—above all, at Christmas, Good Friday and Easter; + in many Protestant churches a place for the role of women in leadership.
  • the role of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts (not limited to the apostolic age).  [pp203f]

104…the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility in 1870 put Protestants under pressure to clarify their understanding of authority..

  1. the idea of Inspiration: eg Warfield …infallibility of the words of the writers of the Bible. [although Warfield also allowed for their humanity and individuality and he also found room for Darwinian evolution in his understanding of Genesis 1- 3…McGrath can identify 19 distinct Protestant answers to this question! (p208)
  1. canon of Scripture..Protestants rejected as “apocryphal” those texts found in the Septuagint but not in the Hebrew text.  [pp205-7]

105.  The problem of the Protestant interpretation of Scripture: 

Since every Protestant has the right to interpret the Bible, a wide range of interpretations cannot be avoided. And since there is no centralized authority within Protestantism, this proliferation of options cannot be controlled. Who has the right to decide what is orthodox and what is heretical? For many Protestants, this was a dangerous idea that opened the floodgates to a torrent of distortion, misunderstanding, and confusion.

cf. Dryden: “The Hind and the Panther”, part 2, lines 150-55

For did not Arius first, Socinus now

The Son’s eternal Godhead disavow?

And did not these by Gospel texts alone

Condemn our doctrine and maintain their own?

Have not all the heretics the same pretence,

To plead the Scriptures in their own defence?

Over the years each strand of Protestantism developed its own way of understanding and implementing the Sola Scriptura principle..such as tradition, reason, and experience….two approaches, both affirming the role of the Christian community in interpreting scripture, proved to be of particular importance.

  1. the community’s synchronic role: i.e. the role of the present-day community of believers in seeking to understand a text.
  2. the community’s diachronic role: i.e. looking to the testimony of believers in the past as an aid to the present-day task of interpretion. (of particular value in the diachronic role of past communities are at the ecumenical creeds although the Anabaptists would not accept these. cf William Whitaker (1547-95) For we also say that the church is the interpreter of Scripture, and that the gift of interpretation resides only in the church: but we deny that it pertains to particular persons, or is tied to any particular see or succession of men.” [William Whitaker: A Disputation on Holy Scripture, Cambridge, CUP, 1849, P411]   [pp208-211]

106. The Bible and Tradition: 

..there is genuine disagreement within Protestantism over the relation of the Bible and tradition…the Anabaptist wing of the Reformation argued, not entirely without justification, that the only consistent way in which the “sola scriptura” principle could be applied was to limit Protestant belief and practice to what was explicitly taught in the Bible. Since the practice of infant baptism was not mentioned in the Bible, it was therefore to be rejected as unbiblical. The Roman Catholic Council of Trent developed a “two-source” theory of tradition that regarded the Bible and unwritten tradition as sources of equal value for doctrine and morals. To a degree this depends on whether Protestantism is regarded as a purified and renewed vision of Christian identity  So Lutheran/Anglican/Reformed traditions; or, as in the Anabaptist tradition, a re-creation of the church from its very foundations. (so the Baptist tradition in some cases and some cases of the Pentecostal tradition).  [pp211-213]

107. The Bible and Translation: Unlike the Qu’ran which must be read in its original Arabic, there is no requirement in the Bible that it be read, other than for reason of scholarly accuracy, in its original languages….During the Middle Ages, the laity was largely disconnected from the Bible. Important figures were John Wycliffe, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Martin Luther, William Tyndale….The English Bible, above all, the King James Bible, has shaped “the common code of the English-speaking world,” almost as if it were some kind of linguistic DNA. [p214-218]

108. Issues in Biblical Interpretation: …at any given point in the church’s history, scripture is both clear and sufficient in all things that are necessary for salvation…[is this the case today in 2018?]…before the first world war {most Americans] defined themselves in terms of their own denominations rather than the overarching notion of “Protestantism”. Such limited diversity has been present from the outset within Protestantism and is arguably the inevitable outcome of its shared commitment to the authority of the Bible and its special place in Christian life and thought….

One strategy of particular interest emerged during the 1980s, when some conservative Protestants, particularly in the United States, began increasingly to characterise the Bible as “infallible” or “inerrant.”…Yet this claim did not, as some had hoped, solve the problem of multiple interpretations. It is perfectly possible for an inerrant text to be interpreted incorrectly. Asserting the infallibility of a text merely accentuates the importance of the interpreter of that text. Unless the interpreter is also to be thought of as infallible— a view that Protestantism has rejected, associating it with Catholic views of the church or papacy….what distinguishes Protestantism at this point is its principled refusal to allow any authority above scripture, such as a pope or a council. This principle is often affirmed using the Latin slogan “Scriptura apses interprets” (“Scripture is its own interpreter”).

J. I. Packer argues that the following principles apply to Biblical interpretation: i. the proper, natural sense of each passage (i.e. the intended sense of the writer.  ii. the meaning of texts in their own contexts. iii. Scripture must interpret Scripture; iv. the literary style of the text e.g. parable, genealogy, myth, poetry, proverb, history etc….but who decides? Is Genesis 1 to be understood as history, myth or poetry?

In regard to the Old Testament, virtually every Christian community, including Protestantism, insists that a distinction must be made between the “cultic” and the “moral” commandments. This is a key debate in the question of the prohibition in the Old Testament regarding homosexuality ..is it cultic or moral? …

Another category is “accommodation”. Calvin argued that God adapts or accommodates revelation to the abilities of those toward whom it is directed. e.g. the phrase “the arm of the Lord”.

A third problem concerns the intended audience of a biblical passage..eg is a command universal or specific to the original audience?…eg the debate about “women should be silent in church…”  Is it a universal command or an issue about women asking noisy questions of their husbands in church when they could ask them when they get home? are tongues for all Christians or only those with the spiritual gift?

a fourth problem is whether Biblical values or ethics are culturally contingent or universal e.g. slavery …homosexuality…polygamy? [pp218-227]

109. The problem of heresy for Protestantism….heresies were ultimately unacceptable interpretations of the Bible e.g. Arianism ..Jesus was not the Son of God. But who decides which biblical interpretations are flawed and which are orthodox if all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible as they see fit? …from its outset Protestantism itself was branded as a heresy by the Catholic church…later a major controversy arose over the doctrine of predestination leading to a fundamental bifurcation between Calvinism and Arminianism. Yet in reality, each was a coherent interpretation of the Bible that happened to differ substantially from the other, both in terms of basic ideas and implications for the Christian life…the only means of deciding the question was a vote within a constituency in question, as for example, the Synod of Dort. The poet Dryden suggested in Religio Laici (1682) …that the great Protestant emphasis on the Bible has merely led to the proliferation of heresy…

The book thus put in every vulgar hand,

Which each presumed he best could understand,

The common rule was made the common prey,

And at the mercy of the rabble lay.  (lines 400 -403, 406)

We hold, and say we prove from Scripture plain,

That Christ is God; the bold Sicilian

From the same Scripture urges he’s but man.

Now what appeal can end h’important suit;

Both parts talk loudly, but the Rule is mute? (311-15)

..What place is there within Protestantism for “authority” figures who claim to offer definitive, orthodox, or reliable interpretations of the Bible when many feel overwhelmed  by “option overload”? …Any movement—whether religious, political or cultural —has both its “standard bearers”  (maintaining traditional values and ideas) and “scouts”  (exploring and developing new ideas). Martin Kähler has described this as “no papacy of the professors”.  This approach is subversive of the authority of individual preachers and theologians, no matter how venerable, in that their views must be judged in the light of the Bible…but In reality, authority figures play an important role in Protestantism ( with the possible exception of the “Open Brethren”.

111. Instruments of Authority: the Bible, creeds, confessions; then theologians and preachers…in the formative phase theologians such as Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Thomas Cranmer, Balthasar Hübmaier, Menno Simmons.  The rise of new forms of Protestantism in the C17th and early C18th brought Puritan writers such as John Owen, Richard Baxter and Jonathan Edwards to prominence alongside Pietist thinkers such as John Wesley….More recent Protestant theologians to have exercised significant influence within Protestantism as a whole have included F. D. E. Scheliermacher, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Wolfhart Pannenburg, and Jurgen Moltmann ..and William Barclay.[I would add Warfield, P T Forsyth, C S Lewis, Leon Morris, Marcus Loane, Leslie Newbigin, John Stott, John Packer, N T Wright, Alister McGrath, Don Carson, Rob Bell] Influential preachers have included Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Billy Graham and Peter Adam.]

The best theoretical model to account for this development —which remains fundamental to Protestantism —is Antonio Gramsci’s idea of the “organic individual”.

Protestant preaching of the form we have noted in this section owes some of its power to the force of the conviction…the conviction and authority with which the views held are preached…this sort of preaching is clearly open to abuse, running the risk of becoming manipulative and exploitative…eg the popular image of TV evangelists hat become a cultural cliché of our time. Protestantism as a whole is vulnerable at this point, needing to ensure accountability on the part of its authority figures so that such influence is always exercised responsibly and carefully.  [In my view this is a particular problem for C21st non-denominational megachurches e.g. John Piper, John Driscoll as well as independent Pentecostal megachurches of a cultic nature ..See Morag Swartz: Apostles of Fear, St Mary’s SA, Paranesis Publishing, 2008]

Yet Protestantism already possesses the resources it needs to deal with this difficulty, which is bound to arrive from time to time given Protestantism’s loosened fluid authority structures.The problems really arise when such “guardians”  see themselves as the masters, rather than the servants, of the people of God and come to regard themselves as divinely appointed judges in matters of doctrine and morality….Fortunately, there have always been pastors who have understood more about theology than most professors. Nor is theology a private subject for pastors. Fortunately, there have repeatedly been congregation members, and often whole congregations, who have pursued theology energetically while their pastors were theological infants or barbarians. Theology is a matter for the Church. The “voluntary society” is very important e.g. John Dixon: The Centre for Public Christianity. [pp234-241]

112. Some distinctive Protestant Beliefs: In one sense, “Protestantism” designates a way of doing theology rather than and given set of possible or specific outcomes… The category “radical Protestant” is more than a little problematic, its legitimacy depending on whose perspective is taken.  Some distinctive beliefs include: the supremacy of Scripture; the core beliefs of Christianity as set out in the Council of Chalcedon (451) e.g. belief in God; heaven; the “two natures” of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity; justification by faith alone/salvation by grace alone/salvation; the church as the bearer of the Word; two sacraments (baptism and eucharist); predestination/Arminianism; the last things (contested severely). [pp243-276]

113. The Structures of Faith: Jean Monnet: “Rien n’est possible sans les hommes, rien n’est durable sans les institutions. The major structures are episcopal, presbyterian and congregational…also world alliances eg the Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The reunification of Protestantism is often discussed e.g. The World Council of Churches and Protestant/Catholic dialogue. Styles of Protestant worship vary enormously from Anglo-Catholic liturgical Anglicanism to Pentecostal mayhem; preaching is more significant in Protestantism than Catholicism. Music and hymn singing has been problematic in the past, now generally accepted with huge variation in style; use of visual images also varies enormously. [pp277-310]

114. Protestantism and the shaping of Western Culture: Protestantism did not introduce any new models for understanding its interaction with culture; it worked within existing paradigms. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962) Christ and Culture…five models: (i) Christ against culture (Tertullian: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?/Radical Reformation/Amish/Plymouth Brethren. (ii) The Christ of Culture: (Christianity represents what the world values/accommodates to culture e.g. liberal Protestantism ..Schleiermacher/Ritschl; positive response to Darwinism/Jesus as moral example).  (iii) Christ above culture (synthesizing Protestant faith with contemporary cultural norms …as Aquinas did in Catholicism. Tillich does this in Protestantism. (iv) Christ and Culture in Paradox (Luther – two spheres of authority; (v) Christ the Transformer of Culture (Niebuhr/Augustine/Calvin/Wesley/Edwards/Puritans/Barth/Newbigin. [pp311-319]

115. Protestantism and Social Engagement: most of the intellectual and spiritual leaders of mediaeval Christianity were monastic, isolated from the many harsh realities of everyday life…Protestantism chose to inhabit the more dangerous world of the city and the marketplace…[the early leaders] producing theology that possesses a refreshingly earthy quality.  Yet the transition was dangerous..cf Roland Bainton: when Christianity takes itself seriously, it must either renounce or master the world. [R H Bainton: The Mediaeval Church, Princeton NJ, PUP, 1962, p42]…unlike Islam, Christianity never achieved mastery of the secular but was obliged to work with more or less sympathetic secular rulers. Calvin’s “theocracy” in Geneva …remained firmly in the hands of the city council throughout his lifetime…Calvin knew perfectly well from his New Testament that God was prepared to work through secular rulers then, as now. Christians were to be the “salt of the world” and must not lose their saltiness;

but how to operate?  (i) The Anabaptists and some forms of Pietism..a continuation of the monastic model..rejecting the coercive structures of contemporary society e.g. magisterial office,  bearing arms, swearing oaths. This approach has enormous potential for the life and thought of the church. e.g.. John Howard Yoder: The Priestly Kingdom, Notre Dame In, UNDP, 1988 and Stanley Hauerwas: The Peacable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics, Notre Dame,In., NDUP, 1983.

(ii) Engagement with the world. Carl Henry argues that fundamentalism was too otherworldly and anti-intellectual to gain a hearing among the educated public, and that it was unwilling to concern itself with exploring how Christianity related to culture and social life. [Carl F. H. Henry: The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans, 1947. Cf.Millard J.: Erickson…it had become increasingly clear that fundamentalism totally failed to turn back the rising tide of modernism, that it had not achieved any significant impact upon the thought-world of its day, and that it had spurned the social problems of its day. [The New Evangelical Theology, Westwood, NJ, Revell, 1968] The watchword of the “new evangelicalism” would be “engagement”…contributing to the rise of the religious right in America …[leading to Trump???]..a turning back to Calvin’s 1540’s sophisticated dialectic between faith and the world that allowed scope for positive action in the world.

Yet the weakness of this strategy is clear and cannot be evaded. Those who seem to master the world are often those who have actually been mastered by it. Those who are counted successes in the world are often those who have capitulated to its norms. Latent within Calvinism is a purely profane approach to life, in that the failure to maintaina proper dialectic between God and the world leads to the collapse of the divine into the secular.  [cf the collapse of Protestantism in Western Europe and Canada and even to a degree in the USA.]

Examples of Protestant Christian engagement with the world include (i) the two sides to the abolition of slavery; (ii) the question of Christianity and capitalism /health and wealth movement/prosperity theology etc. (iii) the Salvation Army/revivalism and social work/Social Gospel movement etc (iv) Pentecostal liberation theology in the developing world and urban America.  [pp311-326]

116. Protestantism on Church and State. The early Protestants displayed political realism..giving legitimacy to existing authorities. Atheism tends to thrive when there is a perception that the Protestant churches enjoy a disproportionate status and influence e.g. in Lutheran Germany.  The US Revolution of 1776 separated church and state as in Australia. Ambivalent relationships with power had serious consequences in Germany during the rise of Nazism. Some Protestant Christians saw Nazism as a bulwark against Soviet Communism and supported Hitler e.g. Paul Althaus, Emanuel Hirsch,and Gerhard Kittel. Conservative Protestants led by Karl Bart and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany and John Bell in England opposed liberal Protestant support for Nazism and provided an inspiration for later C20th fights agains tyranny e.g. in apartheid South Africa. The growth of the religious right in the US is seen as representing a Faustian pact between faith and politics by many.  [pp326-329]

117. Protestantism and Economics: Max Weber  (1864-1926) associated the “new spirit of Capitalism” with Calvinism whereas Karl Marx argued that the emergence of modern capitalism brought Protestantism into being! Calvin’s acceptance of usury made an impact on the growth of the free market. Protestant jurists such as Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf supplemented Calvin’s theological analysis. The “Protestant work ethic”  (‘Post-Prostestant work ethic?) would continue to influence Western culture…albeit in a largely secularised form. Protestantism rejected the critical mediaeval distinction between the “sacred” and “secular’ orders. Following Luther, all Christians were called to be priests  serving God in the world. Yet work led to workaholism and negative outcomes for social, family and personal relationships. [pp330-338]

118. Protestantism and Education:  As it began to gain influence in western Europe, Protestantism discovered the importance of education…as time passed and Protestantism became more securely established the home began to emerge as the primary focus of intergenerational transmission of faith….Family Bible reading and prayer became an important daily routine …the emergence of the Family Bible with notes…the rise of the Sunday School in the late C19th…the founding of colleges, seminaries, and universities…these institutions now vulnerable in the late C20th and  C21st as they fear their Protestant commitment will deter potential applicants or funding. Important new C20th foundations include Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California, Regent College in Vancouver,  Ridley College in Melbourne and Moore College in Sydney. [pp339-343]

119.  Protestantism and Women: All male historians of the church have minimised the role of women which is now being rediscovered and celebrated. The emergence of Protestantism was of considerable significance for women in spite of the closure of the monasteries limiting opportunities for women’s ministries.  Protestantism played a large role in the establishment of the nuclear family.

Ann Bradstreet, Puritan poet, was very influential; Phoebe Palmer  at the centre of Methodist revivalism in the USA. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others produced The Women’s Bible (1895).  Significant female hymn writers include Cecil Francis Alexander  (There is a Green Hill; Once in Royal David’s City; All Things Bright and Beautiful);  and Fanny Cosby (Blessed Assurance; To God be the Glory).  In the end, the radical changes in Protestant attitudes toward women in the twentieth century must be judged to be primarily the result of the greater acceptance of women’s roles in society as a whole, rather than the outcomes of a theologically driven agenda.

..denominations ordaining women to full leadership positions have seen their numbers mushrooming.  [pp343-347]

120. Beyond the West: New Cultural Concerns:In the C20th  Protestantism found itself caught up in the “clash of civilizations”. See Samuel P. Huntingdon: The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of the World Order, NewYork, Free Press, 2002…To put it bluntly, Protestantism is no longer a “Western” religion…There are more Anglicans in the West African State of Nigeria than in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand put together.  Nigerian Anglicans see no need whatsoever to endorse what they see as intrusion of liberal American cultural values into the church….The tensions over [the ordination of homosexuals] is now so great that it is difficult to see how these two churches can remain in the same denomination.  The only realistic outcome is for Anglicanism to follow the trend already established by Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists and recognise a “denominational family” with tensions and fissures over significant issues.

Global Protestantism is leaving the traditional agenda of the West behind as it reflects on its engagement with Islam, its relationship to traditional Chinese religion and customs (such as “grave sweeping”), its attitude toward indigenous tribal practice in the Amazonian rain forests (or Australian deserts), and the use of Taoist or Hindu ideas as points of contact for the proclamation of the Gospel.

Protestantism…is above all a method rather than a fixed set of outcomes, and it is capable of rapid and extensive adaptation to new situations without loss of its core vision….What of Matthew Arnold’s famous definition of culture as “the best which has been thought and said in the world”? [pp347-350]

121. Protestantism and the Arts:  It is impossible to ignore the brute historical fact that, virtually form the inception of the movement, certain sections of Protestantism unleashed a wave of destruction of religious art. cf R S Thomas, Welsh poet who castigated Protestantism as “the adroit castrator of art.”  On the other hand there is no single, definitive Protestant attitude to the Arts, or science or sport!

Lutheran and Anglican Protestants objected to Catholic images, statues, relics, altars, paintings in churches, and vestments. Underlying the Reformation reaction against images was a new theology that demanded the resignification of the world. The attitude of early Christianity to images is contested and Lutheran approaches in the 1500s were more limited than Calvinistic, Zwinglian and Puritan English approaches.  As this early period of destruction passed into memory attitudes changed especially in relation to art outside the ornamentation of worship centres but the Reformed tradition is still ambivalent toward visual art which is viewed as something that can mislead as much as it can serve as an aid to piety.

Sixteenth century Protestant antipathy to poetry mirrored that of Plato and Tatian especially under the influence  of Puritan Stephen Gosson’s Schools of Abuse, (1579). Samuel Mather criticised poetry for encouraging “our own fancies and imaginations”  rather than the divine “types” revealed in scripture or in the created order. Richard Baxter argued that literature actively promoted a culture of falsehood that “dangerously bewitcheth and corrupteth the minds of young and empty people.  Sir Philip Sydney responded with an argument that the pleasure offered by poetry was actually profit and improvement.

Yet..more and more Protestants broke ranks and wrote poetry that was well received within their communites. These  poets included American Puritan Anne Bradstreet and in England Anglicans like John Donne and George Herbert were trailblazers and Puritans Andrew Marvell and John Milton both demonstrated that Puritans could write poetry just as good as anyone else’s.

Early Protestants were hostile to the theatre (eg critics like Northbrooke, Gosson, Stubbes, Rainold, Crashaw and Prynne,  upset about both the fictionality of drama and the implied deception on the part of the actors, as well as depictions of evil.  This reaction was not uniform. Ben Jonson became a Catholic, Christopher Marlowe dabbled in Protestantism and Shakespeare was ambivalent…was he a papist?

Protestant ambivalence towards the novel was saved by Bunyan’s landmark Pilgrim’s Progress, followed by Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as well as Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps. Twentieth century Christian novelists have been strongly influenced by C S Lewis, George MacDonald, Tolkien and in the latter years Frank Peretti and Tim La Haye’s “left behind” series!

In relation to Protestantism and sport, Puritan objections to the triviality of games were overcome by the  Victorian desire for “muscular Christianity” and early Cambridge athletes like C T Studd and Eric Liddell lead the way as well as the American YMCA invention of basketball to keep lads busy inside during the winter months! Nowadays the problem is that sport has become more a religion than religion! [pp351-372]

122. Protestantism and the emergence of the Natural Sciences: In spite of the common view of all media outlets and many educators that science and faith have always been in conflict a growing body of scholarly work has emerged arguing that the decisive contribution to the emergence of the natural sciences came not from Christianity in general but from Protestantism in particular….particularly due to Protestantism’s insistence on accurately interpreting the text either of the Bible or the Book of Nature, not just treating their meanings as symbolic. [see especially the work of Australian  Peter Harrison: The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Modern Science, Cambridge, CUP, 1998]  For sociologist Peter Berger, Protestantism can be thought of as having caused “an immense shrinkage in the scope of the sacred in reality.”…without realising what it was doing, Protestantism, for Berger, opened the floodgates of the forces that would shape modernity and ultimately cause Protestantism such grief in its heartlands. [Peter Berger: The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, Garden City, NY, Doubleday, 1967 pp111-13]

Sociologist Robert Merton’s thesis about Protestantism’s significant role in consolidating a scientific culture in the seventeenth century remains valid even though some of the scientific ‘heroes’ had heterodox Christian views including Sir Isaac Newton.

There is no truth in the commonly held view that Calvin refused to accept the heliocentric model of the solar system because it allegedly contradicted the Bible. The source of this idea is Bertrand Russell’s hastily written “History of Western Philosophy”, in which he declared that Calvin “demolished Copernicus with the text: ‘The world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.’ (Psalm 103:1) and exclaimed: ‘Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit? [Bertrand Russell: History of Western Philosophy, 22edn. London, George Allen & Unwin, 196, p515

This statement has been widely cited ever since, often without acknowledgement and usually without any critical investigation.  Which is a pity. The “quotation” is a complete fabrication whose true source has yet to be identified with certainty. Calvin wrote no such words, which are in any case, inconsistent with his approach to theology. Russell appears to have borrowed the passage from Andrew Dickson-White’s hopelessly inaccurate work ‘History of the  Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) without bothering to check White’s sources.

A similar mythology surrounds the first reactions of Protestantism to Darwinism. Early American Fundamentalists including Warfield had no problem with Darwinism and neither do the majority of British and American evangelical theologians including John Packer. The noisy C20th six day creationist debates are a re-run of C18th ideas with C20th clothing; a phenomenon kick-started by the celebrated Scopes ‘monkey’ trial of 1925 and promoted by a new breed of southern States American  Young earth creationists led by Henry Morris thereafter. Much more nuanced are those who argue for some form of intelligent design or evolutionary theism e.g. Polkinghorne, McGrath, Alexander, Collins, Blocher, Conway Morris and many more. [pp372-386]

123. The Changing Shape of American Protestantism..the C20th

A major reaction of Protestantism to the increasing secularization of the United States in the C20th was a retreat to Fundamentalism. e.g. The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, 4 volumes, drawn from a range of conservative Protestant writers…Since then, fundamentalism has regularly been presented as an unthinking, uncritical, highly dogmatic form of Protestantism. While there is some truth in this generalisation, it fails to penetrate to the heart of the matter.The essence of all forms of religious fundamentalism is an oppositionalist mentality arising in response to a major threat….In this case, the threat did not come from Catholicism, as in the past, but from secularizing forces within American society at large.

Key ideas of this fundamentalist reaction entailing a separation from modern secularism include certain central doctrines —most notably, the absolutely literal authority of scripture [except when it comes to ‘sell all that you have and give to the poor’], and the idea of the premilennial return of Christ. These ideas have been treated as barriers; they are intended as much to alienate secular culture as to give fundamentalists a sense of identity and purpose.

Controversies broke out within many American denominations over the issues raised by fundamentalism. The debate within Presbyterianism was particularly painful and divisive, and it seriously wounded the denomination.  Presbyterians were forced to decide whether they were “unbelieving liberals” or “reactionary fundamentalists.”  [Henry Emerson Fosdick vs Clarence Edward McCartney] Fundamentalism continued to splinter over various divisions and also committed a fundamental  strategic error by breaking away from mainline denominations and …disconnecting itself form any positions of power or influence.

It was only a matter of time before another strategy would emerge and it came following the Second World War, with new voices beginning to emerge….The emergence of evangelicalism as a distinctive Protestant position dates to 1942 and the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals with its principled attempt to distinguish evangelicalism from fundamentalism. [See George M Marsden: Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1991] In contrast to the dogmatic, fundamentalist insistence on separation from modern culture, the new ‘evangelicals’—led by E J Carnell, Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Billy Graham—were committed to a  positive reengagement with culture in an attempt to transform it through the gospel. The growing alienation of Graham from fundamentalism was publicly demonstrated when he accepted an invitation in 1955 to hold a crusade in New York City. The invitation came from a coalition of Christian churches, many of which were not in any way fundamental.

Carl Henry (1913-2003) illustrates the character of the new movement particularly well, especially its attitude towards culture at large. In his Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947) the “manifesto of neb-evangelicalism” (Dirk Jellaba)— Henry argued that fundamentalism presented and proclaimed an impoverished and reduced gospel that was radically defective in its social vision. Fundamentalism, he said, was too otherworldly and anti-intellectual to gain a hearing with the educated public. It showed no interest in exploring the relationship between Christianity and culture and social life….in 1947 ..the Fuller Theological Seminary…quickly and controversially aligned itself with the “new” evangelicalism….as Editor-in-chief of Christianity Today from 1956 until 1968, Henry did much to establish the profile, concerns, and credibility of the “new evangelicalism”. [This period was also the heyday of the Biblical Archeology of the Old Testament  period ..Albright, John Bright and G E Wright etc.] [pp391-397]

124. A New Reformation: Revisionist Protestantism, 1960 -1990.

During the 1960s, Western society underwent a series of convulsions that called the settled assumptions of the past into question with unprecedented visor. It was as if there was an unrelenting impatience with the ways of the past, a sense of dissatisfaction with existing ideas and values, and a strong belief that a new beginning lay just around the corner. Demands for a “new reformation” came from radicals like John Shelby Spong, the Episcopal Bishop of Newark…secular Christianity/“God is dead” movement (Altizer); Secular City (Cox); Honest to God (Robinson); Religionless Christianity (Bonhoeffer); Don Cupitt (the world of signs is endlessly transient).. 

Modernism proved to be a temporary phenomenon soon giving way to Post-Modernism. Protestantism is not a static entity, but a living entity whose identity mutates over time. Cox …argued in 1985 that religion is—and would continue to be — a significant force in society….the long predicted triumph of secularism was simply not going to happen. In 1995  he published Fire from Heaven…the twenty first century will belong to Pentecostalism!

Future trends for Protestantism include a reduction in the significance of denominationalism as a badge of identity; church giving will be more local than to the central bureaucracy; the rise of evangelicalism and the charismatic movement are trans-denominational and cross para-church boundaries; the rise of “lay-liberalism” erases the clear boundaries separating believers from unbelievers…laid back lay liberalism feels able to negotiate  Christian moral and theological principles in the light of prevailing social norms. This has led to an erosion of the boundary between “church’ and the “world”. [pp401-405]

125. New Models of Church:  Denominations came to be regarded as unresponsive bureaucracies that were uninterested in local initiatives or innovations. Youth trends like the Jesus movement began to morph into huge inter-denominational megachurch formation e.g. Calvary Chapel/Vineyard Churches/Willow Creek Community Church (Bill Hybels)/Saddleback Valley (Rick Warren) which included an explosion of worship songs, a new concern about the dynamics of worship and an increasing dislike of the traditionalism of formal liturgical worship, especially the cumbersome use of hymn books and service books….The megachurches are, in effect, becoming the new dioceses.

In addition “the other” is increasingly defined, not as Catholicism which has been replaced by the perceived secularism and incipient atheism of America’s cultural opinion makers. Liberal Protestants are tending to move away from Protestantism against the new evangelicalism and perhaps turning to Catholicism, Celtic spirituality or even Orthodoxy disliking the megachurch lack of historical roots and institutional continuity with the New Testament.  [pp405-413]

126. The Pentecostal Revolution in Protestantism.

The charismatic movement is the most rapidly growing element of Christianity today. Pentecostalism in all its various forms is now the largest single Christian group apart from Catholicism and outnumbers the sum total of all other forms of Protestantism. Although numerical estimates of its strength are unreliable, the movement grew from ground zero in 1900 to at least half a billion in 2000. Its historical origins and fundamental beliefs locate it firmly within the bounds of Protestantism…The numerical growth of Pentecostalism, primarily among the urban poor and the socially marginalised of Asia, Africa and South America, is transforming Protestantism…Korea (Paul Yonggi Cho)/USA/Argentina/Chile/Ghana/Philippines/South Africa/South India/Manchuria/Ivory Coast/Gold Coast/Liberia//Norway/China/Venezuela. Studies have shown that American origins cannot be seen to be the cause of the world wide Pentecostal movement.

The emphasis on the continuation of New Testament spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, healing, apostleship, prophecy, music, transformative experience, baptism in the Spirit, an appeal to those on the margins, the poor and the dispossessed, non-denominational, non-academic, not about doctrinal rectitude or theological precision, a direct response to widespread Marxism in Africa, Asia and South America.

There are tensions between some “Oneness” anti-trinitarian groups and traditional Assemblies of God Pentecostals. Also the tension of the prosperity gospel. A post-modern form of Protestantism? [pp414-438]

127. The New Frontiers of Protestantism: A global move away from the West to the global South; the Western recognition of the need for indigenisation of the Christian faith;  the need to engage with traditional religions and cultures; the possibility of a Protestant Latin America; a Protestant Philippines? [PP439-459]

128. Protestantism: the Next Generation: new developments cannot be predicted; the mutation model links survival with a capacity to change! there is an ongoing problem with Protestant identity..what is it? There must be a refusal to regard any past expression of Protestantism as normative. Protestantism has always been capable of handling changing and fresh interpretations of Scripture and must continue to do so…(Protestantism stated its identity in terms of a method rather than its outcome); a key question is: what are the acceptable limits of diversity within Protestantism. ..it is important to note that biblical interpretation is partly a socially constructed  enterprise  that rests on inherited assumptions concerning what is “natural” or “obvious” within a community…the prevailing consensus within a community may change…Protestantism has come to different conclusions over the years about many key issues e.g.  Is usury allowed?/ Are Christians meant to evangelise?/ Will there be a millennium at the end of time?/do charismatic phenomena happen today? …there may/will be other changes to come.  

Denominations will decentralize and come and go and may disappear…there is no necessity for an institutional component of “church”. The different forms of Protestantism can be compared with the four different schools of Qu’ranic interpretation in Islam. 

Religion is still a force in world affairs. Democratic and Republican administrations alike have seriously misread the growing importance of religion as a global force, transcending national and cultural barriers.

Protestantism possesses a unique and innate capacity for innovation, renewal, and reform based on its own internal resources  [and determined by the power of God!] The future of Protestantism lies precisely in Protestantism being what Protestantism actually is! [pp461-478]

 

 

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