Studying the Reformation

Let’s call it fashionably late. I know that last year was the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and yet I am spending this year studying the subject afresh. My schedule made 2018 a year of historical investigation and I have chosen to explore this tumultuous and fascinating period of history once again. The Reformation is always ripe for further investigation. There are several key things that interest me as I look to spend the year reading and researching on the Reformation.

First, I am interested in the different interpretive lenses used to analyze the Reformation. There are many popular treatments of the Reformation that suggest it was a simple reaction to the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. There are certainly elements of that, but such a flat reading of history does not do service to the times and peoples involved in the actual events. A far more robust analysis looks at the sociopolitical landscape alongside the religious and theological developments. It explores biography, economics, sociology, anthropology, and more to understand the period. I am keen to see the divergent lenses that lend themselves to a fuller and richer understanding of the Reformation.

Second, I am interested in understanding some of the minor figures who hide behind the major Magisterial Reformers. When Protestants think of the Reformation we tend to think first of Luther, Calvin, and perhaps Zwingli. From there we might move on to individuals like Tyndale or, if were a bit more knowledgeable, maybe Melanchthon. But there are hundreds of other figures who, though minor, had a role to play in the development and continuance of the  Reformation. I am interested in learning more about the likes of Theodore Beza, Heinrich Bullinger, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and Girolamo Zanchi.

Third, I am interested in understanding some of the evolution of doctrine among the reformers. We often think Reformation doctrine as though it appeared fully formed. In reality, of course, there was an evolution and progression that took time to wrestle out details, to sharpen exegesis, and to refine formulations. Luther, for example, did not have a fully formed Protestant theology at 1517; over the course of his life he reformulated ideas and much of what we appreciate about his doctrine develops later in life. I want to understand better the way that Reformation theology developed and the variables that contributed to refinement and alteration.

I look forward to a fruitful year of study and have enjoyed the text and essays I have already been digging into. I hope you’ll join me for this year’s worth of reflection and engagement. The Reformation remains a key movement within history, and not just religious history. The more we know and understand it the more we can appreciate all that God did during that period, and the more we can learn from the examples (both good and bad) of those who took part in it.

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