April 11, 2017


Luther's Children : review of Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World by Alec Ryrie  (Hamilton Cain, April 10, 2017, Barnes & Noble Review)

The baptism of the spirit, the sacrament of Communion, the strife between modernity and orthodoxy -- these bones of contention have hammered together a broader Protestant identity even as it's splintered into numerous denominations, in the wake of Martin Luther's famous Ninety-five Theses, nailed onto a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The Reformation allowed believers to shake off the strictures of Catholicism, opening the door to personal relationships with God.

An ordained Anglican minister as well as an academic, Ryrie celebrates this pluralism; as his subtitle suggests, his book emphasizes Protestantism as a catalyst for Enlightenment thought, scientific discovery, and the birth of representative democracy. Catholicism, in his view, was always defined by hierarchy and corruption, from the pope on down. The first page announces his critical insight: "Protestantism is a religion of fighters and lovers. Fighters because it was born in conflict, and its story can be told as one long argument . . . But it is also a religion of lovers. From the beginning, a love affair with God has been as its heart. Like all long love affairs, it has gone through many phases, from early passion through companionable marriage and sometimes strained coexistence, to rekindled ardor."

Ardor clings like perfume to Ryrie's vivid, graceful account; and one can almost forgive him for elevating the love affair over the bloody conflicts waged by Protestants over the centuries. He writes with passion and persuasion, drawing fine distinctions as the Reformation unfolded in myriad forms throughout Europe, and charting the complicated (at times contradictory) influences of Calvinism. He's adept, too, at laying out the early religious history of Colonial America, how pluralism begot pluralism in the New World, the Puritans staking their ground but then ceding it to other groups, such as the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Anglicans in Virginia, and a mélange of Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists in the South.

The important factor is that Protestantism is democratic/equalitarian, not authoritarian/hierarchical.  

Posted by at April 11, 2017 5:33 AM