Where the Reformation Came From: A Review

This history book has a history.
The first edition of Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence, and Rupture was published in the spring of 2012. In May of that year, historian Carl R. Trueman wrote a review of the book that pointed out several factual errors in the portion of the book that covers the Reformation. The following month (as pointed out by Trueman), the publisher, InterVarsity Press, acknowledged the errors and pulled the first edition (you can see here that Amazon no longer sells it).

In September 2012, IVP Academic issued a second, corrected edition. Books and Culture ran a review of the second edition in early 2013, in which the reviewer wrote:

To its credit, IVP ceased publication of the first edition of this volume shortly after its release when it was brought to the company’s attention through scholarly reviews (especially the online review of Professor Carl Trueman) that it contained an embarrassingly high number of inconsistencies, mostly inaccuracies of names and dates. In response, a press release was issued stating that the “text did not represent the academic standards we as a publisher hold ourselves to, and we decided to take full responsibility for them.” Well done, IVP! As a result, the following review is far more positive than the original version.

But a bad reputation is hard to shake. There are two comments on this Books and Culture review. The first is someone, clearly lacking in reading comprehension, who says that the book has “been pulled from the shelf due to many factual and historical errors.” The second is me pointing out to this commenter that even a cursory reading of the review would show him that it is of the second edition. Seriously. Some people can’t wait to spread negativity.

Considering this backstory, the main question to address is, “Are the errors corrected?” The answer is yes, as far as I can tell. It was difficult to find all of Trueman’s references, since the new edition has different page numbers, but the ones I was able to find were indeed corrected. I was able to find a few typos, but that is not terribly unusual for a book of this length (480 pages, including indices). The most egregious one was on page 351, where there is an italicized heading, The Bishops’ Bible and the Authorized Version, followed by a space and a different heading. I imagine that, in light of Trueman’s criticism that so much space was devoted to the King James [Authorized] Version, this section was excised, but the heading was mistakenly left.

The further question is, “Is this book worth reading?” The answer is a more confident yes. Evans is a medieval historian, and so is on solid footing when she is dealing with the period leading up to the Reformation. The book comes in three parts: the first is organized largely topically, and deals with the germination of several areas of questioning during the first centuries of the Christian era. The second deals with medieval developments, such as universities, the growth of monasticism, and the stirrings of reform. The third deals with the Reformation and its aftermath. The Lutherans and the Reformed, not surprisingly, get the most scrutiny, but space is also given to the Anabaptists, the English Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation. Evans closes the book with a reconsideration of some of the questions dealt with in the first part, showing how those questions were answered (or explored in different ways) in the Reformation and post-Reformation. In all, this is a good read for someone (especially a Protestant) who is interested in the connection between the Middle Ages and the Reformation.

★ ★ ★ ★

Note: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.

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