Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings - eBook
Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings - eBook  -     By: James R. Payton Jr.
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IVP Academic / 2010 / ePub
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Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings - eBook

IVP Academic / 2010 / ePub

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Product Description

Getting the Reformation wrong is a common problem. Most students of history know that Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the Wittenberg Church door and that John Calvin penned the Institutes of the Christian Religion.

However, the Reformation did not unfold in the straightforward, monolithic fashion some may think. It was, in fact, a great big mess of cultural upheaval. Interacting with the most current Reformation scholarship, James R. Payton exposes, challenges and corrects, the common misrepresentations, assumptions, people have developed about the Reformation.

To do this, Payton places the Reformation in the context of Medieval and Renaissance reform efforts, a context that is often not understood. He analyzes and shows how messy the relationship of the Reformers was, and how much they disagreed. He Clarifies misunderstandings of the central reformation doctrine of sola scriptura, the relationship and differences between the Anabaptist and Magisterial Reformers, and also critiques the post-reformation movement towards Protestant Scholasticism.

Finally Payton explores what significance the Reformation in all its elements can help and inform our Church experiences today.

Getting the Reformation wrong is a great read for specialist and non-specialist alike. It sheds a great deal of light on a period that is often taken for granted and/or caricatured. Great for college course and church study groups that are aiming to understand themselves in relationship to the historical protestant traditions they stand in.

Product Information

Format: DRM Free ePub
Vendor: IVP Academic
Publication Date: 2010
ISBN: 9780830867493
ISBN-13: 9780830867493

Publisher's Description

Getting the Reformation wrong is a common problem. Most students of history know that Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the Wittenberg Church door and that John Calvin penned the Institutes of the Christian Religion. However, the Reformation did not unfold in the straightforward, monolithic fashion some may think. It was, in fact, quite a messy affair. Using the most current Reformation scholarship, James R. Payton exposes, challenges and corrects some common misrepresentations of the Reformation. Getting the Reformation Wrong:
  • places the Reformation in the context of medieval and Renaissance reform efforts
  • analyzes conflicts among the Reformers
  • corrects common misunderstandings of what the Reformers meant by sola fide and sola Scriptura
  • examines how the Anabaptist movement fits in with the magisterial Reformation
  • critiques the post-Reformational move to Protestant Scholasticism
  • explores how the fresh perspective on the Reformation could make a difference in today's churches

Author Bio

James R. Payton Jr. (Ph.D., University of Waterloo, Canada) is a professor of history at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. He has studied, taught and been in dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy for many years and is the author of a number of articles on Orthodoxy and Protestant-Orthodox relations. Another area of interest for Payton is the Reformation on which he has written many articles and book reviews. Some of his works cover subjects such as John Calvin, Martin Bucer and the influence of the Reformation in Ukraine. He is very involved in ministry to Eastern Europe, serving from 1998-2006 as executive secretary of Christians Associated for Relationships with Eastern Europe, and since 2006 as president.


Getting the Reformation Wrong gets the Reformation right. All students of the Reformation, whether academic or just interested, must read this book. It rightly sets the record straight about the great people and ideas of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations of the sixteenth century in a refreshingly engaging style."
—Roger Olson, author of The Story of Christian Theology

"Dr. Payton's new book, Getting the Reformation Wrong, is a refreshing and stimulating look at the events of the sixteenth century and their implications. He combines a solid understanding of the scholarship with a sensitivity to the faith issues involved, particularly for Christians of all types who may be reading these pages. Ending with reference to the worldwide Protestant missionary movement, he urges his readers to consider the tension between the triumph and the tragedy that are both the legacies of these long-ago events in a way that moves the discussion of the challenges of being a Protestant Christian right up to the present."
—Helen Vreugdenhil,
Assistant Professor of History, Redeemer University College

"The title is provocative, but what James R. Payton Jr. has in mind is not the overthrowing of generations of scholarship on the Reformation, but the use of the best scholarship to guide and correct misleading impressions often held by the common reader and Christian laypeople: for example, that the Reformation was a revolutionary bolt from the blue, that the principle of sola scriptura meant a wholesale rejection of Catholic theological tradition, that the Catholic Church was truculent over against the Protestant assault, refusing all efforts at reform, and the like. These notions are indeed false. On this basis of 'getting wrongs right,' the book proves to be a lively narrative that tells the story of the most important epoch in the history of the church in a clear, understandable, unfussy manner, yet one rich in detail. I appreciate especially Payton's sober conclusion on the tragic elements of what the sixteenth century wrought."
—Walter Sundberg,
Professor of Church History, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota

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  1. Harold Orndorff
    northern Kentucky
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: male
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    Worth reading, with some reservations
    November 21, 2014
    Harold Orndorff
    northern Kentucky
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: male
    Quality: 5
    Value: 3
    Meets Expectations: 3
    If you have interest in the Reformation, you will find this worth reading. As the title indicates, it is constructed around the idea that many people misunderstand key points of the Reformation. Unless you are already as expert as the author clearly is in this field, you will surely learn some things about the Reformation you did not know from this text.

    I did have a couple of questions I would have liked to have asked the author as I read. First, in the chapter on scripture as the sole authority for faith and practice, the author claims that the main, magisterial reforms held that the early church fathers were what I would call "subsidiary authorities." His point is that the reformers did not take sola scriptura to mean that there were no other authorities for faith, only that the other authorities were authorities that must be judged by scripture.

    I don't doubt that many of the reformers took this view. But it appears that the author also holds this view. The problem is that the view is not carefully defined in regard to what "authority" must mean if it is to mean anything. It appears trivial to say that a teacher or a creed that agrees completely with scripture will be correct.

    What the author seems to be getting at is the idea that reading the Bible in isolation is not as good as reading it in light of the church fathers. True as that might be, it does not make the church fathers "authoritative" in any meaningful sense of the word.

    Finally, the author judges the Reformation a failure in regard to the fact that it split into many denominational factions as time went by. He spends a chapter lamenting this based on Jesus' prayer for unity in the Gospel of John. While that is a good point, he never makes clear exactly what he thinks Christians should do when someone understands the Christian faith in a fashion different enough from his own to make cooperation at a practical level morally impossible because doing so would force one to endorse and promote teachings sincerely held to be both false and significant to the content of the faith.

    In spite of these reservations and questions, I am glad I read this book.
  2. Bob Hayton
    St. Paul, MN
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: male
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Lively & challenging look at the Reformation
    May 28, 2011
    Bob Hayton
    St. Paul, MN
    Age: 25-34
    Gender: male
    The title of a new book by James Payton is sure to raise some eyebrows: "Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings". This new book from Inter-Varsity Press does more than merely challenge long held assumptions. In 272 short pages, it provides a comprehensive and accessible overview of the Protestant Reformation.

    As someone who looks favorably on Reformed theology, I was somewhat skeptical going into this book. But Payton's calm and careful approach won me over. He adds meat to the skeletal concepts many have of the Reformation. And along the way upholds the basic Protestant view that the Reformation was a good thing. He does correct some misunderstandings, however. He gives a lesson in Church history to challenge conservative, evangelical Protestants in some needed ways.

    Payton gives a masterful treatment of the medieval background to the Reformation, as well as the connection it has with the Renaissance. He shows how from all quarters in the church, a strong call for reform was raised in the years preceding the Reformation. Reformation in capite et membris -- "reform in head and members" was the clarion call. This was hastened along by the dreadful scourge of the bubonic plague and how the clergy often would desert their posts in fear of the coming devastation.

    Payton next explains the rise of the Reformation focusing on Luther. He dispels the myth that Luther's theology was fully developed when he nailed the 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Church door. He shows how Luther and what became his movement, was carried along by numerous misunderstandings. People saw what they wanted to in Luther. And Luther was growing in his own understandings too. Luther was backed as a hero by discontent peasants, many of whom rebelled in a lawless, bloody riot. He was backed by princes and land-owners who saw his views as a way to gain autonomy and ascendancy. All of this was used in God's providence to spur on the growth of the Reformation movement and give it freedom to grow until it was too large to stop.

    Many aspects of life in the 1500s are brought to life through Payton's book. Particularly important is his discussion of the peculiar challenges to life in medieval cities. Luther's distance from city life may have influenced his strong law-gospel antithesis and emphasis on the two distinct kingdoms of Church and State. The Law shouldn't impact life in the State. But other early reformers, such as Zwingli, Bucer and Oecolampadius "laid heavy emphasis on the transformation of society; social ethics was a prime consideration for them" because they were each leading pastors of a struggling city (pg. 106). Another aspect he illuminates is scholastic thought, in which various theologians (and Luther held the privileged Doctor of Theology degree) would build a coherent logical system of thought from one principle idea. Luther did this with justification by faith, and this primary idea influenced his view of law and the two-kingdom approach to society. It also slowed his pace of reform, as he was reluctant to go on to more conforming of church practice to Scripture until everyone thoroughly absorbed the first principle of grace.

    After explaining how the early Reformers had various conflicts which kept them apart, the book goes on to challenge popular misconceptions of the Reformation ideas of Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura. He explains how faith was lauded as the sole ground of our justification. The Reformers were unified in this tenant, which is still the predominant Protestant view today. He points out how the Reformers also insisted that faith always is accompanied by works, however. He offers several substantiating quotes, but this one by Zwingli from his book An Exposition of the Faith (1530) is my favorite: "Where there is true faith, works necessarily result, just as fire necessarily brings with it heat." In discussing this point, Payton takes on a widespread problem in the evangelical church today. Payton explains:

    "This notion of solitary faith nonetheless has led many pastors and evangelists to call their hearers... to be sure they can recount the date and the hour when.. they 'prayed the sinner's prayer' and thus were eternally saved, no matter what they might do in the rest of their lives. This calls people to rely on a spiritual birth certificate to know they are alive; the Reformers called them to live.... Justification sola fide has nothing to do with a call to such solitary faith. This is one of the most glaring and striking ways of getting the Reformation wrong. For the Reformers, justification is by faith alone, but faith is never alone." (pg. 131)

    The misconception Payton attacks regarding Sola Scriptura centers on: "A simplistic `Scripture good, tradition bad' notion" (pg. 133). He shows how the Reformers urged the Scripture as the primary authority but did not spurn other sources of authority. Luther summarized his entire program by urging, "Back to the Bible, to Augustine and to the church fathers!" (pg. 138). The Reformers were scholars of the church fathers and took pains to show their teaching as supported by the church fathers. They viewed the era of the early fathers as the "golden age" of church history, actually. He uses this point to challenge the evangelical neglect of the church fathers and of church history in general.

    After a treatment of the counter-Reformation which highlights some of the positive changes to the Roman Catholic church brought about by the Reformation age (while still not neglecting the negative reactions against evangelical beliefs from the Council of Trent), and after a treatment on the many-headed ana-Baptist movement (which he argues is not directly related to the Baptists of today), Payton goes on to critique the years following the Reformation. He sees the Reformer's successors' return to scholasticism and Aristotlean logic as a way to defend the newly recovered faith as largely a failure. He sees the systematization of the faith as necessarily losing some of the actual life of the Biblical faith of the Reformers. He points out how sin became defined as an infraction of God's law, whereas the Reformers first saw it as "unfaithfulness toward God and estrangement from him" (pg. 208). Payton elaborates on the difference between the Reformers and their scholastic heirs on another topic, that of faith:

    "Under Protestant scholasticism, faith was depersonalized to the acceptance of right doctrine-which could be objectively and convincingly laid out for others to see. For the Reformers, though, faith was first and foremost personal bonding to God-cleaving to him, assured of his loving embrace. Again, these two conceptions of faith need not exclude each other; the important issue is which one receives the chief place...." (pg. 208)

    Payton doesn't stop where he could, but digs in even deeper to challenge how we should view the Reformation. Was it a success? He documents the Reformers' own disappointment with the movements of their day. He also shows how the infighting in Protestantism gave way to bloodshed and warfare even, and how some errors like unitarianism found avenues to come to light through the rise of Protestantism. He cautions against viewing any era as a "golden age" and urges a recovery of the study of the church fathers. He also challenges the disunity and fighting which characterizes so much of Protestantism today: "It is at least a horrendous anomaly that the sixteenth-century Reformation got rid of the clutter that obscured the foundation of the Christian faith, only to have Protestants cover that foundation again with the clutter of our manifold division." (pg. 256-257)

    Payton spares no punches, and his book presents numerous challenges to today's evangelical Christianity. Yet he brings the world of the Reformation to light, and gives life to that era of history. He shows how we shouldn't revere that time as a magical age of impossible heroes; rather they should be seen with their failures and flaws, and be imitated to the degree that they remained faithful to the truth.

    One will not agree with all of Payton's emphases and may disagree with some of his claims. But "Getting the Reformation Wrong" will certainly encourage a critical engagement with the Reformation. My hope is that I'll get it right. I applaud Payton's zeal for the truth and his insightful analysis of many of our contemporary blind-spots. A careful reading of his book will help us see ourselves more clearly, and may help us achieve a needed Reformation of today's church. May God be pleased to grant that!

    Disclaimer: This book was provided by Inter-Varsity Press for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
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