The Reformation … on Your Coffee Table
As we are rapidly closing in the culmination of the Reformation anniversary celebration on October 31, it is worth looking back at the year in terms of contributions and consider what among those will continue to serve as resources for scholars, pastors, and lay people, that can continue to encourage us and generate interest beyond the anniversary, more than just ancient history with little relevance for us today.
In that regard, our two seminaries of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod have made significant contributions to the celebration and laid the groundwork for it to serve as a springboard for re-appropriating what it means to be Lutheran Christian (see Raabe’s post) in these politically, socially, culturally, and religiously unsettled times. Or, as my colleague Paul Raabe has argued, to be just a plain biblical, creedal Christian.
Here at Concordia Seminary, several things stand out for me. First, the speaker series we sponsored over the course of several years in which heard about the impact and significance of the Reformation from leading Lutheran and non-Lutheran scholars alike, along with a full-length documentary and Bible study to accompany it. That was followed up with a special issue of Concordia Journal that culminated in a terrific Theological Symposium in which we focused on the heartbeat of the Reformation, justification by faith alone. Perhaps one of the brighter highlights was the movie, “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World” which featured four of our professors and on which Erik Herrmann served as an on-site consultant. Why would that be a highlight? Because it got broadcast on PBS to an audience that extends far beyond Lutherans!
And as a capstone to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Concordia Publishing House has just published a spectacular book authored by Cameron MacKenzie, one of our colleagues at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. The Reformation is a gorgeous coffee table book that invites and draws the reader into the world of the Reformation through text, photos and maps. The content is excellent (and digestible in small chunks) and the design is outstanding. It might be a coffee table book, but you won’t be able to leave it there. It is a visual feast of the Reformation.
In my opinion, though, one of the things that makes this book stand out among others is the way MacKenzie does not limit himself to the German Reformation (though that section is terrific as well). The book provides a panoramic sweep of the entire European Reformation and its era. MacKenzie is particularly well qualified to do this since he not only knows the Lutheran Reformation but is an expert in the English Reformation. Thus, this book takes you from the man Luther to the movement of Lutherans to the Reformation picked up by the continental reformers and the English reformers (there is a great section on the Reformation in Scotland as well) to the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Along the way, it highlights both the progress and the reversals that put a very human face on the Reformation and the events associated with it.
Those who know the Reformation will be familiar with much of what the book covers. But even then, items jump out that are new and fascinating. For example, there are interesting sidebars about Calvin’s wife (I had never read anything about her before), Thomas Cranmer’s beard, and “Lutherans at the Council of Trent” (did you know that Johannes Brenz made an appearance?).
Similarly, while some of the photos in this volume will be familiar to readers of the Reformation, many more will not. And then there are new photos of the actual documents such as Luther’s Freedom of the Christian in 1520, the papal bull, the Augsburg Confession, and the Second Helvetic Confession, to name a few. But what really stands out for me are the maps. Perhaps this is because I am something of a visual learner. The geography opens up the history to better understand the events of the time. In that regard, The Reformation provides numerous maps (most of them newly made…I assume) that are not only visually attractive but don’t overwhelm the reader by putting everything they could onto each map.
I could go on, but I hope this gives you a sense of the treasures waiting to be found in these pages. Although this book seems to envision a lay audience, it will serve as an excellent resource for pastors and professors alike.
If you have not yet begun your Christmas shopping, The Reformation belongs on your list!