Published Humanitas, Volume XXVII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2014

The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, by Brad S. Gregory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. 574 pp. $39.95 cloth.

“A critical attitude and close assessment of evidence are necessary prerequisites for doing history,” Reformation historian Brad Gregory writes. And if history is the study of documents, Gregory is a master historian.

Gregory describes certain assumptions regarding method that are essential to the proper study of Reformation history. He lays these out in his earlier work, Salvation at Stake. There, he observes that historians of the period often “slight doctrine and spirituality,” and thus “miss the character of early Christianity.” Moreover, many of them also bring to their work a reductionist approach “based on their own, usually implicit, modern or postmodern beliefs.”

He has written The Unintended Reformation to examine just where that reductionist approach originated. One doesn’t have to believe in the transcendent to appreciate its importance to those who do. Gregory thinks his generation of scholars has failed at that task, and that is a problem. “What people believed in the past is logically distinct from our own opinions about them. Understanding others on their terms is a completely different intellectual endeavor than explaining them in modern or postmodern categories,” he explains.

A problem hampering Reformation studies today, Gregory argues, is that nonbelievers often can’t take Reformation believers seriously. Secular scholars routinely don blinders…

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