Brad Gregory follows the bouncing balls of post-Reformation history—but loses sight of who set them in motion.
Everyone likes a good villain. It makes a better story, and, in the real world, scratches our universal human itch of being able to name and blame the source of the evils that afflict us. And plenty of evils there are, if you look out the window today: paralyzing political dysfunction, economic and ecological injustice, and increasingly, fundamental disagreement over what it even means to be a human being. Sure, there are bright spots, but it’s more fun to look at the dark side.
Over the past couple decades, a robust industry of modernity criticism has inverted the central premise of the secularization narratives that used to dominate the field. Instead of “Luther and the Reformation gave us pluralism and capitalism and secularism, and isn’t that great?” it seems to be “Luther and the Reformation gave us pluralism and capitalism and secularism, and isn’t that a shame?” In part, this owes to an increasing awareness of the downsides of modern freedoms. Another factor, perhaps, is an increasing ascendancy of Catholic scholars in the academy, who are likely to look on the Reformation with a jaundiced eye.
One such scholar, Brad S. Gregory of Notre Dame, established himself at the forefront of this new scholarly movement with his 2012 tome, The Unintended Reformation. Although this book was subjected to a withering storm of criticism from historians and theologians of many persuasions, Gregory has re-entered the ring with Rebel in the Ranks, a popularized version of the same argument delivered just in time for Reformation’s 500th anniversary.
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Gregory’s central thesis remains unchanged: that although the Reformers never meant it so, their clarion call of “Scripture …
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