Five hundred years of the Reformation: recommended reading material
October is upon us and this month we are celebrating 500 years of the Reformation, but beyond some random hot-headed monk banging a bit of paper on a church-door and a few fights, what else happened?
It is my aim in this post to list a number of short books on the Reformation and Reformation characters, which everyone should read to give us all a bigger and better picture of what actually happened all those years ago.
What’s the big deal about the Reformation — is it just another word for the Renaissance?
The Reformation had very little to do with the Renaissance. If anything the Reformation was a grassroots movement against the Renaissance, a cultural and philosophical movement characterised by the revival of Græco-Roman ideas and art. The achievement central to the Reformation was the translation of the Bible into the native languages of European peoples, unlocking the eternal word of God for the masses. In my opinion, the Renaissance was mostly intellectual hot-air and risqué art leaving little to the imagination; for a few oily-haired loafers.
‘The Unquenchable Flame’ by Dr. Michael Reeves
I think Dr. Reeves’ work is the best short overview of the Reformation that money can buy. In a lucid and fluent writing style he describes the decline of the Church into immorality and debauchery, and then the spark of flame that set it all off. The book is a gripping read that is completely ‘unputdownable’! The Reformation was a clear work of God from start to finish; He used everyone from prince to pauper, gallant knights to little old monks shuffling around.
So who was this Luther bloke — wasn’t he a civil-rights campaigner?
The 20th century American civil-rights campaigner Martin Luther King actually named himself after the original Martin Luther, the German monk generally accredited with kick-starting the Reformation (although a change had been in the wind for a good few hundred years). However, in many ways, the two men were not dissimilar…
‘The Triumph of Truth: A Life of Martin Luther’ by J.H. Merle D’Aubigné
Martin Luther was a German monk turned Reformer. A promising future as a lawyer was cut short by a thunderstorm and the young German signed his life away to a monastery, and, in his own words, ‘If ever a monk could get to heaven by his monkery, it was I.’ Then the Lord drew Luther’s attention to His word, and therein Luther found the truth. His is a fantastic story interwoven with disguise, deception and betrayal. The Reformation started by Luther banging his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door, and this is quite simply a banging book! I’ve heard it said that more biographies have been written of Martin Luther than any other man, which makes choosing one difficult. But in my opinion, D’Aubigné (haven’t a clue how to properly say his name by the way – I think it could be ‘door-bin-ay’, but I don’t think its ‘dow-big-knee’ as some say) is one of the best, most honest historians covering the Reformation with a number of titles.
I’m a Scot — where does Scotland come into all this?
Scotland! Well, the Reformation shook Europe to the core, and this seismic revolution reverberated around the world; it didn’t take long to reach the glens of Scotland too.
The Reformers were an eclectic bunch, from all walks of life. There were the reflective thinkers, timid by nature craving the quiet, bookish boffins like John Calvin, Philip Melanchthon and William Tyndale, and then there were the fiery lions like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and William Farel lovin’ a good scrap. But, loud or quiet, they were all thrust into defending and suffering for the gospel. And there was another lion by the name of John Knox who was quite a character, and perhaps did more for the gospel in wee bonnie Scotland than any other man…
‘John Knox: Fearless Faith’ by Steven J. Lawson
This short sharp captivating biography captures the essence of John Knox, as he journeys from bodyguard to galley slave, to displaced exile, doing whatever it takes in order to preach the gospel in his beloved Scotland. Honestly, it is a simply fantastic read and breathtaking introduction to the fiery Scotsman and the Gospel he fought for!
Yeah but what I really wanna know is how the Bible got translated into English?
All in good time, my lad, and it certainly did take time! Several people had a crack at it until Wycliffe got most of it done, before he popped his clogs back in the 14th century. Then England had to wait another one-hundred-and-fifty years before a chap by the name of William Tyndale came along. What did he do? Read this book and find out!
‘God’s Outlaw’ by Brian H. Edwards
The life of William Tyndale makes for fantastic reading. Brian Edwards really encapsulates the soul of the man and the King he served. Hunted and on the run in Europe, with the agents of the government after this elusive pimpernel; Tyndale battled tooth and nail to get the Bible translated and printed in English until eventually they nabbed him. From then on, it was only time until he was burnt at the stake; with one last cry, his dying prayer was, ‘Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!’
That great womanising buffoon Henry VIII declared that a Bible in English be placed in every church building in the land. Boom!
It’s my belief that William Tyndale did more for the English language and the English Bible than any other Englishman in history. Bold claim? Read the book and see if you agree with me.
So, what is the best way to understand the Reformers?
Read the book that they all fought for, and many of them died for!
What book’s that?
The Bible, you numpty!
It is the greatest book ever written. It has God’s everlasting message of hope and salvation. The greatest thing to come from the Reformation was the word of God in the languages of the people of Europe. When you read it look out for the ‘Five Solas’ of the Reformation (although one’s a ‘Solus’ and another’s a ‘Soli’…). These were the five great truths championed by the Reformers.
Solus Christus – Christ Alone
Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone
Sola Scriptura – By Scripture Alone
Sola Fide – By Faith Alone
Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone
What should I do now?
Go and read, be educated and uplifted! And pray! We so need another Reformation. A Gospel Reformation, following those Five Solas. We need the name of Jesus Christ to fly like a banner across the sky for all the world to see once again!