There is no shortage of works addressing the Reformation. Roland H. Bainton’s Here I Stand remains a must read, in addition to other standards such as Diarmaid MacCulloch’s The Reformation, David C. Steinmetz’s Reformers in the Wing, and Michael Reeves’ The Unquenchable Flame. The field is crowded, yet scholars continue to find insightful approaches to Reformation studies (check out Andrew Pettegree’s Brand Luther and my review). David M. Whitford’s latest work on Philipp of Hesse is no exception.
Whitford’s A Reformation Life: The European Reformation through the Eyes of Philipp of Hesse (Praeger, 2015; source: publisher) begins with a conclusion. As Whitford states, wherever he looked he ended up running into Philipp of Hesse. The landgrave of Hesse had his hand in all matters of the Reformation. It was clear that all roads led to Philipp, but the how and why remained unanswered. A Reformation Life explores these routes.
1517 and the posting of his 95 Theses has often been seen as Martin Luther’s breaking point from Catholicism to Protestantism. Certainly, the 95 Theses contained many Protestant elements and voiced his concern over indulgences. These grievances are a result of Luther’s study and subsequent lectures of various books of the Bible. However, the act of posting on the Wittenberg church’s door was a common scholastic practice, intended as an invitation to discuss these matters further. Furthermore, this act lacked some of the theological conviction central to Luther after 1520.
Following these early years in which Luther worked out his evangelical theology (“Protestant” being a term used after 1529 when a number of princes and other governmental officials protested against Emperor Charles V), Luther was put on the defense. Whether it was the 1518 Diet of Augsburg and his dealing with Cardinal Cajetan or the 1519 Leipzig Disputation and his debate with Johann Eck of Ingolstadt, Luther was occupied with explaining, defending, and justifying his beliefs.
Last week, a divided Supreme Court ruled to allow town boards to begin their sessions with prayer. Tellingly, both the majority and minority opinions, written by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Elena Kagen, respectively, appealed to the founding fathers to support their views for and against prayer in town board meetings.
Appeals to history to support contemporary political opinions are not going away anytime soon. So what does America’s founding have to say about religion in the U.S. today? This question continues to be debated from our local schools to the highest levels of our government.
In considering this question, I’d like to engage two noteworthy discussions that seek to provide historical perspective on our nation’s founding: Jon Meacham’s American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation (Random House, 2006)—which I listened to in its audiobook version—and John Fea’s Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction (Westminster John Knox, 2011). Both Meacham and Fea address the Christian America thesis, yet they approach the question from different angles.