More than Luther: The Reformation and the Rise of Pluralism in Europe ed. by Karla Boersma and Herman J. Selderhuis
The quincentenary of the Reformation has come and gone, yet scholars continue to publish works stemming from its commemoration in 2017, and rightly so, as the Reformation continues to influence societies across the globe. This book is a collection of papers presented at the Seventh Annual RefoRC Conference, held in Wittenberg, May 10–12, 2017. Of the ninety papers presented at the [End Page 115] conference, twenty have been published in this volume (three of the plenary lectures along with seventeen others).
The parts of this book are greater than the sum of the whole—that is, the individual essays are strong, but the collection is not as coherent as it could be. The title indicated that the book would treat the transition from the Middle Ages, where only one church legally existed, to the early modern era, where several confessions competed with one another. That turned out not to be so, and in fact it was difficult to discern any common theme. Each essay dealt in some way with variety (such as, differing theological perspectives on doctrinal questions), but the differences discussed varied from essay to essay. It was also difficult to divine, from the editors' very brief introduction, the principle of selection used to choose papers for the book, beyond the desire to display the breadth and interdisciplinarity of the conference proceedings. Yet, while the collection as a whole lacks coherence, this does not vitiate the individual papers, several of which are excellent. Accordingly, highlights of some essays give readers a sense of this collection.
Tomoji Odori discusses the secret Christians of Japan, driven underground after Christianity was forbidden in 1614. Odori draws parallels between them and Anabaptists in the Swiss lands. Both groups responded to persecution by forming lay-led communities, emphasizing forgiveness for those who recanted the faith under pressure, and exalting martyrdom. His essay reminds us of the need to study the Reformation as a global phenomenon, whose impact was not limited to Europe. Gregory Soderberg, by contrast, focuses on the debate amongst Reformed Christians concerning the frequency of communion. This issue, which has recently returned, includes authors advocating for more frequent communion on the basis of Calvin's works. Soderberg demonstrates that Calvin's position on this topic was subtler than some of his modern followers claim. While Calvin did desire frequent communion, he also wanted Christians to purify and prepare themselves beforehand and was unwilling to demand frequent communion at the expense of church discipline. This essay also paid particular attention to contemporary theological and pastoral debates. Finally, Edit Szegedi investigates "Calvinisms" in East Central Europe. Far from being [End Page 116] a monolithic faith of the elite, she shows that Eastern European Calvinism was diverse, developed its own unique features, and was shared by elites and commoners alike. As Odori reminds readers to look beyond Europe, Szegedi reminds them to pay attention to those areas within Europe that are usually ignored when studying the Reformation.
This collection's strength lies in the individual essays. Scholars will likely find particular chapters relevant to their research.
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