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Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings Paperback – August 8, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


"Payton's corrections to the popular Reformation mythos is refreshing. Similarly refreshing is his acknowledgement of the modern Church's indebtedness to the early Church." (Douglas M. Beaumont, Christian Apologetics Journal, Fall 2011)

"The title is provocative, but what James R. Payton Jr. has in mind is not the overthrowing of generations of scholarship on the Reformation, but the use of the best scholarship to guide and correct misleading impressions often held by the common reader and Christian laypeople: for example, that the Reformation was a revolutionary bolt from the blue, that the principle of sola scriptura meant a wholesale rejection of Catholic theological tradition, that the Catholic Church was truculent over against the Protestant assault, refusing all efforts at reform, and the like. These notions are indeed false. On this basis of 'getting wrongs right,' the book proves to be a lively narrative that tells the story of the most important epoch in the history of the church in a clear, understandable, unfussy manner, yet one rich in detail. I appreciate especially Payton's sober conclusion on the tragic elements of what the sixteenth century wrought." (Walter Sundberg, professor of church history, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota)

"Dr. Payton's new book, Getting the Reformation Wrong, is a refreshing and stimulating look at the events of the sixteenth century and their implications. He combines a solid understanding of the scholarship with a sensitivity to the faith issues involved, particularly for Christians of all types who may be reading these pages. Ending with reference to the worldwide Protestant missionary movement, he urges his readers to consider the tension between the triumph and the tragedy that are both the legacies of these long-ago events in a way that moves the discussion of the challenges of being a Protestant Christian right up to the present." (Helen Vreugdenhil, assistant professor of history, Redeemer University College)

"Getting the Reformation Wrong gets the Reformation right. All students of the Reformation, whether academic or just interested, must read this book. It rightly sets the record straight about the great people and ideas of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations of the sixteenth century in a refreshingly engaging style." (Roger Olson, author of The Story of Christian Theology)

About the Author

James R. Payton Jr. (Ph.D., University of Waterloo, Canada) is a professor of history at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. He has studied, taught and been in dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy for many years and is the author of a number of articles on Orthodoxy and Protestant-Orthodox relations. Another area of interest for Payton is the Reformation on which he has written many articles and book reviews. Some of his works cover subjects such as John Calvin, Martin Bucer and the influence of the Reformation in Ukraine. He is very involved in ministry to Eastern Europe, serving from 1998-2006 as executive secretary of Christians Associated for Relationships with Eastern Europe, and since 2006 as president.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (August 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830838805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830838806
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Morgan on August 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
Please notice the title of the book - it does not say that the reformation was wrong, but that there is misunderstanding about the reformation, especially in the Church today, which needs to be acknowledged. The author is a protestant evangelical scholar and he is not seeking in any way to undermine the (important) successes of the reformation. However, to view the reformation as nothing but a success is a problem. To assume that the reformation is beyond criticism or critical analysis is quite simply nonsense which is why , in my opinion, this book has been a longtime coming.

Payton's analysis is simple. The reformation was a success. The medieval church had obscured the apostolic message and the reformation pulled back the curtain to reveal once again the gospel message. However, there is a tragedy to the reformation, and that tragedy is that the reformation is by nature schismatic. Even from the earliest times the reformers were divided amongst themselves. Eventually Lutherans denounced Melanchthon, Zwingli's followers entered conflict with Bucer's followers. Lutheran and Reformed camps viciously criticized each other, eventually claiming the truth for their side. This has continued in the aftermath of the reformation. We now have 26,000 Protestant denominations.

This is more than a historical issue for Payton. He challenges the reader to examine the words of Jesus in John 17:20-23 (I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me.
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Format: Paperback
If you are a Reformation-history buff like me, you will be interested in a new book by James Payton. Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings (IVP, 2010) is Payton's attempt to set the record straight on Reformation history and theology. Though the title is Getting the Reformation Wrong, Payton is not as interested in pointing out flaws in Reformation interpretation as he is making a positive case for why we should try to get the Reformation right.

The first chapter records the historical backdrop of the Reformation. Payton describes how fear of plague and warfare engulfed the population. He also describes the weakened state of the papacy and the lack of moral credibility of the Catholic Church. Payton claims to correct the misunderstanding that the Reformation simply dropped out of the sky from heaven. Instead, he says, we should see the movement as a groundswell of response to the call for reform, a call which had been echoing for a couple of centuries. This introductory chapter succeeds at putting the Reformation into historical context, but is less persuasive as the correction of a misunderstanding. (I've never heard anyone make the case that the Reformation originated in the way Payton describes.)

In chapter two, Payton criticizes the idea that the Renaissance was a secularist, humanistic parallel to the spiritual, God-centered Reformation. Instead, we should see the Renaissance as a friend, not a foe, to the Reformation.

Next, he writes about Martin Luther and his conflicts with the other Reformers. The chapter is filled with good information, yet I doubt that this misunderstanding (that the Reformers were all united on every point) is very widespread. Most Reformation history books lay out the different views of the Reformers.
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Format: Paperback
Overall Review:

This work is excellent. It offers interesting details (about the bubonic plague, eg.) which are mnemonic and genuinely relate to the main points. The work is detailed but not overly-so, opinionated but not inappropriately, and there are unique, supported insights stemming from the author's own judgment, doing away with the "text-book" feeling. Thus, the work is easy to read, very enganging, and easy to understand. The issues addressed are of contemporary import (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fides, etc.), ensuring that most of the work (excepting the last two chapters) is worth the reader's time. The author exhibits boldness in saying why it is the Catholic Church lost credibility with the Occident (West) in the 15th. and 16th. centuries; he notes how Pope Paul IV cleaned up Rome from the slum of sin it was into a pristine city where there were no longer any brothels.

The author's boldness is a breath of fresh air in an area of study that has suffered from oversensibility and continual deference to the "other religion" whether it be Catholic or Protestant. That is to say, Dr. Payton says it as it was.

Highlights of the text:

Brought great clarity as to why Luther was so opinionated (explaining, in part, the failure of the Marbourg Colloguy). The difference between the Italian and Northern Christian Renaissance. The relation of the Renaissance to Medieval Scholasticism.
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It is commonly thought that the Roman Vomatorium was a designated part of town where people would go and throw up as a result of binging themselves on copious amounts of food. The origin of this falsity is not readily known, but it is obvious how such a connection can be made. The true definition of the word however is something entirely more mundane. A Vomatorium was an access tunnel through with either crowds or actors could entre and exit an area or stage. Blatant misunderstandings like this one are the basis for why James R. Payton Jr. decided to write the book Getting the Reformation Wrong.
The largest issue with this book is that the information in this book is not new or groundbreaking. The biggest point that Payton tries to get across is that the reformation was not a static event. It was not an isolated incidence that started a chain reaction of thousands of churches. The World is not static; to assume that the reformation had no cause or effect relationships with the world before and after it to me seems ludicrous. This book begs the question- is this book simply out of touch with modern ideas of the reformation?
The other strike against this book is the way in which it is written. Depending on what chapter one is reading through, the tone and audience of the book seems to completely change. In some sections it seems as if he is writing to students, trying his best to explain what is going on in the most general sense. At other points in the book he seems to be writing to fellow professors and Historians, writing on microscopic points. Randomly throughout the book Payton goes on side tangents about how the story of the reformation is applicable to today’s times and tries to make what he is professing about the Reformation into a sermon.
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