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The Reformation for Armchair Theologians Paperback – March 22, 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Glenn S. Sunshine is Professor and Chair of theHistory Department at Central Connecticut University in New Britain, Connecticut. He is the author of a number of articles and books, including Reforming French Protestantism: The Development of Huguenot Ecclesiastical Institutions.

From AudioFile

This is one of a series of Armchair Theologians books, and it deserves a wide audience. It is, in equal parts, a history of the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648) and a discussion of the major religious differences in Christianity that spawned revolutions, world explorations, and the founding of the United States. The author has a wonderful sense of humor and respects the intelligence of his audience. Narrator Kate Reading has a friendly, crystal clear voice that makes this book interesting and accessible. She varies her pitch for emphasis and nails every sly, funny reference the author makes. Reading also pronounces French and German words in the vernacular, which is a refreshing change from the usual Americanization of foreign languages. R.I.G. © AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Armchair Theologians
  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (March 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0664228151
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664228156
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #451,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is the third book in the "Armchair Theologian" series which I have read, and it won't be the last. The series seeks to give an accessible, readable rendition of the theology of major figures in Christian history. Other books include Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Augustine, and Aquinas. This is the only book which deals, not with an individual, but with a movement.

Sunshine begins by setting the stage for the Reformation, then gives a sketch of Luther's career. Popular humorists have God changing the course of events by tossing lightning bolts around, but apparently the course of history was changed by a lightning bolt. Luther, a law student, got knocked off his horse by a lightning bolt and got back on it determined to become a monk. From that point forward, Luther's pathway to the founding of a new religion was an exercise in Murphy's Law. His 95 theses weren't a declaration of religious independence, they were simply a modest call for debate. When his challenge was answered, his able opponent maneuvered him into admitting that he held views that had gotten another theologian, Jan Hus, burned at the stake. Next came his famous declaration (which he really would rather not have had to make) at the Diet of Worms, and the rest is history.

Sunshine next looks at Zwingli, probably the only Reformation theologian who died in battle and in armor, and then turns his attention to Calvin. Calvin comes across as a much more sympathetic figure than the rigid, dictatorial killjoy of popular legend. Calvin was another lawyer who, much against his will, got coerced into founding a church in Geneva. Calvin wanted to go to Strasbourg and pursue a career as a writer, but events compelled him to go to Geneva and oversee the birth pangs of Calvinism.
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This book is quite a page-turner when it comes to history of the Reformation. I was hooked right from page one. Various historical characters come into play with the main performers being Luther and Calvin.

When it comes to the theological ideas of the times the book misses its mark. I do understand that the text is meant for "armchair theologians", but even "armchair guys" need some meat in the soup. There is nary a one Bible reference to corroborate or demolish any of the theological ideas introduced. This was a disappointment.

It would be more appropriate to title this text as "The Reformation for Armchair Historians".
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A former Roman Catholic, I was in the market for an easy-to-understand book about the Protestant Reformation, and THE REFORMATION FOR ARMCHAIR THEOLOGIANS has more than filled the bill. Clearly and even humorously, Glenn S. Sunshine explains all of the theological and historical issues involved, covering the Reformation in Germany, in Switzerland, in England, in Scotland, and in France. Sunshine rightly begins by detailing the corruption of the medieval Catholic church, so that Martin Luther's ideas and actions are put firmly into context. The book also made me realize that certain Catholics, like Desiderius Erasmus, were reform-minded. Ron Hill's witty illustrations accompany the text; my only complaint about these is that his caricature-drawing of Ulrich Zwingli (leader of the Reformation in Switzerland) looks nothing like any of the actual portraits of Zwingli that exist.
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Format: Paperback
Glenn Sunshine writes exceptionally well for the "Armchair" series, combining scholarly discussions with simple language and doses of wit. This book will serve as an introduction to the Reformation or a refresher and another perspective for those more familiar with it. I have no doubt all readers will take away new insights. I think Sunshine devouts adequate space to the politics, theology, institutions and influential people of the Reformation.

Readers will come away having a good grasp of the nuances of Roman Catholic beliefs and the Protestant beliefs of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Arminius, as well as some other lesser known religious leaders. I would have liked to see more on Thomas Cranmer and the theology of the English Reformation, but that reveals my own bias, too. Sunshine adroitly summarizes some core commonalities among the above and some of their sharp differences that led to conflicts. He follows their influences and relationships to various states and rulers.

As much as this is a book about theology, it is also about the history of the states and their internal and external conflicts. Religion of the Reformation era was closely tied to the politics and, as this book shows, an historical author really cannot focus on one at the exclusion of the other. A few times the book gets bogged down in the political history, especially in the discussion of the Thirty-years war, but I think that is a hazard of the subject and not a fault of the writer.

Sunshine does a thorough job of being precise about the beliefs of the theologians as opposed to what theology was later developed by their followers. He does not gloss over negative actions of folks like Luther or Calvin either.
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