Friday, August 11, 2017


Thus far I have read only a fraction of Alec Ryrie's Protestants: The Radicals who made the modern world (London: William Collins, 2017). I have found it enjoyable and informative.

Ryrie is an eminent historian. An expert on the British Reformation in particular. And a Reader in the dear old C of E. And he can write.

He chooses a genealogical definition of Protestantism (the descendants of Luther) rather than a theological one (say, adherence to the Trinity as a necessary condition). But he is also willing to say that some such as the Mormons are so distantly related to Luther that they no longer bear the family likeness. If Protestant means influenced by Luther than the whole world, not least the Catholic church, is Protestant!

Ryrie sees Protestants as both lovers and fighters who are defined by a direct encounter with God and his grace through the Bible. The fire has burnt in different ways, sometimes raging, sometimes smouldering, and has spread far and wide but Luther and the God he rediscovered in Scripture were the spark of it all.

Ryrie's ambitious account takes in The Third Reich, apartheid South Africa, Korea and China and even attempts to look into the future of Protestantism, which he suspects will be largely Pentecostal but continually adapted to its cultures.

His focus is especially on the protestants as people and their political impact (not, for example, especially on their ideas or their artistic or economic achievements). Bach, he tells us, deserves a chapter of a similar book but only gets a sentence.

Ryrie traces our world's free inquiry, democracy and apoliticism to Protestantism. He finds in the movement a generic restlessness, an itchy instability.

MacCulloch has called the book a treat. I suspect there will be much delight and fascinate here - as well as perhaps not a few frustrations.

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