Since this review originally came out, a number of people have noted widespread historical inaccuracies on the Reformation period covered in this book—Carl Trueman wrote a particularly enlightening, rather scathing review that outlined these inaccuracies. In response, IVP rightly pulled the book and is re-issuing it later this year after a more thorough editorial review. Below I’ve posted their response.

I am slightly embarrassed to have given such a glowing review in light of these historic inaccuracies, though I still believe the premise behind the book—an examination and explanation of the historic, particularly medieval, roots of the Reformation—still stands regardless of the important historical inaccuracies that Evans failed to catch in regards to the Reformation period itself. Not only has this experience taught me how much I still don’t know—e.g. historical nuances and facts of the Reformation—but also the work it takes to give a good review. I plan on learning from both moving forward!

Dear friends,

Recently, concerns have arisen among some of our readership in response to a review by Carl Trueman, regarding inaccuracies and inconsistencies within certain sections of Gillian R. Evans’s The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence and Rupture.

Professor Evans’s work is an important and valuable contribution to historical understanding. We strongly affirm the integrity of everyone involved in this project, from the editors to the endorsers, and we also want to express our firm commitment to the scholarly integrity of this project.

But the issues Trueman points out clearly do not represent the academic standards we as a publisher hold ourselves to. Unfortunately, these issues were not caught during our standard, thorough review procedures. The presence of such oversights in manuscripts is common in the publishing process, however, especially with large and complex texts.

Nonetheless, we as the publisher take full responsibility for them. Therefore, as of the beginning of June, IVP has taken The Roots of the Reformation out of print and will no longer be shipping orders of this edition. Our goal is to publish a carefully revised second edition of the book by the end of August, in time for Fall semester classes. Further, IVP will offer a complimentary copy of the second edition, including free shipping, to everyone who has already purchased the current edition.

We hope that this underscores the abiding value of Professor Evans’s book, one that a number of internationally respected scholars have recommended as a masterful investigation of the Reformation’s roots from the early church through the medieval era.

The Editors

 

Here is a book I wish I would have had during my Master of Theology (ThM) program in Historical Theology! It would have come in mighty handy during my Reformation module to help me understand the extensive backdrop that sits behind one of the most monumental events in Church history.

Sure I have and read Copleston’s A History of Medieval Philosophy and Knowles The Evolution of Medieval Thought. I have and read Oberman’s The Dawn of the Reformation  and MacCulloch’s The Reformation. But what I didn’t have, until getting this review copy from IVP, was a one-stop shop examining the roots of the Reformation. And that’s exactly what I have now, an excellent single source that revisits the question of what happened at the Reformation by establishing the history leading up to the Reformation and the issues the church was dealing with at the time. It’s called The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence and Rupture, a resource I think any student of the Reformation—inside and outside a formal academic setting—needs on their bookshelf.

The book is divided into three section: Part 1 traces major themes of the Reformation that find their genesis in the medieval (and even early church) era, such as the ideas of church, faith and beliefs, the biblical text, sin, and the dynamic between the church and state; Part 2 is less thematic and more socio-historic with emphasis on medieval education, social concerns, life of both the preacher and laity alike, the monastic life, and popular preachers; and Part 3 bridges the Medieval Era into the Reformation by emphasizing major soci-historical and theological/philosophical movements, including the Renaissance, Luther and Calvin, the Counter-Reformation, Zwingli and the Anabaptists, the dynamics of Church and State, and finally an important section on the Bible. In a way, the book then spends roughly 2/3 explaining the backstory to the later 1/3 Reformation story, a division I found appropriate and helpful in gaining sure footing in the roots of the Reformation in this hefty 500 page tome.

Evans tackels her subject matter with the ease of someone who’s formed a kindred-spirit bond with the material, which makes sense as she is professor of medieval theology and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge. Thankfully, the reader experiences this relationship through a highly approachable writing style that brings the story of the Reformation to life. And along the way, she brings along multitudes of primary text witnesses to bear on her storytelling enterprise, something I often find lacking in sweeping historical treatments—for example, MacCulloch’s much lauded treatment of the Reformation’s history has nary a primary jot or tiddle to be found! I especially loved the more biographical elements throughout that gave flesh to the major players and their lives.

Of particular interest was an entire chapter at the end devoted to the Bible, in which she discusses some of the history of English translation and the role translating had in the life of the Reformation church. As Evans makes plan, “The rediscovery of the Bible in its original languages had been the great transforming moment of Reformation Bible study. The task of establishing which is the true text took on new dimensions at the Reformation, when scholars tried to recover the original text by going back to the original sources. ‘Back to the sources’ had been the cry.” (420) In returning back to those sources much of the thrust of the Reformation was making the Bible accessible to ordinary people, which flew in the face of a previous edict from King Henry IV that made such translations an act of heresy. From here she highlights the role of the text in personal study and group bible study, preaching, and even translation theory. Her chapter was a delightful highlight of how the Reformers approached an important pillar of their movement, the Bible.

One of the more, I’ll say, peculiar aspects of this book was the way in which the author goes out of her way to define certain vocabulary terms she thinks the reader will struggle understanding. For example, in chapter 3 (“The Idea of Faith”) she explains that from the earliest times Christians found they needed “approved statements” of the faith, going on to put in parenthesis the word “creed” to define said approved statements, as if the reader wouldn’t know that’s what she meant or what “approved statements” were. This happened several times throughout the book, which I found to be a bit distracting. Perhaps she included such devices to make the book more useable (also read: marketable) as a college text book. Regardless, more advanced learners and readers would like to do without such pedantry.

The book ends with a helpful summation of key Reformation concerns and their history. Topics like justification by faith alone, biblical interpretation, the number of sacraments, and the church-state relationship all find their way into this handy hand list. Then at the end of each section is a “link” ending with helpful tie-ins to specific chapters and parts of chapters. This will be one list I’ll for sure have handy when doing Reformation research!

All in all, I found this to be a measured, well-informing guide to the before, during, and after periods of the Reformation. It’s unusual to find such a single-volume guide that provides broad enough coverage of the issues to make it a worthy overview, while also addressing those issues indepth without getting bogged down in details and rabbit trails. This book accomplishes both masterfully. I would heartily recommend this volume to college students who need a good supplemental source, as well as non-collegiate students of the Reformation. Evans work will be put to good work for any Protestant seeking to reconnect to their own roots.