Over the next week I will be posting the excellent book reviews that my Advanced Study: Reformation Theology class wrote at Biola University. This one is by Zack Rood.
Kenneth G. Appold. The Reformation: A Brief History, First Edition. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 203 pages. $35.95
Kenneth G. Appold in his book The Reformation: A Brief History, deals with history of the development and advancement of the Reformation. Appold uses all the different aspects of historical, theological, social, economic, and political to convey a rounded story of the Reformation. He particularly focuses on the political role in the formation of the Reformation both negatively and positively. Kenneth G. Appold is a professor of Reformation history at Princeton Theological Seminary. He has an academic career on the history of Christianity and received his Ph.D from Yale. He is also the author of Orthodoxie als Konsensbildung. and Abraham Calov’s Doctrine of Vocatio in Its Systematic Context. He relied heavily on the use of academic journals and works for the sources used in this book. His background in history really shows in this book as the historical events and role of politics takes the spotlight in this summary of the Reformation.
In his book Appold argues for the complexity of the situations that occurred to bring out the Reformation and allow it live and ultimately thrive in the age of Christianization. To support his claims he relies heavily on historical facts and with this is able to bring a unique perspective to the Reformation. Appold breaks up the book into three parts; the history of Christianization, Luther Phenomenon, and the Reformations Establishment. In the first part of the book focuses on the history of the Christianization and the many events that brought Catholicism to the point where it developed during the Reformation. This chapter helped contextualize the development of traditions of the Catholic Church such as indulgences. Appold points out were the idea of indulgences is first seen in the Germanic tribes with the idea of blood money where they assigned a price to a life that was owed to the family for forgiveness of the death (15). It is insightful facts such as this one that are present throughout the first chapter that helps give a sense of the context of influence behind the development of the Church. Part two focuses on the rise of Luther and how his actions brought upon change but also the way in which the Catholic Church handled his challenges that were also highly important if not just as important to stimulate the extreme change that occurred in Christendom. This part also briefly goes over the theological ideas that Luther had developed and his use (if not necessity) of politics to help push this reform. The third part of the book touches the different sections of the reformation that occurred and it is during this section where a variety of different influences can be seen in the formation of the reforms. In a contrast to Luther who saw politics as a way to push the Reformation the Anabaptists and the peasant revolts took a different approach and saw the need to rebel from and abolish the rulers instead of use them for reform.
Throughout the book Appold was able to accomplish what he set out to do, give a better perspective of the influences of the Reformation focusing on more than the individual leaders. The strongest points he had to offer were on the key role politics played throughout the reformation whether it was for political or religious regions it is ultimately one of the biggest parts of the formation of the Reformation. Appold’s book was written in a clear and concise manner that made it easy to read and comprehend. He was able to take all the different aspects of the Reformation and put them clearly into one flowing narrative. However, one major movement of the Reformation that was missing was the English Reformation. Not including this Reformation movement that was so involved with the government was surprising. What could have contributed to the lack of the English Reformation was in his studies Appold studied in France and Germany causing him to focus on the history of continental Europe leaving England out of his interests.
Kenneth G. Appold presents an exceptionally good representation of the many different factors that were present and influencing and ultimately shaped the Reformation into what it was. All the parts were necessary in the development of the Reformation from the individual leaders to the governments all the way down to the ideology of the common person. The major strength of this book is the historical context that it brings to the Reformation that many other sources lack or don’t take the time to get into, because of this it also has weaknesses. The major weakness is the lack of theological focus on the individual movements while it does touches on the major views of each sect of Reformers this is not the source to go to get a better understanding of their beliefs. I would recommend using this source as a starter for looking more into the outside aspects of culture and politics as well as general context and the role it played in the formation of both the Church and the Reformation. It would also be wise to get a complete grasp of what occurred during the Reformation to accompany this reading with a secondary source with a greater focus on the theology and the individual leaders. The ease of accesses while reading this book makes it the best source to truly grasp the complexity that is the Reformation.
Reviewed by Zack Rood (Biola University)