To his credit, Alec Ryrie has braved treacherous waters and written a history of Protestantism. Recognizing that such a voyage can founder on the shoals of Protestant identity, he has studiously avoided theological accounts in favor of two root metaphors. There is no Protestant principle at work; rather, there is a Protestant ethos or mood.
For Ryrie, Protestants are lovers and fighters. The former notion refers to the dramatic experience of grace to which Protestants repeatedly testify, while the latter underscores their willingness to protest anyone who might challenge their fidelity to Scripture. From this vantage point, Protestantism’s commitment to the centrality of the Bible turns on viewing it as both a source of inspiration to be read devotionally (a love affair) and a sword to be sharpened and utilized polemically. It is this spirituality, which Ryrie calls “a deeper unity of mood and emotion,” that holds Protestants together as a single family.
This approach to Protestant people and movements allows Ryrie to explore “distant cousins” like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses while also acknowledging that the shared genetic markers are slim indeed. His brand of social history is a welcome reprieve from other histories that tend toward doctrinal identity. Although he never says it, Ryrie grounds the essence of Protestantism within its pietist impulse. Like H. Richard Niebuhr before him, he sees Protestantism as more movement than institution, more spirituality than confession, more behavioral than doctrinal. This explains why he concludes that Pentecostalism is now global Protestantism’s “main engine.”
The Modern Age and the Protestant Spirit
As social and political ...1
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