There are so many events planned to mark the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary that sometimes it’s hard to keep track. Fresh conversations have been sparked in churches, the press, and seminar rooms. Wittenberg and other Reformation sites in Germany have been beautifully restored, even Disneyfied. Exhibitions, conferences, and lectures abound, as do articles in newspapers and magazines.
Meanwhile, we find ourselves in the midst of an avalanche of publishing, both popular and scholarly, as biographies of Luther appear with head-spinning regularity, accompanied by general accounts of the Reformation and studies of other key figures and their writings.
Not surprisingly, some of these books are de rigueur anniversary items that, like those heavily advertised tours to Wittenberg, revisit old ground and retell familiar stories. But there are plenty of new things to notice and get excited about, not least a growing commitment among authors and scholars to address new and changed audiences. No longer can one take for granted that students, clergy, laity, or the wider public understand the significance of the Reformation—how it convulsed the 16th century, and how it decisively shapes contemporary Christianity and the modern world.
The Reformation anniversary, then, comes as a gift for historians and theologians. It’s an opportunity not only to freshly appraise the seminal religious event of the 16th century, but also to show its relevance to matters of faith and culture in our own time. Among the current wave of Reformation publishing are innovative books that pull readers out of their modern assumptions into the radically different world of Luther and his fellow Reformers.
The Difficult Hero