Last summer, I received an essay from a friend—a leading Evangelical intellectual—who said that the label Protestant should fade out in favor of the label Evangelical because, in part, Protestant was "negative."

In many people's minds, it certainly is. It sounds like it is about dissent and disagreement. It evokes images of picketers carrying poorly made signs back and forth in front of a factory. Indeed, it sounds disagreeable.

More recently, another friend published an engaging account of his exploration of Catholicism. The book is Jon Sweeney's Almost Catholic, and you can read an excellent review of it on my wife LaVonne's blog.

The book is a good read, but its argument rests in part on his contrast between the "universal" character of Catholic faith and the negative Protestant alternative:

To be Protestant is to define yourself as protesting against certain forms of religion. … there is little need for Protestants anymore. What are we still protesting? The Reformation of the sixteenth century was a European event.

So many seem to think that the essence of being Protestant is to conscientiously object to what is or was Roman Catholic. A little history and a little linguistic research shows Protestant to be a much more positive word, referring to what the original Protestants stood for rather than what they stood against.

Sweeney rightly ties Protestant to the Second Diet of Speyer (1529), and the response of the German evangelical princes to its decision to restrict their freedom. But he misleadingly labels Protestant "a political moniker," when the cultural context thoroughly mixed religion and politics. The word religion certainly existed, but it remained for the Enlightenment to create it as a distinct ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.