Getting the Reformation Wrong

Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some MisunderstandingsGetting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings by James R. Payton Jr. My rating: 4 of 5 stars James Payton has produced what promises to be a remarkable book. I haven’t gotten very far, but he is already cutting the legs out from under many standard Reformed evangelical lecture quotables. I don’t know if this book will make many friends for Dr. Payton in the world of conservative Reformdom (or conservative anything-dom), but it deserves a careful reading by all those are serious about the study of history. (On a personal note, Dr. Payton is a careful scholar, as well as a kind one. When I was doing my M.A. research, he was kind enough to send me a copy of his doctoral dissertation, which related to my topic. He also helped me with a short bibliography on a topic I was pursuing at Trinity Theology College.)  Here are some of the golden nuggets I’ve found in the book so far:

Renaissance Humanism It is a truism in discussions of Christian “world-view thinking” to say that the Renaissance was a move towards a man-centered worldview, in other words, humanism. Dr. Payton shows that we have totally mis-read the “h-word” in regard to the Renaissance: “But during the Renaissance umanista carried no philosophic implications. Rather, it had pedgagogical ones: a ‘humanist’ was someone who taught the ‘humanities’–the liberal arts. These Renaissance figures focused not on some perceived or alleged philosophical differences from their scholastic opponents, but on the pedagogical difference from them. Where scholastics concentrated on logic, dialectic and metaphysics, Renaissance humanists focused on grammar, poetry, rhetoric and history. Rather than ensconcing themselves in the ‘professional’ schools at the universities (law, medicine and theology), the Renaissance figures emphasized the importance of preparatory or undergraduate education in its own right. Their purpose was to prepare their students to become capable and functioning members of society–not as specialists in law, medicine or theology, but as well-rounded individuals who could serve the needs of the burgeoning society in Italy. Burckhardt’s [first real historian of the Italian Renaissance] readers had committed an egregious category mistake: they had misappropriated the understanding of ‘humanism’ of their own day, with all its philosophical and humanity-centered implications, to interpret the ‘humanism’ of the Renaissance, a movement that had no such philosophical emphasis or implications,” (61-62).

“Renaissance figures produced a great deal of devotional literature, careful textual studies of the New Testament and treatises on various doctrinal topics. Rather than dismiss these as holdovers from a superstitious upbringing, scholars have come to recognize them as evidence of the Renaissance figures’ ongoing Christian commitment” (64).

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