A learned, lively look at the various faiths lumped together as Protestant, from Martin Luther in the 16th century to today.
Theologian and professor Ryrie (History of Christianity/Durham Univ.; Being Protestant in Reformation Britain, 2013, etc.) takes an inclusive view of the term Protestantism, encompassing mainstream Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists as well as the less-pervasive Unitarians, Seventh-day Adventists, Quakers, Mennonites, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the burgeoning varieties of Pentecostal denominations whose members often speak in tongues. (The author classes Mormons as a new religion despite their Protestant roots.) Ryrie views the spectrum as an extended family tree with a common trunk but diverse branches. At bottom, though, a family that quarrels about right and wrong remains a family. The author credits Protestants with playing significant roles in the spread of free speech and the placement of conscience ahead of government dictates throughout Europe and across what eventually became the United States. In more recent times, Ryrie documents the influence of Protestants in portions of South America, China, South Korea, and South Africa. He does not shy away from the ugly roles of Protestants in the dominance of apartheid and slavery, but he explains how the better natures of Protestants opposing those inhumane practices mostly prevailed. Throughout the sweeping narrative, the author offers his well-considered opinions about how the Bible fits into the teachings of various Protestant denominations. He offers insightful explanations of why some Protestants consider the Bible inerrant, while other Protestants consider it filled with contradictory stories that nonetheless lead to a deep communion with God. In the final chapter, Ryrie deals candidly with contemporary political and social issues roiling Protestant denominations, including women in the ministry, homosexuality, whether to support the legalization of abortion, and how to combat secularism.
Rarely has an author of such deep faith offered such a tolerant, engaging history of any religion.