A few days ago I purchased two books I’ve been waiting to read for a while.  They are quite different works of history and/or cultural critique, yet they are both contributing to some thoughts I’ve been trying to flesh out for a while.

Christianity's Dangerous Idea

The first of these is Alister McGrath’s Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, which is primarily a history of protestant support for individual interpretation of the Bible and, by way of illustrating the former, a history of the emergence and evolution of Protestantism.  I’ve only skimmed sections of it so far, and read the introduction, but I believe this text would be important for those attempting to come to terms with the divergence of protestantism–especially those who’s denominations are in periods of conflict.  In particular, McGrath makes the following observation in the introduction in regards to the current struggles within the Anglican Communion:

The idea that lay at the heart of the sixteenth-century Reformation, which brought Anglicanism and the other Protestant churches into being, was that the Bible is capable of being understood by all Christian believers–and that they all have the right to interpret it and to insist upon their perspectives being taken seriously,  Yet this powerful affirmation of spiritual democracy ended up unleashing forces that threatened to destabilize the church, eventually leading to fissure and the formation of breakaway groups.  Anglicanism may yet follow the pattern of other Protestant groups and become a “family” of denominations, each with its own way of reading and applying the Bible.

The dangerous new idea, firmly embodied at the heart of the Protestant revolution, was that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible for themselves.  However, it ultimately proved uncontrollable, spawning developments that few at the time could have envisaged or predicted.  The great convulsions of the early sixteenth century that historians now call “the Reformation” introduced into the history of Christianity a dangerous new idea that gave rise to an unparalleled degree of creativity and growth, on the one hand, while on the other causing new tensions and debates that, by their very nature, probably lie beyond resolution.  The development of Protestantism as a major religious force in the world has been shaped decisively by the creative tensions emerging from this principle.

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