The Protestant Story

I’ve been re-reading Alister McGrath’s book ‘Christianity’s Dangerous idea’. I find it so helpful in understanding the story of the origin and development of the church of which I am a part. I’ve read and studied Church History over the years so there is much that is familiar but this book is so helpful in explaining how the parts fit into the bigger picture. Here’s what McGrath says in his introduction:

“This work…tries to identify the big idea that lies at the heart of Protestantism and to trace its impact on the unfolding of the movement in the pst and its development in years to come.” (p 10).

McGrath begins with discussion of tensions in the Lambeth conference of 1998 between the bishops of the Anglican Communion. The book was published in 2007 and those tensions have well and truly exploded with the rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s leadership by the Gafcon movement. The situation in the international Anglican Communion is at the long-anticipated crisis point. McGrath’s book is even more timely today as our church finds itself negotiating turbulent waters.

The book is divided into three parts: the origins, the consolidation, and the transformation of Protestantism.

Origins: “What is offered is an interpretative history, a highly focused reading, a broad-brush approach that aims to identify and interpret what turns out to have been significant rather than to chronicle everything that happened.” (p 11).

Consolidation: “The second part of the book deals with the basic ideas of Protestantism and its impact on culture.” It brings together and analyses what has occurred over the past 500 years. (p 11).

Transformation: This looks at the history of Protestantism during the 20th century noting especially ‘the emergence of Pentecostalism…that is unusually well adapted to meeting the needs and aspirations of the urban poor in the global South.” These raise “new questions about its future shape and impact.” (pp 11-12).

I highly commend McGrath’s book. There is so much that I find has stimulated my thinking about our identity as I’ve read this book again. What is the future of Protestantism?

McGrath argues that Protestantism “possesses a unique and innate capacity for innovation, renewal, and reform based on its own internal resources.” He concludes:

“The future of Protestantism lies precisely in Protestantism being what Protestantism actually is.” (p 478).

That’s a ‘view from below’…I think I’d also want to add the view from above as we see in Psalm 104:3-4:

“God lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire.” (Psalm 104:3-4).

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