Glenn S. Sunshine, The Reformation for Armchair Theologians (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2005), 264 pages.
This book is one of a series of books for the “armchair theologian,” which includes volumes on Augustine, Aquinas, Carl Barth, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and John Wesley. The Armchair Theologian series is designed to present the theologians, or in this case, the events of the Reformation, in a straightforward easy to understand fashion.
In chapter one, “On the Eve of the Reformation,” Sunshine examines the social and historical climate of the time and lays the groundwork for why the Reformation occurred at that time in that place. Unlike other books on the subject, Sunshine does not drop Luther and his ideas full grown from the sky. Instead, after setting the historical and political scene for his reader, Sunshine gives an overview of Luther’s career. Fair treatment is given to Luther, noting both his strengths and weaknesses. Sunshine also points out that Luther did not intend his 95 theses to be anything more than a call for a debate.
Sunshine then covers the career of Ulrich Zwingli, perhaps the least well known of the reformers and the only one to die in battle. Chapter 5 is devoted to the spread of Zwinglianism and the controversy over sacraments.
Lastly, Sunshine looks at the career of John Calvin. Calvin is often portrayed as a dictatorial tyrant who set up a theocracy to rule Geneva, however, Sunshine paints a more balanced view of Calvin and the situation in Geneva, but clearly shows Calvin’s policy of making no compromise in church matters.
Sunshine does not end with these reformers but continues to examine the Counter Reformation, Spain and the Dutch Revolt, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, the Reformation in Great Britain, John Knox, Phillip II, Reformation in France, the Thirty years war, and the Peace of Westphalia.
Each chapter ends with discussion questions designed to make the reader think, thereby making this series an excellent resource for small groups, both high school and adult. The author of this volume does an excellent job of presenting this era of church history. Even the cartoons and puns help lighten this serious subject. As a historian, I enjoyed Sunshine’s approach in this book. However, even as a book for “armchair” theologians, he at times seemed rather light on the theology of the reformers. The Reformation is a complicated event, yet Sunshine manages to present it in an enjoyable manner and with a good amount of humor.
Reviewed by Patricia Riley