The Reformation 500 Years Later

12 Things You Need to Know

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Benjamin Wiker
  • Washington, DC: 
    Regnery Publishing
    , August
     2017.
     320 pages.
     $29.99.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781621576709.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Reformation 500 Years Later: 12 Things You Need to Know was written to assist in understanding what has been termed the most important religious and political event in Western history—the Reformation. This book is not a history of the Reformation, but an attempt to place the Reformation events in their historical context, and to investigate its effects.

The twelve things Benjamin Wiker believes one needs to know about the Reformation are that 1) the Reformation is coming to an end; 2) reformations will continue in the church until the end of time; 3) the papal estates contributed to the rise of the Reformation; 4) bad popes were really bad; 5-8) paganism, atheism, Islam, nationalism and Machiavellian politics each played a part in fueling the Reformation; 9) Luther was a flawed human being; 10) the printing press was both a blessing and a curse for the Reformation; 11) the Reformation led to a pagan counter-attack on the Bible; and 12) the Thirty Years War has been wrongfully used to discredit Christianity.

Wiker sees the Reformation as “coming to an end because Christians are focused increasingly on what unites them largely because of mounting persecution” (1). In his view, persecution comes from both radical Islam and an increasingly secularized culture. 

Wiker believes that the history of Christianity is “the history of constant reform” (16). A string of reforms from the early church to the Reformation are noted, including the rejection of Gnosticism, the reforms of Gregory I (540-604 CE) and Gregory VII (1015-1085 CE), monastic reforms, and other attempts prior to the Reformation. 

Wiker views the existence of the papal estates, the forged document—the “Donation of Constantine”—as well as bad popes and other church leaders who were more secular than religious, as causes of the discontent that led to the desire for church reform at the time of Martin Luther, and offers these reasons as to why the Reformation struck such a responsive chord among so many. 

Some view the Reformation as the cause of secular unbelief resulting from the religious wars it was thought to provoke, and the skepticism toward established thought it unleashed. However, Wiker writes that “aggressive atheism” had taken hold in Europe before the Reformation, that atheists used the Reformation “to advance their cause” and that the Renaissance brought about a “rediscovery” of ancient paganism and atheism (69). Wiker believes that some “Renaissance intellectuals” saw ancient paganism, skepticism, and atheism as ideas that were “liberating, wise, and good,” and as ideas that could be used to oppose and disprove all religions, especially Christianity (70). 

Wiker considers modern atheism to be ancient atheism “rediscovered” (69), and that Epicurus’s philosophy is the “foundation for modern hedonism or libertinism” (72). Renaissance Italy is seen as “the center of skepticism” and “a breeding ground for atheists” (77). Wiker believes that the study of pagan philosophies in Catholic universities helped spread those ideas, as did certain Protestant (individual Bible interpretation, antinomianism) and Anabaptist views (denial of Christ’s divinity, biblical skepticism) (76-81). 

Islam is noted as being important for the rise of the Reformation. The fear of Islam in Luther’s day was part of an apocalyptic view—that people were living in the “last times,” that “the advance of Islam” was a sign of God’s wrath against church corruption, and a sign of the imminent end of the world (84). 

Wiker reviews the history of Islamic conquests from the days of Muhammad to the 1600s. He views the Crusades as a “minor setback” to the “ongoing expansion of Islam” (93). He also cites attempts to ward off further Islamic incursion into Europe in Luther’s day as helping the cause of the Reformation.

Wiker sees parallels to the threat of Islam in the days of the Reformation in the threat of Islam today, and views secular atheists and radical Islam as united in attempting the displacement of Christianity in the West today (83-85).

A rising spirit of nationalism also helped to advance the Reformation, for Wiker sees it as the driver of a “large part” of the events of the Reformation (103). Other political influences came from neo-pagan rulers such as Machiavelli, who used the Reformation to advance their own causes. The Machiavellian view is that “religions” and the Bible “are false yet handy political instruments” to be manipulated by “secular rulers” (112, 165). Wiker writes “that the idea of an unbelieving political ruler” manipulating the Church for “political aims” had significant influence in Europe even before the time of the Reformation (113).

Luther’s well-known flaws are noted (e.g., the peasant revolt, Philip of Hesse). Wiker believes that  Luther really “did not want” to be a monk (128).  

Wiker posits that “the invention of the printing press was a blessing (and a curse) for the Reformation” (145). It was not only the primary source for disseminating Luther’s theology and the teachings of other reformers, but it was also used to produce Roman Catholic rebuttals of the Reformation. It was also used to disseminate pornographic novels, and to print “pagan” literature which attacked the Bible as “irrational” and lacking in truth (163, 166). 

Wiker writes that the Thirty-Years War has become “a propaganda piece for the secular-minded who view religion as the cause of human misery” (173). After examining the Thirty-Years War, Wiker states that to conclude that it was “primarily a religious war” is inaccurate, since other important factors in causing the war were “nationalism, political ambition,” and a Machiavellian view of politics (183).

Wiker’s concluding chapter re-states his belief that the Reformation is ending and that “more Christian unity” will arise because of the on-going threat of “radical Islam” and an “emboldened coercive secularism” (187).

About the Reviewer(s): 

Armand Boehme is Associate Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Northfield, MN.

Date of Review: 
March 4, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Benjamin Wiker, author of 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read, 10 Books That Screwed Up the World, and The Darwin Myth, received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary’s University, Thomas Aquinas College, and Franciscan University. He now writes full time as a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He lives in rural Ohio with his beloved wife, seven children, and sundry goats, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and whatever else happens to wander along.

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