Peter MATHESON, editor, Reformation Christianity. A People’s History of Christianity. Denis R. Janz, General Editor, Vol. 5. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007. pp. xiii, 306. $35.00 hb. ISBN 978-0-8006-3415-5.
Reviewed by Linda M. Maloney, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Enosburg Falls, VT 05450

Fifth in a planned seven-volume series (three volumes have been published and two more are expected in 2007), Reformation Christianity contains eleven essays, plus the editor’s introduction, by prominent contemporary scholars in the field of Reformation studies. As the General Editor’s Foreword explains, “A People’s History of Christianity” is church history that takes “church” to mean neither the building nor the leadership exclusively, but the ekklesia itself: “the laity, the ordinary faithful, the people.” Thus we find here studies of ordinary people’s piety and practices (“The Piety of Townspeople and City Folk,” by Raymond A. Mentzer, “Rural and Village Piety,” by Keith P. Luria, “A People’s Reformation?” by Margo Todd), of the circumstances in which Christians in sixteenth-century Europe were born, lived, and died, and how these affected, and were affected by, their religious lives (“Entering the World,” by David Cressy, “Baptism and Childhood,” by Karen E. Spierling, “Women and Men, Together and Apart,” by Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, and “Leaving the World,” by Peter Marshall), and a section on lay theologies, faith testimonies, and even the development of a vernacular language of faith (“The Dream of a Just Society,” by James M. Stayer, “The Emergence of Lay Theologies,” by Elsie McKee, “Insiders and Outsiders,” by Susan R. Boettcher, and “The Language of the Common Folk,” by Peter Matheson).

This is a “people’s history,” but it is not “popular” in the sense of sacrificing scholarship to mass appeal. These are scholarly essays, although their scope is broad and the detailed source notes are banished to the back of the book so as not to distract the reader. The layout is attractive and user-friendly, with numerous contemporary illustrations, including a color signature, and boxed quotations from sixteenth-century publications. This would be an ideal supplemental text for an undergraduate or beginning graduate course in Reformation History, a very appropriate complement to the study of the ecclesial and theological struggles among the “great men” (and the occasional “great woman”) of that era.

TO ORDER BOOKS: - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books