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Review: The Essence of the Reformation by Kirsten Birkett

Reviewed by Nicole Thatcher, who is studying Linguistics, Classics and Ancient History at the University of Western Australia.

If you don’t really know how the Reformation fits together, or why it’s important to remember this period of history 500 years on, Kirsten Birkett’s The Essence of the Reformation is a must-read. It’s a concise and easy-to-follow overview of the Reformation and the important figures who set it in motion.

Birkett starts off by exploring the impact of the pagan religions of Medieval Europe on the understanding and practice of Christianity. This section helps to explain how certain Catholic traditions developed. Having examined these influences, she then outlines the key events of the Reformation, and describes how the response in particular countries contributed to the revolutionary changes in theological thought. In the final section of the book, she evaluates the significance of the Reformation and how it differed from earlier attempts to reform the Catholic Church.

Martin Luther is probably the best-known name when it comes to the Reformation. But Birkett also draws attention to the career of a number of Luther’s contemporaries. Zwingli, for example, was a Swiss priest and Reformer. Unlike Luther, he was supported by many in Zurich who believed Reformation doctrines were right and the Church was wrong. Zurich’s reform provided a lead for other Swiss cities to follow.

Birkett’s history of the Reformation, the factors leading to it and the consequences for the world, is a timely reminder to modern Christians of how the truths which many Reformers died for —salvation by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone — still need to be fought for today. The Essence of the Reformation is not only a history, but a call to action — to be reminded by history to defend the truths of Christianity — and a warning to learn from our heritage.