Book Review: “The Reformers and their Stepchildren” by Leonard Verduin (1964)

The Reformers and their Stepchildren is not your classic pleasure-read. I picked it up as a classroom assignment, and “textbook” is the exact genre label I would give it. But while it was thick with facts and a drudgery at times, I would agree with my classmates that Stepchildren is a must-read for any free-churcher who has questioned his Reformation roots. If you have ever asked questions like the following, then this book is for you: “How can Martin Luther be my spiritual ancestor when he held for the life of him to infant baptism?” “How is it that my spiritual roots are steeped in reactionary murders like that of Michael Servetus by John Calvin?” “What’s so different between a Catholic state religion and a Protestant State religion?”

Verduin expertly lays bare the roots of these very issues—and many others like them—in the eight chapters of Stepchildren by covering the entire Reformation era from the angles of eight distinct subgroups. These subgroups each had a nickname and were themselves reactions not only to the Catholic superpower of the day, but also to the Protestant Reformers who, though predominantly anti-Catholic in theology, held strictly to the maintenance of a state religion. Reformers like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were themselves considered enemies by these subgroups, not for their Protestant leanings, but for their dedication to the marriage of church and state and their stances on baptism. For all intents and purposes, Verduin ignores the entire Catholic-Protestant war, but instead focuses fully on the Reformer/Stepchildren war-of-words that eventually turned into hatred, violence, and ultimately death.

The subgroups that Verduin covers by nickname are the following (listed here in case someone is searching for a solid reference on any one of these–Verduin is your best source): Donatisten, Stabler, Catharer, Sacramentschwarmer, Winckler, Wiedertaufer, Kommunisten, and Rottengeister. As a free church man, I was fascinated to learn that I don’t come from long line of compromisers, but that even during the Reformation era, my spiritual ancestors stood up for what was right against the pitfalls and heresies touted by those of a similar label, yet vastly different in theology. I am proud of my heritage, and this book puts in the spotlight those who have for far too long been greatly ignored and misunderstood, the Stepchildren of the Reformation.

© 2011 E.T.

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