Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society” as Want to Read:
The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  169 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
In a work that is as much about the present as the past, Brad Gregory identifies the unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation" and traces the way it shaped the modern condition over the course of the following five centuries. A hyperpluralism of religious and secular beliefs, an absence of any substantive common good, the triumph of capitalism and its driver, ...more
Hardcover, 539 pages
Published January 1st 2012 by Belknap Press
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
I was invited to a reading group at Baylor that was going through this book. A three-star rating means that some parts were great, and other parts were terrible. Great parts included Gregory's insistence that theism does not preclude scientific endeavors; in fact, atheism precludes authoritative interpretation/application of scientific data. The really bad parts are where Gregory decides that the Reformation's "sola Scriptura" necessarily led to hyper-pluralism—once the adherence to Roman Cathol ...more
Jeremy Purves
Jun 03, 2015 Jeremy Purves rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
This is an assumption rattling book. Brad S. Gregory presents a viewpoint outside the evangelical mainstream, but then, of course, it demands answering whether, according to 2000 year history of Christianity, evangelical thinking is, in fact, "mainstream."

One of the achievements of this book is that it forces the issue: how many of your assumptions are only of recent and modern origin? When adopting an assumption, do you even imagine the consequences of that assumption? Often you do not, because
Ralph Orr
Brad Gregory is an outstanding scholar. The premise of his book is that our modern secular Western world is not so much the result of the Enlightenment but of the Reformation. It is the unintended result of the Reformation, born on the faulty foundation of sola scriptura as the sole determinant of Christian faith and practice. He discusses his thesis from six different aspects of modern life, including his own realm of academia. His analysis is certain to be discussed for decades, at least among ...more
Alison Kudlowski
Feb 27, 2014 Alison Kudlowski rated it it was amazing
Heavy inspirational theses on the unintended consequences of the Reformation in England. William Faulkner once said 'The past is never dead..its not even past' The reformation is between middle ages and modernity and therefore Gregory argues, is accountable for much of where we find ourselves today. It argues that culturally the enlightenment, the Industrial revolution shaped and inspired 19th century philosophical ideology..the French revolution and European sensibilities were an aftermath or e ...more
Nov 11, 2012 Lisa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: academic-history
This deserves a MUCH more complicated review. Basically all that is wrong (in Gregory's view) with the modern world (continually fragmenting of knowledge, lack of consensus about the good life or what truth is) can be traced to the Reformation. Reformers didn't mean to do this, but by moving away from tradition and authority regarding what scripture/truth means, and by allowing theological debate to center on people's opinion, they undermined the idea that truth could be determined and decided. ...more
Paul Rhodes
Jul 29, 2012 Paul Rhodes is currently reading it
I'm almost done with this book, only having the twenty-page conclusion to read. Gregory pretty much blames all the ills that plague modernity, from moral relativism to consumerist excess to global warming, on the Protestant Reformation. I love it!
Patrik Hagman
Mar 03, 2013 Patrik Hagman rated it liked it
It is a bit difficult to know what to do with this book. Its central idea can be summed up in one sentence: By breaking up the unity of truth claims, the reformation spawned secular society. It is not a new or original claim, yet Gregory develops it over some 500 pages. It leans heavily of the work of people such as John Milbank and Alisdair MacIntyre, and does not in any way alter their accounts in any significant way. On the other hand it is not a introductory text either, its argument is quie ...more
Apr 14, 2012 Kb rated it really liked it
This makes me wish I had my old access to scholarly journals to see how the academy is reacting.

I am pro-anything that makes historians of the "modern era" have to pay attention to the Middle Ages/Reformations. When I studied that time period, I had to know about how the history/philosophy since the 16th century affected the books and articles I was reading, so I think it is proper that those who deal with times closer to the present see how the Middle Ages and Reformation still inform the pres
Jan 14, 2013 Allan rated it it was ok
Kind of like Foucault, in a way -- the same changes everyone else has observed along the way to modernity, but it's bad not good. In Foucault's case, everything was getting staider, we were too self-controlled, we needed to get out more. In Gregory's view, since the Reformation, we've become morally unmoored, and "Judged on their own terms and with respect to the objectives of their own leading protagonists, medieval Christendom failed, the Reformation failed, confessionalized Europe failed, and ...more
Chris Stratton
Feb 22, 2014 Chris Stratton rated it really liked it
Gregory is an astounding scholar. The scope of what he handles here is enormous. I don't agree with his main emphasis about the Reformation, because there were plenty of antecedent factors in play that the Reformation merely exacerbated (cf. Mark Noll's lengthy response to Gregory online), but on the whole, this a book every serious scholar of the history of European/American ideology should read. Highly recommended.
Denis Mcgrath
Jan 03, 2017 Denis Mcgrath rated it it was amazing
The author lays out his argument in a thorough and well documented proportion viz. that the roots of the Protestant Reformation are still with us and have accelerated the secularization of knowledge, the dissolution of an agreed upon moral code and promoted avarice and the accumulation of wealth through unbridled capitalism. Not all at once of course but our manner of viewing History has been “fissiparous” at best. The cry of “Sola Scriptura” that led away from the hegemony of the Medieval Roman ...more
Luke Harrington
Feb 02, 2013 Luke Harrington rated it it was amazing
Sprawling and copiously researched, The Unintended Reformation seeks to describe everything that has changed in Western intellectual life since the Protestant Reformation. It's an ambitious work, to say the least. It's also not easy to get through, and I'll freely admit to taking more than a year to complete it. (In his notes, Gregory says that it really took him upwards of 20 years to get the thing written, so I guess that should be no surprise.) It is, however, well worth the work (for the rea ...more
A. J. McMahon
Aug 12, 2015 A. J. McMahon rated it really liked it
This book is way too long, it gets bogged down in unnecessary detail and goes out of focus. There are times when Professor Gregory seems to forget about his academic status, he lightens up and writes more freely and the book becomes much more free flowing and in focus; then he remembers he is a professor and freezes up again. But even so, I have to give him four stars at least because his analysis is so thorough-going and informative. The title and sub-title on their own pretty much encapsulate ...more
Wing Cheung
Apr 04, 2016 Wing Cheung rated it really liked it
The is a dizzying account of how the Reformation, because of its insistence of sola scriptura, and hence sola ratio, inevitably led to open-ended doctrinal controversies, which in turn produced confessional states and religio-political conflicts. To resolve such conflicts, religion became privatized, and a morality of the good gradually turned into a morality of rights. Meanwhile, the industrious and subsequently the industrial revolution justified man's insatiable acquisitiveness, laying the fo ...more
I can sympathize with Gregory’s concern for contemporary problems and the desire to make his work as an academic relevant, even as I’m not entirely sure he’s identified the correct big problems. (I’ll agree that global climate change is a problem, but I’d frankly disagree that “hyperpluralism” is, and I’ll decline to endorse political and cultural polarization and moral relativism as problems outside the context of specific examples.) But aren’t I reading this book in part because I think unders ...more
May 30, 2011 Lyndon rated it really liked it
"The unintended problem created by the Reformation was . . . not simply a perpetuation of the inherited and still-present challenge of how to make human life more genuinely Christian, but also the new and compounding problem of how to know what true Christianity was" (p. 368).

Gregory has written an ambitious critique of Reformation-inspired rationality that has helped shaped the modern imaginary to be less and less able to address Questions of Life with anything resembling the thought, care and
Vic Froese
Jan 06, 2013 Vic Froese rated it really liked it
Won't ever think of the Reformation or about evangelical Christianity the same way again, even if I'm not wholly sold on the main argument Gregory makes, namely, that the secularization of the West is largely due to the splintering of Christendom in the fifteen century. He offers many intriguing smaller arguments along the way, among them the idea that Reformation and post-Reformation theology was so preoccupied with polemics that it disregarded the growing scientific movement and so marginalize ...more
Steve Allison
Oct 20, 2016 Steve Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The basic premise of this book is that the reformation had the unintended consequence of creating the secular world. The author provides a genealogy of how it came about. The seed that began the process was provided by the medieval scholar Duns Scotus. He introduced the concept of "univocity". I admit to not understanding this concept very well. Duns Scotus was even prior to William of Ocham, one who with his nominalism is often blamed as the progenitor of our situation. I enjoyed the book nonet ...more
Apr 08, 2015 Dan rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
*Extremely* dense and erudite book. Professor Gregory offers some interesting perspective on the intellectual origins of modernity, and how much of it emerged from the competing truth claims brought about by the Reformation. Most important insights: "religion" was once a comprehensive worldview, moreso than a "facet" of life, as it is generally seen by the cognoscenti; and the uncritical acceptance by the scientific establishment of metaphysical univocity has resulted in the unnecessary intellec ...more
There is not a lot of new information here for folks that have been paying attention. But if you haven't, and you have the patience, this is a very valuable resource. I feel like the message could have been delivered in much less than 500+ pages. In fact at times it seems like he is saying the exact same thing he just said two paragraphs ago. Or pages. Or chapters. Nonetheless, it still is a very valuable book. If nothing else, when you read this book you'll come away with a very clear picture o ...more
May 29, 2014 Faith rated it liked it
The seeming sort of "argument" of this book, that the world in which we live is one for which xians must take responsibility, is, from a "theological" perspective, quite interesting and probably helpful. The book is less interesting as a history book though and I found it a less engaging read than Salvation at Stake. The chapter about universities is probably the chapter I would be most likely to recommend.
Trae Johnson
Sep 05, 2015 Trae Johnson rated it it was amazing
Well researched (over 200 pages of endnotes) and honest look at the unintended consequences of the Reformation, viz. the secularization of Western culture. Among other things, Gregory argues that the "Life Questions" (origin, meaning, morality, and destiny) are incapable of being answered with any degree of certainty. This due, in large part to the Reformation and its principles. I get the impression that this is/will be a landmark book within the field.
Jan 29, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it
I found this book tedious and repetitious, but his arguments are very important. Particularly interesting is that he points out things I knew but didn't realize. For example if you apply the principle of non-contradiction to the multiple disciplines in academia, there are many conflicts among their basic assumptions.
Dec 24, 2014 Jorge rated it really liked it
Excellent book, but a hard read. There are more than 100 pages of notes! I have it all annotated, too many interesting, new to me ideas. Anyone interested in why our society is the way it is (and with a modicum of West. Civ. culture) would find something interesting.
Jan 20, 2014 Caitlin rated it liked it
The book for faculty book club this semester. I enjoyed our discussions, but the book was very difficult for me to read without background knowledge on the topic.
Jul 13, 2015 Simon rated it did not like it
Pretty poor. A very flimsy argument for a book which makes huge claims. This is just going to confuse people.
Jul 29, 2013 Stephanie rated it really liked it
It took me a while to get on the train, but he asks some pretty provocative questions about what the Reformation has done to modern times.
Todd Hains
May 31, 2013 Todd Hains rated it it was amazing
Great description and critique of modernity, however, the reformers are greatly misrepresented. Still this is a powerful book that early modernists must interact with!
Aug 09, 2012 Darren rated it it was amazing
Shelves: work-books
Although this doesn't necessarily say anything new, Gregory's synthesis is absolutely brilliant. This may be one of the best books written on Reformation history in the past five years.
Dec 04, 2015 David rated it did not like it
Pretentious, ponderous, inefficient and effective, takes 20 pages what could be said in one page. Did not finish, did not keep.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Christian Tradition 3: The Growth of Medieval Theology 600-1300
  • The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity
  • The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government
  • Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works
  • Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason
  • A Secular Age
  • Athanasius: The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus (Classics of Western Spirituality)
  • The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom
  • Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature
  • A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age
  • The Theological Origins of Modernity
  • Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age
  • John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand
  • The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict
  • God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition
  • The History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium
  • To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World
  • The Reformation
Dorothy G. Griffin Professor of Early Modern European History

Graduate Program Field
European History

Early Modern Europe; Intellectual; Religious

Ph.D., history, Princeton University (1996)
M.A., history, University of Arizona (1989)
Lic., philosophy, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium (1987)
B.S., history, Utah State University (1985)
B.A., philosophy, Catholic University
More about Brad S. Gregory...

Share This Book

“general relativity and quantum mechanics cannot both be right,” 0 likes
“Not only have past processes made us what we are-"modern" or "postmodern" selves, rather than "medieval" or "early modern" selves-but by explaining them we both account for and implicitly justify present realities.” 0 likes
More quotes…