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Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution: A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  548 ratings  ·  68 reviews
The "dangerous idea" lying at the heart of Protestantism is that the interpretation of the Bible is each individual's right and responsibility. The spread of this principle has resulted in five hundred years of remarkable innovation and adaptability, but it has also created cultural incoherence and social instability. Without any overarching authority to rein in "wayward" ...more
Hardcover, 560 pages
Published September 25th 2007 by HarperOne (first published 2007)
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W. Don
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. I found it well written, reasoned, unbiased (at least, with no obvious agendas that I could discern) and very informative. Not written as a scholarly work, it is a pleasant and thought provoking read for the layperson interested in church history. It is a well referenced survey of the topic, suitable as a foundation from which to launch more serous research if one is so inclined.

His basic premise is that Protestantism, in contrast to Catholicism, does not have a single, def
Andrea Levin
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
I read this book as a former religion major with gaps in her studies, an English and humanities teacher at a public school, and as a member of an interfaith family. My aunt, who self-identifies as a Bible-believing Christian, and I, a Reconstructionist Jew, read it together in a two-person book club, and we both enjoyed it immensely despite our very different personal relationships to the topic. McGrath's writing is engaging. He presents and interprets historical events and theological issues wi ...more
Mar 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Strong, but not for those who are not well-versed in history

Let me just note that Alister McGrath has taken on a large topic (Protestantism) in Christianity's Dangerous Idea and done about as well as one can in organizing the information and presenting it in a cogent and readable fashion.

McGrath assumes that you already know a lot about history in general and about the last 500 years or so in particular. That is to be expected. If he had to explain every last detail this book it would have
Dec 12, 2008 rated it liked it
No one can fault McGrath's research - deep, broad and painstaking - or his erudite yet effective prose. However, he gives short shrift to the wider implications of Reformed Christianity, developing a too-narrow focus. Much of his research is wasted as he jumps to a hasty conclusion. ...more
Neil Kruger
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Two of Protestantism's distinguishing marks are: (1) The Priesthood of Believers; and (2) Sola Scriptura - The Bible has the highest and primary authority. Taken together these marks imply that any believer has the ability to interpret the Scriptures. This is Christianity's dangerous idea. McGrath explores how this idea, coupled with the Protestant tendency to reformulate and self-examine, contributes to the spread and fragmentation of Protestantism. This is all weaved into a readable and insigh ...more
David Bruyn
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: church-history
Helpful and clear summary of how Scripture interpreting Scripture explains both the success and the failures of Protestantism. Interesting and possibly over-sympathetic section on the rise of Pentecostalism.
Jarrod Dillon

It is great most of the time. But then for some reason he keeps going. Each chapter is about 6-7 pages too many. I can understand why he had to do this. Protestantism is so large and you don’t want to leave anyone out.
Jan 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
A good synopsis of Protestantism's 500-year history. The only deficiency is the author focuses too much on Anglo-Protestant movements after the 17th century. Greatest strength of the book is the analysis of Protestantism greatest idea and greatest threat: how does one claim the authority of correct Biblical interpretation when final authority is vested in the text to be interpreted. ...more
Nov 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book deserves 3.5 stars - a 4 is probably too high, but 3 is certainly too low. I would definitely recommend it to anyone seeking to better understand Protestantism. McGrath does an excellent job balancing history, sociology, and theology throughout the book. I came away with a better understanding of denominational differences (both doctrinal and historical) and similarities.
May 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
I decided that I am not going to treat this book as all others. It is a fantastic history of movements in the church in relation to the interpretation of the Bible. It's going on my reference shelf for future consulting. ...more
Mar 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Very good read. This is a history of the church from the reformation until now. Alister McGrath explores how delivering the gospel to common people freed Christianity to be what it was meant to be.
May 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Good book. Exceptionally informative. Solid analysis. I think I would have *really* liked it, except the topic was too broad to have summoned my deeper loyalties. He acknowledges this exact issue, that most "Protestants" would be unsatisfied with merely being identified as such--we all also prefer more particular labels. Protestant Liberals don't want to be identified with Fundamentalist Evangelicals; they probably regard them as "the other" (those against whom their identity is shaped)--yet the ...more
Brian Ferry
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Some wonder if the fragmentation of Christianity from the time of the reformation stems from one theme. In this surprisingly fair-minded evaluation of the reformation events, Alister McGrath does just that when he identifies it to be the ideology of personal interpretation of Scripture. McGrath is an Anglican priest and the chair of theology at the University of London.
Scott Wilson
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion, true-story
Must read for anyone seriously interested in the Christian religion
Jon Cooper
Jan 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was a very engaging read. McGrath's thesis is well-woven throughout the entire text: Protestantism is a movement that can be defined by its (varying) commitment to the Bible and its ability, willingness, and insistence to change itself as well as change how it relates to society - and to do so in light of biblical reading.

I have very little to say about this book that is negative, if for no other reason than its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, in my opinion. Indeed, if anything, it
Early on I came up with an analogy for this book that held all the way through, particularly through the first and third parts (of three): It is like using Google Earth, when you zoom back up and out away from your pinpoint until you see just the breadth of context that interests you. This book did that for me. It backed up and out to provide a big picture that was interesting and informative for me -- not too much detail (sometimes not enough), and not quite wide enough to lose its grip on the ...more
Brent McCulley
Oct 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
McGrath's treatment on the history of Protestantism is convoluted. At one point he seems to follow the logical progression of the history of Protestantism from the Reformation henceforth as a dynamic outflow of complex features in a balanced way; at another point he seem to look back in hindsight with anachronistic sociological systems, and project such constructs - such as social Darwinism, Marxism, and Weberian philosophical ideologies - onto the evolution of Protestantism. This is a seriously ...more
Jul 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Alister McGrath is one of my favorite theologians and this book is a fantastic feast for any who dive into reading it. The first part is a history of the Protestant Reformation up to about 1900 which reads more or less like a straightforward history book. In the second part he analyzes a number of issues in Protestantism from worship and church government to more surprising topics such as sports and the arts. Finally, in the third section he picks up the historical story from part one, focusing ...more
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Sep 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book a couple of years ago and have already read McGrath's The Passionate Intellect and his biography of C.S. Lewis. McGrath is a historian, biochemist and Christian theologian from Belfast, Northern Ireland. A one time atheist and professor at Oxford University, he is now a Christian and holds the Chair in theology, ministry, and education at the University of London.

I like reading his books because he is committed to challenging Christians to use their minds and intellects to ex
Thomas E Carr
Nov 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-crafted extensively-researched review of Protestant history presented in narrative form. McGrath follows the movement both chronologically and geographically providing a coherent big-picture view. The "dangerous idea" is that of Biblical interpretation becoming a task appropriate for any lay-person. He argues, and I think rightly so, that the resulting denominational diaspora throughout Europe, then the New World, and now Asia and the "Global South" is a direct result of this idea.

Paul Kurtz
Mar 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Part 1 of the book provided a very interesting history of Protestantism. I thought the thesis, however, that "the dangerous new idea, firmly embodied at the heart of the Protestant revolution, was that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible for themselves," is seriously flawed. Much of Protestantism has viewed the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura in just that way, but I am persuaded that the Reformers themselves did not see it that way. They wanted layman to have access to sc ...more
vittore paleni
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
A very helpful, enlightening, and educational book. Very accessible in writing. Quiet a feet for a single book, but as a scratch on a surface it is a job well done. The the book is generously footnoted, showing where the interested reader might go for further studies. All in all, i really enjoyed it.

A few (critical) notes: the author sometimes does not seem to distinguish clearly between culturally influenced and textually (Bible) influenced characteristics of the different flavors of Protestant
Alex Stroshine
Alister McGrath's book "Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution - A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First" is an absorbing and illuminating read. McGrath, an Anglican himself, traces the tension that had begun to build up in Europe on the eve of the Reformation. He provides a fascinating history of the various Protestant traditions that trace themselves back from the early years of the Reformation (Lutheranism, Reformed, Anglican, Anabaptist). He compares and co ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It was a good read. the book started with the Reformation of the 1500's and moved on in time to recent history looking at the changes to reformed thought over the last 500 years along with the 'Pentecostal Reformation' of the early 1900's. The dangerous idea, of course, being that a Christian can interpret the Bible apart from the Catholic Church. This leads to a second problem: how to assert the inerrancy of Scripture when there are multiple interpretations of the same text. the author does a g ...more
Don Henrikson
Mar 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Christianity’s Dangerous Idea is, as its subtitle claims, a history of the Protestant revolution from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first. Alister McGrath considers the basic Protestant ethos, that the church is to be shaped by the Bible, and considers how that simple belief has made Protestant church history a history of revolutions. He records the ways in which changing generations and changing cultural contexts have reinterpreted of the Bible, especially with regard to the life of the c ...more
Ryan Robinson
Aug 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A comprehensive and meaningful analysis of Protestant history. In the first section, he overviews the Reformation era: various groups, how they came to be, and how they were both similar and different. In the second section he looks at Protestantism's attitudes in a variety of areas such as the Bible, social and natural sciences, and arts. The final section stands out the most, however, as he goes from strictly reciting history to an analysis of where we are now and where we may be headed, inclu ...more
Jan 29, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is a very detailed study in the history of protestantism and where it may be going. Unfortunately in the midst of its details I got extremely bogged down. I found that in his efforts the be thorough the book became tedious. I've read a lot of boring church history, but this was the first book in that vein that I have officially put back on the shelf before it's finished. It's too long and monotonous and I've found has added very little of value to my understanding or thought regarding ...more
Paul Dinger
Mar 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is my second book of Lent. I have to say that this is an interesting take on events that I thought I knew. It's version of the Reformation adds many details that I didn't know. For example, I always thought the King James version was without competition and was put together by Protestant ministers with the king's blessing, not that it was done in competition with the major protestant churches, and was deeply unpopular for this reason for a long time. This book has proven to be an exhaustive ...more
May 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
What a misleading title to a very interesting and insightful read about Protestantism. The author goes through the history and basic beliefs of Protestantism, showing how the movement has evolved from the 16th century till the present. One area of focus is the Pentecostal, or Charismatic, movement, which is the most popular form of Protestantism. I've never had a religious experience with the Holy Spirit, but I do respect the beliefs of those that have. Overall, a great read, despite the poor ti ...more
Jul 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
I didn't know McGrath became a neo-pragmatist. His conclusion that Protestantism is ever-evolving and ever-changing seems like an easy way out for a scholar, such as McGrath. Once in his conclusion he quoted Clifford Geertz, author of the famous essay, "Thick Description." Since I'm not a theologian, I guess it is possible that some are just now getting around to Geertz and the like. Ultimately, it was disappointing conclusion. However, there is lots of meat in it and it's worth a glance. ...more
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Alister Edgar McGrath is a Northern Irish theologian, priest, intellectual historian, scientist, and Christian apologist. He currently holds the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford, and is Professor of Divinity at Gresham College. He was previously Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at King's College L ...more

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Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
39 likes · 13 comments
“Protestantism developed its sense of identity primarily in response to external threats and criticisms rather than as a result of shared beliefs. In one sense, the idea of "Protestantism" can be seen as the creation of its opponents rather than of its supporters.” 4 likes
“Manz, formerly one of Zwingli's closest allies, held that there was no biblical warrant for infant baptism. Refusing to recant his views, he was tied up and drowned in the River Limmat.” 2 likes
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