Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction by Mark Noll

Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)Takeaway: The common thread of Protestantism is diversity, focus on scripture and change.

I first heard of Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction on a podcast from Books and Culture magazine.  I am a regular reader and listener to their short weekly podcast and have first heard of a number of books that I have enjoyed from them.

I am also not familiar with the Oxford Short Introduction series.  But after having read this one, I will read more.  There are more than 200 books in this series over a very wide range of topics.  I cannot speak to the series as a whole, but I like the idea of a series that is oriented toward short books on a wide range of topics written by top scholars in the field and oriented toward an educated reader.

I am very familiar with Mark Noll.  He is the foremost scholar of American Christian history and one of the foremost scholars of any sort within Evangelicalism.  I had two different classes with him.  One on the reformation at Wheaton college as an undergrad, and a second at University of Chicago Divinity School on early North American Evangelicalism.  He is a very good professor and a very good author.

The fact that he was able to cram in as much about the history and range of the Protestant world in less than 150 pages, while making it quite readable is impressive.  Noll also did not focus solely on the English-speaking or Western world of Protestantism.  He spent about a third of the book talking about modern and non-Western expressions of Protestantism.

Noll is writing for an educated reader, but not necessarily one that is educated about Christianity.  I am fairly well read in Christian history and I still learned a number of things.  At the same time, I would very much recommend this to someone who has almost no background in the history of Christianity because he is clear and gives a very good overview without getting too bogged down in minor details.

The overarching theme of the book seems to be that Protestantism is not easy to define or easy to characterize.  Noll repeatedly notes that diversity is one of the defining characteristics of Protestantism.  Noll structured the book basically chronologically.  The first third of the book is introduction and early Protestant reformers.  The second third is the post reformation adaptations of Protestantism and the way that it diversified.  And the last third is modern era and world-wide implications of Protestantism, especially Pentecostalism.

The only real complaint I have is not with the book itself, but with the formatting.  Publishers need to figure out how to deal with kindle conversations.  Sidebar notes and pictures and comments are common in paperback books.  But when converted to kindle format, sidebars do not work.  They have to be moved to make sense in the text and set apart in a way that it is clear that they are not a part of the normal flow of the book.  There were a couple of sidebars that were in the middle of a paragraph so I had to figure out what was going on and where the main text connected.

This was not an expensive book, but if it were $5 instead of $7.16, I would buy more of the series and experiment.  As it is I will probably be a bit more careful.  In most cases that I saw, the paperback and Kindle price were around a dollar apart.  This book is well worth the $7, I will see if others are as well.

Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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