(See the update at the end of this post.)

I feel some obligation to link to this review of G. R. Evans’s The Roots of the Reformation given that I implicitly commended it in a previous post.

After cataloging numerous factual errors on a single read, Carl Trueman issues a caveat emptor (hence my mea culpa).

Here is his conclusion:

I really wanted to like this book. Teaching Reformation church history is my primary task and one of the great joys of my life. I am consequently always looking for good textbooks in this area. Given G. R. Evans solid record as a fine scholar this looked very much as if it was going to be just such a book, especially given the stated emphasis on the long view, rooting the Reformation in medieval history.

Sadly, the multitude of factual mistakes it contains render it a complete classroom liability.  Pace the stellar jacket commendations from some of the most learned Reformation scholars alive, I cannot recommend it other than as a salutary lesson in what happens when one writes too quickly and too confidently outside of one’s own field of expertise.  As a teacher, I cannot use this book because it does not do that which I require of a textbook: provide a reliable guide to names, dates and events. I also fear that in the hands of the rising generation of evangelicals who have a zeal for the reformation without much knowledge of what it really represented, this book will do about as much theological good as putting a brush and a pot of red paint in the hands of a two year old: the results are going to be very messy indeed. I hope that if IVP consider a second edition, they will at least require substantial rewriting of the last 250 pages and possibly have another medievalist cast their eye over first 250.

In short, this is a very curious book: curious for the fact that a fine scholar such as Professor Evans would produce such a seriously flawed piece of work; and curious for the fact that highly respected scholars have given it their imprimaturs in the form of glowing jacket commendations. Sadly, in line with the old proverb, you cannot judge this book by its cover.

Update:

The editors at IVP have asked that the following statement be passed along:

Dear Friends:

Recently, concerns have arisen among some of our readership in response to a review by Carl Trueman, regarding inaccuracies and inconsistencies within certain sections of Gillian R. Evans’s The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence and Rupture.

Professor Evans’s work is an important and valuable contribution to historical understanding. We strongly affirm the integrity of everyone involved in this project, from the editors to the endorsers, and we also want to express our firm commitment to the scholarly integrity of this project.

But the issues Trueman points out clearly do not represent the academic standards we as a publisher hold ourselves to. Unfortunately, several issues were not caught during our standard, thorough review process. The presence of such oversights in manuscripts is common in the publishing process, however, especially with large and complex texts.

Nonetheless, we as the publisher take full responsibility for them. Therefore, as of the beginning of June, IVP has taken The Roots of the Reformation out of print and will no longer be shipping orders of this edition. Our goal is to publish a carefully revised second edition of the book by the end of August, in time for Fall semester classes. Further, IVP will offer a complimentary copy of the second edition, including free shipping, to everyone who has already purchased the current edition.

We hope that this underscores the abiding value of Professor Evans’s book, one that a number of internationally respected scholars have recommended as a masterful investigation of the Reformation’s roots from the early church through the medieval era.

The Editors

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Comments:


17 thoughts on “Don’t (Always) Judge a Book by Its (Back) Cover”

  1. Doc B says:

    Trueman’s list of errors make the book look like it is a collection of undergraduate students’ errors on term papers rather than a scholarly textbook.

    So if you can’t trust the rather impressive list of endorsers on the back cover of this book, who can you trust?

    (That is not a rhetorical question. Non-scholars like me need a list of names of scholars who will endorse good books and not endorse bad ones, lest we become unwitting victims of scholarly malpractice.)

  2. Henry says:

    Thank God for a gutsy review, it is a great help. Did Packer really read the book? I have heard that some leaders do not actually read all the books they review? I hope that is not true.

    Some comical Trueman phraseology from the article:

    there is also considerable weirdness in the discussion of the role of the Libertines

    This kind of description makes Calvin sound like some twenty-first century American evangelical.

  3. Kim says:

    Sadly Trueman is the one who is flawed, and on the sheer weight of his self-advancing authority what gives him the right to strain at a gnat to swallow a bull-dozer.

    1. Garrett says:

      Oh come on Larry, you’re so obvious. Using the “Kim” alias this time, eh? Please…

  4. Scott C says:

    I have been reading David Daniel’s magisterial “The Bible in English.” He excoriates a number of standard medieval and reformation scholars for their woeful lack of attention to important details of the reformation particularly in England.

  5. Scott says:

    Folks here have invested Trueman with papal authority, so….

  6. Justin says:

    Most of the typos that Trueman lists are mere red herrings for Evans’ argument. If Evans is simply trying to show how Reformed Theology owes more to Medieval Philosophy/Theology than has been previously thought, then Trueman is not actually addressing the argument of the book. Hence, he has given us a unhelpful review. Book reviews are meant to interact with the argument of the book. Is there a flaw in Evans’ argument that would make the book a waste of time? Trueman doesn’t address this; rather, he lists typos/errors that contribute little to the overall argument. What is the point of Trueman’s review? Is Evans’ wrong? Did the Reformers completely break from the Medieval Scholastics? Trueman doesn’t tell us.

    1. The Jones says:

      Truman’s point seems to be that if you can’t take the time to recognize that you attribute actions on one page to a man who is said to have died years earlier on another page of the same book, and if this is only one of many factual errors spread around liberally in your textbook, then you shouldn’t be considered an authoritative voice on the subject of your book.

      While I don’t know enough of Reformation history to verify every claim (except for the “Edict of Worms” blunder), I do think this is a fair point. Even beyond that, I think it is a mild and rather gentle point in light of the accusations of such horrible scholarship. At the very least, it deserves a response from the author or publisher.

      1. Justin says:

        I should have been more clear but it is unacceptable for Evans to have so many errors/typos. So what Evans is truly guilty of is sloppiness. However, some of the problems that Trueman raises are simply distinctions without difference. (An example of a distinction without difference is illustrated by the movie “This is Spinal Tap”: Upon proclaiming that their amps are better than all other amps because they go to 11 they are asked why can’t they just make 10 louder. There is no distinguishable difference between speakers that go to 11 or speakers that make 10 louder.)

        1. Old Buzzard says:

          A reference to Spinal Tap on a blog that venerates John Piper? I think the cognitive dissonance in my head just went to 11.

        2. Darren says:

          Could you give an example of a distinction without a difference that Trueman makes? I read through his review, and I saw plenty of differences. For a professional historian, the details are pretty important, considering that overall arguments are made based on details.

  7. J says:

    The larger point is Trueman pointing out the level of scholarship that exist at these highly academic institutions. Ivory Towers made our of straw instead of stone. This breeds false endorsement instead of genuine inspection of the contents. Remember, This is what Trueman came up with after ONE read. That alone makes the book highly suspicious.

  8. Scott C says:

    I think some commenters are missing a huge point here. If Evans made one or two blunders she could be forgiven. But when she makes extensive blunders you begin to question how well she knows her Reformation history. And if she does not know her Reformation history then how can she intelligently argue any point she wants to make? She loses credibility and can’t be trusted for anything else she says.

  9. Justin Taylor says:

    The Trueman bashing stuff is genuinely strange. Self-advancing authority??

    I think the big point is not that Evans can’t be trusted in general. Rather, his key point is that the book can’t be used as a textbook. As Trueman says, a teacher can disagree with the book’s thesis, but the teacher needs to at least assume basic competence when it comes to names, dates, etc.

  10. Nathanael says:

    As someone who was, until very recently, a student of Dr. Trueman I thought I should weigh in.

    First, I should point out that Trueman agrees with the basic thesis of the book (that there is a great deal of continuity between the Reformation and the Middle Ages). Second, he generally likes G. R. Evans and recommended several of her books on the 11th-12th century to me (e.g., her book on Anselm). Third, I believe the main point of the review was that the book was not useful as a textbook not because the thesis was wrong but because it contained so many factual errors.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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