May

29

2012

Justin Taylor|2:45 pm CT

Don’t (Always) Judge a Book by Its (Back) Cover

(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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