The Reformation’s African Roots

Oct 31, 2019 by

by  A. Trevor Sutton, The Gospel Coalition:

Five hundred and two years ago—on October 31, 1517—Martin Luther publicly posted his Ninety-five Theses in Wittenberg, Germany, and the Protestant Reformation began.

No doubt you’ve heard this fact before—it’s the stuff of ninth-grade history class and the answer to the $200 Jeopardy! question, right up there with “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Despite its widespread acceptance, however, this may not be the best place to start the Reformation story. Yes, Luther’s publication of the Ninety-five Theses ignited spiritual flames that permanently altered the landscape of human history. Yet there is more to the Reformation story than just that one moment. There are many vital threads and theologians that came before this bombastic German monk. Were it not for these prior influences, there would have been no Reformation in 16th-century Europe.

Before Luther in Wittenberg, there was Augustine in Algeria. Before Calvin in Geneva, there was Cyril in Egypt. Before Zwingli in Zürich, there was Tertullian in Tunisia. These African theologians had a profound influence on Reformation theologians. Indeed, many of the influential texts of the 16th century—including The Book of Concord and Calvin’s Institutes—are loaded with references to African theologians.

The Reformation in Europe has roots in earlier theologians in Africa.

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