In exploring the development of Protestantism thus far, we have noted the multiplicity of possibilities that the word "Protestant" denotes. Each of these possibilities—whether Lutheran, Reformed, Congregationalist, Baptist, Anglican, or Methodist—has its own sense of identity and right to belong within the Christian tradition and especially its Protestant constituency. Each has its own understanding of how to read the Bible, conduct worship, organize its churches, and engage with the world. Each has its own tensions, debates, and authority figures, some of which carry greater weight in the Protestant community or in the Christian church in general. In more recent years, however, these Protestant traditions have been supplemented by newer arrivals, of which the most important by far is Pentecostalism.
As our narrative of the development and expansion of Protestantism has proceeded, a number of major questions about Protestant beliefs and attitudes have emerged. So what are those beliefs and attitudes? How has the history of Protestantism been shaped by them? How do they arise in the first place? How can such a wide range of beliefs and attitudes be accommodated within a single movement called "Protestantism"? The sheer observable, historical diversity of Protestantism is a constant source of frustration to those who like everything to be rigorously and clearly defined—and a source of inspiration to those who believe that diversity encourages creative innovation and experimentation.
This section explores some fundamental questions concerning the identity of Protestantism. It examines how Protestantism has arrived at its distinctive ideas in the first place, noting the particular importance that it attaches to the Bible and how this text is to be interpreted and applied. Particular attention is paid to the major differences over biblical interpretation within Protestantism and their implications for an appeal to the Bible as the supreme arbiter of doctrinal disputes. Some fundamental Protestant ideas are then considered, along with some of the internal debates within Protestantism that these have generated and the tensions they have caused. We then move on to look at how Protestant ideas manifest themselves—in how Protestants worship and work, in their interaction with culture, and in their attitudes to the arts and sciences.
We begin with the central focus of Protestant theology and spirituality— the Bible.
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