In Search of Ancient Roots - A Review

There have always been some evangelical Christians that decide to swim across the Tiber to join the Roman Catholics. That trickle has, according to some commentators, become a steady stream, especially among younger evangelicals. I’ve met a few people that have converted to some form of liturgical worship, like Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic, and their reasons have tended to be similar.

In general, those that convert were involved in pop evangelicalism, which is usually high on hype and low on content. They were often nonplussed by the flashy, non-substantive style of the young, tanned mega church pastors that some people find so motivating. Largely it was concern that many of these forms of evangelicalism had few connections with ancient Christianity, were willing to renovate doctrines or push them to the background in order to draw a crowd, and had more of an affiliation to the dis-ease causing contemporary culture than anything like the pre-modern vision of the world the gospel calls us to. Those that I’ve spoken to that have jumped connected to Roman Catholicism have done it because they recognize that, in many ways, many “conservative” evangelical churches are really only a bad budget year from compromising critical Christian doctrines.

I share many of the same concerns about much of evangelicalism. There are altogether too many pastors that are more modern or postmodern than Christian. There is way too much time spent in trying to run the most efficient church and fundraising campaign, and too little spent asking what holiness looks like. There are streams of evangelicalism that function as moral therapeutic deists. This is true. However, the answer is unlikely to be found in a version of Christianity that claims to have hit peak revisionism 500 years ago, instead of one that is now going through many of the same struggles. (Never mind the more recent evolutions in Roman Catholic dogma.)

Kenneth Stewart, professor of theological studies at Covenant College, is helpful in his 2017 book, In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis.  Since one of the arguments that many Roman Catholics use against Evangelical Christianity is that it is a novel invention from about 500 years ago, Stewart evaluates that claim deeply and others along the way to show that while various forms of Protestant Christianity are far from perfect, the claims of novelty and disconnection with ancient forms of Christianity are unfounded.

In Part One, Stewart explores the question of the Evangelical identity crisis. He begins by showing connections between the current Evangelical movement and earlier mini-reformations and revivals that pushed back anti-Christian traditions that confused the gospel. He also begins to wrestle with the question of authority: whether the Bible is authoritative or the interpretation of a select group of self-selected gate keepers. Finally, this section discusses the reality that doctrines have developed throughout Christian tradition; they were not handed down on stone tablets on a mountain. As a result, throughout Christian history, there have course corrections, adaptions, etc. Even within Roman Catholic teaching, there has been ongoing adaption as the Pope or various councils reject former teachings, adapt them, and propose new doctrines (Like the relatively recent addition of the perpetual virginity of Mary and the infallibility of the Pope). A trip across the Tiber is far from a trip toward rock solid connection with the original Christian past.

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The second part explores the use and evaluation of Protestant Christians to pre-Reformation Christianity. With the exception of the modern period, in which much of Protestantism became infected with the same sort of Enlightenment rationalism that much of the rest of the world did, it turns out that Evangelicals have engaged the early Church Fathers fairly consistently. Stewart shows how reliance on the Apostolic Fathers has shaped ongoing Protestant doctrinal debates. There is more continuity with traditional Christianity among many faithful evangelical Christian traditions that some Roman Catholics will admit.

In Part Three, Stewart defends the Protestant Christian faith, by tracing out the problems with the Apocrypha and its limited authority before the Council of Trent. He also considers the attractiveness of different forms of monasticism, whose contemplative life is another draw for many young Christians. Then, he closes this section by evaluating the history of arch-convert John Henry Newman, whose famous quote, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant,” is used as a cudgel to prove that people who reject the authority and adaptations of the Roman Catholic church are ignorant or the real history of the church. The problem, as Stewart shows, is that this statement comes from a book that Newman had to demur about, because it was written before he converted away from Protestant Christianity. Additionally, Newman scholars continue to show that Newman never left behind his believe in the primary authority of Scripture, which is significantly different than official Roman Catholic doctrine.

The book concludes in Part Four considering whether Christian Unity, which many desire, is dependent on all Christians bowing to the Bishop of Rome as the supreme representative of Christ, or whether some form of unity can be established on those biblical truths are commonly held. Second, Stewart considers whether there can be true unity when the vastly different positions on the question of justification by faith or by works is considered. Finally, Stewart closes with some thoughts on how evangelical churches can be more connected with the global church and the ancient roots of Christianity and thus stem some of the concerns expressed by young evangelicals who are drawn across the Tiber.

This book is helpful because it presents a calm rebuttal to the claims made against Protestantism that often go unchallenged. Many of the reasons people list for converting to Roman Catholicism are, in fact, not as valid as they suppose. This book is a bit dense to hand a young undergraduate caught up in the pomp and smells of a high Roman mass, but it is powerful. Pastors and parents dealing with children drawn to Roman Catholicism may find this a very useful resource for engaging in discussions with information that evidentially rebuts propaganda used to draw people toward Rome.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

Living Wisely with the Church Fathers - A Review

Often, when reading Church History, I get the impression that things are pretty much the same as they ever were. This idea was brought to a head recently, when I read Christopher Hall’s book, Living Wisely with the Church Fathers. Hall is an expert in Patristics. This is the fourth in a series of volumes that synthesize the thought of Church Fathers on particular aspects of Christian thought. The present volume is a book about ethics. Although technology has changed, the topics of concern for the early church often have close analogies to the topics of our day.

In this volume, Hall summarizes, compares, and contrasts the teachings of various early Christian authors on martyrdom, wealth and poverty, war, sex and lust, marriage, entertainment, and the development of character. There is little doubt that Hall has chosen his topics wisely, which saves us the work of weeding through contextually dependent passages, but it is also clear that the wisdom of the ancient has a great deal of benefit for contemporary readers.

In C. S. Lewis’ preface to On the Incarnation by Athanasius, he commends his readers to read old books to help break through the blind spots of our time. On the Incarnation is an excellent book for that introduction because it is a timeless work that both helps undermine the arguments about doctrinal innovation (at least with respect to core doctrines like the incarnation), but also because that particular volume is lucid and, in a good translation, exceedingly easy to read. There are, however, some Patristics works that are not as clear, no matter what the translation says. Also, as Phillip Schaff’s monumental set of the collected works of the early church shows, the volume of writings is more than most of us mere mortals can manage in one lifetime. Hall’s synthesis helps break through that feeling of being overwhelmed.

At the same time, Lewis also warns of reading books about ancient authors. On the surface, it seems like he is warning us against book like Living Wisely with the Church Fathers, but on further consideration that is not clear. First, Lewis did not argue against reading new books, but merely against not reading old books. Given that wrote a few new books himself and a masterful book about old books (his contribution to the Oxford History of English Literature), that cannot have been his intent. Rather, he is arguing against reading new books about old books as the only point of contact with those earlier works. It is clear from Hall’s interaction with the Church Fathers that his desire is for his readers to go beyond his own works and to return to the sources. At the same time, he is offering helpful pointers to lead readers through the sometimes-tangled forest of antiquity.

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 In this volume, Hall serves as an advocate for the blessings of reading our theological predecessors. He does not gloss over the inconsistencies between authors and eras, but highlights the difference, showing, in part, how they arrived at opposite conclusions. By doing so Hall defeats the often triumphalistic proof-texting that goes one when someone finds an early author who agrees with them. One would think that tendency would have been defeated by Peter Lombard’s Sentences, but pacifists, abortion advocates, economic socialists, and their opponents still find pleasure in vindication when someone ancient says (or appears to say) exactly what their side is thinking. That becomes harder when one encounters opposing perspectives from eras adjacent or contemporary to those of the ancient author--clearly, there was more debate than many of allow. Hall points toward the consensus that arises at times and the need to read the full context to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the earlier reasoning when disagreement exists.

What is clear, however, is that the most enduring writings from Church History pull people outside themselves and cause them to look for the common good. The value in reading Church Fathers is not to find the killer proof-text, but to figure out how someone with vastly different cultural blind spots arrived at the conclusion they did and how that can inform our own thinking. This book is helpful because it leads us to do just that.

Living Wisely with the Church Fathers
By Christopher A. Hall

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

Irenaeus of Lyons - A Children's Biography

I’ve found biographies to be very important for my own spiritual development. Ideas and lives of people who have lived well before my time often provide the wisdom I need to navigate present difficulties. It’s been important to me to inculcate an appreciation of biographies in the hearts of my children. I do this by reading them YWAM biographies in the evenings to my children and also by sharing the excellent biographies from Reformation Heritage Books in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.

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The latest entry into the RHB series is Irenaeus of Lyons. Simonetta Carr authored this significant volume about a lesser known by exceedingly important hero of the Christian tradition.

Irenaeus reads a bit differently than some of the other volumes in this series, seeming to be less narrative and more like the sort of non-fiction informational book that young boys often love. This made sense in light of Carr’s comment in the Acknowledgments, “This was probably the hardest book I have ever written, because we know so little about Irenaeus’s life. His theology is very important, but I had to work hard to ensure this book will be good for more than just putting my young readers to sleep.”

Carr’s efforts have borne fruit for, in fact, this book is just as delightful as her earlier volumes like Martin Luther and Marie Durand. Though there are differences in the manner of carrying out her task; we simply know less about the life of Irenaeus, and much of his life has been passed down in sometimes-questionable stories. However, Carr has done well to the story as we know it.

Irenaeus was a very early figure in Church History. He was a student of Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of John. Irenaeus was, therefore, one of the people trying to sort through Scripture to discern the true nature of Christian doctrine. Among Irenaeus’ most significant works are his Against Heresies, in which he argues in opposition to Marcion’s theological revisionism. Though it is sometimes hard to explain theology to children, Carr does well in bringing the conversation to a level that young children should be able to understand (not to mention their parents).

Irenaeus was not simply a theologian huddled in his ivory tower, however, he was also a pastor engaged in shepherding a congregation in Gaul. This biography relates the story of Irenaeus’ faithful work in an area troubled by persecution and danger from the invasion of the Germanic tribes. The portrait that emerges is of a doctrinally faithful Christian who lived a life devoted to God, which serves as a benchmark for those that come after.

The story is well-told and the book is finely produced. The hardback volumes are durable, which make these books possible to share between generations. The illustrations are colorful, with a mix of photos and paintings. Thus, the reader gets images of how things look now in addition to artistic renditions of the historical scenes. The volumes are really a treasure for the contemporary church.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume with no expectation of a positive review.

Celebrating Reformation Day

I’m thankful for the Reformation. When October 31, 2017 comes around, I will be truly grateful that Martin Luther, Uldrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and many others who are less famous, were willing to risk their very lives to bring the Gospel of Christ back to the center of Christian faith and practice. It’s been 500 years since the Reformation started, but it is an important date in the history of the world that should be celebrated.

Taking potshots at the Reformation is relatively easy. There are aspects of contemporary culture that we don’t like: crony capitalism, hyper-sexualization, post-truth epistemology, environmental degradation, theological chaos. Those who dislike the Reformation tend to lay all of the flaws of contemporary society at the feet of the Reformers because Modernity and the Reformation were roughly synchronous developments. Whether the Enlightenment was progeny, parent, sibling, or classmate of the Reformation is far from a settled debate—that is, unless you want to blame a lot of bad stuff on something that you already don’t like.

It many cases, people within the Reformed tradition have latched on to various aspects of Modernity. Often, they have done so to the detriment of the Christianity they sought to reclaim from the hegemony of the Roman Catholic tradition. The unwitting desupernaturalization of Scripture into often bare, mechanical readings of the text by some within the Fundamentalist tradition is an example of the encroachment of modernity. This has led to sometimes culturally biased readings of Scripture being normalized as eternal truths upon which the reliability of the Bible depends. (Ask yourself why the culture in some churches looks like the 1950’s never ended.)

Within the history of ideas, there is no question that many aspects of Protestantism have been influenced by the surrounding culture—including forces of capitalism, (at times) Marxism, nominalism, empiricism, secularism, etc. Such influences are both obvious and, in some ways, unavoidable. The Gospel never changes, but it will always be expressed in different ways based on the cultural context.

To claim that the Reformed tradition in invalid because it has been influenced by the surrounding culture­—as some apologists for Rome sometimes do­—is to ignore the fact that earlier Christian tradition was also influenced in its form by the culture around it. The shape of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and magisterium is driven more by the social structures of ancient cultures than by Scripture. This does not necessarily invalidate that ecclesiology, but it may cause contemporary Christians to question whether having one supreme leader of Christianity making authoritative proclamations that may or may not accord with Scripture is more consistent with late Roman polity than with any framework laid down in the Bible.

The defenses to the above comment are obvious and would be worth noting in a different essay. However, they are built on the assumption that what the Roman Catholic Church says is right and the tradition of the Church is on par with the special revelation given in Scripture. Such debates exceed the bounds of this post, though I recommend Matthew Levering’s book on the doctrine of revelation for a meaningful discussion.

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The point is that culture pretty obviously has influenced all eras of church practice. But the uniting theme for Christianity is not denim skirts or Latin services, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is precisely this Gospel that was greatly obscured prior to the Reformation and was subsequently returned to the focus of Christianity by the Reformers. They did not divide primarily over polity, veneration of non-divine humans, or liturgy. Rather, Luther and the other early Reformers recognized that salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone had been sidelined in favor of dependence of heuristic traditions. As a result, they advocated for the ultimate authority of Scripture as the final arbiter of truth, and sought to lead people to live for the glory of God alone. This, and not the petty squabbles between elder-lead and staff-lead Baptist churches, is the root and legacy of the Reformation.

Despite the failures of many Protestant traditions and even more Protestant people, I still affirm and celebrate the Reformation. It represents division—yes. But it represents a division that was necessary for the recovery of the Gospel of Christ which was, and often remains, obscured by the traditions of Rome. No matter how noble a tradition claims to be or how ancient its origin, if it obscures the Gospel, then stepping away from it to affirm the Gospel is warranted and good.

There are a lot of things to critically evaluate about the Reformation, but its heart—the recovery of the Gospel—is worth celebrating, even after 500 years.

Protestants - A Review

Alec Ryrie’s recent volume, Protestants, is an immense project that attempts to survey the impact of Protestantism over the past five hundred years. Ryrie is, himself, a licensed lay preacher in his Anglican church. He is also a professor of the history of Christianity at Durham University.

Attempting a project this broad in scope is brave. In five hundred years, Protestantism has gone from a local attempt to correct theological errors of Roman Catholicism to a worldwide movement that has strong theological, social, and political emphases. Any project of such expansive scope will be subject to common criticisms that it makes generalizations, skips key points, and does not satisfy the desires of those with a pet theory about a topic. To cover every possible topic in perfect detail would have made this book tedious and impenetrable. Some of those criticisms are valid, however, and I will point to some areas of particular weakness in this review, but the book deserves consideration beyond such simple dismissals.

Summary

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Ryrie attacks his enormous task in three movements. In Part I he deals with the contours of the Reformation Era, beginning with Luther and considering the various reformations that spread through Europe. This was the strongest section of the volume, as Ryrie weaves together the threads of history into a representative tapestry. Part II focuses on what Ryrie calls the Modern Age, which includes Pietism, the sin of human slavery, American Protestantism, the rise of liberalism, the German Nazi crisis, and American religious politics. Clearly in this selection of topics, there is a great deal Ryrie skips. His selections show something of his intentions through the volume. In Part III, Ryrie addresses a handful of examples of Protestantism in various corners of the globe, including South Africa with a focus on Apartheid, Korea and its evolution of a prosperity gospel, Chinese Protestantism, and Pentecostalism. His Epilogue attempts to tell the future, revealing his hopeful anticipation of changes in Protestantism to come.

With such an expansive topic and, possibly, a strong desire to get the volume finished during the year of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it is little surprising that Ryrie relies much more strongly on secondary and tertiary sources to write his volume. He includes some primary sources, but there are clear cases, as with his depiction of Zwingli’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper, that Ryrie sticks to the mainstream theories, which are obviously inaccurate to those who have read the primary source. Such an approach is understandable, but it severely limits Ryrie’s ability to deal with topics about which he is apparently largely unread.

One such example is in Ryrie’s treatment of Fundamentalism. Though he opens the volume professing to attempt to treat movements fairly, writing, “Condemning ugly beliefs is easy, but it is also worth the effort to understand why people once believed them. If we are lucky, later ages might be as indulgent toward us. We all live in glass houses.” However, he dismisses Fundamentalism as a “mood” and not a doctrinal movement. In other words, Fundamentalism is a psychosis. These are the marks of someone who is critiquing a movement that he despises, has not bothered to research, and thus has not adequately considered. To say there are excesses in negative attitude among Fundamentalism is certainly true, but to dismiss the doctrinal heart of the Fundamentalist dispute with modernism is sloppy.

Analysis and Critique

Significantly absent from Ryrie’s lengthy tome is a chapter focused on the influence of Protestant missions. He engages in occasional discussions of the topic, but the central thrust of the volume is the sociological impact of Protestantism on history rather than on the concern for conversion. In fact, most of the discussions of missions in this volume are negative, describing missionaries in largely imperialistic terms, which is a sometimes-fair, but incomplete depiction. He largely skips the positive impacts that Protestant missionaries have had through their social reforms, and he certainly does not talk about the concern of so many Protestants to preach the gospel that many may not suffer the fires of Hell. Whether it is by design or default, Ryrie’s presents a Protestantism that is entirely devoid of the gospel which compelled Luther to seek reformation of faulty doctrines and inspired many to give their lives for their faith.

The portrait that emerges from Ryrie’s Protestants is one of an ever-adapting religion that lags somewhat behind the cultural winds, but always follows. In fact, his Epilogue is a hopeful prediction that will be exactly the case. However, it should be clear that Ryrie’s portrait is not of the forms of Protestantism that still feel strongly connected to their roots in the Reformation. Rather, Ryrie argues that Protestantism “is not a doctrine or theology. Defining it that way is usually an attempt to exclude people. . .” That approach enables Ryrie to trace out the influence that Protestantism has as it has morphed and migrated throughout the world. If the purpose of the book is to survey how people who have been impacted by movements that were influenced by those who attempted to reshape Christianity half a millennium ago, then it has accomplished its purpose. Such a book would say little about the content of Protestantism and a great deal more about the social influence of an event. However, Ryrie’s purpose seems to be something more than that.

The story that Ryrie is telling has a moral that begins to appear in his recounting of the evolution of liberalism. Ryrie makes his point explicit in the final pages of the book. One central theme is that it is not necessary to take the Bible too seriously to consider oneself a faithful Protestant. (His repeated bashing of inerrantists, whose actual beliefs he never considers, and Fundamentalists reveal this early on.) This leads to the more significant idea that Protestantism is descended from orthodox Christianity, but not significantly moored in that. Ryrie sees the liberalizing trend of culture as the final destination of all Protestant Christians. Thus, he seems to be saying, ethical revisionists should feel free to patronize churches (in both senses of the word) while the amorphous religion comes around to contemporary, culturally compatible doctrines. By ignoring evidence to the contrary, his conclusions are entirely plausible. And, by ignoring the possibility that extensive changes can actually sever a movement from rightful claims to a historical root in the Reformation, Ryrie’s conclusions may indeed salvage an anemic form of Christianity in the eyes of those who long to see it shaped by the waves of culture. Ryrie is telling a story that sounds a great deal like Niebuhr’s category, “Christ of Culture.” If Protestantism is primarily a social movement, the Ryrie’s predictions may be accurate, but those seeking a theological interpretation will likely question his prognostications.

Ryrie’s book is well written. The first part is quite well done, with engaging prose and even-handed interpretation. This is the sort of volume that will likely find its way onto a public library shelf, and which may serve as a launching point for a conversation. It will provide comfort to the culturally comfortable Protestant Christian, and potentially fuel criticism among those who want Christians concerned with historical orthodoxy to evolve faster. As such, this is the sort of volume one should read because of its potential for conversation in the plane or over the water cooler rather than as a normative interpretation of the history of Protestantism.

NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume with no expectation of a positive review.

Church History: A Review of Some Introductions

During my preparation for teaching a four-week Church History survey I read several single volume books on the topic and am here doing brief reviews to highlight the particular emphasis of each.

Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 4th edition (2013)

Shelley’s book is one of the classic single volume Church Histories. It has weathered well and sold well. The book is very accessible and reads quickly. It is intended to introduce people in the pew to the topic. I’ve heard of it being used as a High School text for homeschoolers, so that is a plus. Shelley focuses on the history of the Western Church, which is the traditional approach, but which is a place where other volumes may have improved since he wrote this book. Still, this is a solid volume that would be a good place to start on the topic. Shelley passed away in 2010, so it unlikely this volume will be updated for too long in the future with other excellent entries into the field.


Gerald Bray, The Church: A Theological and Historical Account (2016)

Bray is an excellent writer and historian. His single volume introduction the Church History is a bit more theological than Shelley’s, which fits because Bray is a Historical Theologian. His interpretations are fair, though Bray’s Anglican bias comes through on multiple occasion when dealing with the issue of baptism. This is an intermediate volume, but could be helpful for pastors and those with some background in Church History to gain a deeper knowledge. One downside on Bray’s writing is that his chapters and sections tend to be excessively long, which makes interrupted reading somewhat more difficult.


Joseph Early, A History of Christianity (2015)

This is a solid volume from B&H, which present Church History in a very traditional framework, like Shelley. He improves on Shelley in two ways: (1) He retells history from a distinctly baptistic perspective, while still maintaining a reasonable balance in critiquing other traditions; (2) His volume is shorter than Shelley’s, with no apparent downside. In all, Early’s volume is an accessible volume should be useful in churches, secondary schools and introductory college courses.


Ian Shaw, Christianity: The Biography: 2000 Years of Global History (2017)

Shaw’s approach is unique. He lines up the various stages of change in the history of the Church in parallel with stages of human life. The analogy works better earlier in the book, but it is entertaining. A major strength of Shaw’s book is his emphasis on global Christianity rather than just the Western tradition. This means that, in the abbreviated format Shaw uses, there is sometimes less information about Western Church History than I would have liked. However, I think the tradeoff was in the whole worth it. I would recommend this one over other volumes because I think it better represents a broad picture of Christianity.

Through the Storm, Through the Night: A Review

Getting into a topic is the hardest part about research. Most people don’t notice this because they stop doing research when their last academic paper is due. However, if you remember trying to get started on the research for your most recent project, you may know what I mean.

Search around on the internet, check the library catalog, or scan the shelves and you may find dozens of sources, but which one is going to be the most helpful to get introduced into the discussion. Recently I began to dig into African American Christian history and was pleased to cut the Gordian knot, as it were, by asking a friend who is an expert in the topic. His recommendation turned out to be so helpful that I am passing it along for you.

Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity is part of the African American History Series from Rowman and Littlefield. He teaches at University of Colorado and has authored a number of volumes on the topic of race and religion in the U.S. He presents an honest account that avoids revision on both ends of the spectrum.

Summary

This brief volume contains six chapters, with a separate introduction and conclusion. The introduction outlines the major themes in African American Religious History, laying the groundwork for the remainder of the volume. Chapter One offers a sweeping overview of African and African American religious experience from the Middle Passage to the Great Awakening; this experience consisted largely of syncretism with a strong dose of opposition of Christianization of slaves by white owners due to concerns it would cause them to desire freedom.

The second chapter documents the early stages of Christianity among slaves, which originated in the urban centers of the North and in the slave quarters. The revival of religious interest among residents of the colonies led to the evangelization of slaves and freemen, and the founding of the earliest traditionally black denominations. Chapter Three surveys the thirty or so years before the Civil War. This period included a high degree of revivalistic evangelism of slaves in the South, and the evolution of a distinct theology among slaves which emphasized liberation with an eye toward dual fulfillment in the present and the future.

In the fourth chapter, Harvey traces the history of African American Christianity from the end of the Civil War to the dawn of the Twentieth Century. It was during this time that blacks began to identify as African Americans as they sought to find their identity amidst their new freedom. This was also a time when whites in the South began to form laws to restrict the freedom of blacks. African Americans also founded a number of new denominations as they sought to live and worship freely. Chapter Five summarizes the first half of the Twentieth Century. This is a period of time when African Americans began to increasingly migrate northward to urban centers and the church became a powerful social center for those displaced communities.

Chapter Six details some of the Civil Rights Movement, shifts toward religious pluralism in some areas, and the continued pursuit of justice in the African American churches. The body of the text concludes with a very brief outline that recaps the volume and makes clear the connection between the prophetic preaching of someone like Jeremiah Wright and the long, dark history of the African American Church. After the epilogue, Harvey provides a number of brief primary source documents that support and illustrate his earlier arguments.

Analysis and Conclusion

Through the Storm, Through the Night is far from an exhaustive treatment of the topic, but it provides an excellent entry point into an interesting and important part of Church History. For those seeking to gain a deeper appreciation for Black History, particularly the history of African American Christianity, this would be an excellent starting point.

Harvey does what is vital for an introductory volume: he tells a good story and makes the reader want to know more. More significantly, he opens up the conversation on a topic that is only becoming increasingly important. The history of the African American portion of the universal church may well, in future, be a model for public engagement, theological fidelity, and social endurance for others.

An Excellent Introduction to Church History

Recently I taught a four-week series on Church History on Wednesday evenings to my local church. My pastor wanted to expose the congregation to some of the sweep of our collective history, particularly in light of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

As usual, when I have a teaching opportunity, I over-prepared. I re-read many of my notes from seminary, re-read several surveys of Church History, and read a handful of new books on the subject. Since my preparation time was somewhat limited by ongoing life commitments and I had only four 1-hour sessions to teach in, I spent more time with one volume surveys of Church History than monographs or multi-volume overviews.

The recent volume, A History of Christianity: An Introductory Survey, by Joseph Early was one of the most helpful volumes I encountered.

Analysis

Early approaches his survey from a distinctly Baptist position, which is helpful since, as he notes in the Preface, many of the surveys of Church History were written from a distinctly Roman Catholic perspective. For much of Church History, this is fine, except they tend to handle the Reformation as an innovation instead of a return to orthodox roots. In a concise volume like A History of Christianity, there is little room for commentary, but Early is more even-handed in his presentation than some authors.

There are twenty-nine chapters in this volume, which I will not survey in depth in this review. Each chapter is about fifteen pages in length. This arrangement lends itself to easy bedtime reading or reasonable reading assignments for an academic setting. The text is well-provided with headings at reasonable intervals that serve as topic markers for the reader or researcher and opportunities for respite for those reading on a busy schedule. Unlike some of the other volumes on the market, this book uses a humanely large font with sufficient margins for note taking.

While comments about the construction and design of a book may seem like odd fodder for a book review, the quality of publication is part of what sets this volume apart. Each one of the single volume surveys of Church History I read is attempting to approximately the same thing in a few hundred pages. They all have the same facts to present and very little space to arrange them. There is little room for competitive advantage in content, but readability can make a difference. It certainly does in this case.

One place where I will grant Ian Shaw’s Christianity: The Biography a slight edge over Early is that Shaw takes great efforts to highlight the non-Western Church History. Early’s presentation of Church History tends to be a more traditional, bread and butter summary of Christianity in the global North and West. Early acknowledges the ethnic shift in the composition of global Church in the last chapter, but the main thrust of the book focuses on European Christianity.

One of the greatest strengths of the book is that Early engages in his historical task through the eyes of a person of faith discussing the lives and actions of people of faith. Sometimes histories of the Church get bogged down in commentary on power struggles, conflict, and personalities. It is refreshing to see an author simultaneously recognize the reality of power struggles while simultaneously seeing that many of those struggles were driven by faith, not merely political aspirations.

Conclusion

This is a book that I will return to again in the future. I will ensure it is stocked on the resource shelf at my local church. As I ponder how to teach Church History to my children, this book remains a solid option. It is concise, accurate, and well-written. I commend this book to pastors as a reference for weaving history accurately into sermons. This would also make a suitable text for an introductory course at the college level.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

The Baptist Story - A Review

There has been a need for a new textbook on Baptist History for some time. Leon McBeth’s book, The Baptist Heritage had its day, but his presentation of Baptists was slanted toward his perspective on a number of issues. Also, McBeth’s book was published in 1987 before the culmination of the SBC’s conservative resurgence.

As such, The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement is a welcome volume. Three historians collaborated to write this 300-page volume. Anthony Chute serves at California Baptist University, Michael Haykin teaches at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Nathan Finn recently left Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for Union University. The collaborative effort is helpful on a textbook that covers hundreds of years of data because each man has a different area of expertise.

The Baptist Story aims to tell the tale of Baptists from their beginnings to the present in an irenic matter. Besides eating, Baptists excel at quibbling over seemingly trivial matters. The priesthood of all believers (or freedom of conscience) has at times given rise to a contentious spirit in some. The three authors of this work seek to give an even handed explanation for the origins of Baptists, the historic soteriology of the Baptists, and some of the social ills that Baptists have tolerated or even aggravated. This is neither a whitewashing nor an exposé.

Summary

The book contains three sections. The first section deals with Baptists in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is the period of Baptist beginnings, through a time of persecution and possible extinction. At the end of that period, however, Baptists were growing and beginning the modern missionary movement in hopes of taking the gospel to all parts of the globe.

In section two, the authors trace Baptist History through the 19th century, which was a time of rapid expansion and rise to prominence of the Baptists. In particular, the low-church approach of Baptists with little requirement of formal education of clergy allowed a more rapid growth. It also led to theological ignorance, which made Baptists subject to fragmentation and heresy in the face of the challenges of Modernism.

Section three documents the twentieth century through the present. The impact of the World Wars, the Social Gospel, and Liberation Theology are all documented in these chapters. So is the continued growth of Baptists in most lands. The book would be remiss if the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention were neglected, so thankfully the coverage of that important topic is adequate.

The fourth section outlines some of the basic beliefs of Baptists: those things that make Baptists distinct from other denominations. This final section is the only prescriptive section of the volume; the remainder of the volume is fairly even-handed historical description. Even in this prescription, though, the authors are attempting to describe what has historically made Baptists different. It is apparent, though, that many of these things are also held to be good by them.

Analysis

The greatest contribution of this volume is that it provides an updated resource for those seeking to teach or understand Baptist History. Nearly thirty years after McBeth’s book was published, it was beginning to fall out of favor in many circles. Bebbington’s volume, Baptists Through the Centuries, will likely remain popular. However, The Baptist Story provides a different perspective on Baptists that may be more helpful for American students and better adapted to the college level.

This volume has explanatory power. It is readable and informative. It explains the Baptist movement without devolving into petty critique and promotion of factions. This is a book that explains the Baptist story in a global context, shedding light on the 1/3rd (or so) of worldwide Baptist believers that live outside of the United States. As such it serves to explain the American story and illuminate the global story beyond a missionary narrative. This is a book worth owning.

The Baptist Story aims to be a college level textbook and to provide visual cues along the way. There are textboxes with primary source quotes and pictures of key individuals and locations throughout the text. In addition to these graphics, it would have been beneficial for the volume to include charts and timelines that provide visual representations of the historical progression of Baptists. The Baptist history is complex, so that there is a constant battle between sorting information topically and chronologically. Timelines and charts would have helped readers navigate the transitions.

Another potential improvement for a second edition would be to add a glossary with some of the key theological terms. This is not a theology textbook, it is a history. Still, when concepts like the Social Gospel and Liberation Theology are mentioned, it would be convenient to have a brief explanation close at hand. It is impossible to understand the history of a religious movement without a firm understanding of some contours of the theology. A future edition could be enhanced by supplementing the text with a brief theological glossary.

Conclusion

This is an outstanding overview of Baptist History. I wish it had been published when I took my Baptist History nearly a decade ago. I read thousands of pages of primary sources to gain a similar understanding of the sweep of Baptist History. It is my hope this book will find a prominent place in theological education of Baptist students in the future, as well as in local churches as a means to explain how we got where we are.

The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement
$36.99
By Dr. Anthony L. Chute, Dr. Nathan A. Finn, Michael A. G. Haykin

Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.