Recently released by IVP Academic, Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History is an excellent introductory text to the people, controversies, and events that have shaped twenty-one centuries of Christianity. Truly global in scope, the book will help Western Christians see and understand how Christianity developed in other parts of the world. As the center of Christianity has shifted to the Global South, it is important that we see Christianity through non-Western eyes. Derek Cooper, associate professor of World Christian History at Biblical Seminary, helps us to begin to see that Christianity’s history is not a Western alone. Christianity’s history began in Asia and has stretched around the world.
The major strength of the book is the shift of focus from Western Christianity to Global Christianity. Cooper embraces the focus by placing a demarcation line of Christian history at the rise of Islam rather than the conversion of Constantine. This line shows great respect for Christians outside the West, as Islam has held more significant influence over the lives of Christians in the majority of the world than the rise of Christendom in the Roman Empire.
The book surveys history rapidly. (See thoughts on depth below.) The writing flows. The language is not so technical that the reading would be difficult for most readers with an interest in the topic. A basic knowledge of theology and historical controversies that shaped systematic theology is helpful for understanding, but the lack of it would not prevent a reader from finding this book worthwhile.
If the reader is looking for an in-depth study of the various aspects of world Christianity, this book does not meet the need. The book is an introduction and covers twenty-plus centuries in a little over two hundred pages. Personally, as an introduction, I find it excellent.
For a student in college or seminary, this book makes an excellent historical, survey text that could stimulate interest in further study later. Christians who are not in ministry professionally but who want to know more about Christianity’s history will find the book very accessible. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a basic understanding of Christianity as it has come to be throughout the world.
(Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from IVP Academic for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)
Rescuing the Gospel is a history of the Protestant Reformation written by Erwin W. Lutzer. Lutzer is the long-term pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. His book is more than a history of the Reformation. It is as the subtitle suggests: it is “The Story and Significance of the Reformation.” The author explains the theological reasons behind the Reformation and why they remain significant today.
I appreciate the fact that this book is accessible to most readers. The book would be an excellent supplement to readings on church history in a home school or a Christian school. The price for accessibility is that Lutzer oversimplifies some explanations (for example, his explanation of TULIP).
Lutzer does not whitewash the reformers. This book is not hagiography. He portrays them in all of their temperamental weakness. He also does not ignore the political intrigue and impetus behind their movement as well. Still, he argues convincingly that the main issues were theological and significant regarding the Bible’s teachings on salvation. He concludes that the Reformation was not a mistake, and that significant differences remain between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants (particularly Evangelicals) today.
If I have one complaint, it is the imbalance between the length of material regarding each of the reformers. Luther dominates the book. Zwingli’s work fills one chapter with his role in the martyrdom of Anabaptists covered in a second chapter. Calvin, whose influence on present-day Evangelicals is greater than that of Luther, receives much less attention than Luther. I would have also liked to have read more about the Anabaptists, the free church tradition, and the Radical Reformation.
I highly recommend Rescuing the Gospel for anyone who wants to understand the how and the why of the Protestant Reformation and to anyone who questions if its importance remains true today.
(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)
Unchanging Witness by S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams desires to answer the recent challenges to traditional evangelical views regarding homosexuality. The authors seek to respond to the challenge not only by examining pertinent biblical passages but also by looking to the traditional teachings of the church. They hope their book will be a resource book for those who hold the traditional view.
If the intent was to become a resource book, the authors are successful. A 380-page book is remarkably brief to reach the desired goal of the authors. The structure of the book is easy to follow. Pastors and Bible teachers looking for resources to help shape their response to attacks on the church’s views of sexuality will find this book to be a valuable resource. The structure of the book, which begins with the historic church views moving to modern views and then concluding with sections regarding the Bible’s teaching, is easily followed and can be quickly referenced.
The book is high on doctrinal truth. It is weak on pastoral care for those who are dealing with homosexual desires. It was not the intent of the authors to write a manual on pastoral care; so, I recognize that my criticism is not entirely fair. I bring it up to say that ministers will want other tools on their bookshelf to go along with this one. Also, this book is not accessible to just anyone. The language is technical and theological. Pastors and teachers will need carefully and respectfully to convey this material to their congregation or class. The book is ideal for a seminary class or college level class on the subject of Christian ethics.
This book contains nothing new, and that is precisely the point that the authors want to make. Through the centuries, the church has had one authoritative voice on the issue of homosexuality. I am most qualified to analyze this book from a missiological perspective. New teachings regarding the acceptability of homosexual behavior are what missiologists call local theologies. They are developed to answer questions that arise in a particular culture. In this case, the culture is our own, and the theology is that homosexual behavior in a committed relationship is biblically acceptable. Fortson and Grams say “no” to that conclusion.
Fortson and Grams bring the local theology that homosexual behavior is acceptable into dialogue with the rest of the church’s teaching. Many proponents of accepting same-sex marriage argue that evangelicals no longer have a universal view on the subject, and therefore, freedom exists for evangelical churches to sanction same-sex marriage. However, Fortson and Grams demonstrate that they assume too much.
The fact that disagreement exists does not make all views equal and warranted. Missiologists and theologians have devised various dialogical methods for analyzing local theologies for the purpose of determining if a local theology is worthy of either universal acceptance or, at the very least, toleration. Part of that dialogue includes not only the witness of Scripture but also the historical teaching of the church. Fortson and Gram initiate the conversation using both history and the Bible. They find the case for same-sex marriage and acceptance of homosexuality to be wanting. This book is one of the most important recent books on this subject.
(I received a free copy of this book from B&H Academic in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)