Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Church From Age to Age: A History from Galilee to Global Christianity ed. Edward A. Engelbrecht

I just finished reading/listening to The Church from Age to Age on my kindle and I'm very impressed with it. It's received some very well-deserved praise across the denominational spectrum. In 1040 pages it covers church history from the time following the period covered in the New Testament to the present day. There are lots of helpful maps and time lines. Most of the time the book relies on the best scholarship and doesn't have an ax to grind. This is the best book on church history that I have ever read. But I did notice a few problems with it that will hopefully be changed in future editions. The following are my random observations.

The book is divided up into seven major sections covering seven time periods. These were previously published as individual books. Because of this, there is repetition sometimes when going from one major section to the next which should probably have been edited out when this was turned into a single-volume. In Chapter 32 there is a reference to "this book" which actually refers to "this section" and not to the book as a whole.

Some of the material is dated. In chapter 19, Leo IX is said to have been the last German Pope which would come as a surprise to Pope Benedict the XVI. Pope Beneditc XVI is mentioned in the later chapters of the book.

When the book covers the Reformation period it tends to emphasize the newness of Luther's teaching and ignore the very catholic background of Luther's teaching as shown by Chemnitz.

The book seems to suggest that all Protestants have the same doctrine of the office of the ministry. Many Protestant denominations understand the pastor as basically just a teacher while Lutherans and others have a more sacramental understanding.

Chapter 8 says that December 25 was chosen as the date to celebrate Christmas in order to redeem a pagan holiday but there is good reason to believe that it was actually chosen based the belief that important died on their conception day and that December 25 was nine months after Jesus' conception/death.

The book presents us with the pretty typical story about the Great Awakening where supposedly church attendance was very low and then the Great Awakening came along and lots of people converted to Christianity and church attendance went way up. However, statistics from that period suggest that church attendance was actually very high just before the Great Awakening and in the years following the Great Awakening church attendance dropped dramatically. The Great Awakening was attended mostly by people who were already actively involved in their churches but became convinced by the Great Awakening that Christianity was all about having a dramatic emotional experience. Many stopped going to church because the emotional experiences did not continue.

The book refers to Rick Warren as one of the leaders in the emergent church movement. While Warren has been supporting of the emerging church movement, he is not a leader within that movement.

The book says that Roman Catholics only anoint the sick when they were in close proximity to death. However, more recently Roman Catholics have expanded the use to those who are undergoing a serious operation or are very sick.

In the introduction, the book claims to be giving us a history of the church without passing judgment and the book is strongest when it stays on this path and most of the time it does. But occasion, it will deviate from this path and provide insufficient evidence for the judgment it passes. It talks about Augustine's and Luther's preoccupation with sin or passes judgment on the dead faith of the Russian Orthodox.

But all in all, I still highly recommend the book.

No comments: