"Turning Points" by Mark Noll

Mark A. Noll. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (3rd Edition). Baker Academic, 2012. 356 pgs. 

How do you compress two thousand years of religious history into one textbook? Many have tried and I have, unfortunately, suffered through their attempts (thanks to seminary). You could do a poor overview of as much as possible, cramming in dates and details until the student's head explodes. You could attempt to do justice to major themes while covertly focusing all attention on your favorite moment or person (Martin Luther anyone?). Personally, I don't think there is a good solution. But, if I had to pick one, I would choose Turning Points

In this book Noll delves deeply into thirteen turning points in Christian history. Obviously there is some subjectivity in which points one chooses (in the introduction Noll lists ten options he considered but left out, just to give us an idea of how complex this process is) but despite this the approach has huge advantages. It allows for some in depth exploration of the complexity and humanity of events in history. It successfully gives pictures of the church at a broad range of times and places throughout history. It does focus on the more important instances, even if one can disagree about whether or not these are the 'most important.' And, perhaps most importantly, it is interesting reading!

Clearly I have already moved from summary to opinion. I enjoyed this book. I wish it had been assigned to me in Church History classes. Noll has, as usual, written an engaging and thought provoking book. And where does he conclude his tour of historical turning points in Christianity? With a paragraph well worth pondering and remembering:

"The church survives by the mercy of God, not because of the wisdom, purity, or consistent faithfulness of Christians. Nevertheless, many moments of unusual faithfulness can be found in the Christian past, both recent and ancient. It is important to note, however, that even when such moments turned out to make a dramatic difference for later history, they almost always resulted form gratitude to God rather than from a desire to influence the future. Authentic Christian faith has taken many shapes and can be expected to assume still other shapes in the future. Finally, the promise of Jesus to be with his followers 'always, to the very end of the age' (Matt. 28:20) provides not only a framework for studying the history of Christianity but also a fitting description of what Christian faith is at its most essential level."

Conclusion: 5 stars. Recommended. Even if you're not studying a history course in seminary, this book is a great place to learn more about our past. 


"If" by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!


The Measure of Our Success by Shawn Lovejoy

Shawn Lovejoy. The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors. Baker Books, 2012. 184 pgs. 

In this plea Shawn Lovejoy takes aim at the all to common problem of pastoral burnout and failure. In his own words: "Why are so many pastors and ministry leaders falling? Why are they so vulnerable? Why are they so unfulfilled? Lonely? Insecure? Discouraged? Depressed? Burned out? Why are so many not seeing the fruit they hoped to see? What is wrong with pastors?"  The answer? Many pastors are aiming at the wrong thing. Pastors seek to do great things for God instead of being a great man with God. Pastors seek numbers instead of fruit, busy-ness instead of wholeness, approval instead of holiness, and fame instead of faithfulness. Chasing the wrong things kills us. 

It is a sad thing that this book needed to be written, but I do believe it did. The real message, condensed in the way I would want to say it to other pastors, is quite simple: You are not Jesus! Along the way to saying this, Lovejoy makes many interesting side-trips; telling us about his resignation from Leadership (Jesus leads!), what to do when you feel like quitting (turn to Jesus), and so on. I felt distinctly blase as I read this book; I'm not sure if that was the book or me. I suspect it is because the same points have been made far better elsewhere (hello Mr. Eugene Peterson...). 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally recommended (kind of sort of not really almost? sorry for that; a reflection of my ambivalence I suppose). If the first paragraph struck you as addressing a super important issue, then great, start out with this book if you want or move straight to people like Eugene Peterson and Henri Nouwen. 

Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker in exchange for an honest review.