"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. 


ANILA NAIR said...

interesting blog. Waiting for more posts

Andrew Demoline said...

Thanks. Hopefully more will come soon.