You may have seen this review post yesterday. Somehow, I had thought today was 9/25, and so that’s why a draft-shell of a review posted yesterday. Anyway, if nothing else, it gave you a heads up on an upcoming review/preview.
This book, Church History Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to Present Day arrived at my doorstep after I entered a giveaway on Zondervan’s Koinonia blog. I was quite surprised since I hadn’t gotten any notification that I won and quickly gave it my customary perusal.
It adorned our coffee table for about a week and half as I decided how to fit the reading into my schedule. But then I realized that the giveaway had a deadline attached to it, and that deadline is Monday. Knowing that, I knew I had no chance of giving it a good reading, but I could at least give it an advanced perusal before telling you what I think about (so I’m literally not just judging a book by its cover).
The book picks up the story of the church in Europe ca. 1300. Basically, it’s a lead up chapter to the following chapter which is on the Renaissance. Fitting 200 years of European historical context into a single chapter is no mean feat, but I think they did a good job. With the Renaissance covered in chapter 2, the stage is set for chapter 3 which focuses exclusively on Luther and the birth of the Reformation. The birth of Calvinism and the Swiss Reformation is the focus of chapter 4, and from here on out for several chapters, the spread of the Reformation is chronicled.
The major focus throughout is on European Christianity. This is true until about chapter 18 when there is time given to new centers of global Christianity. Oh, and chapter 8 gives some time to the exploration and settling of the New World. Other than that, the major focal points are the Reformation and the Enlightenment and their effects in Europe. The final 3 chapters chronicle modern theological trajectories, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and modern evangelicalism. Surprisingly (to me at least), the chapter on Catholicism goes all the up to Pope Francis. I’m guessing if the cover design hadn’t already been finalized, he might have been a good candidate for the front cover. But then again, maybe he wasn’t on there because he is Pope after all. In either case, this volume literally leads up to the present day (or at least 2013).
This book contains a healthy amount of illustrations and plenty of room in the margins to take notes, both of which help its facility as a textbook (probably college level or higher). When I took church history at Dallas, I had The Story of Christianity volumes 1 and 2 as my textbooks. Those are well established, but this is more of a textbook than those volumes are. Though covering roughly the same ground, this new volume by Zondervan is consciously designed as a textbook (and so has all the perks Zondervan includes in Textbooks+). Some of this means it is just more aesthetically designed to function as a textbook, but it’s crafted more for someone who wants to seriously study church history and that’s why there’s a section at the end of each chapter with a hefty list of sources for further reading. Also, Gonzalez’s work is split up into shorter chapters, and overall might be a little less shorter. It’s somewhat hard to tell because his type is smaller so I can’t just compare page totals (864 to 560), though that does give you a bit of an idea. Bottom line is they both are good, but this new volume is probably better suited for classroom use and is a bit more up to date.
After giving this book a good look-ever, I really want to a) give a good reading and b) get Volume 1. Part of that is because I enjoy a good history and the other part is that I don’t like only having Volume 2, when I could have the complete set. Also, I think this is a quality set of textbooks on church history. I wish I had been able to really read through it before having to offer my thoughts, but if I do actually make the time, I’m sure I’ll have something to say in the coming months. If you’re looking for something more accessible to casual reading, I might suggest picking up the Gonzalez volumes (the shorter chapters help you break into smaller chunks). But, if you really want to study some Reformation/Renaissance/Enlightenment church history, and get a better handle on many of the trajectories that lead into the present day, this is probably the book for you.
If you’re still trying to make your mind up, check out this video from one of the authors John Woodbridge, as well as the other author Frank James’ insights on the importance of understanding historical context.
- Author: John D. Woodbridge & Frank A. James III
- Title: Church History Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to Present Day
- Publisher: Zondervan (August 8, 2013)
- Hardcover: 864pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader (Bible School level of interest)
- Audience Appeal: Anyone who wants to read a textbook history of the church picking up just before the Reformation
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Zondervan)
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