Friday, February 01, 2013

Turning Points by Mark Noll

I found this a very interesting overview of church history. Noll has taken what could be an overwhelming subject and made it manageable by using twelve important events  (e.g. the Council of Nicaea) as springboards to talk about the details of people and places. Each chapter begins with an appropriate hymn of the time period and ends with a prayer.

In a book of this kind, the interpretive role of the historian becomes evident, and Noll is generally careful throughout to acknowledge his bias as an evangelical protestant. During the last couple of chapters, however, I found that he was not as aware of his presuppositions. For instance, he unquestioningly accepts that Bible translation and evangelism must be adapted to cultural idiom.

Turning Points tends to focus on the positive effects of various people and events. This may be a failing. For instance, Noll writes extensively about Methodism and its stepchild, Pentecostalism. Surely there is scope here for discussing the effects of a theology of Christian perfection, and how it has changed the face of Christianity.
I don't know enough about church history to be sure, but I wonder whether Noll, in his effort to write a balanced, non-Western, non-Americo-centric history, has missed some important bits. The absence of a mention of the Great Awakening in his chapter on the Wesleys (aside from a token mention of Whitefield) struck me particularly.

All in all, I found this a helpful introduction to church history, which, as a good introduction should, left me wanting to learn more.

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