The bottom line: If you want a book on Christian history to 1453, look no further.
In short, History of the World Christian Movement is a comprehensive, insightful, and eye-opening look into the people, politics, cultures, and many other forces that helped to shape early to medieval Christianity.
The book truly takes a global lens to analyze the development of Christianity from its beginnings in Palestine to North Africa, Nubia, the Middle East, India and the rest of Asia, Russia, and modern day Europe. The broad approach is very inclusive yet also very complete and does an excellent job of highlighting all the major themes, individuals and sociopolitical forces at play in the development of the faith. As the book very eloquently demonstrates, religion never operates in a vacuum and often is steered by secular forces. No stone is left unturned and all the chief issues in all the major regions are covered in the text.
The book moves in a sequential format from the first century after Christ’s death to the capture of Constantinople in 1453. This happens after first giving the reader an expansive snapshot that describes civilization at the time of Christ and how the dynamics in antiquity further paved the way for Christianity’s development. Along the timeline, the authors detail the major themes in each geographic area of the world.
This book stands apart from other books on Christian history for four reasons: (1) It does not constrain its outlook to a Eurocentric focus and instead analyzes Christianity for what it is: not a uniform mold but a global phenomenon with many ideological, liturgical, and ecclesiastical formulations. (2) The chapters on Constantine and Mohammad alone are worth purchasing this book, but as the book describes, the history of Christianity has very much to do with war, politics, Islam and trade than most people realize. For example, the fact that 100 years after Mohammad’s death nearly half of world’s Christians came under Muslim rule has had pervasive and cataclysmic effects that still reverberate today. (3) The book introduces the reader to an awesome sampling of ancient texts, writers and theologians (e.g. Origen, Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, The Heliand, and Anselm) that most contemporary Christians have never heard of. (4) The text also analyzes the myriad of religious disputes that have shaped Christian history, and how we now live in a world where the “winners” of those ancient battles have managed to still shape current opinion. Accordingly, it’s important to know, but it’s even more important to know why you believe it.
As an aside, the reader must understand that reading this book will give you little as far as application in everyday ministry but it will yield large dividends in the process of formation. That is, by learning the history and development of certain trends, ideologies, practices and cultural idiosyncrasies, you will be better equipped to engage those in contemporary ministry by knowing the legacy of many religious practices and dogmas.
The only negative thing I have to say about this book is that there are a few grammatical and structural errors. I used the Kindle version and do not know if this applies to the print version but these extremely minor blips did not pose any major problems.
The book is very easy to read and at times is surprisingly an exciting page-turner (applies only to church history nerds). I used this book as part of a graduate level seminary course and I certainly will refer back to it many times in the future. Although this book by itself is more than adequate to get the general idea, those who wish to dive deeper into the historical documents should pick up Readings in World Christian History, the companion text to this book.
I think History of the World Christian Movement proves an invaluable and necessary part of any seminarian’s education, and academics, church historians, and theologians will likely also find this book worthwhile.
Read this book and expand your mind.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal