Writing an accessible church history for a general adult audience is no small task, particularly writing one that people will read. Alton Gansky’s book succeeds in providing a readable, fast-moving survey of the history of the church through 30 succinct vignettes of important events in this two thousand year history.
One of the strengths of this book is Gansky’s ability to narrate events and give us concise profiles of key individuals and concluding summaries that underscore the significance of each event for the church. Many will find his accounts of early church history especially helpful, including the fall of Jerusalem, the burning of Rome, the Edict of Milan, the Nicaean Council, and so forth. It was particularly illuminating for me to realize the fine scholarship involved in Jerome’s Vulgate translation, as well as to understand the expansion of the power of the papacy. I also appreciated his even-handed narrative of the evolution controversies in this country.
Of course, one of the difficulties of Gansky’s approach is the selection of events. For the most part, this is a narrative of Western, and in the last third, American Christianity. While this is probably what is of greatest interest to those who would be the target audience of this book it fails to account for the rise of the modern missions movement and the explosive and game-changing growth of Christianity in China, other east and southeast Asian countries, and in much of the southern hemisphere. And in its narrative of American Christianity he seems to have little to say about slavery, the abolitionist movement, and the black church and civil rights.
I found his decision to include the Jesus Movement as both personally of interest (because of the impact of this movement in my life) and yet questionable as a major church-shaping event–particularly because of the focus on contemporary Christian music, which certainly has changed American church worship. I would not have given separate chapters to Darwin and the Scopes trials.
I also found one inaccuracy (probably a proof-reading error). On page 242 he notes the death of Pope Pius XII, who preceded Pope John XXIII and Vatican II. On page 244 he indicates that Pius XII succeeded Pope John XXIII, which would have been a far more momentous event than Vatican II. In actuality it was Pope Paul VI.
In summary, I found this a highly readable and informative account of Western and white American church history. It is regrettable, considering the readability of this volume, that it is not more truly representative of the whole Church.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”