Book Review: Turning Points by Mark Noll

The other book I've read by Mark Noll profoundly changed the way I perceive Christianity, and for that I am grateful. That book was called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. It chronicled the history of evangelicalism in the United States and Canada from its roots of Methodism, Presbyterianism, big tent revivals, denominational splits and ultimately new doctrines and current fervour. I highly recommend it.

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity is probably a university textbook read by ministry students at most seminaries at the introductory level. It conducts a survey of 14 key moments in Christianity that helped define what it is today. In order, these are the events he concludes to be key and my very brief synopsis on why they are key.

  1. The Destruction of Jerusalem, 70 CE: Christianity burst out of an essentially Jewish culture and became very decentralized. It became more hellenistic as a result and shed much of the Jewish customs which defined it in early years.
  2. Council of Nicea, 325: The church leaders met to affirm the divinity of Christ and his place within the Trinity in order to thwart heresies. It also was a massive turning point for Christians as their emperor, Constantine, became a Christian and persecution of Christians basically stopped over night and the empire began to be transformed into what we could call Christendom. New political realities.
  3. Council of Chalcedon, 451: Another important council affirming the nature of Christ (both man and God at the same time). This is where the first major split within the church happens and the Coptic Church affirms a different nature of Christ (as a unique substance) and they no longer share communion with the Orthodox Church. Their roots can be found in the Middle East and North Africa today.
  4. The Rule of Benedict, 530: As some church leadership slipped into depravity, or at least they focussed more on their temporal power and wealth, a new group of Christian leaders emerges in monasteries. Their devout witness and discipline offer an essential example of humility, service and devotion to lay people and church leaders alike.
  5. The Coronation of Charlemagne, 800: The church asserts its authority over the political world by becoming the body who crowns the emperor. Christendom reaches fruition as church and state become deeply intertwined.
  6. The Great Schism, 1054: The Eastern Church refuses to accept the primacy of the Roman Bishop (Pope). The Roman Church strikes out on its own and the Eastern Church becomes isolated from the rest of Christendom. 
  7. The Diet of Worms, 1521: One of many sparks which started the fire which caused another huge split in the church. The response of Roman Catholic abuses of power and wealth cause some Christians and princes to reject Roman rule and the Reformation begins with Protestant Churches sprouting up all over northern Europe.
  8. The English Act of Supremacy, 1534: Another rejection of Roman rule comes when Henry VIII of England is not granted a divorce from the Pope. Fortunately, there are some clergymen and brilliant theologians who are more than happy to establish a revised Church of England, even if the head of the church must be the British monarch.
  9. The Founding of the Jesuits, 1540: The 16th Century was a big one in Christianity. This was one of the beginnings of the Counter-Reformation that occurred within the Roman Church. Ignatius of Loyola's new society gets papal approval and coinciding with the new era of imperialism abroad, missionaries are sent and Christianity leaves Europe/Middle East and North Africa for the first time in history.
  10. The Conversion of the Wesleys, 1738: Along with some continental movements, the Wesleyan movement towards personal piety in Britain cause revival not only in personal spirituality, but also social movements that ultimately take down the institutions of child labour, slavery, the disenfranchisement of women, and other social ills.
  11. The French Revolution, 1789: While the Christian church in all European countries enjoyed a high level of influence over (or at least to the same degree as) the kings and queens for a thousand years, the French Revolution was the beginning of the end. The church sees its authority slip away country after country beginning with the first priests marched up to the guillotine.
  12. The Edinburgh Missionary Conference, 1910: The protestant churches recognize its responsibility to bring the Gospel to the far reaches of the world. Bible translations become a priority and women become prominent in their roles as missionaries.
  13. The Second Vatican Council, 1962-65: The Roman Catholic church addresses issues of doctrine and practice after realizing they must change to remain relevant. Interestingly enough, they seriously consider many of the issues brought up 450 years earlier by the reformers.
  14. Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, 1974: Protestant churches recognize the impact and role of Christian leaders around the world. Africa, Asia and South America take prominent positions in speaking on doctrine and practice.
Noll writes from a markedly evangelical position and is consistent in acknowledging his bias. That said, he writes of Roman Catholicism respectfully and magnifies pre-reformation turning points more than the typical protestant might.

I feel far better suited to focusing on any one of these or other minor turning points as I can contextualize the events and even carry their importance to their current expressions. My favourite part of reading this book was sharing with my son Blaise the various events and hearing his response.

No comments: