Turning Points, by Mark Noll
Mark Noll is currently the Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, though leaving soon to work at Notre Dame. He's a prolific and well-respected writer, though this is the first book of his I've read (some of you might encounter him in Books & Culture magazine).
The idea behind Turning Points is to organize a survey of church history around 12 major events in post-ascension Christianity. Dr. Noll admits that such an approach has its weaknesses, but argues that an introductory survey like this should find some way of boiling down such a huge topic for dummies like me. (He didn't say I was a dummy.) I must say that the organization of the book was a huge help to me. Here are the 12 "turning points" Noll chose, though he freely admitted others could be added:
1. The Fall of Jerusalem (70)
2. The Council of Nicaea (325)
3. The Council of Chalcedon (451)
4. Benedict's Rule: the Monastics (530)
5. The Coronation of Charlemagne (800)
6. The Great Schism (1054)
7. The Diet of Worms (1521)
8. The English Act of Supremacy (1534)
9. The Founding of the Jesuits (1540)
10. The Conversion of the Wesleys (1738)
11. The French Revolution (1789)
12. The Edinburgh Missionary Conference (245)
Just to cover himself, he added a 13th chapter with "further turning points of the 20th century": the rise of Pentecostalism, the 2nd Vatican Council, the emergence of women in public visibility, the globalization of Christianity as seen through new Bible translations, and the survival of Christianity under communist regimes. Several ot the chapters really filled in huge gaps in my knowledge while others gently challenged assumptions I had made; Noll's fairly sympathetic treatment of the monk's work in the church brought some good balance to my thinking.
This is an excellent introduction to church history. Several times while reading, I found myself wishing I had read this before I took my presbytery exam on church history (not a pretty sight). Very few of us will ever delve deep enough into church history to take up more specific studies of each period or even go to the original sources. So if you need a good guide to church history, let Noll take your hand and walk you through.
Hopefully, you'll read a lot of church history before you get to heaven. Church history gives us desperately needed perspective, hope from God's fulfilled promises, and reliance upon the Spirit in the face of so many errors. ...But if you're going to read just a few church history books, this would be a good one to get.
Turning Points isn't an incredibly easy read, though it's not an academic book by any measure. I could easily envision a high school class using it as a textbook for church history or maybe a fairly devoted Sunday school class.
In other news: turns out that prayer doesn't help you get better. This study found that those who prayed for recovery after a heart bypass surgery fared no better than those who didn't. The sad thing is that some Christians are upset by this because they've so radically misunderstood prayer. (thanks Andy)
Finally: hopefully, #1 will learn to get his "s" and "p" sounds together soon. It's hard not to laugh when he answers "Who is our Helper?" by saying "Holy Ferret!"