Nothing has bound Africa and Europe more together than the history of Christianity. From Paradise onwards, the Church has been the communion of believers. As the Body of Jesus Christ she started in Jerusalem. Through the proclamation of the Gospel the Church soon reached parts of Africa and the Atlantic Coast, from where – after the Middle Ages and particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries – she took deep root in Sub-Saharan Africa. Today, in post-modern times, African Christianity is being challenged to re-plant the Church in secularized Europe.
This textbook for learners and teachers of the History of the Church focuses on the West and the South, on Europe and Africa, the continents whose histories have been increasingly intertwined since Antiquity. Since the 1960s, the classical dependence of the South on the North has changed dramatically. There is a clear shift in the centre of gravity of Christianity from the north to the south Atlantic, making African Christianity increasingly important. The future of European Christianity largely depends on a much-needed shift to mission-mindedness in the African churches.
I genuinely enjoyed Stephen’s earlier book on Christian Zionism so I was keen to read this, which he’s sent along for review.
In the volume at hand Paas traces the history of the Christian movement from its inception to the recent past. In the introductory chapter he discusses the chief characteristics of Church history and its sources and rationale as well as its various branches. The first major segment, ‘From Galilee to the Atlantic’ is a sweeping description of the historical setting of the early Church through the work of Augustine and the collapse of the Roman Empire and on to the rise of the Church in the West, the rise of Islam in the East, and the intersection of Church and State.
Then Paas turns his attention to the 16th century ‘Reformation Era’ and in the pages which follow the life and work of Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin, the Radical Reformers, and the Reformation in France, the Netherlands, England, and Scotland before he turns to the Counter Reformation.
Paas next describes the spread of Protestantism in Europe and North America and how Christianity proclaimed its variety of theologies through the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Second Part turns away from Europe and North America and instead focuses on the expansion of Christianity in Africa and the variety of missionary activities and theological expressions carried out and manifested on that continent from the beginning to the present.
This work truly is a sprawling and all encompassing survey of history and theological variety. It is an impressive volume achieving in its pages what many longer and, frankly, more tedious works do not: the bestowal on the reader of a very thorough grasp of the history of the Church.
Paas’s expertise is on full display and his knowledge of the grand sweep of the history of the Church is astonishing. There are, however, parts where he is dependent on the general consensus even when that consensus is incorrect. So, for example, in his discussion of Zwingli, he writes
Zwingli officially turned to the Reformation after he had become priest in the cathedral of Zurich (p. 176).
This is, to be sure, the Lutheran perspective: the portrayal of Zwingli dependent on Luther in order to arrive at a proper Reformation viewpoint. However Zwingli’s own testimony, and there’s no reason to doubt it, is that his own turn came as early as 1515 after the horrors of the Battle of Marignano. By the time he reached Zurich in 1519 he had already become well acquainted with Paul’s theology and was slowly but surely, as was his custom, changing things where he was.
This caveat aside, the volume is a genuinely extraordinarily useful and informative work. It is thoroughly illustrated with over 170 graphics and it is laced with useful bibliographies. An index is also provided but in all frankness it is not necessary: the table of contents is one of the most thorough I’ve seen in any history of the Church.
I recommend this work for, especially, students of Church History who are early in their work; interested lay people; College and University Professors looking for a comprehensive textbook; and theologians concerned with the history of Dogma.
Tolle, Lege! This is the most affordable, most comprehensive volume on the topic you’re likely to find anywhere. And it is a pleasure to read.