The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History by A. Kenneth Curtis, J. Stephen Lang, and Randy Petersen seeks to accomplish a very difficult task. That is to provide a fair list of the 100 most important events in Christian history in just over 200 pages. At the beginning of this review it is necessary to point out two things. First, all of these events are outside of the New Testament. They begin with the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD and continue from there. Second, they are presented in chronological order and not by importance. The preface gives us further details on the book’s design and purpose. Part of it reads, “…we have attempted to give an overview of events in the perplexing history of the people of God that will provide the nonhistorian and nonspecialist with a convenient look at major contours and catalysts that have shaped Christianity.”
This is a key sentence to keep in mind when reading the book. It is not designed to discuss the events in depth. Instead, each chapter is like as an introduction to the topic at hand. Although the book shares differing perspectives of various people and events, they are not done in exhaustive fashion. Each section is only 1-3 pages in length and presents the major ideas and challenges as needed, but little more. These characteristics are not necessarily drawbacks to the book. They are simply in keeping with its intended purpose as stated in the preface.
One impressive aspect of the work is its awareness of how one event shapes the future. Multiple chapters end with statements that mention how people or actions impacted future generations, for both good or bad. For example, at the end of the chapter on Tertullian it reads, “Tertullian was swimming against the tide. For more than twelve hundred years the clergy would have a special place. Not until Martin Luther challenged the church would an emphasis on ‘the priesthood of all believers’ be recaptured” (pg. 25). This sense of development over the centuries is well done, and something that should be readily grasped by readers. This is a strong benefit of the list being in chronological order.
Concerning the list itself, it is reasonable, if a bit biased. It contains many entries that one would expect, such as the Council of Nicea, the East-West Schism, and Martin Luther posting his Ninety-five Theses. One of the book’s strengths is how it highlights key points in the development of denominations and a number of minority groups. This reviewer particularly appreciated the sections on the growth of various Bible translations and other important books. In addition to these, the authors also include a few chapters on art. For example, the births of Bach and Handel, and Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, are represented in the list. Their inclusion is impressive.
Although each chapter serves as a useful introduction to each event, some may be disappointed from time to time. For this reviewer, that is the case for the two pages on Pope Urban II launching the First Crusade (pgs. 73-74). Having done research on the topic, the discussion on it seemed shallow and elementary. It is a good example of the need for readers to seek additional information to more fully understand the topics discussed. If this, and a few other chapters are any indication, the book may give a biased perspective of various events. Those who know a lot about church history may find this to be the case, thereby dampening the usefulness of the book.
In the preface, Ken Curtis admits that some may accuse the authors of favoring the West, Protestants, males, and evangelicals. A good argument can be said for each. There is one more example of bias that results in an imbalance in the book. Most of the pages of the book are used for the last 500 years of history. The first 94 pages take the reader up to 1498 with the execution of Savonarola. That is a small number of pages for such a long period of time. In contrast to that, the last 110 pages begin with 1512 and continue to 1976. That is only about 460 years. Readers run through over a millennium of history in the first half of the book, only to slow to a crawl once the 1500’s are reached. This imbalance is unfortunate.
Of course, there are a number of reasons why the authors chose certain events over others. Although I may have preferred a more balanced listing of events, Ken Curtis, Stephen Lang, and Randy Petersen may be right. I am not a historian, and they know far more than I do when it comes to religious history. Even with its areas of bias and imbalance the book is useful for its intended audience. It does succeed in providing a convenient look at major contours and catalysts that have shaped church history. I almost rated the book 4 stars but the imbalance and bias are too prominent to allow it.
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Statue of Martin Luther in Dresden, Germany by Tama66 from Pixabay.