Book Review: Introduction to the History of Christianity

Introduction to the History of Christianity

Tim Dowley, ed. Introduction to the History of Christianity. 2nd Ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013. Pp. 616. ISBN 978-0-8006-9969-7. $55.00 (Paperback).

Within the past month, Fortress Press released the 2nd Ed. of Introduction to the History of Christianity, edited by Tim Dowley. Although not a typical pattern in the humanities discipline, this history book is a multi-authored resource. And by multi-authored, I mean 65 authors. With my focused interests in early church history, I will necessarily focus my attention on the relevant chapters.

The array of historical introductions gladly welcome this new edition. The collaborative effort is one of the chief marks of its value. Christian historians, from varied geographical locales, team together to write a “bird’s-eye view of 2000 years of Christianity” (preface, 18). Part I: Beginnings AD 1–325 and Part II: Acceptance and Conquest: AD 325–600 include 15 chapters authored by Richard A. Burridge, David F. Wright, Ralph P. Martin, Michael A. Smith, and others. Each chapter also includes multiple 200–600 word “side-bars”, highlighting relevant data respective of the chapter’s topics. Here is a small sampling of authors and topics:

  • Edwin Yamauchi—The Religions of the Romans; The Gnostics
  • H. Dermot McDonald—Marcion; Nestorius; Cyril of Alexandria
  • Everett Ferguson—Tertullian; Origen; Irenaeus
  • Michael A. Smith—Eusebius: ‘Father of Church History’; Clement of Rome; Ignatius of Antioch; Baptism
  • Larry W. Hurtado—How the New Testament Came Down to Us
  • Robert Clouse—Patrick: Missionary to the Irish; Columba: Celtic Missionary

In Parts I–II, a total of 8 different authors compose 15 chapters and 10 authors compose 30 smaller articles.

So, what’s the difference? What distinguishes the 1st edition from the 2nd edition? Dowley highlights the differences as follows (19).

In summary, for this edition we have:

  • Removed some introductory material on historiography to allow more space for the narrative history
  • Completely revised, re-styled, checked, and re-edited the text throughout
  • Added important new text — for example on Jesus, the Thought World of Early Christianity, and the Future
  • Added dates for all significant named persons
  • Added scripture references and texts
  • Added a useful glossary of ecclesiastical and theological terms
  • Created around 40 new full-colour maps
  • Revised and re-designed all Timelines
  • Created a single, comprehensive index
  • Completely re-illustrated the book in full color throughout
  • Added section summaries, study questions, and suggested further reading for students
  • Completely re-designed the entire book, with a larger format, more readable typeface, and clearer layout

Furthermore, this 2nd edition, as mentioned by Dowley, does not include a full section “God and History” from the 1st edition. If you are a professor, this may prove problematic if you have used the material or structured portions of your class around this section.

However, the 2nd edition added new chapters and greatly expanded the following chapters: “Jesus: His life, ministry, death, and its consequences”, “Buildings and Belief: Early church structures”, “Worship and the Christian Year: The making of the Christian Calendar”, “Clergy, Bishops and Pope: The church builds an organization”, and more.

Also be mindful of the Study Companion to Introduction to the History of ChristianityMy review does not include any of this new addition.

Advantages to Owning the 2nd Ed.

Asthetics. If you own the first edition, the aesthetics alone ought to compel you to own this newer edition. The book underwent a full renovation. The book size is larger, thereby, creating more space within the text. The newer single-column is changed from double-column page layout, which for some is easier on the eyes. The new gloss paper is filled with a sleeker typeface and richly colored maps. Therefore, the space and new layout enable the pages to lack clutter and are, naturally, more readable.

I personally enjoy the arts and so I tip my hat to Laurie Ingram, who designed the cover. The front cover is far more modern than the previous cover. The mosaics have a crisp color tone. The color coordination combined with a modern, simplistic, layout invites me to pick up the book by merely looking at the cover.

Multi-Author. The advantage to writing books, as a single author, is you are able to articulate your ideas in concise fashion. The disadvantage to writing a history book, as a single author, is one’s inability to gather and interact with enough of the data to produce something usable. The major advantage to this history book is its collaborate work. A specialist is able to focus time and attention to given topics and chapters and, therefore, strengthen the entire book. Each chapter is written by one involved in the field and literature. Not many historical books follow this pattern.

Disadvantages to Introduction to the History of Christianity

Lacks Footnotes. Any book, done well, should ignite the inner prowess of a researcher. One striking feature lacking in this wonderfully written book is footnotes/endnotes. The reader is left to assume the authors are accurate. Especially with the intended focus of the book, beginning students need guidance on how to follow-up on specific topics. A lack of footnotes prohibit readers and researchers to continue research in secondary and primary sources.

Imbalance of Recommended Sources. At the end of each section, a list of sources are provided under the title “Further Reading”. It would do the readers a great service to see a list of the primary and secondary sources for the relevant material. The bibliographic list is imbalanced, listing some primary but predominately secondary sources. A helpful suggestion would possibly be to list a recommended bibliography at the end of each chapter for the respective topics. A reading list that differentiates between primary and secondary sources is always helpful. Even differentiating difficulty levels (Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced) aids readers as they try to navigate their way through the maze of sources.

Final Recommendation

All in all, early church students (Beginner, Intermediate, Instructors) will find this source valuable for research and, most likely, a useful class textbook. As I consider teaching, this source is high on my list as source to consult and recommend. Even more than a textbook, the user-friendly maps, timelines, and layout make this text exciting to read for any pastor or person intrigued by church history. If you own the first Fortress Press edition, the upgrade is encouraged. The critiques wouldn’t curtail me from using the book; they do, however, require me to use a secondary introduction.

*   *   *   *

My deepest thanks extended to our friends at Fortress Press for allowing me to review this book for them.

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