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In another text ('The Changing Shape of Church History'), Justo Gonzalez writes about the shift away from a Eurocentric focus on the history of Christianity to a recognition that Christianity is a global phenomenon, not just due to Western missionary activity, but rather has been since its earliest day. Gonzalez keeps this global perspective in mind in his two volume narrative history, 'The Story of Christianity'.

Gonzalez' presentation of the Reformation period concentrates on significant people, primarily Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin, bringing in other people as appropriate (Tetzel, various popes, etc.). However, Gonzalez does not confine himself to a 'story of great men' approach, combine the history of ideas, events, and institutions together with the biographical narratives of the people involved. Gonzalez is also the author of a three-volume history of Christian thought, and draws material from that series into this more general church history text.

Gonzalez' approach to the Reformation includes the standard Luther/Zwingli/Calvin triad, with information about the reformations in Britain, the Benelux (Low) countries, France, Anabaptists, and influences in the Catholic church. Gonzalez uses the term `Catholic Reformation' rather than Counter-Reformation, for as he states, `the Catholic Reformation was well under way when Luther was still a young boy.' Gonzalez highlights some earlier controversies that influenced Luther (Hus and others), as well as so-called `minor' actors in the unfolding historical events. This is standard for Gonzalez - he addresses the major events and people while incorporating a good deal of information about the influences and people that normally do not get `topping billing' in historical narratives. His task at recovering these neglected voices puts new perspectives to the overall flow of the history.

The second part of the text deals with the various events leading past the Reformations into the Enlightenment. Denominations began to solidify established patterns of belief and practice into orthodox structures, and the general Reformation continued to diversify into Spiritualist, Pietist, and other Movements, which Gonzalez describes as options. Sometimes these had direct political motivations, and other times they were more theological in tone. Gonzalez concludes this section with the Great Awakening and Jonathan Edwards, in the thirteen colonies.

In the third section, the political dimensions of religious institutions and their attendant belief and practice structures is readily apparent as the rise of nation-states, the independence movements away from colonial powers, and the increasing independence of church institutions from state control (and vice versa) takes centre stage. Christianity becomes a truly global phenomenon during this period (the late 1700s through the 1800s), but not always in the best ways. Gonzalez highlights good and bad points of the expansion of church power and missionary activity, as well as the way church justifications have been used in aid of colonial authority.

In the final section, Gonzalez describes the twentieth century as an era of `drastic change'. This includes not just the Western traditions of Catholic and Protestant, but also the Orthodox traditions, on the one hand emerging from centuries of Muslim domination in Middle Eastern and North African lands, but then submerging for a time under Communist rule in Russia and East Europe, the centre of Orthodoxy after the fall of Constantinople. In a century that included world wars, expansion of trade, ecumenical and openness movements (such as Vatican II), Gonzalez sees the century ending whereby the former missionary lands of the global South are becoming themselves the evangelizers to the historically Christian North - `Thus, the lands that a century before were considered the "ends of the earth" will have an opportunity to witness to the descendents of those who had earlier witnessed to them.

Each major section is introduced by a chronology; while generally acceptable, more detail here would be helpful, particularly as it relates to the history of ideas. Incorporation of authors, artists, philosophers and others apart from the specifically political and church-related figures would be helpful for the overall context. Each major section also includes a list of suggested readings, but these lists do not include many recent works of merit - Gonzalez himself admits that this text is due for a revised edition.

Gonzalez has a broadly ecumenical and open approach, striving to cover a massive amount of material with fair attention both to major topics and oft-neglected voices. He does a very good job at this, and despite some minor shortcomings, this remains one of the better general church history texts available.
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on October 25, 2001
As a new believer, I had a lot of questions about how and why doctrine came about. I've been very interested in apologetics, particularly the push and pull between fundamental Christianity and the scientific community. Mr. Gonzalez presented a perfect resource for familiarizing myself with the history of the church. It could easily be used as a textbook for a college class, but it doesn't read like one. Wonderfully thorough and very well-written.
I HIGHLY recommend this for anyone wanting to learn about the history of the church. Every Christian should study this to an extent, if for no other reason than to see that challenges to our faith are nothing new. There's definitely nothing new under the sun:)
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on August 18, 2011
I am not a theology student, I simply wanted to know more about how the church has developed over time. This book is perfect for someone like me: it gives the overall picture, with enough details to grasp the issues, but not so many that we get bogged down and lose track of the overall storyline; I am making notes of books or historical characters that I want to look at more closely later on, after getting the big picture, but for now, the story itself is fascinating. This book (both volumes of it) truly is "The Story of Christianity", and I'm finding that it's pulling together everything I thought I knew about western history from the start of the current era until now. I no longer see how anyone can really understand western history, without having a clear idea of the strand of Christianity from the beginning until now.

The book is rigorous enough for a serious theology student, but also readable by someone like me, who simply wants to learn more about this subject.
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on February 25, 2013
This is a fantastic volume for studying the history of the western church, particularly the development of Protestantism alongside of the Catholic church. This book, however, is NOT the same edition as the paperback as one may believe. A quick review of the table of contents reveals that the paperback contains additional material, though both are listed as 2nd Edition.

BE ADVISED: there are significant differences. If you require a specific text, especially for academic work, consider the paperback edition, linked below.

The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2: The Reformation to the Present Day
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Dr. Gonzalez provides the history student with an excellent point of entry into the period of the Reformation to the present. While his writing style is inviting, calling the reader to engage with the figures and events, it is also quite readable. To be sure, the volume does not attempt to go into great depth, however, it does provide a necessary overview and structure for the period. I felt like I got a good grasp on the period at large providing a foundation for deeper study. Overall, I have nothing but praise and appreciation for Dr. Gonzalez's work. A number of aspects in his work struck me as significant and will be considered in this short review. Among them include the excellent "color video" of the lives of key figures like Erasmus, Luther, and George Fox. Secondly, the history of ideas and philosophy of the period given in Part II of the book gave great insight into the diverse thinking that undergirded the Reformation and its subsequent movements. Thirdly, while I have always viewed the Reformation as a revolution of theology and Christian practice, I was somewhat surprised at its strong affect on the politics of the period. Finally, Gonzalez does an excellent job of showing how the various movements and traditions began and developed. The key religious figures of the period were presented with much color and clarity. I found it insightful that Erasmus was the illegitimate son of a priest and physician's daughter. This must have had an impact on not only his own self esteem and place in society but on how his theology developed. For instance, his reformation leanings had much to do with obedience. Gonzalez writes, ". . . he insisted that righteousness was more important than orthodoxy, and he frequently attacked friars who were capable of subtle theological discussions, but whose lives were scandalous." I cannot help but conclude that such convictions were born not simply out of his head, but out of his life experience. One's theology cannot be totally divorced from his life, culture, family, and experiences. Hence, I appreciate Gonzalez's insight to include such a detail. Similarly, one can see how Luther's strict and severe family upbringing contributed to his struggle to understand God. In his early career as a monk, he trembled over the mass and quickly aged his personal confessor because he regarded God mostly as a harsh judge. Certainly, Luther's view of God was directly related to his earthly father and family. How all the more delightful and liberating it must have been for him to read Romans 1:17, "the just shall live by faith." Again, the personal life, family, and psychology of the particular reformer contributed to his theology and work. Gonzalez does a great service to the reader by bringing some of these background details to us. Part II of the volume was very stimulating as our author lays down the history and development of the ideas for the period. Certainly people shaped the Reformation and centuries that followed, but it was ideas that shaped the people! Many have pointed out that the Protestant aspect of the Reformation was not a unified effort nor did it have a unified result and this section of the book accentuates that point. Gonzalez, in giving the array and inter-relatedness of theologies allows the reader to understand the tensions in thought that existed between Calvinists and Armininians or Jansenists and Jesuits. Following Gonzalez's objective presentation of the various schools of thought, I personally came away with a greater appreciation and compassion for the thinking of groups that I tend to disagree with. I think it is also noteworthy the fair treatment the author affords Protestant theology in light of his Roman Catholic faith. Gonzalez ably integrates the history of Christianity through its Reformers and theologies but also in the context of the real world of politics, kings, and princes. As a twenty-first century American having lived my whole life in a society where Church and State are separate, it is rather amazing to observe the effect of the Reformation on governments and secular leaders. The help and protection Frederick the Wise of Saxony gave Martin Luther in the German Reformation is foreign to the modern student. The saga of events in England regarding the official Church beginning with Henry VIII to Mary to Elizabeth and so forth also proves remarkable. One of the underlying reasons a Reformation was needed was that the Roman Catholic Church had become too political and hungry for power. Church and State were battling for power and position constantly. Yet Luther, Calvin and Zwingli seem to furhter their reformation communities in the Church-State together paradigm. Calvin's church in Geneva indeed acted as a key agent of righteous, positive social change. This is certainly the goal of any church in any period in history. While we have learned over and over throughout Christian history of the corruption and abuse that occurs when the Church becomes political, we should not too quickly "Christianize" the separation of Church and State. We must not forget that God ordained Old Testament Israel to be a theocracy. Nevertheless, Gonzalez paints a vivid picture of the political leaders and governments who are effected by the Reformation because of the Church's close tie to the State. Today in America there are Baptists of many sorts as well as Mennonites. The groups seem very different and in fact do posess many differences. Dr. Gonzalez does a nice job of recounting how such groups originated and then began developping so that the modern reader can understand their history in a simple manner. In the case of the Baptist/Mennonite development, the Anabaptists were founded on the principles of being completely scripture oriented and that the Church was to be distinct from the State. This first generation of Anabaptists were scholars and initially were followers of Zwingli. Yet the second generation Anabaptists, in response to the persecution by the Catholic Church and other Protestants, became more revolutionary. A third generation went the other direction and embraced pacifism under the leadership of Menno Simons and ultimately developed into the Mennonites. Like many movements, the Anabaptists often changed drastically from generation to generation and even birthed new splinter movements such as the case of the Mennonites. In summary, Gonzalez consistently provides systematic detail for how significant Reformation movements like the Anabaptists, Lutherans, or Pietists developed. As previously noted, I was very happy with this text of Reformation Church History and found it to be enjoyable reading at the introductory, "big picture" level. Gonzalez succeeds in bringing many of the key figures of the period-- both religious and political-- to life while clearly explaining how various schools of thought and movements developed. He also includes a nice balance of illustrations depicting the key leaders and movements as well as a time line for each section of the book so that the reader may easily know the context from which he is reading. Finally, the quotes given by great leaders at the beginning of each chapter were well selected and provided a window into the chapter. I highly recommend this text for any Church history course focusing on the Reformation to the present.
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on September 2, 2005
This is a very readable and detailed history (in two volumes) of the Christian religion from the time of the Apostles until 1984, when the book was published. I read this book out of general interest, although I understand that it is widely used for college courses on church history and doctrine. The history of the church is a huge topic, and Gonzalez has a real talent for summarizing complex developments and making them very accessible for a general reader. No special background in theology or history is required to appreciate this wonderful account. Gonzalez is apparently Protestant, but he gives a fair and balanced account of all denominations, including Catholic and Orthodox. He also includes mysticism and the radical sects. He is aware of the current scholarship, but he doesn't get bogged down in the numerous scholarly controversies of historians. He doesn't succumb to revisionism and p.c.; he's not afraid to call a spade a spade. But if there is genuine ambiguity and grounds for debate, he does mention that. The two volumes of this book also work well as a concise history of western civilization from year one until 1984. Gonzalez is able to identify the most important events and issues and describe them clearly and concisely. The major theological movements are described very briefly. This is not primarily a history of doctrine, but rather a history of the various Christian churches.

Footnotes are kept to an absolute minimum here, in order to avoid unnecessary distractions. Suggestions for further reading are given at the end of each section, but these are very incomplete. For example, the only suggestion for further reading on English Puritanism was published in 1912.

Gonzalez's area of special interest is Latin American Christianity, and so he devotes some space to the history of Christianity there from the time of the Spanish Conquistadores to the Liberation theology of the late 20th century. Since this book was written before the demise of the Soviet Union, I think a revised edition is in order.
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on March 10, 2013
A lot of of good history is covered, and I like that he pulls in perspectives from different cultures and movements within Christianity. Definitely a good overview of Christian history which remains largely unbiased until he covers the modern era.

By the last few chapters, the author makes it very clear that his view of a "healthy" Christianity involves an emphasis on ecumenicism, liberation theology, "contextualized theology," and missions, which he defines in economic terms more so than theological or salvific. He clearly has a Marxian view of the Christian message, with an anti-colonial and anti-imperialist theme throughout. His portrayal of conservative evangelicals in the 20th century is as biased as the traditional narrative he critiques. In fact, our introduction to the movement begins with an image of a Klan rally, as if the KKK were a mainstream movement within modern evangelicalism.

As I said, his editorial does not become heavy-handed until that latter quarter of the book. If you can enjoy the breadth of history he offers, and extract the bias, then it's a very informative book that's very well written. Or, if you already agree with his views, then you'll find his narrative all the more appealing and inspirational. However, if you can't stand "progressive" political correctness, then don't buy this book.
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There are several good, and one or two "great" histories of Christianity, and there are probably dozens which rank would fare as "good home cooking". Nourishing, but not impressive. Gonzales' history is mashed potatoes with meat, as prepared by Joel Robuchon. It is the things we want to know about the people and the movements, primarily in European and American Christianity, even though the main action in Christian expansion in the 20th century and later will be in the global south (Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia. For that, go to Philip Jenkins' book, "The Next Christendom."

Gonzales' book is NOT about theology. You will get very little on the differnces between Luther and Calvin and Wesley and the Council of Trent in this book. You will get much about the effects of these theologies on the social directions of Catholicism and various varieties of Protestantism.

One of the most interesting threads in this discussion is the revelation that the United States was the hothouse of religious experimentation. The separation of church and state provisions in the constitution were dramatic in a time when every Christian country had a state religion, including England. But they were necessary, since each of the 13 colonies had a different religious foundation. From that diversity comes most of the major changes, many of the biggest ones today grew from American Wesleyism, even thought the Methodist movement started in England. Even so, there are many topics in early American Christianity which get no mention. Increase and Cotton Mather between them get only one page and Jonathan Edwards gets only four mentions on widely separated pages.

Appropriate to a target audience of non-professionals, the writing is brisk and easy to follow. Appropriate to the title, it reads like a "Story". The down side to that is that there are very few notes (two pages for 552 pages of text) about sources. For that, you would need to go to Jaroslav Pelikan's History of Doctrine. For a more authoritative social history, you would need to go to the 8 volume Cambridge History of Christianity, which costs about $200 per volume.

If I were to do one thing to improve the book, it would be to put a Bibliography at the end of each chapter. Gonzales, I'm sure, could hire a Grad student to do that for him. If it had such a Bibliography, I would give it a higher rank, because then it would be useful as a reference volume, where you could read the chapters which interest you, and find books to elaborate on that interest.

One reviewer believed he saw a Spanish slant to the writing in this book. Frankly, I read the whole book and detected no such "prejudice". If there were, Gonzales did it very, very poorly, because neither I nor the seven other members of my class, nor the instructor, mentioned anything about it. If Gonzales was less critical of the Spanish Inquisition that we have been lead to believe it deserves, just maybe we have been mislead about the relative horrors of that versus so much else we have seen since the Reformation began.
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on October 2, 2003
A very helpful introduction. The text is accessible and lucid. Gonzalez does a good job framing church movements in the context of general trends of thought and covers key secular thinkers and movements where appropriate. He also does well covering the whole church and following the developments of the papacy, Catholic church, and Orthodox. However, this leads to the treatment of eras in parallel accountings rather than a linear narrative which was confusing at times. The pictures are fun, timeline could be more helpful in its presentation, and while I would have liked more maps, this text has the most helpful maps of those that I read on this era. It is also not referenced but it does have extensive recommended readings. I would highly recommend this as an introductory text on Church History as part of (or in preparation for) a class or for personal interest.
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on March 1, 2011
So far this book has been a really easy read. I'm not a person that enjoys reading very much but the sections are short and very informative, which works perfect for someone who doesn't want to read much for an overview. It's not the most detailed it can be but I'm not necessarily looking for that
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