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The Church: A Theological and Historical Account Paperback – April 19, 2016
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From the Back Cover
"Solid, shrewd, and most thorough, this superlative survey of God's people on earth past and present will be a boon not only for seminarians but also for many more of us besides. It is a truly outstanding performance."
--J. I. Packer, Regent College
"Here is a fresh overview of the church and its history, theology, and current challenges in today's world. Gerald Bray is an ordained evangelical Anglican, but he writes with such great sympathy and wisdom that this telling of the church's story will edify the Lord's people everywhere."
--Timothy George, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University; general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture
"Weaving together the diverse manifestations of the Christian church over twenty centuries, this book is an ecumenical panorama of the church's interaction with high and low theology, renewal and intransigence, politics and secular culture. Bray proves to be not only irenic and charitable but also sober and sensible in his assessments. Anyone who wonders whether ecclesiology matters--or even where it came from, in all its present diversity--should read this book."
--John L. Thompson, Fuller Theological Seminary
"Comprehensive in scope, ecumenical in tone, orthodox in confession, and insightful from beginning to end, this book sets a new benchmark for textbooks on ecclesiology. Dr. Bray's warm heart for the church comes through on every page, making the book spiritually enriching as well as intellectually informative. Part history, part theology, part prescriptive wisdom from a senior churchman--this book does it all. I suspect it is destined to become the go-to classic for an overview of Protestant ecclesiology."
--Bryan Litfin, Moody Bible Institute
"I know of almost no one else who could write a book like this. Gerald Bray's unique global-mindedness and catholic awareness are put on full display in this analysis of the development of the church throughout the ages and across the continents. I fully expect that members of various Christian traditions will better understand their place in God's family by leaning into this narrative and thematic analysis."
--Michael Allen, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando
About the Author
Gerald Bray (DLitt, University of Paris-Sorbonne) is research professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama; distinguished professor of historical theology at Knox Theological Seminary; and director of research at Latimer Trust, Oak Hill College, London. A prolific author, he has written many books, including God Is Love, God Has Spoken, The Doctrine of God, and Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present. Bray is a minister in the Church of England and serves as editor of the Anglican journal Churchman.
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For congregations trying to be like the early church, Bray tells us what is unknown about the early centuries after Christ and why it's impossible to replicate early Christian gatherings. This book summarizes many documents that might make up part of a theology course, but it's pitched at the ordinary reader - you don't have to be a priest or pastor to enjoy the book.
Analyzing "one", Bray looks at Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant arms of the church. There are copious references for people who want to read more about a particular denomination or learn more about various Eastern Orthodox branches of the church. The Celtic Church, Crusades, Augustine and the Pope are all explored. The interested reader gets details from the references - the pages focus on historical highlights.
Plenty of authors have written about holiness and holiness movements, so I thought the book might analyze what is considered holy today by different church regions and branches, but it doesn't go so far. It does go into the Holy Roman Empire in some detail and mentions Holy Communion, the Holy Spirit and the Holy Land in looking at holiness.
There is intense mention of "apostolic" throughout the book, and Bray describes in some detail the schisms that have developed between apostolic and postapostolic churches in the nineteenth century.
The book looks at what the church ought to be through the four adjectives and by the end it concludes steps towards this ideal take time and change has historically been incremental. He notes that many congregations feel the need to be part of their community and this may help churches survive.
It is a useful book for anyone wanting to learn how the various Councils and Creeds which developed Christian traditions came about. the book might be useful to the prospective theology student to give a rapid overview of church history.
I enjoyed the book tremendously, having first met Dr Bray when I was a student.
J.I. Packer calls Gerald Bray’s The Church a “superlative survey” of these questions. Bray is a distinguished and well-respected professor, author, and historian. There is no one more fit for the task of unpacking how these “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” have fleshed themselves out ecclesiologically than Bray. Bray continually reminds us, through The Church, that ecclesiology deeply matters, and in order for us to best understand what the Church is (chapter 6) and what the Church should be (chapter 7), we have to return to our roots (chapters 1-5).
Here’s what The Church does so well. Bray does a wonderful job of highlighting the major movements, while also getting to the ground level and taking us into the timeline, seeing how theology and culture developed along the way as time went on. He uses a chronological survey of the development of the church, from the Old and New Testaments, through the Protestant Reformation and into our context, to build us into the big crescendo of “now what?”
Throughout the book, we find helpful analysis and made distinctions of key components of Church matters, which Bray articulates well. For example, on page 114, Bray examines the difference between schism and heresy, and how each affected the imperial church. There is a discussion of the medieval church, the Eastern Orthodox movement, Aristotle’s influence, the development of the Episcopate, and many more topics. All this to say, this book is chock full of a variety of talking points, almost working like a historical and systematic textbook to help us get a solid survey of the Church historical.
My main critique of The Church is found in the first two chapters, Bray’s analysis of the Old and New Testament Church. Bray, on numerous occasions, is found expressing mystery, continually following up points with “we do not know.” I had dozens of marks where Bray uses a phrase to the effect of “we do not know.” While I appreciate Bray’s commitment to avoiding eisegesis and avoiding “endless speculations” about details simply not in Scripture, I wished Bray would have used his historical and theological prowess to make a few more assertions in his book. At multiple points, it felt as if Bray simply did not have an opinion on the matter. Some make the mistake of having too many extra-biblical opinions, but I also think standing for some interpretations matters as well. As the book progressed, this critique lessened and lessened. I don’t find it to be a major issue, for what it’s worth.
The Church is important because if we are ever to learn more about where we are going, we should keep one eye on where we have been. As in all of life, our past as a culture, as a people, can help us avoid mistakes along the way, and help us not fall into the traps our ancestors did. Bray, an Anglican himself, helps us think through ecumenicalism, becoming a Nicene-like “one, holy, catholic, apostolic” Church who is united in doctrine and purpose. This book helps us mightily, and will be beneficial to church history students, pastors, and church leaders everywhere.