As a bibliophile, one of the more regular experiences I go through is waiting for the next volume in a series.
Sometimes the wait isn’t too long – like starting the Harry Potter for the first time in 2016. The wait time was usually the next day, courtesy of Amazon Prime.
At other times, the wait is a long time. In the case of the fourth volume of pastor and historian Nick Needham’s church history series 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, it was twelve years since the last volume was published and six years since I read the last volume.
For those unfamiliar with the series, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power began when Dr Needham, lecturer in Church History at Highland Theological College and pastor of the Inverness Reformed Baptist Church, was teaching in Nigeria and found he couldn’t find an in-depth church history that was also readable. As is often the case, when you can’t find what you need, creating it is a good bet and so Dr Needham released the first volume, The Age of the Early Church Fathers in 2004.
The second volume covered The Middle Ages and the third dealt with the Renaissance and Reformation and now the series continues with this highly-anticipated fourth volume covering the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.
So the question remains: was the wait worth it?
Having finished this fourth book, I can unequivocally say that it was worth waiting for! The series had a couple of great features which this fourth volume exemplifies:
It is even-handed: It is easy to use church history as something of a weapon to club opponents in a heated discussion but as folks who know church history tell me, church history is not quite so cut and dry. At times, those we think of as being on our team are often guilty of doing that which just isn’t right or (worse) doing that which is right for the wrong motivations. Needham does an amazing job of just reporting the news and not spinning it, especially when dealing with groups as contentious as the Puritans or the Covenanters or periods as fraught as the Calvinist-Arminian controversy or The Great Ejection.
I came away reading some sections both saddened at the behaviour of some of my theological forefathers yet thankful for the firm resolve and fearless faith of others of them. That was only possible because Dr Needham seeks to be even-handed in his dealings with this fractious time in church history
It seeks to provide modern lessons from our history: More than once, Dr Needham rather cleverly weaves together lessons we can learn from the strengths and weaknesses of the past – and even from theological traditions that differ from his own (and my own) Reformed and Baptistic roots. Church history can often be the “stuff of the past” but Needham shows the relevance of our roots as 21st-century evangelicals and what can we do to avoid the same missteps.
I enjoyed volume four of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power (and in reality, the whole series) and would highly commend it to anyone looking to think critically about our roots as believers.