Take and read

African Christianity: An African Story. Edited by Ogbu Kalu. Department of Church History, University of Pretoria, 631 pp.

Kalu and an accomplished team of collaborators bring off in this book what has never been accomplished before—a thorough, carefully researched, interpretively rich history of Christianity in Africa written by Africans. The depth of insight is as pervasive as the coverage is complete. This is a picture of a Christianity that shares much with other Christianities around the world but also is distinctly African. A promised edition from a U.S. publisher cannot come soon enough.

The Cambridge History of Christianity, Volume 1: Origins to Constantine. Edited by Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young. Cambridge University Press, 790 pp., $180.00. The Cambridge History of Christianity, Volume 8: World Christianities, c. 1815—c. 1914. Edited by Sheridan Gilley and Brian Stanley. Cambridge University Press, 698 pp., $180.00. The Cambridge History of Christianity, Volume 9: World Christianities, c. 1914—c. 2000. Edited by Hugh McLeod. Cambridge University Press, 736 pp., $180.00.

These volumes of the new Cambridge History, the first three to be released, set a very high standard for the six volumes to follow. The editors have recruited squadrons of experts, pulled their chapters into well integrated order, and themselves offered unusually useful summaries and conclusions. The treatment of traditional themes and historical Christian regions is superb, but even better is the innovative work on fresh subjects and new Christian areas of the globe.

A Greek Roman Empire: Power and Belief Under Theodosius II (408-450). By Fergus Millar. University of California Press, 306 pp., $49.95.

Events of long ago in far-away Byzantium may not seem urgently pressing, but in Millar’s thorough, intelligent treatment, the administration of Theodosius II comes alive. This officially Latin regime was notable for conducting its business in Greek with the eastern half of the empire; the emperor was even more noteworthy for brokering doctrinal controversies that led during his lifetime to the convening of two major church synods at Ephesus, which in turn led to the momentous Council of Chalcedon in 451.

God’s War: A New History of the Crusades. By Christopher Tyerman. Belknap, 986 pp., $35.00.

With rekindled controversy about Western invasions of the Middle East, the Crusades of the late Middle Ages take on unanticipated relevance. It is thus a real boon for this strikingly effective book to appear at this time. The key to Tyerman’s signal success is his ability to explain both the vicious brutality and the serious Christian altruism that were so intimately intertwined in the crusading experience and that have left such a tangled legacy for Muslim-Christian relations to this day.

Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva, Volume 1: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage. Edited by John Witte Jr. and Robert M. Kingdon. Eerdmans, 544 pp., $32.00 paperback.

A first-rate historian and an extraordinary legal scholar collaborate to offer close documentation of what really went on in John Calvin’s Geneva. Calvin did undertake a thorough reform of Geneva’s moral life, but that effort involved more positives than negatives, especially the rich biblical view of marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman in which the covenant-keeping God is always a third party. Witte’s work on this theme extends to a well-edited collection discussing Jewish, Christian and Muslim considerations, Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective (Eerdmans, 2005).

Religion, Family, and Community in Victorian Canada: The Colbys of Carrollcroft. By Marguerite Van Die. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 304 pp., $75.00.

In this extraordinarily perceptive account of family, religion, economics, politics and society in relation to an extended family in Quebec’s eastern townships over the last two-thirds of the 19th century, Van Die shows how thoroughly the era’s mainstream Protestantism was wrapped up with its rapid social and economic changes, with progressive liberal politics and with the importance of women as major religious actors. The book represents lived history at its best.

Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World. By Jon Sensbach. Harvard University Press, 320 pp., $16.95 paperback.

Sensbach’s beautifully written book tells the story of Rebecca Protten, a slave on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands to whom Moravian missionaries ministered in the 1740s. Her conversion, her rise to prominence as a Christian witness, her role in the history of West Indian slave revolts, her manumission, her eventual marriages (one interrracial) and her long sojourn in Europe are the events that drive the narrative. The book’s depiction of a Christian faith both truly pietistic and truly African was a revelation in its own century and a harbinger for much to come.

Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University. By Thomas Albert Howard. Oxford University Press, 496 pp., $135.00.

Howard’s story tells how ingenious leaders, chiefly Friedrich Schleiermacher, rescued the study of theology (but only barely) when German universities made a wholesale turn toward dominance by science and the state. The ironic result was that German theology became an arbiter for all of Christendom while departments of theology in German universities were hanging on by their fingernails. Whether they sacrificed requisite independence to do so is the question that Howard—through a critique of Karl Barth—raises masterfully at the end.

Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War. By Harry S. Stout. Viking, 400 pp., $29.95.

This study of cultural conflict, American civil religion and religious justification for war is as timely for its implicit commentary on current affairs as for its explicit engagement with the determinative historical event of the U.S. Stout uses classical just war theory to weigh the Civil War in the balance and finds it wanting on both sides. In his view, propagandistic mythmaking and romantic ideology masked both the human cost of this terrible war and its failure to resolve the nation’s enduring crisis over race.

The Catholic Origins of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, 1931-1970. By Michael Gauvreau. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 512 pp., $85.00.

Gauvreau’s thorough volume represents the best attempt yet to explain the rapid secularization of what was once the most thoroughly Christianized region of North America. His compelling argument shows clearly that efforts within the Catholic Church were responsible for promoting a new understanding of Christianity that displayed new social and intellectual sophistication but offered almost nothing with which to withstand the economic, cultural and political whirlwind that swept Quebec beginning in the 1950s. Ironically, liberalizing changes in Canada were often associated with Catholic Action, which, under Pope John Paul II, became a forceful tool for conservative resurgence in the church worldwide.

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