The Future of Christianity, by David Martin

David Martin concludes his introduction to this book—perhaps the best introductory mapping I have ever read of a collection of complex essays—with a description of his book as “a modest exercise.” But don’t be fooled. It is anything but. It is also not a book about the future of Christianity. Martin himself demurs from the title when he writes, “Even the best observers failed to anticipate the crucial events of the past half century.”

So what is it? It is the richest, most controversial book of essays I have read in a long time. Martin disagrees with more bien-pensant thinking in fewer pages than any writer I’ve ever encountered as the juggernaut of his learning rolls across the landscape of contemporary scholarship and punditry, crushing all who get in its way while laying down a helpful road for all who follow.

Professor emeritus of sociology at the London School of Economics (from which he earned his Ph.D.) and fellow of the British Academy, Martin is the greatest living British sociologist of religion and, for my money, the best anywhere at what he does. He immerses himself in historical, ethnographic, sociological and political studies of multiple countries in order to build a mental storehouse of comparative information about religion, politics and society on three continents (Europe, North America and South America)—and he makes astute references to Africa, Asia and Australasia as well. From this storehouse Martin brings forth, in this book, treasures both new and old.