The period stretching from 1789-1914 was a time when the church wrestled with some cataclysmic shifts in society. The American revolution forever tied the idea to freedom to our understanding of the gospel. In France, their revolution undermined the sociocultural status of the church and her institutions. Industrialization in Britain paved the way for a new kind of society which favored (for the first time) the individual, human rights. And the gospel spread among the nations, although sometimes in ways which were influenced by western imperialism (and sometimes challenged it).
Ian Shaw has written an interesting look at the history of this period. He discusses in-depth each of these trends, but also addresses the challenges to the Christian message posed by slavery, new theologies (particularly from Germany), Darwinism and the ways in which the emerging scientific worldview challenged the authority of Scripture, the challenge of new social and political realities. Many of the trends which Shaw discusses here still shape our shared Christian understanding in the West. He does a masterful job of bringing together historical research in a way that is engaging and informative. He draws on a range of resources (names like Noll, Gustaud, Walls, Stout Bebbington, etc. pepper the notes and bibliographies). Each chapter ends with suggested reading for those who would like to delve deeper into the topics.
While this covers about 125 years of history, Shaw presents a global perspective. It is not focused on one nation or topic, but ranges from mission, politics, Christianity in new nation states, theological and moral challenges, philosophies and social institutions (i.e. slavery, feminism, colonialism). Such a ‘birds-eye-view’ is helpful for seeing the larger societal trends, though readers with a particular interest may want to follow Shaw’s suggested readings to delve deeper into particular topics for themselves
I confess that I am a history lover and so am predisposed to love this book (which I do). But this is a significant era for us to understand as the institutions which have come into being since the American Revolution, have shaped our world and our theological discourse. Shaw is judicious in his historical judgments and writes in an accessible way. Thus I would recommend this book to any thoughtful Christian who would like to understand how to engage the culture we live in. And of course theological students would find this a helpful resource for research.
Thank you to Christian Focus Publishing and Cross Focused Reviews for a copy of this book in exchange for this review.