30 Events that Shaped the (Evangelical) Church: a book review

I am a bit of history buff so on this score I may be a bit more critical than the general reader. Still I was excited to read 30 Events That Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky. Ganksy is the author of twenty-four novels and eight books of non-fiction and this isn’t his first foray into Church history. He also wrote 60 People Who Shaped the Church (Baker Books, 2014).  These thirty historical vignettes failed to capture my interest, were light on analysis and were highly selective. I think church history is far richer and more interesting than what is presented here.

I admit that Ganksy culled together some facts I did not know and is generally even-handed in his presentation of these events. Nevertheless he is not a historian and relies heavily on other popular level histories (such as Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language) and older, more dated material. He is responsible in what he shares, though he occasionally conflates events. Where I took issue with Gansky was in the 30 events he chose for this book.

The first three chapters cover biblical accounts (Pentecost, the conversion of Paul, and Acts 15 council in Jerusalem). The next couple of chapters describe Rome burning (under Nero) and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  This is followed by three events in the patristic period: the edict of Milan, the first council at Nicea (though he gives us the Nicene Creed text as it was finalized at the second council at Constantinople in 381), and Jerome’s translation of the Vulgate. Nevermind that the patristic period is far richer than this, the medieval period is vastly under represented, descring only three events in over a thousand years: the schism between the Chirstian East and West in 1054, and Pope Innocent III and Boniface VII’s consolidation of papal power. The rest of the book takes us from the Reformation to the present ( the Gutenberg Bible in 1456 is proto-Reformaiton) and tells a largely Protestant Western story (Catholicism is described as significant points in relation to how open or closed they are to Protestant expressions of church).

Gansky describes the publication of the King James Bible, the birth of the Baptists, The Great Awakening, Bishop Usher’s chronology, the Scofield Bible, the Fundamentals (conflating the 1910’s publications with five fundamentals described by the Niagra meetings of 1876 to 1897) the Neo-Evangelical movement.and the Jesus People. He also talks about other significant events for the church such as the American Bill of Rights, Charles Darwin’s publications, the Scope’s Monkey Trial and the Rise of New Atheism (by this he means secularism and does not even mention the principal New Atheists or 9-11).

This is all a very Protestant Evangelical Story and  an American tale (I say this as a Protestant Evangelical American!). I would have given weight to other events. Things like the fall of Rome, the rise of Christian Monasticism, the Crusades, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement. Ganksy never says ‘the 30 events’ only 30 events and there is room to have a different list.  Still I didn’t by and large find his account compelling. For a deeper look at significant events in the life of the church, I recommend Mark Noll’s Turning Points (Baker, 2001).

But on a note of appreciation, I think that Ganksy did a great job of describing the Evangelical and Fundamentalist story, noting the philosophical differences between the two. As an Evangelical with fundamentalist roots, Ganksy names part of my story too. I give Ganksy’s effort three stars.

Notice of material connection I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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2 thoughts on “30 Events that Shaped the (Evangelical) Church: a book review”

  1. I appreciate this review. It is an arrowhead history, moving to a point. I don’t know if a 30 or 60 event books could capture the great global diversity today. But I would find that story more compelling.

    1. Yes! The move of the church center south and east is significant and I agree that a story that reflects the global diversity would be far and away more compelling!

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