An outstanding historian of Christianity, Mark Noll identifies pivotal events or movements throughout history beginning with the fall of Jerusalem (70 A.D.) through the 20th century. The events are admittedly subjective selections as the author explains in the introduction. But the purpose of the book is to demonstrate such events served as "forks in the road" or signals of new stages in the growth of Christianity. The scope is purposely narrowed to target the book at an average adult audience rather than for scholars. While Noll describes himself as a Protestant Evangelical, he is very evenhanded in his presentation.
Noll's contention is that some understanding of the history of Christianity is essential for the following reasons:
- There is a historic character to Christianity that essential for understanding the full message of the Gospel;
- Church history gives us perspective on interpreting Scripture;
- Church history helps us to work through challenges of Christian interaction with all types of cultures;
- It gives us better perspective for understanding God's sustaining work in the church and of the relative importance of theological and ecclesiastical issues.
Among the selected events are The Council of Nicaea, the beginning of Monasticism, the coronation of Charlemagne, the Diet of Worms, the founding of the Jesuit order, the French Revolution, and Vatican II.
Study/discussion questions at the end make the book even more useful for homeschoolers. There are overview questions that apply to the entire book, chapter questions that include comprehension and analysis, and application questions that raise many challenging issues facing modern Christianity (e.g., "Discuss how your church would receive Arius," "Discuss whether a standard for orthodoxy exists in the church today.") Footnotes, endnotes, and suggestions for further reading offer plenty of opportunity to further investigate intriguing topics. This is a very thought-provoking and illuminating book. Highly recommended.