This the fourth history of Christianity to cross my desk in recent years. First, an orthodox, authoritative survey of how Christianity established itself in five continents, focusing on the church and the Establishment. (Edwards). Second, a Chronology, setting Christianity alongside other religions and secular societies. (Bowden). Third, a survey of modern Christianity in five continents embellished with colour illustrations and boxed features. (Lion).
Now Page, ‘infallible’ (or nearly). Over 2,000 pages covering 2000 years, much the same in content but very different in selection and presentation. In every case the reviewer was left wondering about the principles of selection and in every case he was left to work out what they are for himself. What makes Page different is the lightness of touch and the apt phrase with a mischievous sense of humour, at times almost facetious and to some probably offensive.
Liberationists ‘sort of like Marxist Wesleyans’ (p419) is fine. Less so, when defining apartheid as ‘a system that separated whites from blacks from ‘coloureds’ (‘to this day, the only political system based on the instructions on a washing machine’), or the gratuitous remark (under the heading ‘Heartburn’) that John Wesley in America ‘tried to seduce a young woman', or the inclusion of ‘shorter skirts‘ alongside new technology, better music and a more libertarian view of life as the major features of 1960s Christianity, but none so crass and unwise as the statement that none of those involved in the atrocities in Northern Ireland (Catholics or Protestants) ‘had, in truth anything to do with Jesus Christ’.
Overall the coverage is good with plenty of emphasis on people, ‘truly holy’, whose names and lives we know little or nothing about and ‘who have been forgotten along the way’, together with the more familiar churches and organisations, but without following the traditional denominational lines and structures too closely. Catholics, Anglicans and Quakers all get their due, less so Baptists and Congregationalists.
As far as I could judge the facts were basically accurate if at times a little unbalanced. Jamnia, for example, was not nearly as tidy or final as Page assumes and some obvious building bricks get scant attention, such as Edinburgh 1910 and the WCC, with one paragraph almost suggesting that the recent unity moves are the child of the charismatics.
Liberation Theology, Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade are well handled, Wyclif and the Lollards get their due, with more copy than Martin Luther King or William Carey, and Luther outshines Calvin despite a massive five pages.
The Index was welcome and seemed to be reliable, though whether it does justice to the wealth and detail of the material only time will tell. Fine to have around and good to dip into occasionally. but buyers need to be aware just what they are buying before they do so.