The Rebirth of Latin American Christianity by Todd Hartch

Christianity is on the rise in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and in decline in Europe and North America (pp. XIII-XIV, 1). But what form of Christianity has emerged in Latin America and what has shaped it during the past 60 years? Answering these questions is the mission of Todd Hartch’s book. Hartch believes that Latin American Christianity has been reborn during the last six decades and as a result Christianity in Latin countries is vastly different from the 1950s and before. There have been five forces behind this rebirth: This book argues that Christianity in Latin American was reborn in five ways reminiscent of the vital church of the early colonial period: (1) as a movement of witnesses and evangelists, (2) as a prophetic movement committed to the poor and the oppressed, (3) as a Pentecostal movement oriented toward spiritual and emotional religious experience, (4) as a lay...

Fire on the Altar, A History and Evaluation of the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival by Noel Gibbard (Wales, UK: Bryntirion Press, 2005) pp. 244, paper $7.99

Fire on the Altar is a account of the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905. Gibbard recognizes a number of influences upon the revival including the Keswick Movement in England (pp. 24, 168-169, 190), Holiness theology (p. 108), and the writings of Henry Drummond (pp. 168-169) and Andrew Murray (pp. 26, 34, 168, 172). The precedent set in the 1859 revival, in which preaching shifted from doctrinal to experience, was followed in 1904-1905 as well. The result was what Peter Price, a spiritual leader of that day, saw as two revivals—one of God, the other a sham (pp. 46, 153-154, 192-193). That the Spirit of the Lord was at work in a remarkable way during the revival is challenged by few. But the excesses, strange behavior, and doctrinal errors demonstrate that much of the revival was not of God. For example: Visions, prophecies, trances, claims of seeing the Shekinah Glory (p....

Church History: An Essential Guide, by Justo L. Gonzalez (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996); 95 pp., paper $12.00

Church History is a short overview of the history of the church designed to give believers a glimpse of the essential events related to the church since its beginning. The author begins with an eleven page introduction that maps out the highlights of various stages of church history, then uses individual chapters to fill in the details. Gonzalez has broken church history into nine periods: the Ancient Church, the Christian Empire, the Early Middle Ages, the High Point of the Middle Ages, the Late Middle Ages, Conquest and Reformation, the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, the Nineteenth Century, the Twentieth Century and the End of Modernity. The periods are a bit arbitrary, and other historians recognize different stages, but what Gonzalez offers is helpful and gives him good handles to explain the development of the church over the last two millennia. It should be noted that since the book was...

The Old Evangelicalism, Old Truth for a New Awakening, by Iain H. Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust), 2005, 226 pp., $19.50

Iain Murray is one of the finest conservative church historians and theologians writing today. He warns early of the danger of romanticizing some period in church history (p. 3). But without question he sees a time, from the Puritans to Spurgeon, in which truth and holiness play a far more dominate role in the church. For Murray “old evangelicalism” is early Reformed Christianity, with the Puritans at the zenith. As such, this book is filled with many excellent quotes and insights from this particular era and theological emphasis. Murray is clear about his Reformed views, championing limited atonement (pp. 106-107, 132), regeneration before faith (pp. 18, 45, 56-57, 62), election (pp. 126) and the necessity of the Law for sanctification (pp. 52-54, 91). Yet he brings balance to these views by curbing the extreme ideas often found in some forms of Calvinism. For example, Murray makes clear that God...

The Book of Books, The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011 by Melvyn Bragg (Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton 2011), 347 pp., hardback 18.99

Bragg has written a fascinating book describing the development, importance and influence of the King James Bible.  The first several chapters deal with the translation of the KJV, especially detailing the debt owed to William Tyndale.  A very nice overview of Tyndale’s life is given (pp. 12ff) and reference is made to approximately 80% of the KJV actually being Tyndale’s translation (pp. 45, 141), although 54 scholars, a quarter of them Puritans, produced the final product. The impact of the KJV can hardly be overstated.  It helped standardize the English language, especially the spelling of words (pp. 120-124, 134), it changed cultures, brought social reforms, encouraged education and of course helped spread Christianity.  Bragg details all of these and more.  The author’s esteem for the KJV is immense which is surprising given that Bragg is not a Christian (see pp. 200, 294-295, 304-309).  He writes as a nostalgic and...

Learning Theology with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall

This volume is the second in a three book series dealing directly with the writings of the church fathers.  The first in the set is Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers and the final is Praying with the Church Fathers. For an individual to be considered a father of the church he had to meet four qualifications:  Antiquity (from A.D. 96 to John of Damascus (750)), holiness of life, orthodox doctrine and ecclesiastical approval (pp. 20-21).  Hall’s approach in his series is not a hop-skip through ancient church history taking a quote here and there from numerous fathers, but rather a focus on a few (primarily Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome) as they were specifically involved in various issues.  With this approach in mind Hall deals with several theological issues:  Christ, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, salvation, God’s providence, the...

Without Sin, the Life and Death of the Oneida Community by Spencer Klaw

Klaw has written a very informational book describing one of the most intriguing religious experiments in history.  In the wake of the revivalism of the so-called Second Great Awakening in America some 40 utopian societies were founded.  Almost all of these (Brook Farm being a notable exception) were spiritual communities, many looking for, or attempting to establish, the kingdom of God on earth.  It was as if the revivalistic fires that were best represented by Charles Finney had destroyed true Christian fervor, leaving behind scorched ground ripe for strange movements to spring to life.  The “Burnt Over District” of New York State was home to more than its share of these movements, cults and utopian experiments.  Of utopian communities none was more successful than Oneida.  Founded in 1848 by perfectionist proponent John Humphrey Noyes, it would continue until 1880 when it voted itself out of existence and became the...

Who are the Puritans? by Erroll Hulse

This is a wonderful primer on the life and beliefs of the early English Puritans. The book is broken into thee parts. Part 1 gives a brief history of the Puritan movement. Part 2 contains a great number of short biographies of the prominent Puritans. This is an invaluable resource. The final part deals with the beliefs of the Puritans from the Westminster Confession to marriage and the family. Beyond question the Puritan era is one of the most fascinating in church history. This book will go a long way towards helping the reader get a handle on these committed people of God....

When the Fire Fell by R. Maurice Smith

The last great revival in the Western world recognized by non-charismatics was the Welsh Revival of 1904. Many longingly look back to that “outpouring of the Spirit of God” and cry out to God for something similar today. With this in mind I have recently begun a study of the Welsh Revival, this being one of the volumes that I have read. Smith defines a “revival” as, “An out-pouring of the Spirit of God at a time and upon a people of God’s own sovereign choosing, resulting in the spiritual renewal of believers and the evangelization of unbelievers” (p.22). The Welsh Revival has been called the “Singing Revival.” Three-fourths of the meeting consists of singing” (p.88). “Evan Roberts himself felt singing to be of massive importance for the release of God’s power (p.78).” The Revival, “followed the line of singing, not preaching” (p.78). For the most part the author...

Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George M. Marsden

Marsden lays out the thesis of his book in its opening sentence: “This book provides an overview of the history of American fundamentalism and evangelicalism plus interpretations of some important themes.” As promised, much of the book (part one) is an excellent historical account of the origins and development of both the fundamental and evangelical movements in America. I found this section extremely valuable and filed away for future reference many important pieces of information. On the other hand, part two, dealing with interpretation, was somewhat disappointing. While still packed full of helpful historical data, the problem lay in the interpretation. Marsden is considered one of the foremost authorities on fundamentalism and has written a number of books on the subject. However, he is not himself a fundamentalist and his perspective as an evangelical peering into the fundamentalist camp is often evident. This is especially obvious when he attempts...