Church History

Books of the Month: October 2022

Monthly Updates on Recent Books in the History of Christianity

To raise awareness of recent books in the history of Christianity, the editorial staff of Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture highlights each month a list of 10-15 books in diverse periods and geographical regions that we hope will be of interest to our members.  We include here below the 27th monthly list, chosen by our staff, with excerpts from the publishers’ blurbs.

John T. McGreevy, Catholicism: A Global History from the French Revolution to Pope Francis. 2022

W.W. Norton

The story of Roman Catholicism has never followed a singular path. In no time period has this been more true than over the last two centuries. Beginning with the French Revolution, extending to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, and concluding with present-day crises, John T. McGreevy chronicles the dramatic upheavals and internal divisions shaping the most multicultural, multilingual, and global institution in the world.

Through powerful individual stories and sweeping birds-eye views, Catholicism provides a mesmerizing assessment of the Church’s complex role in modern history: both shaper and follower of the politics of nation states, both conservator of hierarchies and evangelizer of egalitarianism. McGreevy documents the hopes and ambitions of European missionaries building churches and schools in all corners of the world, African Catholics fighting for political (and religious) independence, Latin American Catholics attracted to a theology of liberation, and Polish and South Korean Catholics demanding democratic governments. He includes a vast cast of riveting characters, known and unknown, including the Mexican revolutionary Fr. Servando Teresa de Mier; Daniel O’Connell, hero of Irish emancipation; Sr. Josephine Bakhita, a formerly enslaved Sudanese nun; Chinese statesman Ma Xiaobang; French philosopher and reformer Jacques Maritain; German Jewish philosopher and convert, Edith Stein; John Paul II, Polish pope and opponent of communism; Gustavo Gutiérrez, Peruvian founder of liberation theology; and French American patron of modern art, Dominique de Menil.

Throughout this essential volume, McGreevy details currents of reform within the Church as well as movements protective of traditional customs and beliefs. Conflicts with political leaders and a devotional revival in the nineteenth century, the experiences of decolonization after World War II and the Second Vatican Council in the twentieth century, and the trauma of clerical sexual abuse in the twenty-first all demonstrate how religion shapes our modern world. Finally, McGreevy addresses the challenges faced by Pope Francis as he struggles to unite the over one billion members of the world’s largest religious community.

Reyhan Durmaz, Stories Between Christianity and Islam: Saints, Memory, and Cultural Exchange in Late Antiquity and Beyond. 2022

University of California Press

Stories between Christianity and Islam offers an original and nuanced understanding of Christian–Muslim relations that shifts focus from discussions of superiority, conflict, and appropriation to the living world of connectivity and creativity. Here, the late antique and medieval Near East is viewed as a world of stories shared by Christians and Muslims. Public storytelling was a key feature for these late antique Christian and early Islamic communities, where stories of saints were used to interpret the past, comment on the present, and envision the future.

In this book, Reyhan Durmaz uses these stories to demonstrate and analyze the mutually constitutive relationship between these two religions in the Middle Ages. With an in-depth study of storytelling in Late Antiquity and the mechanisms of hagiographic transmission between Christianity and Islam in the Middle Ages, Durmaz develops a nuanced understanding of saints’ stories as a tool for building identity, memory, and authority across confessional boundaries.

John Schofield, St Paul’s Cathedral: Archaeology & History. 2022

Oxbow Books

This is the first volume concerned solely with the archaeology of a major late 17th century building in London, and the major changes it has undergone. St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London was built in 1675–1711 to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren and has been described as an iconic building many times.
In this major new account, John Schofield examines the cathedral from an archaeological perspective, reviewing its history from the early 18th to the early 21st century, as illustrated by recent archaeological recording, documentary research and engineering assessment. A detailed account of the construction of the cathedral is provided based on a comparison of the fabric with voluminous building accounts which have survived and evidence from recent archaeological investigation. The construction of the Wren building and its embellishments are followed by the main works of later surveyors such as Robert Mylne and Francis Penrose.
The 20th century brought further changes and conservation projects, including restoration after the building was hit by two bombs in World War II, and all its windows blown out. The 1990s and first years of the present century have witnessed considerable refurbishment and cleaning involving archaeological and engineering works. Archaeological specialist reports and an engineering review of the stability and character of the building are provided.

David Ney, The Quest to Save the Old Testament: Mathematics, Hieroglyphics, and Providence in Enlightenment England. 2022

Lexham Academic

Pastors and scholars today lament the Old Testament's neglect in the West. But this is nothing new. In the eighteenth century, natural philosopher John Hutchinson witnessed the Old Testament becoming devalued as Scripture. And in his mind, the blame lay with Isaac Newton.

In The Quest to Save the Old Testament, David Ney traces the battle over Scripture during the Enlightenment period. For Hutchinson, critical scholarship's enchantment with the naturalism of Newton undermined the study of the Old Testament. As cultural forces reshaped biblical interpretation, Hutchinson spawned a movement that sought, above all, to reclaim the Old Testament as Christian Scripture. Hutchinson's followers sought to be shaped by Scripture, not culture. Rejecting the Newtonian degradation of history, they offered a compelling figural defense of the Old Testament's doctrinal and moral significance. The Old Testament is the voice of Providence. It is the means of discerning God's hand at work both in nature and in history.

The Quest to Save the Old Testament is a timely retelling of fateful and faithful attempts to "save" the Old Testament.

Llyod Daniel Barba, Sowing the Sacred: Mexican Pentecostal Farmworkers in California. 2022

Oxford University Press

Sowing the Sacred traces the development of Pentecostalism among Mexican-American migrant laborers in California's agricultural industry from the 1910s to the 1960s. At the time, Pentecostalism was often seen as a distasteful new sect rife with cultish and fanatical tendencies; U.S. growers thought of Mexicans as no more than a mere workforce not fit for citizenship; and industrial agriculture was celebrated for feeding American families while its exploitation of workers went largely ignored. Farmworkers were made out to be culturally vacuous and lacking creative genius, simple laborers caught in a vertiginous cycle of migrant work.

This book argues that farmworkers from La Asamblea Apostólica de la Fe en Cristo Jesús carved out a robust socio-religious existence despite these conditions, and in doing so produced a vast record of cultural vibrancy. Examining racialized portrayals of Mexican workers and their religious lives through images created by farmworkers themselves, Sowing the Sacred draws on oral histories, photographs, and materials from new archival collections to tell an intimate story of sacred-space making. In showing how these workers mapped out churches, performed outdoor baptisms in grower-controlled waterways, and built and maintained houses of worship in the fields, this book considers the role that historical memory plays in telling these stories.

Karin Krause, Divine Inspiration in Byzantium: Notions of Authenticity in Art and Theology. 2022

Cambridge University Press

In this volume, Karin Krause examines conceptions of divine inspiration and authenticity in the religious literature and visual arts of Byzantium. During antiquity and the medieval era, “inspiration” encompassed a range of ideas regarding the divine contribution to the creation of holy texts, icons, and other material objects by human beings. Krause traces the origins of the notion of divine inspiration in the Jewish and polytheistic cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds and their reception in Byzantine religious culture. Exploring how conceptions of authenticity are employed in Eastern Orthodox Christianity to claim religious authority, she analyzes texts in a range of genres, as well as images in different media, including manuscript illumination, icons, and mosaics. Her interdisciplinary study demonstrates the pivotal role that claims to the divine inspiration of religious literature and art played in the construction of Byzantine cultural identity.

Joseph Antenucci Becherer and Henry Martin Luttikhuizen. Christ Among Us: Sculptures of Jesus across the History of Art. 2022

Eerdmans Publishing Co.

No single figure has been featured with greater frequency in Western art than Jesus Christ. Sculptures, particularly—though they have received less notice than paintings—provide some of the most moving representations in their capacity to show Christ alongside us in three-dimensional space.

In this “catalogue for an imagined exhibition,” two prominent art historians—one from the Roman Catholic tradition, one from the Protestant tradition—offer a guided tour of fifty-two sculptures of Jesus Christ from throughout the Western world. The chronological scope of the selection ranges from the third century to the present, with the work of well-known sculptors featured alongside the work of less familiar sculptors that deserve more attention.

Along with lush, high-resolution photographs, each piece is accompanied by an essay that places it in context and brings it to life, so readers can experience the sculpture almost as vividly as they would in person. Those interested in devotional as well as artistic significance will find inspiration in the striking representations of Christ in his many forms: healer, sage, sovereign, and savior, from his humble yet majestic birth to his harrowing death and miraculous resurrection.

Daniel C. Norman, Saving the Church of England: John Edwards (1637-1716) as Dissenting Conformer. 2022

Wipf & Stock

On his second Atlantic voyage, George Whitefield read lengthy quotations from a work of a deceased English cleric. Writing in his journal, he exclaimed, ""[These words] deserve to be written in Letters of Gold."" Whitefield's associate, the American Jonathan Edwards, concurred. That cleric was John Edwards, an anomaly in several respects: a self-proclaimed Calvinist who conformed to the Church of England at a time when most Calvinists left in the Great Ejection of 1662. In leading a public debate against prominent intellectuals of his day, including John Locke and Samuel Clarke, over the definition of orthodox Christianity, he allied himself with the same church leaders who decried his Calvinist theology. Edwards retired in his mid-fifties due to ""ill health""--a retirement in which he wrote over forty scholarly books. At the heart of his concern was the unity and doctrinal orthodoxy of the church, themes over which contentious disputes have reverberated throughout church history. Saving the Church of England tells the story of why the church was in trouble and of John Edwards's heroic effort to save it.

Ryan P. Hoselton Jan Stievermann, Douglas A. Sweeney, and A.G Haykin, eds. The Bible in Early Transatlantic Pietism and Evangelicalism. 2022

The Pennsylvania State University Press

This collection of essays showcases the variety and complexity of early awakened Protestant biblical interpretation and practice while highlighting the many parallels, networks, and exchanges that connected the Pietist and evangelical traditions on both sides of the Atlantic.

A yearning to obtain from the Word spiritual knowledge of God that was at once experiential and practical lay at the heart of the Pietist and evangelical quest for true religion, and it significantly shaped the courses and legacies of these movements. The myriad ways in which Pietists and evangelicals read, preached, translated, and practiced the Bible were inextricable from how they fashioned new forms of devotion, founded institutions, engaged the early Enlightenment, and made sense of their world. This volume provides breadth and texture to the role of Scripture in these related religious traditions. The contributors probe an assortment of primary source material from various confessional, linguistic, national, and regional traditions and feature well-known figures—including August Hermann Francke, Cotton Mather, and Jonathan Edwards—alongside lesser-known lay believers, women, people of color, and so-called radicals and separatists.

Pioneering and collaborative, this volume contributes fresh insight into the history of the Bible and the entangled religious cultures of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.

Charlie Lovett, Lewis Carroll: Formed by Faith. 2022

University of Virginia Press

For Lewis Carroll, a deacon in the Church of England, faith in Christ and belief in a loving God stood at the core of his being, but little has been written about what the church or faith meant to the celebrated author of the Alice books. With Lewis Carroll: Formed by Faith, Charlie Lovett provides the first in-depth study of the religious life of the famous author, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

By examining Dodgson’s religious education and core beliefs, this book shows how a deep Christian faith undergirded and guided every part of his life and work, from his relationships with children to his renowned writings, his work on logic, even his hobbies of photography and theatre going. The book includes a detailed account of the career of Dodgson’s father—an important figure in the Anglican church and a key influence on his son.

Family records give insight into Charles’s early education, and newly discovered manuscript materials paint a full picture of his religious education at Richmond and Rugby Schools. Lovett finds previously unknown influences in Dodgson’s life, analyzes his habits of preaching and prayer, explores his training for confirmation and ordination, analyzes his reasons for eschewing the priesthood, and concludes with an account of his death and funeral and his logically constructed theology of the afterlife. The book makes use of previously untapped sources and highlights new material, including a previously unknown sermon by Dodgson, the first ever discovered. The result is a major contribution offering new perspectives on this creator of fantastical fiction and the spiritual bedrock that informed his life and imagination.

Eugen J. Pentiuc, ed. The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Orthodox Christianity. 2022

Oxford University Press

The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Orthodox Christianity investigates the various ways in which Orthodox Christian, i.e., Eastern and Oriental communities have received, shaped, and interpreted the Christian Bible. The introduction, “Balancing Tradition with Modernity,” sets the tone and scope of the volume, and is followed by five parts. Part I, “Text”: The Orthodox Church has never codified the Septuagint or any other textual witnesses as its authoritative text. Textual fluidity and pluriformity, a characteristic of Orthodoxy, is demonstrated by the various ancient and modern Bible translations such as, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, etc. Part II, “Canon”: In the Protestant and Roman Catholic situations, the canon of the Bible, specifically the Old Testament canons are “closed” and limited to thirty-nine and forty-six books, respectively. In contrast, the Orthodox canon is “open-ended,” consisting of thirty-nine canonical books and ten or more (e.g., Ethiopian canon) anaginoskomena “readable” books (Septuagint additions). Part III, “Scripture within Tradition”: Unlike the classical Protestant view of sola scriptura and the Roman Catholic way of placing Scripture and Tradition on par as sources—means of divine revelation, the Orthodox view accords a central role to Scripture within Tradition, with the latter conceived not as a deposit of faith but rather as the Church’s life through history. Part IV, “Toward an Orthodox Hermeneutics,” and Part V, “Looking to the Future”: The last two parts survey Orthodox “traditional” hermeneutics consisting mainly of patristic commentaries and liturgical interpretations found in hymnography and iconography, and the ways by which Orthodox biblical scholars balance these traditional hermeneutics with modern historical-critical approaches to the Bible.

Martin McNamara and Michael Martin, The Bible in the Early Irish Church, A.D. 550 to 850. 2022


This book aims at bringing together and providing all the information available on the Bible in the early Irish church (A.D. 550-850), drawing on some sources not well known for this subject, such as Columbanus, the early writer Apponius, St Gall list of works in Irish script, and the Libri scottice scripti. The beginnings are stressed after which the biblical compositions for three following centuries are given. The direct links of Irish literal Psalm interpretation with the fourth-century Antioch on the Orontes school are made clear, as is the presence of apocryphal and extra biblical, and possibly Jewish, tradition, in the poems of Blathmac and other Irish compositions.

Kyle Smith, Cult of the Dead: A Brief History of Christianity. 2022

University of California Press

Though it promises eternal life, Christianity was forged in death. Christianity is built upon the legacies of the apostles and martyrs who chose to die rather than renounce the name of their lord. In this innovative cultural history, Kyle Smith shows how a devotion to death has shaped Christianity for two thousand years.

For centuries, Christians have cared for their saints, curating their deaths as examples of holiness. Martyrs’ stories, lurid legends of torture, have been told and retold, translated and rewritten. Martyrs’ bones are alive in the world, relics pulsing with wonder. Martyrs’ shrines are still visited by pilgrims, many in search of a miracle. Martyrs have even shaped the Christian conception of time, with each day of the year celebrating the death of a saint. From Roman antiquity to the present, by way of medieval England and the Protestant Reformation, Cult of the Dead tells the fascinating story of how the world’s most widespread religion is steeped in the memory of its martyrs.

Finally, for staying up-to-date on the latest titles in all fields, we recommend regularly perusing New Books Network and its "New Books in Christian Studies” page. These pages are updated regularly.