Jennifer Woodruff Tait, Christian History in Seven Sentences

Tait, Jennifer Woodruff. Christian History in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic. Introductions in Seven Sentences. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. 168 pp. Pb. $18.00   Link to IVP Academic   

This small introduction to Christian history is the fourth volume in IVP Academic’s Introductions in Seven Sentences series. Tait covers two thousand years of history in seven brief chapters using seven historically significant sentences drawn from important documents of the period.

Tait Christian HistoryAs she observes in the introduction, church history is a conversation with brothers and sisters who lived in the past. She describes the book as “like a map” which gives the broadest perspective possible. Readers should add points to the map readers or zoom in to examine the details between the seven major turning points in history covered in the book.

Four of the major shifts in church history are familiar. Tait selects two sentences from the early church: The Edict of Milan (313) and the Nicene Creed (325). Edict of Milan moved the church in the mainstream of Roan society and the Nicene Creed stabilized orthodox theology. Her discussion of the Nicene Creed includes its expansion at the Council of Chalcedon and a brief discussion of Athanasius. A book on Church History would be incomplete without a chapter on the Reformation. She introduces this chapter with Martin Luther’s 95 Theses (1517), but also includes short sections on Müntzer, Zwingli, and Calvin, the English Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The most recent of her seven sentences is the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Tait selects sentences from three less known but pivotal events. First, the Rule of Saint Benedict (530) is used to introduce a discussion of monasticism. Beginning with the earliest ascetics, she describes the motivation for monasticism and how Benedict developed his Rule to deal with theological and practical aspects of monasticism. This chapter concisely describes other rules and a short note on modern monasticism. Second, the excommunication of Patriarch Kerularios by Leo IX (1054) introduces the Great Schism and the differences between the eastern and western churches. The chapter reaches back to the roots of the schism in 600 and beyond to the Crusades. Third, she draws a sentence from the Edinburgh Conference (1910). Tait uses this to introduce the beginnings of the modern missions movement in the eighteenth century and the ecumenical movement in the twentieth century.

Conclusion. Some readers will be frustrated that their favorite event or person from Church history is missing from this book. There is nothing on Augustine or Aquinas, nor anything on major twentieth-century theologians like Karl Barth. But the series limits Tait only seven sentences and about 138 pages of text. The seven sentences she selected tell the overarching story of the church from Constantine to the present. For readers with a basic familiarity with church history, this book will be an excellent introduction to the major events necessary to understand the historical flow of the Christian Church for the last 2000 years.

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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