Moderns have the idea that only what’s new is worthwhile. Many also think that what’s worthwhile is new. Both are wrong. (C. S. Lewis labeled the first mistake “historicism.” The second error is historical ignorance, as condemned by George Santayana.) Many trends in the modern church, as well as other institutions, are rooted centuries back. This volume is a useful corrective.
Given my background as a lifelong student of history, I inevitably like a well-written history of the church. This is well-written. An easy and informative read with a clear explanation of why Gansky thought each person–some decidedly not Christians–shaped the Christian church.
One might quibble with who was included and who excluded but Gansky did a great job encapsulating each person’s life and significance in four to six pages. The Roman Emperor Diocletian is not an obvious choice, but he certainly shaped the church. I would have included Saint Patrick and Count Zinzendorf and dropped Handel, Dostoyevsky or Graham. We all love Billy Graham, but in a hundred years he’ll be as forgotten as Charles Finney and Billy Sunday. The vote is still out on whether those evangelists actually changed the church. Maybe we do ourselves a disfavor by forgetting them. That’s the point of books like this.
But more than a mere history, 60 People Who Shaped the Church explores the cultural context and forces at work in the world of historic and contemporary Christianity. A bit Europe biased, but for centuries Christianity spread little beyond that continent.