A finely crafted exploration of Christianity in the 20th century.
Stanley (World Christianity/Univ. of Edinburgh; The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism, 2013, etc.) provides an ingenious and informative history of the Christian faith through the last century. Eschewing a linear narrative, the author relies on a topical format, giving the history a truly global approach. “This book,” he writes, “provides a historian’s perspective on the multiple and complex ways in which the Christian religion…[has] interacted with the changing social, political, and cultural environment of the twentieth century.” Stanley explores a variety of salient topics through dual geographic lenses—e.g., the interplay between Christianity and nationalism as seen in Poland and in Korea, or the life of the church in the Islamic-majority countries of Egypt and Indonesia. In a chapter on the Eastern Orthodox Church and its movement into the West, the author concludes, “this chapter, no less than any of the others, has been unashamedly selective.” Stanley realizes throughout that his approach is open to criticism, but he hopes to cast a wider historical net—and he succeeds, at least to the extent that any historian can succeed given the breadth of this topic. In both the introduction and the conclusion, the author discusses The Christian Century, a prominent publication that began in the 1900s with an optimism for Christianity that would soon be severely challenged. Stanley asks whether the hopes of the magazine’s founders were realized or not, and his answer is ambiguous. Mainstream Protestantism, as well as pre–Vatican II Catholicism, changed radically during the past 100 years, and the locus of Christian activity moved south and east globally. However, attempts to secularize the world, be it through slow cultural change or totalitarian force, have failed. Stanley presents a century not dominated by Christianity but one in which the faith played an active—and sometimes unexpected—role.
A well-written religious history that is destined to become a standard classroom text.