Historians of the Christian Tradition: Their Methodology and Influence on Western Thought

By Michael Bauman and Martin L. Klauber (eds.)
Nashville : Broadman & Holman (1995). vi + 631 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
8.1 (Spring 1997) : 108-110

Recent years have produced a renewed interest in church history, making publishing in that field quite active. Modern practices and "manifestations" within Christendom usually seek to establish a "historical precedent" to lend validity to their cause. The efforts of "Toronto Blessing" advocates to link themselves with Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening, perhaps being the most notable effort in recent years. Is the historical connection legitimate? Are historians today serving the church well or, as Bauman states in his introduction, are they historians who "sell out" (5). When this happens he states,

When religious historians sell out, when they permit sectarian theology to deform their work, we forget. Ecclesiastical amnesia is a serious and crippling disease. A Church without a memory is doomed to invent the churchly and the theological wheels anew. The writing of religious history, in other words, is the necessary prop our naked memory requires in order to draw upon the accumulated wisdom of the ages, enabling us to withdraw at our need the deposit of insight and truth generously stored up for us by our predecessors in the faith" (ibid).

The question naturally arises, What of those who actually wrote the histories in use today; what were their methods, goals, and prejudices? To answer this important question, the editors have assembled a series of essays on outstanding historians of the church. There are twenty-eight essays in all, two of which—R. Paul House's "Old Testament Historians" and Scot McKnight's and Matthew C. Williams' "Luke"—deal with history presented in Scripture. The other twenty-six deal with the historians of the church era. The contributors include some of the outstanding church historians alive today in the wider spectrum of evangelical scholarship. Each chapter contains extensive endnotes and an impressive bibliography for further reading. A lack of indexes hampers slightly the utility of the work, but overall the layout and style are quite readable.

Many of the essay subjects, such as Eusebius, Bede, Philip Schaff, Kenneth Scott Latourette, Jaroslav Pelikan, and Martin Marty, are familiar to most TMSJ readers. However, names such as I. A. Dorner, Thomas Lindsay, and Georges Florovsky may not be. Though all the articles are extremely clear and well-written, worthy of special notice is David L. Russell's essay on John Henry Newman, one of the leaders of the "Oxford Movement" who eventually left the Anglican Church for Roman Catholicism. Newman's work, "Essay on the Development of Doctrine," remains as an important apology for Roman Catholic doctrine, and Russell's discussion of Newman is noteworthy.

Other significant articles are Robert Clouse on Hubert Butterfield; Larry Dixon on Adolf von Harnack; Martin Klauber on Roland Bainton; and Alister McGrath on Augustine of Hippo. Second-guessing of what to include and exclude in such a work as this is easy, but it seems strange that no essay on George Marsden or Justo Gonzalez appears. Considering his importance in historical narrative, an essay on Flavius Josephus would not have been out of place.

These, however, are minor criticisms of a work that is generally outstanding. Any student of church history will benefit from this volume as will anyone who wonders how the church got from "there" to "here" in the last two millennia.