Derek Cooper’s An Introduction to World Christian History overviews two thousand years not only at 30,000 feet but at 500 miles an hour. You better not blink or you will miss a century or two.
merits of Cooper’s volume are many. First, it is extremely well balanced, giving as much coverage to Asia and Africa as to Europe. For example, the steady spread of Christianity into Central, Southern and Eastern Asia in the first seven centuries by the Church of the East (often called Nestorians) reveals the largest and widest expanse of the church at that time. Christianity in Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Nubia and Northern Africa receives equal attention.
Second, all groups who self-identify as Christian are in his scope, regardless of how they might have been viewed by other Christians. This gives the widest possible range and thus allots space to many who are neglected in traditional Western-oriented histories. Third, you get a massive sweep quickly.
Because of his global approach, he divides the epochs of Christian history differently than many. Constantine is mostly significant in the West, and the East-West division of 1054 was not important to much of Asia and Africa. Instead, what had the most significant impact on Christianity East, West, and South during the first millennium? Islam. So a major division comes in the seventh century. The fifteenth century forms the other break, due to the fall of Christian Byzantium to Islam and for the age of European exploration that ultimately took Christianity to the Americas, Oceana and more.
book could have been improved with the addition of maps, especially since the book is organized as much geographically as it is chronologically. Also China is given a subsection in each of the first two parts of the book, but curiously it did not get such attention in the last part covering the modern era.
What is clear in Cooper’s narrative is the wide diversity of Christian expressions from the very beginning. Divisiveness was not just a Protestant innovation. Even from the earliest stages divisions and arguments arose among Christ followers. Dozens of groups and factions emerged early and often.
Cooper also emphasizes how this conflict and territoriality (instead of cooperation and mutual support) among Christian groups hurt the church worldwide. When external cultural and religious forces began bearing down on Christians, they often had less strength than they might have had to face these challenges. A cautionary tale for us all.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.