Philip Jenkins reviews the new Cambridge History of Christianity: Downward, Outward, Later
Three volumes published, six to go. At $180 (US) per volume I'm waiting for my complimentary copies before I write my review.
Meanwhile Jenkin's review is worth reading. Some great insights on church history and movement dynamics.
Here's the bad news:
Churches age and die. Anyone familiar with Christian history has read accounts of the planting, growth, and development of churches; but how many know accounts of the decline or extinction of Christian communities or institutions? Yet such events have certainly occurred, in North Africa in the early Middle Ages, and in much of the Near East in the first half of the 20th century. Sometimes the collapse is the direct result of persecution, but Christian churches also perish when societies change, when for instance cities fade, and the churches have failed to sink deep roots in the neighboring countryside. One interesting theme of the 20th-century volume of the chc is the decline and (apparently) imminent ruin of European Christianity.
Here's the good news:
The best indicator that Christianity is about to experience a vast expansion is a widespread conviction that the religion is doomed or in its closing days. Arguably the worst single moment in the history of West European Christianity occurred around 1798, with the Catholic Church under severe persecution in much of Europe and skeptical, deist, and Unitarian movements in the ascendant across the Atlantic world. That particular trough also turned into an excellent foundation, from which various groups built the great missionary movement of the 19th century, the second evangelical revival, and the Catholic devotional revolution.
Nothing drives activists and reformers more powerfully than the sense that their faith is about to perish in their homelands, and that they urgently need to make up these losses further afield, whether outward (overseas) or downward (among the previously neglected lost sheep at home). Quite possibly, the current sense of doom surrounding European Christianity will drive a comparable movement in the near future. Resurrection is not just a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, it is a historical model that explains the religion's structure and development.
Sunset or sunrise, which will it be?