Thinking Out Loud

May 7, 2020

An Evangelical Look at Christian Relics and the History They Teach

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:18 am

Blogger Tim Challies has produced a book which truly does go where no man has gone before. Epic: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History (Zondervan) is equal parts travelog and overview of church history. Although the approach of this book is radically different than his two previous works for Zondervan (A Visual Guide to the Bible and Visual Theology) the size and shape of the book, as well as the dependence on visual imagery does, for now at least, complete the hat trick of books for visual learners.  (As a Canadian, Challies should appreciate the hockey reference.)

The goal was to look at objects rather than birthplaces, or memorial statues or plaques. As the intended reader is probably more Evangelical than not, this includes artifacts which are as much important to modern Evangelicals as relics are to Roman Catholics. It’s an approach not usually considered. When an ossuary dating back to the early Church was featured at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, I was not in line. It’s not something we do. Especially those of us who had a rather cursory high school education in history.

Instead, plotting an awkward course geographically, but a rather logical course chronologically, Tim Challies brought these bones to life.

Okay, there were no bones. But there was a jug, a hexagonal reading desk, a pulpit or two, several books and Bibles, and a small hydro-electric dam high in the Andes mountain range. Often the items featured were found in a collection of other related items, and the ones becoming the focus of the author’s close examination were not the most popular or most viewed by tourists, but ones which he allowed to speak to him. Considering his Reformed background, I was rather impressed by this revelation of his process.

The book was made possible by a group of patrons Tim Challies had never met, nor was he seeking sponsorship of this project, an idea he says only crystallized one day prior. Over a span of three years, he traveled by planes, trains and automobiles to 24 countries on six continents, and estimates the overall journey to be 180,000 miles. As with many tourists, he encountered sites that were closed — usually finding a way in — and curators that were late for appointments. With a knowledge of keyboard, he might have been able to play Charles Wesley’s organ. (For me that would have been the grand prize!) However any setbacks were made up for by serendipitous discoveries which weren’t part of the original script. This was indeed, an epic project.

Accompanying him on the journey was film director Stephen McCaskell who has created a companion documentary available on DVD. The book definitely whetted my appetite to experience the backstory to finding and visiting the various sites featured. Unlike the book, the film is divided geographically and contains ten episodes running 21-26 minutes each.

Tim Challies’ Calvinist leanings are present, even though he has tried to produce something of interest to all Evangelicals. I could have lived without Spurgeon’s cheap shot at an Arminian Bible commentary or the rather protracted explanation of how Pentecostalism is a latecomer to the Church history party. And there was the obligatory quote from John Piper. Sigh! 

The book is definitely personal and by incorporating details of the steps involved in reaching each destination, I was reminded of my all-time favorite author, Philip Yancey, whose writing is always partly subjective. I expect the DVD would yield more of this aspect of the journey.

There were also three areas where the book overlapped on one we very recently reviewed here, Eric Mataxas’ Seven More Men; those being George Whitefield, Martin Luther and Billy Graham. I didn’t mind the duplication, except that it served to alert me to the omission of anything related to The Salvation Army. Surely a mourner’s bench or a tambourine could have been dusted off for the occasion.

One feature I really appreciated was the flow between chapters. The concluding paragraph of each section — and none are more than five pages — is really a teaser for the chapter to follow. The book is about 170 pages including notes, and because of the presence of visual images, I did speed through it quickly and regretted reaching the end so soon.

This isn’t an exhaustive coverage of Christian history, but for those relatively new to the Church, it would be a great place to start. If you’re a reader of Christian literature, Epic is like nothing else in your library.


Again, thanks to Mark Hildebrand at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for this unique reading opportunity. Read more about the book and the DVD at Zondervan’s website.

 

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