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About 10 years ago, the EFCA began the grueling work of amending its Statement of Faith. The early days of this endeavor created suspicion in some and hope in others. In the thick of this conversation, I read about the many mainline denominations of the late 19th and early 20th century (Presbyterians in particular) that refused to hone their confessional statements. Slowly, they allowed seminary professors and clergy to water down the original meaning and intent of their foundational documents. Liberalism took its first breaths in seminaries, then in pulpits and soon in pews. The EFCA was not going to let that happen. They had learned from history.
Alton Gansky has penned a book to serve the church for similar purposes—alerting the reader to the value of knowing Christian history.
My major critique of Gansky’s work is probably the title. More fitting would be Thirty Events That Shaped the Early 21st Century American Evangelical Church. Although each of Gansky’s 30 events were pivotal, he hardly addresses events that relate to any geographic area outside of the United States after 1740.
For those sitting in American Evangelical Free Churches or similar contexts, Gansky’s work is a fantastic start. Knowing history is not optional. The history of Christianity is the record of real people with real bodies, in real time and space, walking with a real God. The records of this journey are available in works such as 30 Events. To ignore these records is an invitation to repeated folly.1
Matt Proctor serves Cornerstone EFC in Marion, Iowa, where he attempts to learn from the saints of the past to serve the saints of the present and future.
What is curious in Gansky’s book is what is left out: the monastic movements, the exploding Church in the global South, the Church in China, the Moravian mission movement, the abolitionist movement and the civil rights movement. Surely these shaped and are shaping the Church even now.
Nonetheless, Gansky’s chapters are well crafted with great storytelling and bring to life key figures. As an example, I appreciated learning more about Bishop Ussher, who, as Gansky predicted, I only knew for his chronology. A superb theme was the transmission of Scripture; not a minor concern in our day. Another was the exploration in doctrine from Nicaea to the Reformation to the Fundamentals to Vatican II.
30 Events is a good beginning, though it should be supplemented by another book or two with a multicultural emphasis (perhaps Philip Jenkin’s The Next Christendom and The Lost History of Christianity). While having significant gaps in coverage, Gansky’s work will keep the reader reflecting on where the Church has been and where it may be going.
Michael Mauriello is associate pastor of Village Church of Lincolnshire (EFCA) in Lake Forest, Illinois, where he needs to be reminded of God’s grace to His people in history, so thank you, Alton Gansky.