Published on June 3, 2024 by Eugene Ho

Christian Focus, 2023 | 664 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

by Gary Steward


Nick Needham, minister of Inverness Reformed Baptist Church from 2004 to 2021 and lecturer of Church History at Highland Theological Seminary in Dingwall, Scotland, has recently published volume five of his multi-volume series on the history of the Christian church. This particular volume covers the eighteenth-century history of Western Christianity, with an added section on developments found within Eastern Orthodoxy. The volume contains a small handful of maps and illustrations, a bibliography, an index of subjects, and an index of names. Each of the seven chapters concludes with a handful of selected excerpts from primary sources as well. This material helps readers encounter literary fragments from church history firsthand.

In Chapter One, Needham provides the intellectual backdrop of the period by surveying the Enlightenment philosophers of the eighteenth century and their thought. This material is important for understanding the challenges that the church of this era faced. Needham admits in his introduction that “I certainly have no great love for the Enlightenment, and I dislike the entire political trajectory on which the French Revolution set Europe and ultimately the world” (10). Even so, he notes that many secular Enlightenment thinkers were influenced by Christianity, and many Christian thinkers of the period, like Jonathan Edwards, were influenced profoundly by the Enlightenment as well (17). One cannot ignore the broader trends in society when thinking about the history of the church.

The second chapter covers the Evangelical Revival in England and Wales. This eighteenth-century movement, argues Needham, contains some significant departures from what preceded it in previous centuries. For example, the Wesleys “refashion[ed] Arminianism into a Word-centered theology and piety of popular proclamation, aimed at leading people to immediate conversion” (88). This was something new and far-reaching in its effects. The period also saw a new emphasis on personal experience, given “the emotionally intense and dramatic manner adopted by many 18th Century revival preachers” (88). The stories of John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield figure prominently in this chapter. Brief treatment is also given of individuals in England like James Hervey, William Grimshaw, Henry Venn, John Newton, and William Cowper, Augustus Toplady, a variety of Methodist leaders, and others. Individuals in Wales like Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland, and William Williams are also covered.

The third chapter is devoted to church history of Scotland in the eighteenth century. Such topics not often covered in church history surveys are addressed here in detail, such as the Marrow Controversy and the Seceder movement. This reflects Needham’s special interests as a minister in Scotland. Events like the Cambuslang Revival are covered, along with individual like Thomas Boston and the Haldane brothers. Needham covers the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745 and the emergence of Scottish “common sense” philosophy. This chapter contains a helpful introduction to eighteenth-century Scottish church history, which is difficult to find in other church history surveys.

The fourth chapter covers the Great Awakening in America. This chapter gives a standard narrative of the Great Awakening, covering key figures involved like Theodore Frelinghuysen, Gilbert Tennent, and Samuel Davies. Jonathan Edwards figures prominently in this chapter. Needham gives only brief treatment of Edwards’s followers, like Samuel Hopkins, who were pivotal in the development of the so-called “New-Divinity” of the period. Needham does discuss Hopkins’s opposition to slavery, as well as the issue of slave-holding by some of the Christian leaders of this period, like Whitefield and Edwards.

The fifth chapter covers developments within German Lutheranism during the eighteenth century, especially the emergence of the Moravian movement. Central to this movement was Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760). Needham then turns his attention to the philosopher Leibnitz, the scriptural commentator Bengel, the rationalist theologian Michaelis, and counter-rationalist Hamann. The chapter concludes with the story of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who helped establish Lutheranism in America.

Chapters six and seven close off the book with a discussion of developments within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The chapter on Roman Catholicism deals mostly with key issues and people connected with French Catholicism, although Alphonsus Liguori of Italy and Junipero Serra of Spain are also covered. The chapter on Eastern Orthodoxy treats some of the key figures in the Eastern church in Greece, Russia, and Ukraine. Most Western readers of this chapter will encounter stories and names of individuals they have never encountered before like Feofan Prokopovich, Platon Levshin, Tikhon of Zadonsk, Marcarios of Corinth, Nicodemos the Hagiorite, Paisius Velichkovsky, and Cosmas the Aetolian.

Needham’s narrative is written at a level that newcomers to eighteenth-century church history can easily access. The strength of the book is in the vast amount of material that it covers. Its weakness is in the analysis and depth at which Needham sometimes treats his subjects. This particular volume may not be the strongest in the series, as he states in the introduction: “In many ways, I confess that I do not feel especially at home in the 18th Century” (10). Even so, Needham has done workman-like service in traversing the terrain. The material that he has pulled together on Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are especially helpful, making this survey volume unique and especially helpful in these areas.


Gary Steward

Colorado Christian University

Dr. Gary Steward is an Associate Professor of History and Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Colorado Christian University. He specializes in American political and religious history and has published works on the American Revolution and Christian approaches to social reform in antebellum America.

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Christian Focus, 2023 | 664 pages

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