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The Age of Reason.

THE AGE OF REASON by Meic Pearse. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. 457 pages, including index. Hardcover; $29.99. ISBN: 0801012783.

The years 1570 to 1789 were tumultuous years for Christianity throughout the world. There is the triumph of the Great Awakening led by George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers, the great Welsh revivals, and missionary advance to the Far East. On the other hand, there are the Hugenot wars, conflict among Protestants and Eastern Orthodox, and the rise of Enlightenment rationalism. Meic Pearse, assistant professor of history at Houghton College, has taken to the task of narrating the story of global Christianity here in Volume Five of the "Baker History of the Church Series."

Pearse covers the period starting from the Wars of Religion in Europe to the eve of the French Revolution. He manages to cover many facets of church history, including the growth of Pietism and other Protestant movements in mainland Europe and the British Isles, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the shadow of Turkish Islam, and Jesuit activity in Latin America. He even includes a chapter on the arts and music during the time period. Pearse jumps around in his narrative, leaving one story to go to another and then returning back to pick up where he left off. This is forgivable simply because of the complex breadth of Christianity from the late sixteenth to the eighteenth century.

The Age of Reason reads somewhat like an introductory college textbook to church history, which is probably intended. Pearse includes a handful of helpful black and white maps and illustrations. Nevertheless, it is sometimes difficult to hold the story together with all of the players involved with just the text and the sparse illustrations. However, if you already have some knowledge of the historical time period, then Pearse is a wonderful guide to help you dig deeper. At the back of the text there is a time line, a useful index, an annotated bibliography, and endnotes. Unlike many textbooks, Pearse interjects his own analysis at various points, offering to bust provocative myths along the way. For example, the most influential American founding fathers were Deists, not evangelical Christians. Pearse later argues that the immense social changes associated with the Great Awakening have been grossly exaggerated. Pearse, who recently also authored a contemporary evangelical Christian analysis of Islam and America in Why the Rest Hates the West, gives the reader plenty to ponder.

Probably the most disturbing aspect of Pearse's narrative covers the horrific amount of bloodshed associated with the Thirty Years War and many other interreligious conflicts. This culminates in Pearse's chapter on "Reason and Power: Rationalist Theology and the Divine Right of Kings." Knowing the sad story of how so many were killed in the name of church and state, it is easier to see how Enlightenment thinkers sought to ground ethics and republican politics in the natural philosophies of Galileo and Newton instead of the contentious arena of biblical revelation. The challenge for Christians today is to faithfully appropriate biblical revelation in a genuinely Christ-like way marked by forbearance and civility without falling into the snare of Enlightenment rationalism.

Reviewed by Clarke Morledge, College of William and Mary, Information Technology: Network Engineering, Jones Hall (Room 18), Williamsburg, VA 23187.
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Author:Morledge, Clarke
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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