Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 15:3 (Summer 1972)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous

Book Reviews

From Christ to Constantine, by M. A. Smith. (Downers Grove, II1.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1971.) 208 pages. Reviewed by W. Nigel Kerr, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, S. Hamilton, Massachusetts.

This book is an excellent introduction into one of the less well known periods in the history of the church, the first three centuries. Since it is a brief work (204 pages), the author has had to be highly selective in his choice of material. The reader is surprised at the author’s ability to bring the chief participants and their labors into such a readable order.

The author is an evangelical and this assists him in understanding the peculiar genius which made the early church a dynamic force in the Roman world. He is able to see not only the importance of the myriad of outside forces as they act on the church but also to respond with sensitivity to the inner feeling of Christians operating under the Lordship of Christ in the context of Scripture and in a hostile world.

The book attempts a contemporary approach to church history and includes material relevant to today’s youth. With delightful directness he shows the church in its inception (“Handover,” page 17), in its launching (“The new generation,” page 30), facing heresy (“The way-out men,” page 47), in its doctrinal development (“Grounds for argument,” page 116), and so forth. The book takes us inside the life of the church, revealing on the one hand its struggle for theological self-consciousness and on the other the development of worship practices and the inter-personal relation of Christians. The reader is introduced to the most important source documents of the Ante-Nicene Period and develops an appreciation for them. Smith rarely quotes from secondary sources (see footnotes) but moves with ease through the age as a companion of those who lived and wrote at the time.

The biographical insights (see Justin Martyr, pages 81–84) and the fine selection of illustrations add much to the interest quotient of the volume. The correspondence of Pliny and Trajan, for example, is highlighted with the half-page bust of Trajan in the British Museum. The Time Chart at the beginning and the fine 25-page glossary at the end are excellent assists in making the material understandable to a reader finding his way through the labyrinth of early Christian history.

Here is book pleasant in format, style, and attitude. It is a pleasure to read and though it is especially valuable for a first venture into primitive Christianity, the initiated will see behind the author’s words the scholarship necessary to produce a work of such fine form and clarity.

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