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1 Stars Out Of 5
Not Very Good
July 26, 2013
While I liked Mrs Tucker's From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Great!), here she is out of her element. Her facts are not always correct (some serious errors) and her interpretation of events lacks sufficient context. The idea of a church history through biography is a noble one; though it would surely be a great thing to pull it off. She simply is not well read enough in actual Church History texts to do so. Citing Church History authors is not citing the Church History documents themselves (thus it is "hear-say"). And why does she cite the Koran on the birth of Jesus which makes a joke of it? Citing anyone and every one on anything and everything is not Church History. In fact it misses Church History. There is also an obvious bias toward praising and citing herself as an approved authority for conclusions. While opinions are o.k. in many contexts, Church History does have actual facts which must first lay the foundation of one's conclusions. Her issue with women being in ministry positions is also without context; except for her painful and very verbal departure from the College she was teaching at. Her very verbal and public presentation upon leaving is still her emotionally. Perhaps this is coloring the writing of the text. Again, get her book FROM JERUSALEM TO IRIAN JAYA, and you will not be disappointed. Leave PARADE OF FAITH to a category of "Not Very Good."
"As church history marches into the twenty-first century, we find Billy Graham on the final night of his final crusade, March 12, 2006, leading a parade of sixteen thousand followers from the vast New Orleans Arena to Bourbon Street to claim the infamous French Quarter for Christ. Riding a motor scooter, Graham serves as grand marshal, as Christians lift their voices singing, "When the Saints Go Marching In." What a fitting climax to one man's career and to a two-thousand-year parade of history! Problem is, the story is an Internet hoax. It is a reminder that even sacred history includes lies and urban legends."
So writes historian Ruth Tucker near the end of her nearly five hundred page biographical pilgrimage through Church history.
In many ways, Parade of Faith is a remarkable book. First and foremost, because Tucker is willing to look at the good, the bad and the ugliness of Christian history as she portrays many of the greats from down through the ages.
I was first introduced to Tucker's writing nearly two decades ago. While an undergraduate I was assigned to read "From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions". This book quickly became one of my all-time favorites. It retains a prized place on my bookshelves. As I look at my now aging copy I am struck by the comments of one of the reviews on the back cover:
"This is history at its best _. It readable, informative, gripping, and above all honest. The author never covers up the weaknesses or criticisms of the subjects. We see these men and women as fallible and human in their failures as well as their successes. It is encouraging to see them not so much on a pedestal (as much missionary history and biography often presents them), but rather with mud on their feet and even â€˜egg on the face' at times, yet still being used by a sovereign and loving God."
This wonderful summation could be used to describe Parade of Faith as well.
Tucker remains one of my favorite authors. A few years into my ministry as a pastor of an aging, declining, inner-city, Lutheran church, I learned of another book written by Tucker. "Left Behind in a Megachurch World: How God Works through Ordinary Churches" was a literal God-send to me at the time, and has remained so ever since.
When I learned that Tucker had a written a new book, Parade of Faith, I eagerly awaited the arrival of my copy. It did not disappoint. Despite being a busy pastor, and it being a busy time of the year, I could hardly put it down.
There are several features that stand out for me about Parade of Faith. Each chapter begins with a personal reflection by Tucker as she contemplates the era she is writing about. Each chapter ends with a short, "what if" section in which Tucker imagines what would have happened, if, for example, Martin Luther had recanted at the Diet of Worms.
What stands out for me the most in the book are the sections entitled, "Everyday Life" found in each chapter. In these sections Tucker gives us a peek into a facet of church history that is highly informative, but rarely touched upon. Tucker describes such topics as "Same Sex Love" in the reconstituted Roman Empire, "Crime and Punishment" during the Renaissance period, and "Sixteen Century Divorce".
Parade of History would be an excellent addition to all church libraries. Christians of all denominations would do well to consider our spiritual ancestors.
Parade of Faith would also serve as great textbook for both college and seminary Christian history courses.
As a matter of fact, it was through teaching such a course that eventually gave rise to Parade of Faith. In the Preface Tucker writes: "One of the most memorable church history courses I ever taught was at Fuller Theological Seminary some two decades ago. In the front row was Rik Stevenson, the only African American in the class. The first to arrive and the last to walk out the door at the end of each session, he peppered me with questions. He was determined to make church history his own---so much so that before the short course ended, he traveled to Philadelphia to research the ministry of Charles Tindley, a nineteenth-century black megachurch minister.
Our acquaintance blossomed into friendship, and now, after nearly two decades, we are both settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A local minister and professor, Rik often stops by to talk church history. His current field of research is the black church in Canada. But Rik sees all of church history as belonging to African Americans. Whether Thomas Aquinas or John Bunyan or Mary Slessor, he identifies with his spiritual forbearers and makes them his own. I do the same. I do not demand that the history of Christianity be a woman's history in order to make it my own."
I wanted to give you a feel for Tucker's style of writing in the hope that it would whet your appetite for more.
Throughout the book Tucker stops to consider the purpose of studying history, especially church history. In the opening remarks to her chapter on The Catholic Reformation, Tucker writes, "Real history is indeed complex, and we are tempted to simplify it with sentimental anecdotes of great heroes. The story of America's first president, George Washington, is replete with morality tales, as are stories of the saints. And new versions of these tales are offered in this age of political correctness, especially when we project simple motives back into figures quite different from ourselves. From the apostle Paul and Augustine to Aquinas and Ignatius Loyola, we easily offer anachronistic constructs."
In the introduction to her chapter on Trans-Atlantic Awakenings Tucker notes, "It is true that we learn more by analogy than by example when we look back over historyâ€”especially those of us who imagine that we would resonate with noted evangelicals of the past were they to be suddenly resurrected in the twenty-first century. Because our worldview is so much a part of us, we do not easily see it for what it is, and we sometimes imagine that our circumstances and our responses to circumstances would be similar to those who lived long ago. The main thing history offers us is the knowledge that actions have consequences that cannot be undone."
It is a rare Christian book that combines intellectual history with everyday, ordinary life. Parade of Faith is one of these.
Tucker covers such fascinating subjects as Games, Sports and Leisure in the Puritan culture, going so far as to describe their sex lives.
"In comparison to their religious predecessors, Puritans are not necessarily â€˜puritanical' on matters of sex. The Roman Catholic perspective on sex had developed from the teachings of the church fathers, essentially viewing it as an act of the flesh that is sinful except for procreation. This view was challenged by Reformers and Puritans, who shift the focus from procreation to companionship. Sexual intercourse is to be part of the very family life that glorifies God. Indeed, they censure the Catholics, who, according to William Perkins, â€˜hold that the secret coming together of man and wife cannot be without sin unless it be done for procreation of children,' insisting rather that sex is not only legitimate but is â€˜meant to be exuberant.' Married couples are encouraged to engage in lovemaking â€˜with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully."
If you know of a better single-volume on Christian history, let me know!