Readers Respond to the 100 Events Issue
When we published Issue 28 on “The 100 Most Important Events in Church History,” we had no idea it would draw more response than any issue in our history.
The Religious News Service published a feature story on the issue, as did the Associated Press, and these stories were carried in leading newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune.
Most gratifying to us, however, was that so many of you, our family of readers, wrote. You told us which events we should have included—and which we should have left out.
Only a Western View?
Several readers wrote about a Western slant in the entries. One eloquent statement came from Dr. Paul E. Pierson, dean and professor of history of mission and Latin American studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California:
The 25 most important events listed (after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and the Council of Nicea) has no event which takes place outside the Western world, unless it was the adoption of Christianity in Russia by Vladimir. The list is incredibly parochial and deficient in its focus when we consider that at least 60 percent of practicing Christians in the world today are found in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
We agree. Our research was among church historians from North America, and we openly admitted that the results were thus biased from a Western viewpoint. Rather than disregard that research, however, we decided to use it, admit its perspective, and try to cover non-Western developments in subsequent issues. We are planning issues on the following: Columbus’s landing and the coming of Christianity to Latin America; some aspect of Christianity in Africa; and Pentecostalism, a movement with explosive growth in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We stand committed to covering church history in other regions and cultures.
More Attention to Pentecostals
Other readers felt that the rise of Pentecostalism deserved a higher profile. One adviser wrote:
Pentecostal churches are perhaps the fastest growing churches in the U.S. and around the world. The Pentecostal and charismatic movements . . . will likely determine the nature of popular Christianity for many years to come.
Our top 100 list and timeline did include the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, which helped to spread early Pentecostalism. It also included a date for the more recent charismatic renewal.
According to David Barrett, compiler of World Christian Encycylopedia, 21 percent of all Christians worldwide can be identified as Pentecostals or charismatics. This movement, then, which officially began less than a century ago, now claims one-fifth of worldwide Christianity. We will publish an issue on the origins and development of Pentecostalism within the next two years.
Specific Events Worth Adding
In addition, various readers recommended the following specific events be included:
529—Second Council of Orange upholds Augustine’s doctrines on grace and free will against the semi-Pelagian views. 553—Second Council of Constantinoplecondemns the Three Chapters, influential writings tainted with heretical Nestorian ideas about the nature of Christ. 680—Third Council of Constantinople condemns Monothelitism, the belief that Christ had only one will, rather than both a divine and human will. c.730?—John of Damascus writes Fount of Wisdom, a work that greatly influences later theology. 1158—Peter Lombard completes Four Books of Sentences, which becomes a leading medieval textbook of theology. c. 1190—Joachim of Fiore writes three volumes of history and eschatology; these inspire many movements for reform in subsequent centuries. 1324—Marsiglio of Padua completes Defensor Pacis, a work challenging medieval church—state relations with ideas ahead of its time. 1438—Council of Florence begins, which issues a Decree of Union between the Western (Roman) and Eastern (Orthodox) churches. 1742—David Brainerd appointed missionary to Native Americans, leading to revivals among the Delaware tribe. 1785—First general convention to form the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. 1845—Southern Baptist Convention is organized. 1914—The Assemblies of God is formed. 1931—First missionary radio station, HCJB, begins operations, indicative of expanding evangelical missions work in twentieth century. 1968—Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Uppsala, Sweden, spurs movement on liberation theology. 1987/88—Televangelism scandalsrock religious television and parachurch ministries.
Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Other readers wrote to suggest events they felt should not have been included. At least nine readers (including one who canceled his subscription over the choice) wrote to question the inclusion of the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Here are brief excerpts from those letters:
While King was very significant and influential in the area of civil and social reforrn, was he significant and influential in religious and spiritual reform? Yes, he was. Only to the detriment of the church for he confused social reform with the advance of God’s Kingdom.
M.M. Willis, TX
A march in Washington, D.C., by a cursing, screaming mob led by one of the most depraved people in the anti-Christ movement, Martin Luther King, you declare to be one of the 100 most important events in church history!?! Why don’t you accept Christ and become a Christian!
Realizing I will probably be labeled a bigot, how in the world can you piece Dr. King’s march on Washington among the greatest events in church history? Had it been great events in history in general or in American history maybe I could buy into that but I’m afraid this was just a blunder. Is someone there trying to make up for past mistakes of the white man?
R.H. Mt. Vernon, OH
King’s theology was anything but Christian, he was sexually immoral, he plagiarized his doctoral dissertation and was deeply involved with Communists and their programs.
Why does Mr. Roberts think that King’s lobbying for socialistic legislation has anything to do with the Christian church?
L.B. New York, NY
I wrote lengthy personal letters to each of these readers (and everyone who responded), and in those I mentioned the following ideas:
Our list was based on important events, not universally admired people. King was controversial in his day, and he continues to be. Yet the historians who helped select the events felt, and we agreed, that the civil-rights movement has had a lasting impact on both church and society. No Christian in the West has been unaffected by it, and the movement has had worldwide repercussions. The March on Washington represents this movement perhaps as well as any event.
Does the event belong to church history? The march arose from within the black church and also involved representatives of nearly every major white denomination. The movement of which it was probably the climax changed the daily lives of millions of African-American Christians, and it continues to greatly affect white Christians in many ways. So yes, we believe the event belongs not only to civil history, but also to church history.
There was no intentional skewing of the data for theological reasons.
By Kevin A. Miller
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #30 in 1991]
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