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A Survey of Church History Part 5 (DVD)

By W. Robert Godfrey
December 2016 | Review by Wayne Pearce

Book Review

W. Robert Godfrey is president and professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, California. He here provides an informative, insightful and interesting series of twelve lectures on 1800-1900.

Although produced primarily for an American audience, there is much that is applicable to the UK. The lectures average around 24 minutes each, which makes them ideal for individual or group viewing, possibly followed by discussion.

Godfrey first provides an overview of the century, contrasting its great missionary endeavour with theological, philosophical, political and social changes and challenges. He then considers the ‘Intellectual Scene’ and the impact of liberal Enlightenment thought on the church. The influence of Kant, Hegel, Baur and Schleiermacher are considered.

In ‘Two American Revolutions’ he charts the growth of denominationalism and democratisation of the church. He helpfully highlights the challenge to Calvinism and stimulus to revivalism in the Coral Ridge camp meeting of 1801.

He devotes the next two lectures, ‘The Second Awakening’ and ‘Charles Finney’, to charting, not only the growth of Baptists and Methodists, but their emphasis on renewal and social reform. Godfrey memorably describes Finney’s systematic theology as ‘one of the most ghastly ever written’.

Much of our contemporary evangelical message and methodology can be traced to Finney’s novel notions. His erroneous belief that revival is produced by the application of ‘scientific’ formulae and God accomplishes his work through excitement have wrongly influenced many ever since.

Godfrey looks at ‘The Rise of Cults in America’ and focuses on four of their characteristics: restorationism, healing, eschatology and asceticism. He covers the origins and heretical beliefs of Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Scientists and Shakers.

Lectures on ‘The Presbyterian Witness’ and ‘The Civil War’ chart the background and division between Old and New School Presbyterians and their ramifications. ‘Christianity and Science’ looks at the challenge posed to Christianity by Darwin’s Origin of species and The descent of man, as well as Marx’s atheistic utopianism, and Freud’s psychology.

In lecture 10, Robert Godfrey identifies the challenges posed to and by Roman Catholicism and concludes the series by examining the Reformed response to developments in Europe. He dedicates his final address to the work and witness of the Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper. I heartily recommend this series.

Wayne Pearce

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