I recently finished reading the second volume of Nick Needham’s 2000 Years of Christ’s Power church history series. I reviewed the first volume here. This second volume covers the Middle Ages (7th to 15th century). The book is 504 pages long, 53 pages longer than its predecessor.
Features of this second volume include:
- a page showing where maps and illustrations can be found
- acknowledgments by the author
- a short preface
- ten chapters of church history content
- glossary of terms
- bibliography and internet resources
- two indexes (one for names and another for subjects)
In my review of the first volume, I noted two strengths. One was the structural consistency. The other was the amount of long-form quotes that concluded each chapter. Both strengths appear in this volume as well. I suppose they will also appear in volumes three and four.
Before I get to some of the content in this book, I must admit that I think the Middle Ages are probably my weakest spot as it pertains to church history. It did take me a month to read this book (at 30 minutes a day). I did not feel I retained too much of the information in this book compared to the first volume (the retention was certainly spotty). I certainly don’t fault Needham for that. Perhaps I find the church fathers more interesting than the Middle Ages.
The book’s first chapter is on Islam and the Church. I liked the long-form quotes Needham used from the Qu’ran, the “series of 114 messages (or suras) dictated to Muhammad (as he claimed) by the angel Gabriel” (pp. 21, 45-47). Apparently, Christian apologists in the Middle Ages “often tried to turn the Qu’ran itself against Muslims, pointing out the high claims it sometimes makes for Christ, teaching His unique virgin birth (sura 3:45-47) and calling Him the ‘Word of God’ (sura 4:171)” (p. 36). I wonder how Muslims explain those things present-day.
Chapters two and three cover both the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire (pp. 51-153). I observed that those two chapters were rather long. At this point, I began to notice something different between the first and second volumes. The first volume had four chapters that were thirty-eight or more pages. Volume two has seven such chapters (with four in the 40’s, one with 58 and another with 64). I think I comprehend information better with smaller chapters.
After a chapter on the Cluniac Revival, Hildebrand and the Investiture Controversy, Needham dedicates a chapter to the Crusades (pp. 199-233). I had heard seldom of the Crusades, but I could never recall the dates these happened. Thankfully, Needham gives a clear timeline for each of the four crusades (p. 199):
First Crusade : 1096-99
Second Crusade: 1147-49
Third Crusade 1189-92
Fourth Crusade: 1202-4
These Crusades were much older than I thought. Needham highlights the six most important effects of the Crusades on pp. 220-222. Since they are rather long, I only list the first three (pp. 220-221)
(i) They heightened the prestige and influence of the papacy in the West. The Crusades were inspired by the popes. The papacy appeared as the champion of Christianity, uniting Christians against the Muslim menace, and organising the resources of the West in defence of the Holy Land and the Latin Crusader states.
(ii) They encouraged the use of “indulgences” by which the popes could pardon all the “temporal penalties” of sin. Originally, indulgences were granted for some outstanding good deed (e.g. going on a Crusade). Soon they were being sold for cash: the payment of money to the Church was regarded as the good deed, in return for which penalties were cancelled. Eventually, indulgences were extended to cover souls already in purgatory. The theory was that if a believer had not paid off in this life the temporal penalties of his sins, he must pay them off by sufferings in purgatory. Buying an indulgence for a dead friend could therefore hasten his passage from purgatory to heaven.
(iii) The Crusades established the idea and practice of using a religious war to destroy the enemies of the Catholic Church. The papacy would soon be using Crusades against heretical or dissenting groups within Western Christendom, such as the Albigensians in France and the Hussites in Bohemia.
Based on what I learned about the Crusades from Needham’s book, I must state that I vehemently oppose the idea and practice of using religious war to destroy anyone that does not believe in Christianity. Because God gave me eyes to see and ears to hear, I understand that by default, we are all born dead in trespasses and sins.
Ephesians 2:1-10 explains:
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).
If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.
Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).
Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9). Revelation 21:1-8 states the following (NASB):
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be anymourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give water to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life, without cost. 7 The one who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and sexually immoral persons, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
The Bible is clear that all liars will have their part in the lake of fire. No adulterer, no murderer, no idolater, no unbeliever (among others) will inherit the kingdom of God (see also 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Sin has a very serious consequence.
Thankfully, Jesus Christ came to solve the sin problem 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news.
There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47).
I give that Gospel presentation because it does not appear that evangelism was on the minds of those who carried out the Crusades. Now, I understand that the people during those “Crusade” time periods did not have the kind of access to biblical materials that people in the 21st century have. Nevertheless, if the apostle Paul, who wrote his epistles in the first century, can understand and proclaim the Gospel that he received (Galatians 1; 1 Corinthians 15), why wasn’t calling people to repent and be forgiven on the minds of the people living during the 11th-13th centuries? In the twenty-first century, the way to evangelize heretics/false teachers like Max Lucado, Joseph Prince, Todd Smith, Henry Seeley, Richard Rohr, Steven Furtick, Erwin McManus, Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Tony Evans, Bob Goff, Jefferson Bethke, Rick Renner, Ray Johnston, Christine Caine, Louie Giglio, Priscilla Shirer, Henry Blackaby, Brian Houston, Francis Chan, Greg Surratt, Scott Hornsby, Dino Rizzo, Rick Bezet and Chris Hodges is by calling them to repent and be forgiven of their blasphemies, heresies, Bible-twisting, narcigesis and the like. It’s not done via social media wars (something I’ve done in the past). It’s not done via spewing off opinions without any Bible to back it up (also something I have done in the past). It’s certainly not done via a crusade. Oh would Christians not repeat the Crusades. Religious war is not the answer against heresy and those teachings not in accordance with sound doctrine. The answer is calling people to repent and be forgiven.
After a chapter on Russian Christianity in the 10th century (pp. 233-260), Needham spends a chapter on universities and the rise of Scholasticism (pp. 261-325). In the chapter on Innocent III (chapter eight), Needham gives some solid information on Francis of Assisi, the spiritual father of (by his own admission) heretic Richard Rohr (pp. 342-344, 350, 358-362). The opening substantial information on Francis (in addition to the Franciscans) makes me wonder if Francis of Assisi was one of the more popular narcigetes during the Middle Ages (p. 342; bolding as shown in the book):
The Franciscans were founded by the most well-known and popular of medieval Catholic saints, Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, Peter Bernadone of Assisi in Umbria (northern Italy). After an early life as a soldier, Francis had a number of religious experiences in his twenties (including seeing visions and hearing heavenly voices) which led him to embrace a life of poverty. He renounced his father, who thought Francis was mad, and determined that from now on God alone would be his Father. Then one day in 1209 he heard Matthew 10:7-10 (the sending out of the Twelve) read in a church, and took it as a call to himself from God to be a preacher.
It seems like Francis of Assisi was one who claimed direct revelation from God. Furthermore, he took Matthew 10:7-10 as something for himself. It is important to understand that passage’s context. For context, I show Matthew 10:1-23 (NKJV; bolding done by me):
10 And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the sonof Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick,cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, 10 nor bag for yourjourney, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.
11 “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. 12 And when you go into a household, greet it. 13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city,shake off the dust from your feet. 15 Assuredly, I say to you,it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!
16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils andscourge you in their synagogues. 18 You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
21 “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
The above passage is a descriptive text, not a prescriptive one. Moreover, it is clear that Jesus gave the above commands to the twelve disciples. It would be interesting to see the primary resources that show how the above passage had an impact on Assisi.
In chapter nine, I learned some good information about the contemplative practice known as Hesychasm. The late heretic Henri Nouwen promoted this. Needham provides decent information on this term (pp. 371-382). I cite some key text from pp. 371-372:
The monasteries provided the Byzantine Empire with one of its most distinctive expressions of spirituality – hesychasm (from the Greek hesychia, “quietness, peace”)…A person who practised this prayer-discipline was called a hesychast ; his purpose was to conquer his passions, attain inner peace and silence, and through constant prayer to aspire to the vision of God as eternal light. Hesychasts employed two special prayer-techniques:
(i) They recited a special prayer, known as the “Jesus prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” (or “have mercy on me, a sinner”). The hesychast would speak this prayer, first by his lips, then silently in his mind, over and over again. The idea was to make the prayer so much a part of a person’s life and being, that he would be ceaselessly praying it in his heart, whatever else he was doing.
(ii) Hesychasts emphasized the importance of the body in prayer. To assist contemplation, they recommended that a person should rest his chin on his chest and gaze at his heart. The hesychast would breathe in as he prayed the words “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God”, and breathe out as he said “have mercy on me”. These special practices of posture and breathing, however, were secondary to the Jesus prayer itself; teachers of hesychasm regarded the physical techniques simply as useful aids to concentration. Pure inner mental prayer was their goal.
While it appears this practice was vindicated in the 14th century (p. 457), no biblical text states we need to aspire to the vision of God as eternal light. Furthermore, the concept of “hesychasm” is nowhere found in Scripture. At this point in my reading of Needham, I am noticing an absence of clear commentary from Needham on these things in church history. Then again, he did state in volume one that his works were for “ordinary Christians” who “…love Jesus Christ…” (p. 13 of Volume 1). It still would have been nice to see from Needham what Scripture would say about Hesychasm.
In my review of volume one, I cited some hymns/poems that I liked. When I reviewed the cited poems/hymns in this book, I did not find them as beneficial as the ones in the first volume. This second volume highlighted quite a few mystical people. It was those people that made up a good number (if not all) the cited hymns/poems that concluded the chapters in this book. For that reason, I don’t cite any poems/hymns in this review.
Needham’s second volume is a meaty book that gives good information. While I might not have found it as interesting as the first volume, that assessment is obviously subjective. I just may not be a Middle Ages guy. Perhaps I may need to take a little break from reading church history. Regardless, the volume is still a good work in the area of church history. The Christian ought to have this book.
NOTE: During my editing of this book review, I did not realize I never sent my review of volume one to Nick Needham. Therefore, I emailed both this review and my review of volume one to his email.
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