Nick Needham’s 2000 Years of Christ’s Power
In many ways, I confess I do not feel especially at home in the Age of Reason. My personal spiritual roots are far more among the early Church Fathers and the Protestant Reformers. Still, I gladly admit I cannot help feeling my heart kindled as I read about the mighty deeds wrought in and through the Evangelical preachers of that age.
Although Nick Needham finds the Age of Reason slightly alien, his latest addition to the 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power series showcases his talent for balancing academic research with theological discussion. Volume V of the series, titled The Age of Enlightenment and Awakening, naturally focuses theses discussions around the 18th century.
The century, opening with William of Orange settling the Act of Union in 1707 and ending with the cries of the French Revolution’s le Terror echoing across Europe, arguably is one of the great catalysts which propelled modern culture into the postmodern era.
While many readers will have their ideas about the central facets, geographies and zeitgeists of the age, Needham breaks his exposition into several coherent categories:
- The Enlightenment
- The Evangelical Revival in England and Wales
- Scotland in the Era of Evangelical Revival
- The Great Awakening in America
- Germany and The Lutheran Faith
- Roman Catholicism in the Eighteenth Century
- The Eastern Orthodox World
While there are certainly evangelicals such as John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Samuel Davis ‘and their associates’ mentioned in the pages of the volume, Needham looks to a wider world than that of Western culture.
Towards the latter pages of the book, Needham shows his readers a picture of the Eastern Orthodox Church; including the writings and teachings of a Russian Pietist, Tikhon of Zadonsk. Tikhon (1724–’83) was an important spiritual writer and was cherished as a scholar who was serious about his faith, within the Russian Orthodox Church. He was a man who spent much time examining the writings of Lutherans, and in 1776 published a colossus on Orthodox spirituality, called True Christianity.
The title, substance and context of Tikhon’s work reflect the deep impact of the work from Lutheran writer and “Father of Pietism”, Johann Arndt (1555–1621). At the centre of both men’s work, was the balance between being religious on the outside and within. Tikhon’s core message was ‘the rejection of religious nominalism, and the vital necessity of a lived, experienced faith, that bears fruit in a life of ongoing spiritual struggle and sanctification’ [Needham, The Age of Enlightenment and Awakening etc,p. 588].
While modern Orthodox scholars have somewhat relegated Tikhon’s work, in the ever–growing repulsion of Western thought polluting the purity of the Eastern Orthodox Church; yet Needham makes clear to the reader the massive status Tikhon of Zadonsk had within the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, he was declared a Russian saint in 1861, and during the 1800s, novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky made the Tikhon’s character stand incarnate within Father Zosima (The Brothers Karamazov) and Bishop Tikhon (The Possessed).
Thence, one may assume that with the interest and detailed research made into the life of a Russian Pietist, Needham’s volume is one that will that illuminate the study of the Age of Reason for scholars, pastors and those whose interest lies in theological–historical studies. Ian Hamilton (President of the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle, UK) states that:
The Age of Enlightenment and Awakening is yet another ‘tour de force’. These volumes should be compulsory reading, first for pastors and elders called to teach and defence faith, but also for Christians in general who desire to deepen their knowledge of the Saviour’s power throughout the church’s history.
Needham’s readers cannot be disappointed by such a glowing review of the author’s work. The ease of access to the work via his narrative style and knowledge of the topics written about may allow for some comparisons with the approach of another scholar who enjoyed an ability to handle theological history with diligent reverence; C.S. Lewis. Inspired by Lewis, Needham seeks to allow room for the truth of history and the Truth of the Gospel to guide his academic labours. This allows the provincialism of the individual’s place in the world to be superseded by reading and reflecting on Church history.
It is with great delight then, that Christian Focus Publications and the Highland Theological College invite those who are interested to the launch of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power: The Age of Enlightenment and Awakening. This event shall take place on Monday, March 13th 2023 in Dingwall Free Church at 7.30pm.
Further reading and bibliography:
Needham, Nick, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power Vol.5: The Age of Enlightenment and Awakening, Christian Focus Publications, Geanies House, Highland, 2023.
Taylor, Justin, The Gospel Coalition, October 20, 2015 <https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/c-s-lewis-on-the-theology-and-practice-of-worship/>
Lewis, C.S., A Mind Awake: An Anthology, ed Kilby, Clyde, Mariner Books, 1968