The Old Religion in a New World: The History of North American Christianity by Mark Noll

The Old Religion in a New World: The History of North American Christianity by Mark NollSummary: A readable textbook about North American Christianity.

Mark Noll is an author that I will always respect and read. I had him for two undergrad classes and I audited a class with him when I was in grad school. I have read a number of books by him since then. His book The Civil War as Theological Crisis significantly shaped me and I have read it three times now.

The Old Religion in a New World is a textbook. Interestingly, Noll was commissioned to write a German language textbook on North American Christianity. That became this book, although he says he significantly reorganized and edited it.

What I most appreciate about this book is that Noll is particularly paying attention to the comparative aspects of North American Christianity. It is in the comparisons that interesting aspects stand out. Different geographical areas were settled by people from different areas of Europe, who had different religious traditions. Geographies do matter. The Catholicism of Maryland is not the same as in Canada, and while he does not spend a lot of time on Mexico, his brief sketch of the Christian history of Mexico shows a very different Christian development from the US and Canada.

I am very familiar with Christian history of the US (I had Noll for a Christian History of the US and Canada class). But there was still a ton of new information here.

Noll is an Evangelical Reformed Protestant. And many Evangelicals (and Reformed) present their history abstracted from the larger Christian context. This is not an abstracted presentation. Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Black Church, Pentecostalism, and more are all presented as interacting and learning and sometimes change from one another.

The Old World state church model was the way that Christianity was understood to exist. The gradual change from state church to religious freedom in the US had significant impact in how Christianity developed, and predictably it is not all good. Noll does a good job critiquing weaknesses of a competitive Christianity seeking converts. But not all was negative, the freedom to evolve and change to meet the culture allowed for good changes.

Noll also pay attention well to issues of discrimination, slavery, legal and cultural prejudice and how the church has not lived up to its ideal, either the American ones or the Christian ones. There is an enormous amount of content folded into a relatively short book.

I listened to the audiobook. Trevor Thompson is not a new narrator to me. He is not my favorite narrator, but he is clear and the text was well produced. I know that Noll is unlikely to want to read it own textbook, but I do know him well enough that I miss hearing his voice when I am hearing his words here.

The Old Religion in a New World: The History of North American Christianity by Mark Noll Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook 

2 Comments

Sounds like a good read. I’ve added this to my list of “to read” books!

    I really do recommend Noll for North American Christian history and this is a very good single volume. If you want a smaller book, his God and Race in American Politics opens with some of the summary thoughts of The Civil War as Theological Crisis and extends that look into the civil rights era. Can’t get too detailed in a 150 page book, but it is a great short book.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: