A History of the Churches in the United States and Canada by Robert T. Handy (Oxford University Press £9.50)
This is a scholarly summary of Christianity in North America from its earliest days. As such, it ranks with Paul Johnson's recent history . of world Christianity in that both manage to sketch the main lines of a prodigiously diffuse story into about 500 pages with, of course, the task of selection being in the latter case infinitely more difficult. There is, however, a depressing difference. Paul Johnson made his history throb with human ex citement. Professor Handy makes no effort to do this; indeed, you almost feel that such an essay would be, to him, irreverent.
His is a painstaking compendium of the development of the Christian religion which breaks new ground in one particularly important respect. It looks at the continent as a whole, and thus provides the first major sketch of the Churches as they have taken root in the Englishspeaking parts of the New World.
The transition from the "Age of Faith", when the transplant from Europe began into the enormous changes of the latest period provides, moreover, a valuable lesson for the Church of today. For now yet another "New World" is taking over the ancient Faith and transforming it. And this new world, the Third World, is producing the "Third Church', possibly the most exciting Church since Christ, since it is not merely inheriting but is completely overtaking the organised religious set-up of the rapidly declining Christian West, including North America.
This book looks, then, at the bridge between two Christian worlds — those of Europe and those of the developing nations; that is, those of the past and the future. The Anglican heritage is looked at with great skill, and this "colonial" period makes for the most solidly satisfying reading.
The Catholic sections are the most summary of all from the point of the view of the purely Catholic reader, and there is little there that is not already known — at least in outline. But as a readable source of reference for the patient client, this volume should be sought with fervour in the nearest library.