In another text ('The Changing Shape of Church History'), Justo Gonzalez writes about the shift away from a Eurocentric focus on the history of Christianity to a recognition that Christianity is a global phenomenon, not just due to Western missionary activity, but rather has been since its earliest day. Gonzalez keeps this global perspective in mind in his two volume narrative history, 'The Story of Christianity'.
Gonzalez' presentation of the Reformation period concentrates on significant people, primarily Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin, bringing in other people as appropriate (Tetzel, various popes, etc.). However, Gonzalez does not confine himself to a 'story of great men' approach, combine the history of ideas, events, and institutions together with the biographical narratives of the people involved. Gonzalez is also the author of a three-volume history of Christian thought, and draws material from that series into this more general church history text.
Gonzalez' approach to the Reformation includes the standard Luther/Zwingli/Calvin triad, with information about the reformations in Britain, the Benelux (Low) countries, France, Anabaptists, and influences in the Catholic church. Gonzalez uses the term `Catholic Reformation' rather than Counter-Reformation, for as he states, `the Catholic Reformation was well under way when Luther was still a young boy.' Gonzalez highlights some earlier controversies that influenced Luther (Hus and others), as well as so-called `minor' actors in the unfolding historical events. This is standard for Gonzalez - he addresses the major events and people while incorporating a good deal of information about the influences and people that normally do not get `topping billing' in historical narratives. His task at recovering these neglected voices puts new perspectives to the overall flow of the history.
The second part of the text deals with the various events leading past the Reformations into the Enlightenment. Denominations began to solidify established patterns of belief and practice into orthodox structures, and the general Reformation continued to diversify into Spiritualist, Pietist, and other Movements, which Gonzalez describes as options. Sometimes these had direct political motivations, and other times they were more theological in tone. Gonzalez concludes this section with the Great Awakening and Jonathan Edwards, in the thirteen colonies.
In the third section, the political dimensions of religious institutions and their attendant belief and practice structures is readily apparent as the rise of nation-states, the independence movements away from colonial powers, and the increasing independence of church institutions from state control (and vice versa) takes centre stage. Christianity becomes a truly global phenomenon during this period (the late 1700s through the 1800s), but not always in the best ways. Gonzalez highlights good and bad points of the expansion of church power and missionary activity, as well as the way church justifications have been used in aid of colonial authority.
In the final section, Gonzalez describes the twentieth century as an era of `drastic change'. This includes not just the Western traditions of Catholic and Protestant, but also the Orthodox traditions, on the one hand emerging from centuries of Muslim domination in Middle Eastern and North African lands, but then submerging for a time under Communist rule in Russia and East Europe, the centre of Orthodoxy after the fall of Constantinople. In a century that included world wars, expansion of trade, ecumenical and openness movements (such as Vatican II), Gonzalez sees the century ending whereby the former missionary lands of the global South are becoming themselves the evangelizers to the historically Christian North - `Thus, the lands that a century before were considered the "ends of the earth" will have an opportunity to witness to the descendents of those who had earlier witnessed to them.
Each major section is introduced by a chronology; while generally acceptable, more detail here would be helpful, particularly as it relates to the history of ideas. Incorporation of authors, artists, philosophers and others apart from the specifically political and church-related figures would be helpful for the overall context. Each major section also includes a list of suggested readings, but these lists do not include many recent works of merit - Gonzalez himself admits that this text is due for a revised edition.
Gonzalez has a broadly ecumenical and open approach, striving to cover a massive amount of material with fair attention both to major topics and oft-neglected voices. He does a very good job at this, and despite some minor shortcomings, this remains one of the better general church history texts available.