A superb introduction based on up-to-date scholarship and theological interpretation of early Christian thinkers. Very good on geographical as well as doctrinal divisions and contrasts. Accessibly written even when the topics are inherently difficult. A must-read for anyone interested in early Christian history and thought.
Ludlow's contribution to the IB Taurus history of the Church is a worthy one, it provides an interesting and readable account of the first 5-6 centuries of the Early Church. It has the advantage of being more up to date than, and being more readable than Henry Chadwick's own history of the Early Church published as part of the Pelican (latterly the Penguin) History of the Church series. And yet it is also a flawed text, flawed not in its method but because it is lightweight and concentrates all too easily on the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, thus ignoring the expansion of the Church into Asia and the Far East, something highlighted by Samuel Hugh Moffett and latterly by MacCulloch in his masterful (if exhaustingly lengthy) `History of Christian: The First Three Thousand Years'.
To its advantage it is very readable, unlike Chadwick's book, which whilst a classic has become dated, both in content and writing style - it was, after all, first published in the 1960s. Ludlow's book also covers a lot of ground in an accessible way, allowing the reader to explore further as they wish. And yet this is also to its disadvantage, a two edged sword which cuts both ways if you will (see below).
The danger with any history of Christianity is that its expansion is viewed as being mainly westward, creating a vision of Christianity as being a Western faith, associated with the declining Roman (and Byzantine) Empire(s) leading onto the rise of Papal power and the beginnings of Europe. However, Christianity was not, for the first few centuries, limited to those West of the Caucasus. There is strong evidence to suggest that Christianity (often Oriental or even heterodox forms of Christianity) reached India and China during the first centuries of the Common Era. Yet this is mainly ignored by Ludlow's text, as it has been by many other historians of the Church. Sadly Christianity died out in the Far East, yet its memory still remains, whether in architecture, or in ancient buildings, now reused for other (religious) purposes.
Admittedly the Taurus history of the Church is made up of a series of short books (of no more than about 250-300 pages per volume), which limits the amount that can be written and the amount of consideration that can be given to history and theology. However, the danger in emphasising the rise of Christianity in the West is that it emphasises the `West against the Rest' narrative which has been highlighted in Huntingdon's oft disproved thesis of the `clash of civilisations'.
There is a need for a good history of the Early Church which covers both the Eastward and latter Westward expansion of Christianity, following on from MacCulloch's own book, which of course was an overview. Sadly this is not that book, but it remains a readable and accessible overview of the Early Church, albeit from a western perspective.