Turning Points, 3rd Edition

Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity

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Mark Noll, one of America’s leading church historians, offers a new edition of his popular survey of church history. This volume isolates key events that provide a framework for understanding the history of Christianity and presents Christianity as a worldwide phenomenon rather than just a Western experience.

Now organized around fourteen key moments in church history, this well-received text provides contemporary Christians with a fuller understanding of God as he has revealed his purpose through the centuries. This new edition includes a new preface; updates throughout the book; revised further readings for each chapter; and two new chapters, including one spotlighting Vatican II and Lausanne as turning points of the recent past. It also features a two-color interior and study questions.

Students in academic settings and church adult education contexts will benefit from this one-semester survey of Christian history.

This book is accompanied by free online resources. Click the red eSources banner above for more information.

Contents Preface to the Third Edition Introduction: The Idea of Turning Points and Reasons for Studying the History of Christianity 1. The Church Pushed Out on Its Own: The Fall of Jerusalem (70) 2. Realities of Empire: The Council of Nicaea (325) 3. Doctrine, Politics, and Life in the Word: The Council of Chalcedon(451) 4. The Monastic Rescue of the Church: Benedict’s Rule (530) 5. The Culmination of Christendom: The Coronation of Charlemagne (800) 6. Division between East and West: The Great Schism (1054) 7. The Beginnings of Protestantism: The Diet of Worms (1521) 8. A New Europe: The English Act of Supremacy (1534) 9. Catholic Reform and Worldwide Outreach: The Founding of the Jesuits (1540) 10. The New Piety: The Conversion of the Wesleys (1738) 11. Discontents of the Modern West: The French Revolution (1789) 12. A Faith for All the World: The Edinburgh Missionary Conference (1910) 13. Mobilizing for the Future: The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) and the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (1974) Afterword: The Character of Christianity and the Search for Turning Points Study Questions Index


Praise for previous editions

"This book majors in what is major, giving the reader a fine sense of what has happened, and it does so with care, precision, and respect for the past which is Noll's trademark."

David F. Wells, Distinguished Senior Research Professor, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

"If Mark Noll's Turning Points gets the attention it deserves, it will contribute immeasurably to a turning point in the struggle for Christian unity within a principled diversity. As an introduction to the history of Christianity, it is fresh and illuminating. As a criticism of the churches, it is historically sound and scrupulously fair. As a statement of core beliefs, responsibilities, and tasks, it is penetrating and constructive. This book speaks eloquently to Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as readily as it does to Protestants."

Eugene D. Genovese, historian

The Author

  1. Mark A. Noll

    Mark A. Noll

    Mark A. Noll (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is research professor of history at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and professor of history emeritus at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author or coauthor of dozens of books, including...

    Continue reading about Mark A. Noll


"Deeply informed historical perspective + clarity of expression . . . is needful, now and always. We can be thankful for scholars such as Mark Noll who deliver the goods. This lightly revised and expanded version of his overview of church history combines superb scholarship, wise judgment, and deep humility."--John Wilson, Christianity Today

"Mark Noll is among the most distinguished historians in American evangelicalism. . . . His book Turning Points . . . is a semi-scholarly survey written for students and everyday church members. . . . Besides some general updating, the major change in the third edition is a new chapter thirteen dedicated to Vatican II and the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. Noll argues that these two meetings were important ecumenical and missionary endeavors that captured some of the momentum of and ultimate[ly] furthered the growth of global Christianity, especially in the majority world. Overall, Noll does a fine job of summarizing church history. . . . Turning Points remains an excellent resource for church reading groups or, if it is appropriately supplemented, undergraduate surveys of church history."--Nathan A. Finn, Themelios

"The third edition continues the impressive framework of using pivotal moments of the past as a way to study and understand the history of Christianity. Even then, such an exercise can be very subjective, open to questions of why some are chosen while others are omitted. That said, the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages. First, it helps to frame the huge quantity of information into a recognizable structure. Second, it enables readers to zoom into details without losing sight of the bigger picture. Third, it helps to highlight the complexity of events, and uncertainties during that time. Four, it allows modern readers to do their own interpretation of history. Five, it is a very useful tool for teaching. . . . This book does a great job in distilling two thousand years of history into a small book. . . . The discussion questions at the end of the book provide a more indepth challenge to readers to decide whether to agree or disagree with Noll's interpretation of church history and the selection of that turning point. . . . Noll's book continues to be one of the best selling history books for church history simply because of its compelling title and idea. It arrests readers' attention and reminds us that we are all part of the turning points of history."--Conrade Yap, Panorama of a Book Saint blog

"Divided into 13 manageable chapters, this is a great book for understanding major 'turning points' and key players of Christian history."--The Study Center Newsletter (University of Virginia)

Praise for previous editions

"This highly recommended work provides a thoughtful yet comprehensive framework for the history of Christianity."--George Westerlund, Library Journal

"Noll's treatment of the material is evenhanded, engaging, and illuminating. This will be a useful text for readers seeking a historical framework within which to understand their Christian faith."--Publishers Weekly

"Instructive and interesting."--John Landers, Baptist History and Heritage

"An informative and inspiring survey of the history of Christianity designed for the general reader. . . . A thoughtful introduction to the two millennia of Christian history."--Richard V. Pierard, Church History

"Noll's emphasis on historical significance allows him to range well beyond the institutional and doctrinal matters that dominate traditional church history surveys. . . . A valuable text for church study groups and college-level, one-semester surveys of church history."--James A. Patterson, Journal of Church and State

"The depth to which Noll's research takes the reader is unmatched. . . . Even the casual reader--or the one who needs a refresher course--quickly enters into the purposes behind the turning points. . . . Reading this book may bring a turning point in your love for church history."--Robert Hower, Evangelical Journal

"An interesting overview of the whole of church history."--Herman C. Hanko, Protestant Reformed Theological Journal

"A brief but helpful introduction to the history of the Christian church. . . . We recommend Turning Points to you."--Critique

"This book is a popular, but never unscholarly, study of important transitions in the history of the Christian Church. Turning Points is the product of a seasoned Christian historian that may be read with profit and delight by any intelligent Christian or by a critical historian. . . . Noll's book is a splendid example of fine scholarship embedded in deep Christian piety. It will profit those seeking continuing education in churches and those who sit in academic classrooms."--Jacob P. Ellens, Perspectives

"A remarkably good, informative work that is far more than a mere skeleton. . . . This is an excellent choice for a one-semester undergraduate overview course."--Thomas A. Smith, Religious Studies Review

"In a little more than three hundred pages, Noll has pulled off a historical tour de force, giving his readers a sense of the overall story of Christianity while neither getting bogged down in the details, nor resorting to oversimplification. . . . [This book is] very helpful in introducing beginning students to the broad sweep of historical events. More knowledgeable students will enjoy it as well, as they ponder the reasons for Noll's choices and his assessment of the events he describes. This book belongs in every church library. I also recommend it highly to pastors and other church professionals as a refresher concerning aspects of the Christian past that are still highly relevant to mission and ministry today."--Donald L. Huber, Trinity Seminary Review

"This is a masterful tour of twelve decisive moments in Christian history, utilizing maps, charts, and illustrations."--ACT3 Review

"Anyone interested in exploring the 2,000 year history of the Christian faith would be well advised to add this delightful gem to their personal library. While certainly not exhaustive, it is an excellent place to begin."--Heinz G. Dschankilic, Baptist Review of Theology

"I found [Noll's] case for each choice trenchant and sometimes provocative. . . . By the end of [the] book, readers will have firmly established pillars upon which to set a historical frame of reference and general knowledge. . . . [An] excellent starting point for anyone who wants a good, basic overview of church history from the apostolic era to the 20th century."--Biblical Booklist

"This is a 'must read,' unlike any other church history book. . . . Its thirteen chapters are tailor-made for Sunday school curricula. . . . Your gratitude to the Lord for how he has blessed and sustained his church will be greatly increased by reading this book."--Theodore J. Georgian, New Horizons

"A readable work using an approach that may 'hook' readers more easily than other surveys. Its novelty, in fact, may attract some who have read other surverys and found them unsatisfying. Certainly it succeeds in introducing readers to the major events in church history, and it excels in demonstrating the connectedness of events and movements."--Mark Sidwell, Biblical Viewpoint

"[Noll] is fair to all traditions whether it be the Great Schism or the founding of the Jesuits. Brief extracts from contemporary writers give immediacy to historical events and full bibliographies appear at the end of each chapter. I found this a very good and readable reminder of events about which I was decidedly hazy. It will continue to be a useful reference book. Well worth the money if you want to recall these landmarks in the history of the Church."--Audrey Bayley, The Reader

"Mark Noll's survey of key movements in the two millennia of Christianity is well written and judiciously selected. The book is designed for the relative newcomer to church history and would be an interesting read for the oft cited 'educated person in the pew.'. . . One does have to admire the sweep of the book as an introduction to church history. . . . A fair and interesting historical survey, attempting to do right by all brands of Christians."--Tim Bradshaw, Themelios

"An interesting and readable approach to Christian history. . . . The method is a fascinating way of approaching history, especially for the lay reader. . . . This is a rewarding volume, written in a relatively popular tone and adapted to a believing community studying the past as its only family history and its resource for a faith filled and reconciling future."--Jeffrey Gros, FSC, United Methodist Reporter

"A captivating introduction to the history of the Christian Church. . . . Mark Noll has achieved the purpose for which he wrote the book: providing a framework for understanding the 2,000 years of Christian history in survey form. It is informative, inspiring, and interesting to read."--Richard J. Gehman, Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology

"Noll's intent was to write a book for students and lay persons in the church. He has clearly succeeded, and these readers are grateful."--Ashland Theological Journal

"In this well-written and well-documented book, each chapter begins with a hymn and closes with a prayer quotation, followed by suggestions for further reading. . . . This second edition inserts, before the index, seventeen pages of thought-provoking study questions for individual or group use."--Christian Library Journal

"This book is by no means only for clergy or the lovers of history. Combined with a study guide, this book allows all readers who begin to understand the rich, if not always pleasant, history that all Christians share. With original texts weaved through the book, readers will have the opportunity to travel through time and experience the voices of our past. This is a valuable text for any who work in the church, want to grow deeper in understanding their faith, or are striving to continue to learn and grow in the path that God is laying before them. Most important however, is that Noll has again reminded us that the church 'survives by the mercy of God, not because of the wisdom, purity, or consistent faithfulness of Christians.' A lesson well learned in our changing times."--Mark E. Mast, Reformed Review

"I recommend this book for those high school students who have completed an overview of world history, which included Christian history, or in conjunction with a study of world history. Each chapter of Turning Points could be successfully integrated with other resources to present world history from a traditional Christian worldview. Homeschool parents planning to teach world history to younger children would also benefit from reading Turning Points."--Beverly Krueger, Eclectic Homeschool Online

"Drawing on his years of teaching experience in and out of the college classroom, Noll has produced a superb work which effectively meets the challenge of introducing the history of Christianity. . . . Of the many books available to the beginner in Church history, Noll's work should be near the top of one's list. He has presented accurately a nearly two-millennia history in a manner both interesting and memorable. . . . Whether you are a beginner or one with a better understanding of Church history, you will enjoy and benefit from time spent with this work."--Thomas J. Marinello, Emmaus Journal

"Noll makes his case well. . . . [This book] provides a tidy introduction to events, well-known and less so, that have shaped today's religious world."--Alan Cochrum, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"If you don't have the time or the patience to read your way through 2,000 years of the history of Christianity, but would like to know something about key events along the way, this may be your book. . . . [A] fascinating volume. . . . This is worthwhile reading. It will give you a good idea, in a hurry, about what a host of saints in ages past experienced and endured so that we could know and live the Church's faith today."--Metro Lutheran

"Here is a good way to get a handle on the broad sweep of Christian history. . . . A readable, highly compelling history. Recommended."--Rod Olson, Lutheran Libraries

"This book would be suitable for seminary students or professors, as well as undergraduate students in Christian studies."--Christian Retailing

"A breezy survey of church history punctuated by dramatic climaxes. This is an immensely enjoyable book. The style is relaxed and accessible, the perspective is balanced."--Mike Hertenstein, Cornerstone

"[This book] is written for the layperson and the beginning student. It makes an excellent tool for use with small study groups."--Illinois Baptist

"For the average church member, this book is perhaps the best introduction to the history of Christianity currently available. . . . This would make a valuable adult elective."--Church Libraries

"This excellent study for Sunday school classes can help church groups in all traditions get in touch with their roots."--Net Results

"Noll's approach makes this an eminently useful book, filled with much useful and vital information."--Monthly Record

"[A] refreshing tool for ecumenical reflection. . . . [Noll] has clearly based this book on his work with students. . . . He makes Christian history accessible."--America

"Having just the key points in our history highlighted in this fashion seems a very helpful approach!"--Lorraine E. Tolman, Church and Synagogue Libraries

"Each chapter contains ample discussion of the key event, sets it within a wider context, and provides brief vignettes of actual translated source materials to hear the actors in their own words. A carefully chosen reading list accompanies each event so that readers can explore an issue in much greater depth. The writing is engaging and balanced, avoiding simple characterizations or gross generalizations. . . . This is an excellent resource to use as part of an adult education program within a church or for a group of ministers meeting together within a community or communion on a regular basis."--Dennis W. Cheek, APC, Sharing the Practice

"A particular strength of the book is the use of brief quotations of original sources in each chapter. Well-chosen illustrations also enhance the book's appeal. . . . This book is the best introduction to Christian history for the average student and church member. . . . It is recommended for ministers and all church members to give them a perspective on living the Christian faith."--Gary Holloway, Stone-Campbell Journal

"[This book] makes church history fascinating. It seizes events of prime importance by the scruff of the neck and gets the reader excited about them. Seldom have I enjoyed a book more."--Charles Somersby, Parish News

"Turning Points, while not simplistic, is not written at a level beyond the layperson either. It serves as a good introduction to this often-neglected subject."--Moody

"A unique approach that works well. . . . Noll has an impressive grasp of his subject and manages to distill all the dates and details into a thoroughly readable presentation."--Steve Shogren, CBA Retailers + Resources