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Book Review: Turning Points


Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity is an interesting book to say the least. I really liked how he used the different time periods to mark each chapter within Turning Points. I found some of it to be dry, while other parts to be very informative and impactful. I think the Early Church is my favorite time period. Paul’s conversion to Christianity is very interesting. This book radically changed my life for the better.

The Summary of Turning Points Book

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity is well-developed book that should be analyzed to the fullest extent. It is very informative and contains the follow chapters. The first chapter analyzes how the Church was pushed out on its own due to the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Second Chapter analyzes the aspects of the Empire by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The Third chapter analyzes how the Council of Chalcedon helped believers understand the doctrine, politics, and life in the Word in 451 A.D. The Fourth chapter explained the aspect of the Monastic Rescue of the Church which was during the Benedict’s ruling in 530 A.D. The Fifth Chapter details the Coronation of Charlemagne and how that culminated into Christendom in 800 A.D. In the Sixth Chapter, Noll analyzes the theme of the division between the East and West through the Great Schism in 1054 A.D. The Seventh Chapter details how the Diet of Worms launched the beginnings of the Protestant movement which occurred in the time frame of Martin Luther in 1521. The Eighth Chapter details the English Act of Supremacy which allowed the New Europe. The Nineth Chapter details the founding of Jesuits which allowed the Catholics to reform the church and enabled the Jesuits to outreach to the entire world. The Tenth Chapter details the new Piety and the conversion of the Wesley’s in 1738. The eleventh chapter details the discontents of the Modern West which lead to the French revolution in 1789. The twelfth chapter details the faith for all the world which occurred in the Edinburgh Missionary Conference in 1910. The last chapter of the book was the turning points of the Twentieth Century. These events laid to the themes that radically changed the way people viewed the Bible as the whole. The only turning point that was missing is the charismatic movement.

The Themes of Noll’s Book

Although it was a groundbreaking book, I had a hard time distinguishing the themes in this book. I found one overarching theme which was Church History and how the modern-day church came to be. The First theme that was discussed was the Canon of Scripture in the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The Council of Nicaea was a groundbreaking council because it helped them formulate the Canon of Scripture. Noll reports, “In this sense, Nicaea bequeathed a dual legacy—of sharpened fidelity to the great and saving truths of revelation, and also of increasing intermingling of church and the world” (Noll, p. 55). This is one of the themes Noll explained in his book. Also, Noll gave the theme of Liberty through the Council of Nicaea. Noll understood that the Council of Nicaea gave way to the Nicaean Creed which was a charter. Noll reports, “Notwithstanding the way that the Nicene Creed represented a charter of liberty for the church over against the empire, the more obvious reality after 325 (or even 312) was that a decisive corner had been turned in church history” (Noll, p. 54). So, the council of Nicaea gave way to the Nicaean Creed as a battle cry of victory for the Nicaean believers. The Council of Nicaea argued for Christianity to outweigh the worldly standards.

The Second theme that Noll explained in his book was the Hypostatic Union in Council of Chalcedon (451). According to Noll, The Council of Chalcedon lead to the agreement of the Hypostatic Union. Noll reported that the Council of Chalcedon was divided about the fact that Jesus was one person that existed in two natures—God and man. These two natures are the flesh and God. The center place that Word-flesh Christology laid was in the city of Alexandria. The center place that Word-Man Christology laid was in the city of Antioch was located in the country of Syria. The main points of Word-Flesh Christology were the following: The Word incarnate in flesh, Unity of Christ, Deity of Christ, and Mary is the “God-bearer.” The main points of Word-Man Christology were the following: The Word joined to a man, Duality within Christ, Humanity of Christ, Mary is only the “man-bearer.”

Then later on in the Council, Noll told his readers that Council of Chaceldon finally boiled it down to a balanced orthodoxy. They agreed on these points, as reported in Noll’s book. First, they agreed that “Jesus is one person (hypostasis) existing in two natures (physis). This is known as ‘hypostatic union’” (Noll, p. 63). Second, they agreed that “Mary is the God-bearer. She is the mother of one who is always fully God and fully man” (Noll, p. 63). So, in essence, Mary is both the God-bearer and Man-bearer. Third, Pope Leo proclaimed, “Both natures and substances are kept intact and come together in one person.” The Council of Chalcedon radically changed Christology for the better by instituting the Hypostatic Union in the Christian doctrine. This is very cool how a Council can agree. I wish we had more unity between churches across the United States.

The third major theme discussed was the difference of philosophies between Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria. Tertullian is an intriguing part of the formation of the canon. Noll had this on Tertullian. Noll stated, “Tertullian, the second-century Western lawyer, had not thought it worthwhile to consider what Jerusalem (the Christian faith) had to do with Athens (the traditions of speculative philosophy” (Noll, p. 68). According to Noll, Clement of Alexandria did not agree. Clement of Alexandria “promoted the Christian study of Greek speculative thought as a useful exercise for the church” (Noll, p. 68). This disagreement led to the balance of Chalcedon's doctrinal statement on the Hypostatic Union.

The Fourth major theme was Augustine’s work that radically changed how the believers approached the scriptures. Augustine was also mentioned in Noll’s book Turning Points. Noll states the following about Augustine. Noll proclaims that Augustine wrote on the trinity— “Augustine is discoursing on the Trinity” (p. 6). Noll also proclaims that Augustine “have labored long to understand Scriptures, hold forth in various corners of the room. Also, Martin Luther and John Calvin “returned repeatedly to the work of Augustine (354-430)” (p. 79). So, Augustine’s work lasted through the church ages. Noll also comments on Augustine’s groundbreaking autobiography Confessions. This was written around 397 to 401 that describes in detail “his passage through various philosophical and religious stages on the journey to Christian faith” (p. 84). In essence, Augustine seemed like a hero to Mark Noll which is why Mark Noll included it in his paper.

The Fifth Major theme was the rise in Protestantism. The year was 1518. The year that Martin Luther decided to hang the 95 Thesis on the wall. Why did he do this you may ask? The answer lies in Noll’s book Turning Points. Noll agreed that Luther was unhappy that the Catholic church was more traditionalistic than biblical. Due to this traditionalistic character of the catholic church, Luther took up his argument and nailed one big nail right near the top of the document, proclaiming his rebellion against the leadership of the Catholic church. Noll reports, “In the larger sphere of European history, Protestantism acted as an accelerator for forces or developments that were already well underway by 1517 and Martin Luther’s posting of the Ninety-five Theses” (p. 171). So, Noll agrees that the development of the ninety-five theses accelerated Protestantism.

Later on, His rebellion sparked reformation in other countries and people like Zwingli. This is found in Noll’s book Turning Points. Noll states, “In that same year, Luther engaged in a momentous debate at Marburg, in southwest Germany, with Ulrich Zwingli, the reformer of Zurich in Switzerland and a near-exact contemporary of Luther” This quote may be vague but Noll did an excellent job describing Zwingli in a short and sweet statement. Noll describes Ulrich Zwingli as a reformer in Switzerland who was a near-exact contemporary of Luther. Also, Zwingli and Luther had an argument associated with Lord’s Supper. According to Noll, This argument lead to the Augsburg Confession which became the doctrinal standard for the Lutheran church that was coming out in German, Scandinavian, and Eastern regions. (p. 154). These were the reformation years according to Noll.

The Sixth Major theme was the English Act of Supremacy in 1534 that led to a New Europe. This was a pivotal moment for the English. The Church was starting to get on their nerves so they decided to institute the English Act of Supremacy in 1534. Noll reports, “For this key change, The English Act Supremacy from 1534 is a dramatic symbol.” It was a dramatic symbol because they made the Catholic Church the official state Church of England.

The English Act of Supremacy in 1534 led to some unique outcomes according to Noll. The First outcome of the English Act of Supremacy is that it led to more people to a central religious authority. Noll reports, “Forces at work in European economic life were also moving toward greater local vitality and less automatic deference to a central religious authority” (p. 172). Also, The English Act of Supremacy, written in 1534, increased the economic status of England. Noll reports once again, “The main economic point that needs to be stressed is not any simple equation between an increase of trade and the rise of Protestantism. Rather, it is that Europe’s economic recovery created new centers of financial power, new situations for potential friction, and new opportunities for fiscal resentment” (p. 173). This is an interesting turn of events (or should I say points). Things were turning for the good or the bad. I would say for the good.

The Seventh Theme was the Gutenberg Press which led to more people having access to the Bible. The Gutenberg Press is one of the most important inventions of mankind. Noll reports, “The printing press, developed by Johann Gutenberg of Strasbourg and Mainz in the mid-1450s, was affecting the pace and intensity of intellectual exchange throughout Europe by the end of the fifteenth century.” The Gutenberg Press was a pivotal tool in reaching the lost by giving everyone access to the Bible via printing. The Gutenberg Press in modern days is the Bible App published by Life Church. The Bible App was revolutionary during the pandemic because it gives everyone access to not only the Bible but Devotional plans and sermon notes if their local church provided them. Everyone can have access. That was the vision of Johann Gutenberg when he invented the Gutenberg Press. He wanted everyone to have access to the Bible. He was a very revolutionary person in Noll’s book Turning Points.

The Eighth theme was emergences of various different movements like Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Noll describes the rise and spread of Pentecostalism, The emergence of women into greater public visibility, the massive production of new Bible Translation as an aspect, more generally, of the globalization of Christianity, the survival of Christianity under Communist Regimes, and finally the recent flourishing of Christianity in Communist China. These were a majority of the themes within Noll’s book, but there are several other themes in Noll’s book.

My Assessment of Noll’s Themes

This book was interesting to read at least. I found several points within his book to be interesting. However, it wouldn’t be a book that I would reread. Although it contains viable material on church history, I would rather listen to videos and multimedia to learn about church history. It is the most readable book in this Church History class. I really enjoyed reading it. This book intrigued me and I finished it.

I, sort of, agree with this book. My analysis of the book is vague because the reading comprehension was higher than I was accustomed too. I wish it was shorter too, so that I could have more time to analyze this book to the best of my ability. But Noll’s theme of the Hypostatic Union was the best theme that should be analyze. The main verse that backs up the hypostatic Union is 2 Corinthians 5:21. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) states, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” I liked how Noll incorporate a very essential doctrine in his book.

Also, It was interesting hearing Noll’s perspective on the Charismatic movement. He divided the Holy Spirit enthusiasts into two categories—the Pentecostal and the Charismatic. Noll notes, “By the year 2010, as many as 600 million (or more than a quarter of the worldwide pollution of Christian adherents) could be identified as Pentecostal or charismatic” (Noll, p. 310). He also defined the differences between the Pentecostal and The Charismatic movement. He states, “The usual difference in these terms is between Pentecostals who are organized in churches with a distinct emphasis on the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit and charismatics who practice those gifts within churches that do not formally endorse this understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work” (Noll, p. 310).

This afterword was the most impactful because I never knew how the Charismatic came to be. I actually am starting to attend a Bible Study on Thursday night that are semi-charismatic. They believe that the Bible is the final authority but have a big emphasis on the Holy Spirit. These are some of my assessments concerning Noll’s book. Also, Noll’s assessment of the charismatic movement can help me better engage with my charismatic friends.

The theme of the Charismatic was featured in Noll’s last chapter and should be analyzed and synthesized. is based on 1 Corinthians 14:1-5. 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 states, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for ono one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in tongues builds up himself., but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now, I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” This is a key passage to the charismatic followers. I would consider myself to be a semi-charismatic follower. do not believe Spiritual Gifts have ceased today. The highly controversial gifts, such as prophesy and speaking in tongues, can be a gray area. However, I believe speaking in tongues is used to reach the lost for Christ by God giving them ears to hear in their native language so that they may accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Also Speaking in tongues is used to build up the believer (1 Corinthians 14:4-5). However, Prophesy is used to build up the church by helping guide the believers in the truth of the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 14:4-5). Also, speaking in tongues, in essence is a prayer language, and when believers speak in tongues in public, it must be done with an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). Paul also states that everyone should speak in tongues to build a personal and intimate relationship with Christ (1 Corinthians 14:5). With these passages, I do not believe the Spiritual gifts have ceased. I also agree that each believer has a different spiritual gift to make a difference in the lives around them. These spiritual gifts include utterance of wisdom, utterance of knowledge, faith, the gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-10). All of these gifts are empowered by the same Spirit which is the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11). With this and Paul’s confirmation, I do not believe in the doctrine of cessation because believers can still use the Spiritual Gifts to reach the lost for Christ. So I also believe that the writer that wrote Turning Points let the reader decide for himself/herself what to believe concerning the doctrine of cessation.

Another theme that was interesting to study that Noll brought up was Perseverance. Despite everything, the followers of Jesus Christ (the J.C. Crew) faced hardships and persecution. The J.C. Crew, including the Apostles in Acts, at every turn, were getting hit hard by the religious persecution that the government was bringing. One person that was part of the J.C. Crew was John Wycliffe. John Wycliffe went against the status quo and was burned and was reburied to burn his bone again. He underwent a lot of persecution, but he did not lose sight of the one thing that truly matters which is that Jesus Christ is worth more glory than our persecution. That is Why John Wycliffe and many other Christians that were found in Noll’s book, had perseverance to win the race that was set before them.

Concluding Remarks

I really enjoyed reading this book and understanding now the overarching themes of the book. One of the most prevalent themes that was common throughout the whole book was the perseverance of the J.C. Crew (which are the those who believe in Jesus Christ 100% without wavering). Perseverance can be a struggle. When you look at today’s world, a lot of believers are endorsing several wacky theological stances such as the LGBTQ movement. If the LGBTQ movement was in the early Church era, they would be excommunicated from the Church (see 1 Corinthians for confirmation).

In Addition, the believers who were talked about in Noll’s, also had reliance on Jesus Christ. Relying on God takes time and persistence which the early Church had. Today, I feel like they are not relying on God, but on Church History. They seek Church History for answers instead of going to the final authority which is the Word of God. They read books from MacArthur and takes for gospel truth instead of looking towards the Bible and comparing the Bible with the text. Anybody can make things up but the Bible is the final authority for life and practice. The Concept of the Bible is the final authority for life and practice is fading away like a flower fade away in the winter.

So, In Conclusion, this book provided good tips on how to avoid being complacent. Being complacent will not raise the church of tomorrow. Instead, it creates a poison that is toxic for spiritual growth. It is like they shrinking and not bringing on the full effect of the gospel. So, we should reject the poison by not being complacent and being like the church fathers in the past. Thank you.

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