Saturday, January 9, 2010

Book review: Rodney Stark on The Crusades

My chaplain friend and colleague Paul Lynn, with the US Army currently at Fort Bragg, NC, shares my interest in reading and church history. Paul returned from theatre just before Christmas and he's been kind enough to pick up some of my posts on his blog Worth My Salt, to which I've added a permanent link here in the section "Blogs I'm Visiting".

Paul has written a review of church historian Rodney Stark's book on the crusades which I'm crossposting here. The word "crusades" has become ideological of late, figuring prominently in radical Islamist propaganda as favoured by Osama Bin Laden and others. A powerful revisionist school in western thought portrays the crusades as unwarranted aggression against peoples of other faiths. Paul's review has me curious to see how Stark works against that grain. MP+

Friday, January 08, 2010
God's Battalions: Book Review

I was about three quarters of the way through with this amazing book when I emailed a friend about it. My friend holds a PhD in Religion from one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. His focus is Church History, specializing in the area of major concern from the book, "God's Battalions." My friend has also been a full professor for a lengthy bit of time, meaning, he knows his stuff.

I knew he would know the author. I wanted to get behind the intent of the thesis.

Here it is in final form on the last page (p. 248): "The thrust of the preceding chapters can be summarized very briefly. The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not conducted for land, loot, or converts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized cultivated Muslims. They sincerely believed that they served in God's battalions."

The author, Rodney Stark, of Baylor University cooks up a great book. It is scholarly, heavily footnoted, and he interacts with other reputable historians throughout. But, it is very readable!

I think back to reading David McCullough's early American history in "1776," and how much of a fun and fascinating read that was. For the reader, especially those interested in Christian history here, "God's Battalions," felt like a 1776. The comparison doesn't come because I'm combining Christianity-Americana, but essentially it is relevant to where I am, and perhaps you, too. If not, it's certainly provokes a historical paradigm shift.

In God's Battalions one can not analyze the Crusades without first reviewing the "Muslim Invaders," in Chapter 2. If your Christian History from college has become fuzzy, this will certainly shore it up. The layout of the geography, and key leaders and players make it come back in focus.

I loved the detail of the medeival military minutiae, e.g., armor, weapons, tactics, strategies, methods of killing devices, descriptions of cavalry and infantry, and Knights, as well as the heart and ethics of Soldiers or Christian Crusaders. I also loved the portraying of vivid battle descriptions. Hooah! And, pardon me, if you find this offensive, but I found myself comparing modern American Soldiers to European Crusaders. Of course there were gaping differences, but many similarities as well. You will find yourself connecting some dots that have been hanging in limbo.

My friend cautioned me that this wasn't Stark's forte, but I was impressed with the depth in which he reflected and wrote. It doesn't come across off-the-cuff. So, God's Battalions becomes in many ways an "existential," or historical "re-do," in Army parlance. What many of us have commonly come to think about the Crusades, Stark undercuts it with a look beyond the Karen Armstrong kind of popular synoptic regurgitation.

If you pick it up, like me, you may have much trouble putting it down. I'm not going to be specific here, but if I were a pastor there are some specific take-aways that could apply to "mission" and "ministry to men." I loved it. And, I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

Tim O'Neill said...

Stark's book might seem to make a plausible case to the non-specialist, but critical analysis shows it is riddled with errors, full of convenient use of selective evidence and undermined by flawed arguments. He manages to debunk a few myths about the Crusades, but his apologetic argument simply does not work.

For detailed critical analysis see:

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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