Fortress Press is moving Christian education in the classroom beyond the four walls, the dry erase boards, and the dead trees of textbooks to something rich and vibrant, something that is going to grasp the imagination of the student. Tim Dowley’s (editor) Introduction to the History of Christianity is not simply an “e-book” but a multi-media experience. It moves beyond the portability offered by Kindle and iBook to something the teacher and student can both use to share and in many ways reimagine the words on the virtual page.
I cannot strictly limit this review to the contents of the book; however, as this is something of a book review, I want to speak, albeit ever so briefly, about what is before us. This is the second edition of the book, enhanced from the previous one by additions to the narrative of Jesus (in the form of contributions from well-known critical scholars such as Richard Burridge). There are plenty of color charts, maps, and pictures to stimulate you as well as small helps along the way. Further, as I explore certain topics that are dear to me, I find these topics are often presented with an acute sense of fairness. For instance, the topic on Methodism. Here, Dowley correctly situations Wesley and his people in the proper time frame, proper theological dialogues, and helps to draw out their influence on (American) Christianity. Likewise, Dowley’s even-handedness doesn’t end with Methodism, but continues on with such things as Vatican II. I must note that this is the first such book to spend even a brief moment on the rise of mythicism (p25). Also, Dowley doesn’t just pay lip-service to the East, but brings them into the picture equally with the West. The skill of the editor and the contributors can be seen throughout the 43 chapters. No doubt, this is one of the more extensive and important church history introductions available to student and autodidact alike.
But, the Inkling platform avails us of something more. It gives us an interactive experience. Not only can I take the books wherever I go, but they are linked to other internet sources including Youtube and CCEL. Thus, what was once one book has now become a virtual library of resources and a wealth of information on a multi-media rostrum. Yes, like Kindle and other platforms, there is the synchronization of notes and highlights, but unlike Kindle, there is a social aspect to it. In a classroom, you can actually utilize this book to aid in discussion by sharing notes, thoughts, and other items via the Inkling system. Thus, students and the teacher(s) can dialogue even in the comfort of their own home. It’s like social media, but helpful.
Inkling also provides for a multimedia experience when it comes to maps. They boast, and rightly so, of a “guided tour” when it comes to the maps. Honestly, the best part of a bible were the maps when I was growing up. Now — now! Fortress Press gives me maps (and charts) in stereo! There is the ability to zoom in, to open pop-ups, and they even throw in thematic material. For example, on the chart “Beginnings,” I get a neat timeline between 0 and 325, complete with Roman figures, evens from the New Testament, and early Christian writings. There are 5 pop ups, each with added material. I’ve taken a screenshot below:
At the end of each section (each section has several chapters), there is an assessment. These will not supplement a rigorous testing but will help the student to retain something of where things are in the book.
I have spent some time with this book, introducing it to others and in use in a classroom setting. It is beyond helpful for survey courses, small group studies, and even larger group studies. I have the Inkling iOS app. There are plenty of times, when I stream it to my tv via Apple TV. Further, pastors should be able to set it up via projector for larger gatherings.
There has to be an evolution of learning tools. Books, while they will forever remain with us, will never be the complete resource they once were. By combining technology, the information age, and the conceptual age, Fortress Press and Inkling have given teachers, students, and autodidacts something that will push the classroom experience to new heights.