Global Context (Europe): The Penguin History of Europe

This series of posts deals with the global context in its many dimensions-historical, social, cultural, political, economic, and religious. We will provide book notices, book reviews, and brief essays on these topics. We hope that you will find this series helpful as you live and bear witness in a complex and increasingly hyper-connected world.

J. M. Roberts’ The Penguin History of Europe is the best one-stop history of Europe available. (Norman Davies’ Europe: A History is of comparable quality, although it weighs in at nearly 1400 pages.) Roberts writes for an audience who has some knowledge of the history of Europe, but who would like to put that knowledge into broader context and analyze the broader patterns and themes that surface.

In the first third of the book, he begins with ancient European civilization and works all the way up to late Christendom. In the second third, he walks the reader through modern history from the 16th through the 19th centuries. In the final third, he treats the twentieth century, with the two world wars and the Cold War as structural markers.

Roberts is a fair-minded historian, not given to writing revisionist and special interest history. He focuses primarily on the political and economic aspects of European history and secondarily on its socio-cultural aspects. In so doing, he chooses to leave out certain socio-cultural elements that I wish he had included, such as history of philosophy and art. This is not a strong criticism, however, because Roberts is attempting to collate, analyze, and communicate a massive amount of historical data in only 700 pages.

This brings us to a brief discussion of historical surveys which are by nature broad but not particularly deep. The positives are that we are introduced to a wide range of historical phenomena and are able to grasp the big picture, putting what we know in a broader context. The negatives are we are left unaware of many interesting and significant details and must trust the author to “get it right” in his interpretation and analysis of the overall patterns of his presentation.

Roberts The Penguin History of Europe is highly recommended for those interested in a concise overview of the history of Europe.

Book: The Penguin History of Europe (1996)

Author: J. M. Roberts

Region: Europe

Genre: History

Length: 722 pp.

Difficulty: Intermediate-Difficult

Global Context: Europe, Islam, and Christianity

God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crisis

Reviewed By: Bruce Riley Ashford

Entire forests have been chopped down in order to promulgate the literature that has been written on the religious crisis in Europe, including especially the secularization of Europeans and influx of Islamic immigrants. Bat Y’eor, in Eurabia (2005), argued that Europe is being subverted by Islamic hostility toward the very virtues, values, and vision of Europe herself. Bruce Bawer, in While Europe Slept (2007) argues that radical Islam is destroying the continent from within. Mary Habeck, George Weigel, Richard John Neuhaus, and others have also written of the threat that Islam poses to Europe.

God’s Continent is Philip Jenkins’ contribution to the debate. He thinks that many of the doom and gloom prophecies about Islam and Europe are “wildly unlikely.” Even though there are millions of Muslim immigrants in Europe, and even though their birth rate is significantly higher than the Europeans’, Jenkins begs to differ. He argues that (1) European nations can assimilate minorities, just as the United States has done; (2) Muslims will likely secularize; (3) when they do secularize, they will stop having so many children; (4) most of the Muslims in Europe are moderates; and (5) what threat Islam does pose will likely invigorate Christianity anyway.

If Philip Jenkins writes a book, it is probably worth the read, and this book is no exception. He is probably correct that many immigrants to Europe (whether Muslim or not) will secularize, have less babies, and assimilate to some extent. However, the book has weaknesses of which the most significant is this: Jenkins seems not to grasp the threat that Islam poses to Europe. With Islam comes a radically different view of the relationship of religion and the state, of religious liberty, of family, etc. Further, he seems not to grasp the threat that contemporary jihadism poses. He too quickly dismisses the arguments made in books such as Bernard Lewis’ The Crisis of Islam (2003) Mary Habeck’s Knowing the Enemy (2007).

It is for this reason that his his analogy with the United States is hardly helpful. He suggests that Europe will be able to assimilate Muslim immigrants in much the same way that the U. S. has been able to assimilate its Mexican immigrants. But Mexican immigrants to the United States (many of whom are Catholic) are a rather different case than the millions of African, Middle Eastern, and Asian Muslim immigrants to Europe. Americans have to adjust to Mexican Catholics who sometimes glue St. Christopher to the dash for traveling safety, while Europeans must adjust to Muslim immigrants whose religion demands nothing less than the religious, social, and political submission of their nations to the Allah of Islam. Hardly a helpful analogy.

God’s Continent is worth the read, even if it is not up to the level of The Next Christendom and The New Faces of Christianity, the first two books of his trilogy. Perhaps the best thing that Jenkins’ book can do is to turn the church’s attention toward Europe, the home of 821 million people, many of whom (whether European or immigrant) are without Christ and without hope in the world.

Book: God’s Continent (2007)

Author: Philip Jenkins

Region: Europe

Genre: Current Affairs

Length: 340 pp.

Difficulty: Intermediate