Book Review: Epic (Tim Challies)

The Christian faith has a rich and complex history. Countless books are dedicated to giving readers an overview of this history or diving into particular parts of it. Tim Challies makes a unique contribution with his new book, Epic: An Around-the-World Journey through Christian History.

He invites us to join him on this fascinating quest, travelling the globe to explore 33 objects which help tell the story of our faith. An accompanying documentary was produced as well, but so far I’ve only read the book. Challies tells us his purpose in the introduction: “Together we will listen to these voices of the past tell us the epic story of what God has done and continues to do in our world today.” (p. 9)

The objects Challies has selected to tell this story are strikingly varied—everything from a towering statue to a small water jug. He treks to every continent (except Antarctica) and traces two thousand years of history. We dive into the colourful lives of preachers, martyrs, and prisoners.

But despite the variation in these objects, they tell a cohesive story. Certain themes emerge time and time again. For example, by exploring several different editions and fragments of the Bible we see how God worked throughout history to preserve his Word. He used believers who suffered greatly to give us access to the Bibles we now have lining our shelves and on our smartphones. Epic left me profoundly thankful to God for this gift and humbled by my own neglect of it.

For a history focused on objects, this book was not at all dry or boring. All the objects were windows into the lives of people. God has always worked out his purposes through humans—both those who zealously preached the gospel, and those who tried to suppress it.

Among my favourite chapters were, naturally, those relating to Christian figures and periods I was familiar with. I’ve read a biography of Amy Carmichael and some of her writings, so I loved the chapter about the plaques she had around her room. As an Australian, it was fascinating to read more about the Fleet Bible—especially as I got to meet Tim Challies on his trip out here.

But this book also introduced me to new stories. I was particularly moved by the account of Marie Durand’s tragic life. Despite all the pain and loss she suffered, Marie continued to trust steadfastly in God. She had the kind of courage that can only come from deeply loving Jesus Christ.

These objects are not just relics of a bygone age—they have lessons to teach us now. I found Epic a particularly encouraging book to read in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. We stand in a history-defining moment, and most of us are facing constant uncertainty and anxiety. It was greatly comforting to be reminded that God has always worked out his purposes even through tragedy and suffering. Nothing can stop him from saving people through the gospel; not persecution or heresy or pestilence. After reading Epic I came away agreeing with Challies: “If I learned anything from my journey around the world, it’s the simple truth that the Lord is always at work” (p. 94). God has proved this through history, so I can keep trusting him now.

I encourage you to pick up this book that left me feeling hopeful in a time of crisis. I’m sure I’ll return to this treasure-trove time and time again to be reminded of what God has always been doing in the world.

Epic will be released on 31 March. There’s still time to pre-order the book and/or documentary through the links on Tim’s blog, or at your preferred bookstore. Follow the instructions at that link to get some bonus materials if you pre-order!

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