Church History Books

The Story of Christianity

This is a very readable history of the Christian faith. The book covers The Early Church, The Imperial Church, Medieval Christianity, and many of the events and people that led early moral reform efforts that preceded the Protestant Reformation. Church history is truly an exciting topic and Gonzalez makes it read that way. Gonzalez is particularly good, in my opinion, in the early chapters on the Early Church fathers. Each short readable chapter reads like a vignette of an important figure in the early church and their stance during times of apostasy and persecution.

This book is the standard introduction today and is used in numerous Bible Colleges and Seminaries, but it is very readable and enjoyable.

As an added bonus, it is helpful to have this book handy if you listen to the Christian History Series by David Calhoun at Covenant Seminary Online.

Church History in Plain Language

I’ve heard good things about this book, so I picked it up when I found it at a used bookstore. I had already read a few chapters from Gonzalez when I decided to cover the same ground with Shelly. I was very disappointed, to say the least. Given that Shelley is trying to cover a LOT of territory (Early Church to Present Era) in a simple and readable one volume work, but I found it simplistic and patronizing. The work tries to hard to make a history book read like a novel in my opinion and its just simply not my style. I initially had no appreciation for the work at all, UNTIL I started reading Medieval Church History in Gonzalez. Without a solid grounding in Middle Age European History, I was lost reading about all the rival popes and kingdoms vying for power. At one point I switched from Gonzalez to this work and I found it much more enjoyable. At this point I finally ‘got’ the popularity of Shelley and found it useful. Although not a detailed history, I think Shelly does a good job of covering all the primary people, places, and events of Church History in a very readable volume. I recommend this work for a High School audience.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

Almost every history book one reads is compiled by scholars who have read what others scholars wrote, synthesized the material, and formed their own conclusions. Foxe is different. He lived it – he is a first or second hand witness of much of what he writes about in the later English reformation.

The work begins with unbelievable myths about the Apostles and other early church martyrs. It covers a few medieval heroes of the faith and then Wycliffe, Luther, Tyndale, and Calvin. Foxe is brilliant in his coverage of the heroes of the English reformation – Cromwell, Lady Jane, John Hooper, Latimer, and Ridley.

This work was prized by the Puritans – each Puritan family who could afford it would have a copy of Foxe’s Martyrs next to his Geneva Bible (and in later times – Pilgrim’s Progress). This is truly one work which should be required reading for EVERY Christian. Nothing I’ve ever read has ever made me more proud of my faith than Foxe’s “Monuments of the Church”.

Here I Stand

As good as Foxe’s book is, and in spite of the fact that I believe that it should be required reading for every Christian, I can’t help but save my highest regard for this work on the life of Luther. So much of the terminology and beliefs we take for granted on a daily bases as 21st Century believers were just simply not available to our Medieval fathers. The Priesthood of the believer, Justification by Faith, the authority of God’s Word and much in the way of tradition, style, and jargon is due to Martin Luther. Luther lived a fascinating life and his story is riveting. Luther was no en-halo’d mythical saint plucked from some Gothic Fresco. He was an ordinary flesh and bones man – a weak, frail, sinful, man – and God used him in powerful and extraordinary ways! Simply amazing!

One of the reasons you may not fully appreciate your rich full Christian/Protestant heritage is because you don’t know it. We must reach past our own movements and schisms and return to the struggles against persecution and heresy of our fathers to put our faith in perspective. Read any one of these books in the coming year and your faith will be enhanced!


6 thoughts on “Church History Books

  1. Shelley’s book, Church History in Plain Language, I hear, is a standard text in some charismatic Bible colleges. It was in that of a friend of mine. As I read, I could see why: at times, the author seems to take sides in some of the issues in church history, and when he does, I found him consistently take the side a charismatic, or otherwise anti-catholic/anti-traditionalist would take. To put it in Reformed parlance, it seems to present church history from the point of view of an Anabaptist. This was the only thing about the book I did not enjoy.

    • If that is the case, it’s probably welcomed in Predestinarian/Ana-baptist contexts also, such as John MacArthur’s circle. I skipped the Early Church section, but read all of the Medieval and Reformation sections. I did not read further into the Anabaptists and Modern movements. I’m thinking about reading Bainton’s book on the reformation.

      Do you have any church history suggestions?

  2. Come to think of it, maybe I should broaden my target to all Baptistic Christians. I’m sure I was looking at it through my meany old confessional paedobaptist filter. It may be more acceptable to Baptists generally (as opposed to only General Baptists 😉 ).

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