Books on Church History
Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley
Hands down, this is the best book on Church history I have ever read. It reads like a novel – one that you cannot put down. It breaks down all Church history into eight ages. Although it is 500 pages long, when you are done with it, you are disappointed it’s done. Dr. Shelley makes history come alive as you read the stories of people & feel you are right there with them. This is great for those who want to know more about the history of their faith, the struggles the faith has been through & even where we are headed. Great book!
Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson
Having long served as a standard introduction to the world of the early church, Everett Ferguson’s Backgrounds of Early Christianity has been expanded & updated in this third edition. The book explores & unpacks the Roman, Greek, & Jewish political, social, religious, & philosophical backgrounds necessary for a good historical understanding of the New Testament & the early church. New to this edition are revisions of Dr. Ferguson’s original material, updated bibliographies, & fresh discussions of first-century social life, of Gnosticism, & of the Dead Sea Scrolls & other Jewish literature.
Religious History of America by Edwin Gaustad
Since the first edition was published in 1966, this work has remained a standard text for American religious history. The 2002 revision, by Dr. Gaustad (history, emeritus, Univ. of California, Riverside) retains the core material with a revised chapter structure, updated bibliographies, & some text revisions. While such changes are subtle, they do alter the tone of the work, bringing it more in line with current approaches to the study of religion & American culture. In the case of the last three chapters, the authors have done considerable revision & brought the history up to the turn of the century. The overall result is a well-balanced enhancement of an excellent work.
I had this book as a textbook for my American Church History class at Tinity, as well as This Rebellious House (see below). It is a good book, but if you only want one book on American Church history I would go with Dr. Sweeney's.
Introduction to the History of Christianity: From the First Century to Today ed. by Tim Dowley
Written by more than sixty specialists from ten countries, this volume tells the dramatic, intriguing, & often surprising story of Christianity’s 2000-year history. Its 25 chapters are illuminated by more than 400 photographs and 30 maps, charts, & diagrams. Enhanced with dozens of short special-feature articles, the tremendously informative & fair text presents the story of Christianity in a strong & engaging narrative, always with an eye to the telling detail and the deeper religious currents that have swept through generations of Christian history.
We used this text in my Introduction to Christianity class at Trinity. The class was excellent & this book enhanced the lectures greatly. It is not up to the par of Dr. Shelley's work (for the shear storytelling alone), but is a great textbook on Christian history thus far. It does read more like a text than the others, but is well worth the time.
This Rebellious House: American History & the Truth of Christianity, by Steven Keiller
In This Rebellious House historian Steven Keillor meets the new challenges head-on. Examining events in the United States from Columbus to Clinton, he first disabuses us of the notion that our nation has ever been a genuinely "Christian" one. Then he focuses in turn on various political, economic & cultural policies or events (the Civil War, westward expansion) that are now often cited to "disprove" or "debunk" Christianity. Relying on essential Christian assumptions and on the best of contemporary historical scholarship, he refutes each of these challenges with a provocative, compelling & robustly pro-Christian reading of U.S. history.
Here is a significant new resource for historians, students, Christians & all citizens of conscience caught in the crossfire of our nation's current culture wars.
The American Evangelical Story by Doug Sweeney
The American Evangelical Story surveys the role American evangelicalism has had in the shaping of global evangelical history. Dr. Sweeney begins with a brief outline of the key features that define evangelicals & then explores the roots of the movement in English Pietism & the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century. He goes on to consider the importance of missions in the development of evangelicalism & the continuing emphasis placed on evangelism. Dr. Sweeney next examines the different subgroups of American evangelicals & the current challenges faced by the movement, concluding with reflections on the future of evangelicalism.
I had Dr. Sweeney for my American Church History class at Trinity & a couple of things came through in that class. 1. He loves God. 2. He loves American Church history. 3. He knows his stuff. If you have even a marginal interest in American Church history, this is a must for you!
5 Minute Church Historian by Dr. Rick Cornish
This is one of the books in the “5 Minute” series (others include 5 Minute Theologian & 5 Minute Apologist). This book takes you through Church history from the time of Jesus’ death to 2005. Its condensed form, the chapters are ideal for a daily devotional, or as a quick reference tool. You are taken on a journey where you learn about people, events, doctrines & organizations. This is a good resource for those wishing to learn about Church history without getting to bogged down in dates & elaborate stories (if you are not a history lover).