Learn More About...the History of the Church

by the Editors

Some useful and accessible reading.

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue 28 in 1990 ]

WE HOPE THE ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE give you a new way of looking at the two-thousand -year sweep of church history—and whet your appetite for further study. We asked Mark Galli, associate editor of Leadership Journal and a regular contributor to Christian History, to recommend a short list of books that survey church history in an accurate and interesting way. His list is arranged alphabetically by authors.

Earle E. Cairns, Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (Zondervan, 1954, 1981). From a “conservative, non-denominational perspective,” Cairns quickly scans the multifarious history of Christendom. Includes a fine bibliography at the end of each chapter, as well as many pictures, charts, and maps.

Jean Comby, How to Read Church History, 2 vols. (Crossroad, 1989). Comby’s unique approach includes many excerpts from historical documents (nearly as much material as the narrative), helping the reader to do history as well as read it. Highlights Roman Catholic events, but gives a fair shake to Protestant developments too.

Tim Dooley, ed., Eerdmans’ Handbook to the History of Christianity (Eerdmans, 1977; rev. 1990). Colorful charts, graphs, maps and pictures bombard the reader of this combination history and dictionary. Each section includes major articles accented nicely with shorter pieces on important personalities, movements, and events. A book one can curl up with for hours.

Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 2 vols. (Harper & Row, 1984). With an economy of expression, Gonzalez captures the character and significance of events and people. He also devotes substantial coverage to Christianity in Central and Latin America. Many visuals and chapter bibliographies fill out this engaging history.

Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (Atheneum, 1977). Written as a “retrospect” and “balance sheet” now that Christianity’s “period of predominance is drawing to a close.” The fast-moving narrative, not always theologically orthodox, has a journalistic flavor: events are set in their political context, and Johnson’s not unwilling to suggest the less noble side of things.

Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, 2 vols. (Harper & Row, 1975). A study of the “pulsations in the life of Christianity.” Latourette charts the expansion of Christianity and its effect on the world. He attempts to cover everything with some depth, and he succeeds. A classic. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Word, 1982). Shelley is a courageous historian: he does not hesitate to use gripping anecdotes and stories to crystallize periods and issues. To keep the reader engaged, he focuses on one major issue per chapter. thoroughness is slighted, as he admits, but this book keeps the story in history.

Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church (1939). Williams writes history as he does novels: as if the supernatural world view of Christians makes a difference. Regularly he notes that “our Lord the Spirit” permitted this or ordained that. This brief metaphysical, cultural, and spiritual history of the church, although dated, will still reward the patient reader. CH

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