I remember always being bored in history class. Perhaps it’s because Canadian history isn’t terribly exciting (at least, not the way it’s taught in our classrooms). But whatever the reason, it represents a huge gap in my knowledge.
It’s the same for many of us when it comes to our faith. Because we don’t know what God has done in the past, we have difficulty understanding and appreciating what’s happening in the present and future.
So today’s recommendation is Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley.
Why this book?
There are a lot of really good books on Church history, but what I love about this one is how Shelley balances academic precision and reader comprehension.
His approach keeps us thinking practically about the information we’re learning; it’s not just about collecting facts, it’s about becoming a well-rounded, thoughtful follower of Jesus.
Here’s how Shelley explains his hope for Church History in Plain Language in his foreword:
Many Christians today suffer from historical amnesia. The time between the apostles and their own day is one giant blank. That is hardly what God had in mind.
The Old Testament is sprinkled with reminders of God’s interest in time.
When he established the Passover for the children of Israel, he said, “Tell your son . . . it will be like a sign . . . that the LORD brought us out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:8, 16, NIV).
And when he provided the manna in the wilderness, he commanded Moses to keep a jar of it “for the generations to come” (Exodus 16:33, NIV).
As a consequence of our ignorance concerning Christian history, we find believers vulnerable to the appeals of cultists. Some distortion of Christianity is often taken for the real thing.
At the same time, other Christians reveal a shocking capacity for spiritual pride, hubris. Without an adequate base for comparisons they spring to the defense of their way as the best way — their party as the superior party.
Finally, many Christians engage in some form of ministry without the advantage of a broader context for their labor. When they want to make the best use of their time or their efforts, they have no basis for sound judgment.
I am not suggesting that one book surveying our Christian past will refute all error, or make the reader a humble saint, or plot a strategy for effective ministry. But any introduction to Christian history tends to separate the transient from the permanent, fads from basics. That is my hope for this book among my readers.
A basic understanding of history allows us to appreciate what God has done and continues to do in the world, but also to better recognize the difference between truth and error.
What’s one period of church history you’d like to understand better? How would that knowledge help you better follow Jesus today?