This is a new book (published Feb 2015) giving a concise, overall sweep of Christianity, from the Apostolic age to the present. It posits itself as "an ideal introductory survey for undergraduate students and any reader who desires to know more about the broad scope of Christianity" and I'm in complete agreement with that statement. It is accessible and well-written and should be beneficial to just about anyone (including non-Christians) who is interested in getting a general view of the shaping of Christianity through the ages.
So much fascinating stuff in there: the development the NT canon, the heresies, the persecution of Christians, the melding of Church and state (that creeped me out the most, to be honest), the Holy Roman Empire, the Reformation, the Christianization of the New World, modern Protestantism! I learned so much from reading this book; it provided much needed context and grounding for all the bits and pieces of Church history I’d absorbed here and there. I gained not only a greater appreciation for the Christians of the past but also a sober reinforcement that no man, movement or institution has a perfect theology. There were some great defenders of the faith who brought in their own aberrant doctrines that needed defending against. And that, gasp, my own theology may certainly have suspect bits scattered throughout. Yeah, sobering.
I felt the author did a great job of putting flesh on the information he provided, without resorting to speculation. I also felt he was fair in his presentation; he didn’t shy away from some of the more unsavory aspects of the Church’s history in general or, as he is a Baptist believer (like me), of Protestantism in particular.
One thing I was tempted to complain about at the beginning of the book, but I came to appreciate later, is the lack of footnotes. The author addresses this in the preface, that he chose to note only the primary source documents. I appreciated this later when I was tempted to visit the endnotes time and time again, which would’ve kept me at this book for another month at least. Just so much fascinating stuff to track down! Actually, about 35% of the book is allocated to endnotes, the bibliography, and various indices.
In summary, I believe this is an excellent resource and I recommend it to all lay Christians, and anyone else who is a fan of history but hasn’t yet explored this particular aspect. For my part, I see more indepth study of Church history in my future!
“Perhaps more than any other academic discipline within Christian education, church history is holistic and integrationist in nature. It encompasses the study of theology, ethics, philosophy, pastoral ministry, preaching, missions, and evangelism, as well as others. Church history helps us better understand Scripture because it is a further unfolding— through many cultures, times, and places, of biblical history— of the story of God’s working in the world among His people.”
– from the foreword by J. Bradley Creed,
Provost and Executive Vice President and Professor of Religion