It’s a new year, and there is no time like today to begin brushing up on Christian History. Many thoughtful Christians read lots of books on how to live a life of faith, theology, biblical studies, and even the Bible (go figure!). But most have a blind spot in the area of Church/Christian History.
Perhaps the term “history” conjures up ideas of boring high school lectures or stories about dead white men. When I took classes in the History of Christianity in seminary, I was disappointed when instead of getting inspiring stories about the giants who rose (and fell) during the age of the Church, I was given a crash course on the history of theology–an important subject to study–but not exciting in the least. But the history of Christianity is far from stale. True stories of heroism, controversy, and dramatic falls from grace fill the history of God’s people. Just like people in Bible times, the accounts of Christians who lived and died in the last 2000 years (and the Church they served) are a mixture of comedy, tragedy, and overall inspiring. They are worth getting to know. Our ancestors in the faith will instruct us, warn us, spur us on to faithfulness and good works, and give us a profound sense of connectedness with the great cloud of witnesses whom we will worship with in heaven someday.
So what should you begin reading to brush up on the history of Christians, Christianity, and the Church? Rather than focusing on a particular denomination or church family, I’ve listed below some of the best summaries of what God has been doing in history since the closing of the biblical canon. Happy reading!
One Year Book of Christian History. Christian History daily devotional. Actually fun to read. Not fluffy. Author seems to be Calvinistic but also mildly dispensational.
Turning Points. Best single book on Church History from Apostles to the 20th century. Adult Sunday School reading level. Best at showing events in context and what they meant at the time and still mean today.
The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History. Overview of Church History from Apostles to the 20th century in chronological order. Doesn’t really connect the dots or show historical effects of the events. Short articles written at high school level.
Church History in Plain Language. Good overview of Church History from Apostles to the 20th century. In chronological order. Very popular book on the subject.
The Story of Christianity. Two books in one cover. Good overview of Church History from Apostles to the 20th century. In chronological order. A little more scholarly.
The Story of Christianity. Books published by DK are great. They’re like going to a museum on a particular topic. Lots of colorful pictures, captions, and summary articles.
Christian History Online. Lots of free articles and resources on the web. Includes archives of articles that were published in the magazine Christian History. The site is fully searchable and organized according to period of history or topic.