As I speak and teach about Church History I am often asked about recommendations for people who want to study on their own. To be honest whenever I speak I recommend these books even when people do not ask about them. Some people see me as an ‘expert’ in this area and want to know some of the books and websites that I read to gain information. My desire is to inform the listeners of some well written (and in some cases not too detailed) books or websites in this field.
What are some of the books I read?
Well, throughout the time I have spent studying and researching in the area of Church History, I have compiled quite a short list of books (my list should probably be longer and is getting longer but right now I consistently rely on a few of my standards). There truly are a plethora of resources, so from every church historian you would probably get a totally different list. This is my short list of just a few books that I read on a fairly regular basis.
- Exploring Church History by James P. Eckman. This book is only around 100 pages in length but it does introduce readers to major characters, movements, and events in the big story of the Church.
- Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones. I have used this as a textbook in a high school setting. The author does a good job of relating the major people and ideas and how they relate to the big picture. This book is only 200 pages long but includes small thought bubbles with recommendations for further study. It even gives websites addresses with relevant information.
- Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. This is probably the most thorough treatment of Church History contained in one volume. It obviously does not cover all aspect and people but does a very good job covering the information with a ‘broad brush stroke’.
What are some of the websites?
I visit a few websites on a regular basis to acquaint myself with new topics or learn new stuff about topics which I all ready know some things. As with the books, there are not many sites, but I do visit these regularly.
- http://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org – This is website from people who publish Christian History Magazine . It not only gives you information on previous issues of the magazine, but it is broken down into teaching sessions (based on time periods). These teaching sessions have some excerpts from primary source materials with explanations and discussion questions. I have used these in class as assignments for my students to be exposed to and interacting with original writings.
- http://www.didymus.org/ – This is the website from Dr. Byard Bennett who teaches Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids Michigan. The information Dr. Bennett puts in here is well thought out and intriguing to ponder. He also quotes prayers from church fathers, which are insightful and inspirational.
- http://www.earlychristianwritings.com – For reading a translation of original texts from the early church fathers I always go to this website. It gives you the complete text with little commentary. It is easy to read the writings to get the flow of the author.
As stated earlier, this is a short list and by no means an exhaustive list. I read other writings sporadically but this is my go to list.
Last but not least my blog
I also recommend that people read my blog for information about Church History. I attempt to write on topics in a manner that is not to academic. I believe many people would like to know more about Church History but do not want to read thousands of pages in hundreds of books. I see my job as breaking up large amounts of information into bite sized pieces.
Please leave me some suggestions from your reading list.
If you have any additions or recommendations of your own I would love to read about them and recommend them to others. Please contact me in the comments section so we can communicate. I would be happy to exchange comments.
Soli Deo Gloria
There are four suggested origins of the Baptist Church
There are many different answers to the question, “where did the Baptists come from?” It really depends on who you talk to as to which theory they agree with. I have talked to many people throughout the years and received many answers to the question, a majority of the answers fall into one of these four theories. Here is a brief statement summarizing the theory and later each one will be addressed in more detail.
Baptists descended from the Anabaptist movement
Baptists can trace a direct line of connection between John the Baptist (or one of the Apostles) and our time today – also called the “Trail of Blood” theory
Baptists descended from a group of English Reformers
There is not direct links or ties to anything previous, they sort of “popped up” on the landscape with no connections to another group
Baptists descended from the Anabaptists (a short history of Anabaptists)
For simplicity let’s just say the Protestant Reformation in Europe started on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Shortly after this many, many people wanted to express their discontent with the Catholic Church (this discontent had been building for decades) at the time and, in essence, secede from the church and start a new (true) church (I know, I know many like Luther did not want to secede but reform the church). This ‘reformation’ spread throughout Europe and changed the European culture. Zurich, Switzerland was one of these places where the citizens wanted change from the established church.
The well known reformer Huldrich Zwingli was attempting to reform Christianity in Zurich. Some of his followers, however, did not think Zwingli’s reforms went far enough. In short they wanted to change much if not most of the workings of the established church, so they pushed for more reform than proposed by Zwingli. Historians now (and honestly even back then) called these people ‘radical reformers’.
These men who liked Zwingli’s suggestions but wanted more radical reforms were named Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz. Some of their radical ideas were: getting rid of tithing, paying interest, and serving in military service. They also wanted each church to govern itself, so as not to have a leader who is corrupt and lived thousands of miles away instructing them them on how to run their church. Zwingli disagreed with Grebel and Manz and so parted ways with them. In 1525 the Zurich city council forbade the ‘radicals’ from spreading their views, so Grebel, Manz, and others fled to a nearby village where they baptized each other (hence the name Anabaptist or re-baptizer) into the “true church”. They continued to spread their form of Christianity and were persecuted by many of the other factions.
Did Baptists come from Anabaptists?
Because of the similarity between the words “Baptist” and “Anabaptist” many people believe the Baptist church has a direct connection to the historic Anabaptist church. These people think there was a group of Anabaptists who changed some of their thinking and theology so took on the name Baptist to keep similar beliefs but distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists. There are to be sure some similar doctrines, however, there are some very different (and significant) beliefs between the two. Here are some differences and similarities:
Beliefs Anabaptist Baptist
Congregationalism Yes Yes
Separation of Church/State Yes Yes
Believer’s Baptism Yes Yes
Pacifism (exempt from military) Yes No
Living distinct from society Yes No
Community of goods Yes No
Salvation is Christ and good works Yes No
Reason held above Scripture Yes No
Works of the Spirit held above Scripture Yes No
So I would assert that even though the history of Baptists is a little fuzzy, due to the comparison of some of their beliefs, they are not the same animal. They may have come from the Protestant Reformation but they are very different, therefore, Baptists did NOT come from Anabaptists.
Who are the descendants of the Anabaptists around today?
Some of the followers of Grebel and Manz who developed a following of their own were men like: Jacob Hutter and Menno Simons. Both of these men (Hutter and Simons) had their own brand of Anabaptism, and had various groups believe in their brand of Christianity. A group called the Hutterites were followers of Jacob Hutter. The Mennonites and Amish are descendants of Menno Simons.
I would say the direct link to the Anabaptists today would be the Amish and Mennonites, not the Baptists.
Why Study Church History?
Just a week or so ago I was asked to introduce some high schoolers to the topic of Church History. My friend is a high school Bible teacher and he knows my passion for teaching Church History, so he asked if I would be a guest speaker and speak about the importance of studying Church History. Here is a copy of the powerpoint slides I put together on this talk. First I give a sort of outline of the specific areas that will be discussed, then I will examine each one individually:
The Bible and Its Interpretation
The History of Doctrine
The Roots of Todays Church
Missionary Endeavors Guarding against heresy
The Bible and Its Interpretation
*The question to be asked is: How are the individual passages of the Bible to be interpreted? I believe use of the “interpretive journey” is the best way to interpret scripture (see the book Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-on Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays).
*Some throughout history have used the allegorical method which spiritualizes every element of every story, ignoring the cultural and historical context and the author’s intent. All elements are in the story to pull out some sort of spiritual truth. The story of David and Goliath is not recorded in order to show the faithfulness of a follower of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to show the power that that God has against His enemies, but it (this method) says the story is there to encourage all of us who have ‘giants to slay’ and how God can help us in ‘slaying those giants’ even though we a puny and weak compared to those giants.
*Others use the historical/grammatical context (the interpretive journey is based on this model). This method uses the ideas of looking at the original culture and noting the differences between their culture and ours and then pull out some principles that apply to both situations.
*The study of Church History shows how people have interpreted the Bible then gives us clues to the appropriate way to approach it.
The History of Doctrine
Investigating the thoughts of people in Church History helps us in dealing with questions, such as: Who is Jesus? Does the Bible assert that he is human or divine or both? If both how does that work?
What is the Trinity? Does not the Bible claim there is only one God? How can Father, Son, and Spirit all be God and yet be only one God?
The early church did not have all the teaching of the Bible fine tuned, precisely defined, and understood (do we?) so researching the issues helps us better refine our understanding of difficult (dare I say nearly impossible to comprehend) theological concepts.
The Roots of Today’s Church
Here are some ideas about the contemporary church that Church History helps us ponder:
Worship – Traditional or Contemporary, which is Biblical? Are either?
Sacraments – 7, 3, or 2? Why have any?
Confessions/Creeds – Some memorize them, others don’t, why?
Denominations – Why so many? Does God care if there are hundreds?
The Study of Missionary Endeavors
Matthew 28:16ff, Acts 1:7-8 – Followers of Jesus must spread the Gospel
Paul, Silas, Timothy, Peter, John Mark, Barnabas are examples from the New Testament of people who spread the Gospel outside of their immediate surroundings.
There are literally thousands of examples of followers of Jesus who shared their faith outside to their ‘Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the rest of the world’. Here are just two:
*St. Patrick – to the Celts. Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and taken from his home in England to the barbaric Celtic people. After six years of slavery, he escaped, traveled back home, and studied to be a bishop (pastor) in England. God later spoke to him in a vision telling him to go back to the Celts and spread the Gospel. He did and a majority of the Celtic people became Christian.
*William Carey – to India. After several failed business ventures, William (a shoemaker) taught himself several languages and became very distressed about the spiritual condition of the peoples in other countries. So he set off to India and spent the majority of his life spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He inspired so many people of his time (the late 1700’s into the early 1800’s) that he is now known as ‘the Father of Modern Missions’.
There are nearly innumerable stories of Christians in history who told others of the miracle of salvation in Jesus. These can and should be studied as examples of how to share the Gospel.
Guarding Against Errors
As soon as someone starts preaching truth, some else preaches errors.
How can one know error if they do not know the truth?
Gnosticism, Arianism, Unitarianism, Modalism, Universalism, Pelagianism, Nestorianism, Montanism, Manicheism, Platonism are all some form of theological/philosophical error that has been taught and believed in time past. “There is nothing new under the sun” we are told in Ecclesiastes, this statement goes for bad theology also. All of the heresy (bad theology) that is presented in our day, has been dealt with in the past. We study Church History in order to better see bad theology when it comes into our midst.
As an example of this that comes to mind is the bad theology or at least bad information given in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. In this book the character of Robert Langdon has a dialogue with his mentor over the issues discussed during the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It is stated that the Emperor Constantine called the Council in order to push his political agenda of unifying the Roman Empire by convincing bishops (pastors) to keep certain books in the Bible and throw out others. Dan Brown claims the major purpose of calling the council was to keep the letters that assert the divinity of Jesus while rejecting those letters that specifically state a denial of this attribute. There are many lengthy discussion that could be had over the assertions made in this book, but here it is mentioned merely to clarify that the major issue at the Council of Nicaea was NOT the letters of the New Testament that claim Jesus divinity, but the rejection of certain persons (Arius) who denied Jesus divinity and taught that Jesus was some kind of lesser god than that of the Bible.
The Council of Nicaea was not about the canon and those books that belong in the Bible but about a heretic who claimed something about Jesus that was not biblical.
Studying Provides Historical Character
*It provides repeated, concrete demonstration concerning the irreducibly historical character of the Christian faith.
*It shows the acts of God in time and space.
*Christianity is a truth claim based on historical events and people.
*It is not just a moral code or cute rules to follow
Studying Shows The Connection Between Church and Culture
*It provides a laboratory for examining Christian interactions with the surrounding culture.
*What should the Church do in light of issues like abortion, same sex union, or Euthanasia?
*How does the culture influence the church? Or vice versa?
Studying Provides a Way to Determine Which Doctrines Are Essential
*Can you be saved and yet not believe in the Trinity? Is the doctrine of the Trinity essential?
*Can you deny the deity of Jesus and still be his follower? Is this essential?
*Can you be saved by working for your salvation or is it exclusively by faith?