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
I noticed some deficiencies in many churches
As I have visited churches and schools around my area I discovered that a number of people are interested in Church History but not wanting to take full blown college or seminary classes (due to either time or money restraints). I have been a guest speaker at a number of churches and noticed there IS a curiosity by those attenders to better understand how God has worked in the lives of His people. Most churches in which I grew up were very deficient in the presentation or even knowledge concerning God’s activity through His people in the past (Church History). A majority of the history of Christianity is a blank to most Christians and I would like to do my part in rectifying this deficiency. I believe this deficiency comes from at least 3 things: the boredom with history in general, a reaction to Roman Catholicism, and following in the steps of the Reformers.
3 Reasons why people do not study Church History
‘History is boring’
When asked why many people don’t enjoy studying history the usual answer is ‘it’s boring’. In their schooling most have been inundated with names, places, and dates without being informed of the significance of those name, places, and dates. The student had names and dates as required memorization, yet are not told (or at least emphasized) the importance of that date or person. For example, they could be told to memorize the date 1776, to signify the signing of the Declaration of Independence and then the Revolutionary War in the New World (eventually the United States of America). But the internal struggle for the signers and their dedication to ‘liberty or death’ loses something in the study. I believe this tedium over studying history contributes to the gap in knowledge for the average church goer.
A reaction to Roman Catholicism
Another reason your normal church does not teach or understand Church History is (I believe) a reaction to Roman Catholicism. Let me first off state that this is NOT AGAINST Roman Catholicism but a misunderstanding or misinterpretati0n of emphasis in Catholicism. Most observers of Catholicism understand the stress on the importance of the work of the saints from Catholic theology. It is my opinion that Protestants have historically reacted to ‘everything Catholic’ so they will ‘not do what the Catholics do’. I believe this has lent to a failure on the part of Protestants to want or need to study history.
A product of the Reformation
The third reason I think studying Church History in most mainline churches is not stressed is because they are following in the steps of the reformers. One of the ideas that is a result of the Protestant Reformation is Sola Scriptura (scripture alone). By the 1500’s in Europe the Catholic Church had many, many doctrines and practices that came into question by the reformers. One topics which was emphasized was ‘we don’t need to learn about the history or the saints, we just need the Bible’. Either intentionally or unintentionally a byproduct of the Reformation was Protestant getting rid of knowledge of God’s history in order to solely study God’s word. I think this has been a detriment to the churches. Many will never know the wealth and depth of theology because they have not nor will they ever study their history.
Because I have observed this trend of historical deficiency in the churches with which I come in contact, I am taking it upon myself to present the History of Christianity so people may learn the importance of it. I see myself as a teacher at heart, so I am more than willing to research topics or questions asked of me and report on them to you. In my mind it does God a terrible disservice to neglect His workings through His people. I mean after all He actually worked in the lives of various individuals to think through the mysteries and non mysteries of the Christianity in the past to come to a valid conclusion.
What I want from you
I would like to ask for your assistance. My goal in this blog is to help you in your Christian walk. I would like you as my readers to send me comments (both good and bad) to help me do a better job. I WANT YOU TO LEARN ABOUT CHURCH HISTORY and answer questions you may have. So I would encourage you to send me suggestions for study or questions you have concerning theology. If you have any ideas about who to study, or what movement (monasticism, heretics, The Protestant Reformation, The Great Awakening, The Social Gospel, etc.) I would enjoy reporting on them for you.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE SEND ME YOUR COMMENTS.
Thank you, God Bless.
Just a few of the great women in history God used to further His Kingdom
As one studies the history of Christianity, it does not take long to come to the conclusion that the significant women of the church are just not talked about. To be fair, in the last few decades there have been several blog postings and books written about the women of Church History. As I searched the topic on the interweb, I found a book entitled The Desert Mothers, (which is a take on a well known group of ascetics known as ‘the desert Fathers’). There are also a several articles on Christian History Institute‘s website which discuss many of the influencial women in Church History. So I though I would choose four women (really just randomly) from the history of Christianity to talk about. My point is to make sure the women God used to further His kingdom are not neglected. These women are discussed in no particular order or for any other reason that to bring them to our attention.
Katharina Von Bora Luther (1499-1552)
Katharina Von Bora had decided at an early age to become a nun. She was overwhelmed with the desire to dedicate her entire life to her Lord. As she grew in the nunnery, she became exposed to the writings of the scholar and radical thinker, Martin Luther. She along with several other nuns ran away from the cloister, believing the radical assertions made by Dr. Luther. Martin Luther took on the task of finding homes or husbands for these women, but for some reason could not find a suitable home for Katharina. Katie (as Martin called her) herself suggested she marry Dr. Luther. He then determined to marry her, not out of love, but out of example to other reformers concerning the stance of Catholicism requiring clergy to be celibate. He wanted to show others that one could be devoted to serving God and still be a faithful husband or wife.
The Luthers had a very loving, passionate marriage. Katie saw her place in running the household (including planting of crops, brewing beer, cooking for non-stop visitors, butchering the animals, and renting rooms in their renovated monastery for extra income). She was pleased to allow her brilliant husband the time to study and preach he needed, so as for him not to worry about taking care of the house. She believed this was her way of furthering God’s kingdom.
Idelette Calvin (1509-1549)
John and Idelette Calvin had a bit of a different relationship than that of Martin and Katie Luther. John was so consumed with his studies that he really did not feel the need or want for a wife. He did not even consider the idea of marriage until he was 30 years old or so. After some time dealing with issues and interacting with his close friends, one of them suggested he look for a wife. He was neither excited nor against the idea. Later concluding it may be well to marry, Calvin had his friends go through a list of suitable women to determine which would make a good spouse for him. He rejected 4 or so and then was introduced to Idelette. She was the widow of an Anabaptist minister, who died and left her with 2 children. Due to her being an Anabaptist, she was under scrutiny by the people of Geneva. They distrusted her religious ways, yet Calvin decided to marry her. Although she lost several children in childbirth, she bore Calvin no offspring. After a lengthy illness she also died, having been Calvin’s wife for only 8 1/2 years. He praised her for her selflessness in attending to his constant illnesses and his dedication to his theological writings.
Monica – the mother of Augustine of Hippo (322-387)
Monica was born in Tagaste (modern day Algeria) in the year AD 322. Both her parents were Christian, but she married a non-Christian man. Due to her upbringing she remained devoted to Jesus for her entire life. She had 2 boys and a girl. She was distressed, however, because her husband, Patricius, would not allow his children to be baptized. One of the boys they named Augustine and would eventually grow up to be one of history’s greatest theologians. Early in Augustine’s life his parents noticed his brilliance so intended on providing him with the best of schooling they could muster. Monica prayed tirelessly (daily) for her son to know Jesus as his Savior. She spent 17 years following and praying for her rebellious, wayward son. Eventually God’s Spirit spoke to him and converted him to Christianity. One years after witnessing her brilliant son’s conversion, Monica died in Ostia, Italy in AD 387. God allowed her to see the desire of her heart, that her rebellious son would follow Jesus.
Brigid of Kildare (453-524)
Brigid was from Ireland, born into a Druid family. Her father was a court poet. She fell under the influence of the teachings of St. Patrick. As a young women Brigid became a Christian and took her vows to become a nun. She along with several other women established a nunnery in the town of Kildare. She is known by many admirers as the female St. Patrick because of her dedication to spreading the Gospel and her devotion to Jesus. She was deeply involved in giving to the poor and establishing schools of leather workers, artists, and metal workers. She tirelessly aided people in need, and thus was instrumental in the Christianization of Ireland.
What can we learn from these women?
Actually, we can learn much from them if we take the time to research and study more about their life than is here. But here is what I can mention as thoughts from the life of these women.
Katharina Luther: Her passion for her husband and her God. No matter what the circumstance, she remained dedicated to God’s kingdom.
Idelette Calvin: Her servant’s heart and demeanor. She served her husband and her God with meekness and humility.
Monica, the mother of Augustine: She diligently, and tenaciously held to the belief that God would use her son in a mighty way. So she prayed tirelessly for his salvation, and God answered her prayers.
Brigid of Kildare: Brigid was consumed with furthering the Kingdom of God by setting up monasteries and by sacrificing her needs for the needs of the poor.
Much can be learned by the women of Church History. Research, study, and emulate what they did for God.