“It is always essential for us to supplement our reading of theology with the reading of church history… If we do not, we shall be in danger of becoming abstract, theoretical, and academic in our view of truth; and, failing to relate it to the practicalities of life and daily living, we shall soon be in trouble.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Can We Learn from History?” Puritans, pp. 215-16
Below are some of the books on Church History recommended by Mark Dever, Chris Armstrong, Michael Craven, David Calhoun, Bruce Hindmarsh, Daniel Akin, Tom Ascol and others. What books would you add to their lists?
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In his course on the Ancient and Medieval Church at Covenant Theological Seminary, David Calhoun used the textbook The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation by Justo Gonzalez, and in his lecture on “The Study of Church History”, he recommended the following texts:
Clarke, Kenneth. Civilisation: A Personal View. 1969.
An overview of western history with special emphasis on the arts and a humanistic interpretation of what it all means.
McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 1994.
Historical theology presented ably and as simply as possible.
Moffett, Samuel H. A History of Christianity in Asia: Beginnings to 1500. 1992.
The first of two masterful volumes covering the neglected story of Asian Christianity, this history traces the spread of Christianity to Persia and India, and then overland to China, where evidence exists of Christian activity dating from the 7th century.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (5 vols.)
The magnum opus of a great scholar (a Lutheran who recently converted to Eastern Orthodoxy).
Potok, Chaim. Wanderings: History of the Jews. 1978.
A wonderfully written story of the Jews by an acclaimed novelist.
Schaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. 1976.
Schaeffer’s influential study of the rise and (mainly) the decline of western thought.
Shaw, Mark R. The Kingdom of God in Africa: A Short History of African Christianity. 1996.
Part 1 covers the church before the emergence of Islam; part 2, the medieval centuries of Islamic domination; part 3, the missions and colonial eras; and part 4, the remarkable story of twentieth-century African Christianity.
Williams, Charles. The Descent of the Dove. 1939.
Idiosyncratic, brilliant, perplexing, and illuminating history. Eugene H. Peterson wrote in Take and Read, “When I started reading [Charles] Williams [The Descent of the Dove], I was a sectarian, ‘related’ only to a small coterie of people who lived and thought and prayed like me. When I finished, I was part of a congregation centuries deep and continents wide” (p. 1).
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And in the subsequent lecture on “The Growth of the Church,” he recommends:
The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in Transmission of Faith.
One of the most important books of Christian history of the 1990s. By a Scottish mission
historian and missionary.
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In lecture three on The Martyrs, he quotes from and/or recommends the following:
Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis
Maier, Paul L. The Flames of Rome: A Documentary Novel
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The following titles on CHURCH HISTORY are included in the 9Marks reading list for pastors:
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland Bainton
The Early Church, Henry Chadwick
The Dumb Ox (A Biography of Aquinas), G.K. Chesterton
George Whitfield (2 vols.), Arnold Dallimore
Handbook to the History of Christianity, ed. Tim Dowley
Theology of the Reformers, Timothy George
The Democratization of American Christianity, Nathan Hatch
The Waning of the Middle Ages, Johan Huizinga
A History of Christianity in the U.S & Canada, Mark Noll
Quest for Godliness, J.I. Packer
The Church Under Siege, M.A. Smith
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Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has recommended the following books on Church History.
Berkhof, Louis. The History of Christian Doctrines. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.
Bingham, D. Jeffrey. Pocket History of the Church. Downers Grove: Baker, 1975.
Bromiley, Geoffrey. Historical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.
Cairns, Earle E. Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.
Cunliffe-Jones, Hubert, ed. A History of Christian Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.
Douglas, J.D., ed. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.
Gonzalez, Justo L. A History of Christian Thought. 3 vols. Nashville: Abingdon, 1970.
_______ . The Story of Christianity. 2 vols. San Francisco: Harper, 1984.
Hannah, John D. Charts of Ancient and Midieval Church History. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, forthcoming.
________. Kregel Pictorial Guide to the History of the Church. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000
________. Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2001.
Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines. rev. ed. New York: Harper, 1978.
Langin, Timothy, David Bebbington, and Mark Knoll, eds. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Downers Grove: IVP, 2003.
McGrath, Alister E. Historical Theology: an Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998.
Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom. 3 vols. 6th ed. rev. and en. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1877.
_______ . History of the Christian Church. 8 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962 (1910).
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Michael Craven of the Center For Christ and Culture recommends the following books on Christian History;
- Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity, by S. Michael Craven
- Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce L. Shelley
- From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present, by Jacques Barzun
- Readings in Christian Thought, edited by Hugh T. Kerr
- The Confessions of Saint Augustine, a Translation for the 21st Century
- The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a’Kempis
- The Protestant Reformation: Major Documents, edited by Lewis W. Spitz
- Christianity Through the Centuries
- The First Christian Centuries: Perspectives on the Early Church, by Paul McKechnie
- How Christianity Changed the World, by Alvin J. Schmidt
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Chris Armstrong, professor of Church History at Bethel Seminary and author of Patron Saints for Postmoderns: Ten from the Past Who Speak to Our Future, has recommended the following as “excellent historical reads”.
- John Comenius: The Labyrinth of the World and The Paradise of the Heart (Classics of Western Spirituality) by Howard Louthan, Andrea Sterk
- The Life & Spirituality of John Newton: An Authentic Narrative (Sources of Evangelical Spirituality) by John Newton, Bruce D. Hindmarsh
- John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition: Between the Conversions of Wesley and Wilberforce by D. Bruce Hindmarsh
- Amazing Grace: John Newton’s Story by John Pollock
- The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers
- Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries) by Dorothy L. Sayers
- Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine by Dorothy Sayers
- The Divine Comedy: Hell (Penguin Classics) by Dante Alighieri, Dorothy L. Sayers
- The Passionate Intellect: Dorothy L. Sayers’ Encounter with Dante by Ralph E. Hone, Barbara Reynolds
- The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe
- St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care (Ancient Christian Writers) by Henry Davis
- An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith the Colored Evangelist (Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women) by Amanda Smith, Amanda B. Smith
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The Criswell College
The following books on Church History are recommended in the publication Beginning Your Theological Library published by the Criswell College.
The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People 1607-1972, by Robert A. Baker
Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity, ed. by Tim Dowley
Eerdman’s Handbook to Christianity in America, ed. by Mark Noll
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In an article in Christianity Today, Bruce Hindmarsh, professor of spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver recommended the following books as some of the best to introduce the general reader to early evangelicalism. According to Hindmarsh, “All of these books are a pleasure to read, and all of the authors are experts in their fields.”
- The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys, by Mark A. Noll
- The Inextinguishable Blaze: Spiritual Renewal and Advance in the Eighteenth Century, by A. Skevington Wood
- Wesley and the People Called Methodists, by Richard P. Heitzenrater
- Jonathan Edwards: A Life, by George M. Marsden
- The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America, by Thomas S. Kidd
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Westminster Theological Seminary
And, this is the list that WTS recommends to prospective students.
Hastings, Adrian. A World History of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000.
Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.
Lindberg, Carter. The Reformation Theologians. Wiley-Blackwell, 2002.
Plancher, William C. Readings in the History of Christian Theology. Richmond: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988.
Muller, Richard A. Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics : The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2003.
Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
Nichols, Stephen. J. J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought. Philipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2004.
Trueman, Carl. John Owen. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007.
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Reformed Theological Seminary
Reformed Theological Seminary lists the following Church History books on its Recommended Reading list for prospective students.
- Church History in Plain Language, Bruce Shelley
- Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll
- Church History, Volume 1: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, Everett Ferguson
- A Religious History of the American People, Sydney Ahlstrom
- The Story of Christian Theology, Roger Olson
- Historical Theology, Alister McGrath
- Augustine of Hippo, Peter Brown
- The Thought of Thomas Aquinas, Brian Davies
- Luther, Heiko Oberman
- Calvin: A Biography, Bernard Cottret
- Jonathan Edwards: A Life, George Marsden
- The Early Church, Henry Chadwick
- Early Christian Doctrines, J.N.D. Kelly
- Christianity & Western Thought, Volume 1, Colin Brown
- Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, R.W. Southern
- The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (5 vols.), Jaroslav Pelikan
- The Medieval Theologians, G.R. Evans
- A World History of Christianity, Adrian Hastings
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And click the following link to see the Reading List for PhD Students in Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
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Okay, now it’s your turn. What do you recommend?