Thursday, December 30, 2010

Church History Recommendations

Inspired by the list put up by The Resurgence, here is a list of my book recommendations for those interested in church history.

Bruce Shelley - Church History in Plain Language
-Most Protestants would hail this book as the most concise, readable introduction to Christian history out there...and I would agree.  As a one-volume work that clocks in at about 500 pages, there is obviously much detail that is left out.  However, this is a good starting place for one to begin to piece together the historical developments of Christianity from the time of Jesus until today.

Diarmaid MacCulloch - Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
-MacCulloch is one of the preeminent Church historians around today.  With this work, MacCulloch presents a sweeping narrative and interpretation of Christian history in breathtaking detail.  A good synthesis of some of the best historical scholarship on a wide variety of historical topics, it should be noted that MacCulloch is not shy about offering controversial (to Christians of orthodox belief) interpretations of Christian history.

NT Wright - The New Testament and the People of God
-This is the first book in Wright's "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series.  The other two books that have been released so far (Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God) are highly recommended as well, but it would be wise to start out here.  Wright provides invaluable analysis and critique of other key historians of early Christianity and 1st century Judaism, included Schweitzer, Bultmann, the Jesus Seminar collective (Borg, Crossan, etc), and E.P. Sanders.  He places Jesus and the first Christians firmly within their 1st century Jewish world.   

Wayne Meeks - The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul
-A classic look at the sociology of the Roman world into which Christianity first spread.

Robert Louis Wilken - The Christians as the Romans Saw Them
-Wilken takes the novel approach of looking at documents written in the first 200 years after the death of Jesus by those outside the Christian community.  He provides an illuminating understanding of how the Christians were perceived by those in mainstream Roman society.  Includes examination of documents written by Pliny, Celsus, Galen, Porphyry.

ed. Michael W. Holmes - Apostolic Fathers in English
-Provides easy to read translation, complete with commentary and introductions, of those Christian writings which were written directly after (and, in some cases, perhaps before) the books that make up the New Testament. 

ed. S.L. Greenslade - Early Latin Theology
-A selection of key writings from Terullian, Cyprian, Ambrose and Jerome that help chart the development of important doctrines in Latin Christianity.

J.N.D. Kelly - Early Christian Doctrines
-Kelly is well-regarded among other respected historians.  This book is considered a classic introduction to the historical development of Christian theology.

Eusebius (ed. Paul Maier) - The Church History 
-Any collection of books about church history must include Eusebius.  However, it would be wise to read Eusebius with great caution, as his "history" is quite obviously not a history written with the same scholarly integrity and analysis that defines solid historical work in today's academic world.  Thus, this edition with commentary and introduction by Paul Maier will likely be helpful to the uninitiated.

Phillip Jenkins - The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died
-A groundbreaking book that examines an overlooked part of the history of Christianity.  Jenkins discusses the spread of Christianity into areas that today are not predominately ChristianHe tries to broaden the focus of our understanding of historic Christianity from simply Catholic/Orthodox to include other ancient communities of Christians.  

R.A. Markus - Gregory the Great and his World  
-An insightful biography and introduction into the life and times of the influential pope at the turn of the 7th century. 

Peter Brown - The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000. 
-An authoritative examination of the history of Christianity as it transitioned from a tiny, sometimes-persecuted sect to the dominant social force of medieval Europe.   

Peter Kreeft - A Summa of the Summa
-You may be the type of person who wants to plow through the five volume, 3,000 page English translation of Thomas Aquinas "Summa Theologica."  But I doubt it.  Kreeft provides carefully selected key passages from the work of the preeminent Catholic theologian of the last 1,000 years, and also gives analysis and commentary to help the modern reader have a better understanding of Aquinas' thought and importance.

Diarmaid MacCulloch - The Reformation
-Considered by many to be the definitive history of the Reformation, MacCulloch's book covers the whole scope of the entirety of the Reformation.  For a broader, more complete understanding of everything that was going on during the Reformation, this book is essential. 

Carl Bangs - Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation 
-Within Bangs' biography of Arminius, he is able to paint the historical picture of how "Calvinism" came about, and how the seeds were planted for future theological disputes between Calvinists and Arminians.  Calvinists will be surprised to find that the historical figure of Arminius was actually more similar to a modern-day Calvinists than he is to a modern-day Arminian.  

Martin Marty - Martin Luther: A Life
-For those wanting an accessible, easily-readable yet historically sound biography of Martin Luther, this book is an excellent choice.

Mark Noll - The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys 
-A thoroughly researched and well-written look at the development of evangelicalism in the English-speaking world.  This book provides a beginning point for understanding Christianity within North America, but for those who want a more thorough history, Noll's A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada is recommended.

George Marsden - Fundamentalism and American Culture
-The classic study of the rise of fundamentalism in America, this book provides an authoritative look at early 20th century Christianity within the United States.


The following two books, although not works of "history" persay, do offer an introduction to the historical and theological traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy.
James Payton - Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition 
-Written by a Protestant for a Protestant audience, the book provides historical and theological insight into a better understanding of the Orthodox Church.
Timothy Ware - The Orthodox Church
-While the previous book is written by a Protestant, this is a book written by an Orthodox leader with the goal of explaining the Orthodox tradition to those on the outside.