A good book to read on the history of Christianity

Hello everyone,

My husband and I have been blessed to do a fair amount of traveling and are both history buffs, both of which have left us with so many questions about the history of Christianity, and how it could have been so badly demonstrated by professing believers. My husband has repeatedly expressed his desire to read a book which would put the spread of Christianity, Catholicism, the Reformation and such in historical perspective. In Scotland we found a book, I think it was entitled The History of Christianity. When we looked into it however, it seemed to have been written by nonbelievers who were focusing on the negative effects of Christianity. As we were discussing it the other day, I said, “Oh! I know where to ask this question! My connect group.”

Any recommendations? I’m not sure I put it in the best words but hopefully you understand anyway. Thanks Holy Spirit. :slight_smile:

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Hey @Laurieb75 I love your question! I too, am a history buff😀. Your description of this book is a common approach to writing history of Christianity which I also find frustrating. It would be so good to read a history written by someone who sees the value of it. I can’t suggest a book by a Christian author, but Tom Holland has written some very readable history books and has grown sympathetic towards Christianity although he doesn’t hold to it personally. He often focuses on the Roman Empire and the culture in which Christianity emerged. If you’d like to find out about him as an author before you delve into his books, these links might be helpful. I’ll keep thinking and get back to you if I get any better ideas.

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Thanks for your time and input Alison. I’ve heard of Tom Holland but don’t know a lot about him. I’m a big Unbelievable fan though! I will check these out. You’re a blessing!

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Here are some that I would recommend:

I especially like this one:

https://www.christianbook.com/decisive-moments-history-christianity-third-edition/mark-noll/9780801039966/pd/039966?event=ESRCG

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@Laurieb75 The book that I found most readable while also covering the whole scope of Church history is “Church History in Plain Language” by Bruce Shelley.

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@Laurieb75 Also just wanted to echo your questions about what happened with the early Church. When I read Church history and especially some of the guys like Tertullian, I just don’t understand how they could have the attitude they did if they were really walking with Jesus. It also seems like the Church fathers, being Greco-Roman, used a hermeneutic that was foreign to the Bible and had beliefs I would label as syncretistic. In words from Lord of the Rings, it seems like things were “forgotten that should not have been forgotten” and a lot of things got lost in transmission from one generation to the next. I’d love to study this area more at a graduate level to understand more deeply what happened between the apostles and the next generation.

I make sense of this apparent craziness in a few ways:

  1. If we read the Old Testament, the Jews lost the Scriptures at one point and Josiah’s servants find the law in a dusty corner somewhere (2 Kings 22), so it seems God allows us imperfect humans to get pretty lost sometimes, but he always raises up people to restore the truth. It’s not really much different today - there is a lot of confusion and false doctrine in the world.

  2. The early Church did some amazingly sacrificial things that humble me. So I think we can see that there was beauty amidst the brokenness.

  3. There are lots of stories we will never hear until Heaven. God always has a remnant and He is always at work. So I fully anticipate to get a much more encouraging Church history lesson after my time on earth is done :slight_smile:

Something worth watching is the end of this video clip from Philip Yancey. He compares the Church to a not-so-great high school orchestra playing Beethoven for people who’ve never heard it before - all kinds of noises are poured forth, but when they occasionally hit the right notes, it’s beautiful. The Church is here to show the world God’s love and we don’t always do so great, but when we do it’s beautiful.

I’m still mulling over it, but I found it thought provoking.

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Again entering late to the conversation. I have found that most books in our USA culture on Church History either focus on Acts or generally the Western Church and almost totally ignore The Eastern Church. The Western Church contains the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople/Antioch. The Eastern Church contains the Oriental Church and The Church of the East. (just as a note I usually include the Orthodox Church in the Eastern Church although this is not technically correct.) Why is this important. Here a few reasons:

  1. The majority of Church Councils prior to the first schism of The Church in the 5th Century when the Eastern Church broke from the Western Church were in Asia Minor not on the Italian Peninsula. Virtually all western writers ignore this fact and rely primarily on the writings available from the Roman Catholic Church which has a slanted view of Church History.
  2. The Eastern Church, specifically the Coptic Church, is an outgrowth of the first major Christian Church: The Church of Jerusalem. A study of their early history gives a more accurate view of about half the early Church at large.
  3. Virtually all the Patristics come from the Church of Antioch/Constantinople which today is the Orthodox Church. In fact until the crusade of the Church of Rome pillaged Constantinople after the Great Schism the majority of historical Church Documents, Writings, and History were in Constantinople. Thus the Orthodox Church history of the early Church is the most detailed history of the Church available.
  4. The Church of the West (including the Orthodox Church) was heavily influenced by the politics of The Roman Empire as they were subject to this government. The Church of the East essentially escaped such influence and generally was not subject to any major political power. Thus the historical writings of the Oriental Church and the Apostolic Church of the East have a different perspective on what was happening prior to the 6th Century.

It is for these reasons that I strongly recommend anyone interested in pre-6th Century Church History to not limit themselves to today’s Western Writers alone. I believe one of the best primers of early Church history is the Didache or Teaching of the 12 Apostles. It succinctly contains the general thought, culture and practices of the Early Church. What is surprising is that most Christians interested in Church History have never read it or even know of it.

Just my thoughts on the subject
Dan

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Wow! So much great information and food for thought! Thank you to each of you who took the time to answer this question. We’re thrilled to begin digging into each of these options.

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I want to echo Laurie’s thanks, as well thank you for your original question Laurie. I head to bed with my wife early so I stay up and read that way. I am putting away the books and always like recommendations. So now I have a great list to draw from. Thanks!

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So glad you like response One comment. You can get the Didache on line for free and download it. The whole book is about a 30 minute read. I have attached it for your reference.
DanThe Didache.docx (27.5 KB)