Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, as the old saying goes. And while you might want to roll your eyes, here’s the rub: it’s absolutely true. I’ve outlined my reasons for encouraging Christians to read church history in greater detail previously, but it bears repeating: if we do not know the issues the church faced in the past—particularly our conflicts and controversies over doctrine—we will absolutely fall prey to those errors once again.
Here are five books (plus a little something extra) I’d recommend every Christian read on Church history:
Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley
Now in its fourth edition, this is by far one of the most accessible and helpful overviews of the entire history of the Church—from the time of Christ right up to the turn of the 21st century—you’ll ever read. Without question, if you only read one book on this list, make sure it’s this one.
Know the Heretics and Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin Holcomb
Although published individually, these two volumes should be read together. The first outlines 14 major turning points in church history—moments where, had a different decision been made, we would have lost the gospel altogether. The second looks at 13 creeds, confessions, and councils from across the spectrum of the Christian faith, with an emphasis on these still matter to us today and the impact they have on our faith. Both are absolutely essential reading for those taking their first steps into studying church history.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
This is a fairly gruesome book, which should be no surprise given its title. But this book is a recounting of the persecution faced by Protestants (and proto-Protestants) during the time leading up to the Reformation and beyond (it has subsequently been updated into the present day, with a somewhat broader focus). Although some—notably Catholics—have questioned Foxe’s work as a historian, this is still a volume worthy of consideration.
2000 Years of Christ’s Power by Nick Needham
This is a tricky one because it’s actually the title on the list I’ve not read (yet). So why include it? Because it comes with highest of recommendations from many people I trust, including the pastors of my local church. This three (someday to be four) volume series is provides an overview of the major eras of the Christian faith: the Early Church Fathers, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance and Reformation.
Bonus resource: Church History courses at Ligonier Connect. Ligonier has a number of interactive, video-based courses on church history taught by W. Robert Godfrey, Stephen Nichols, Michael Reeves, and R.C. Sproul. These are well worth checking out.