5 books Christians should read on Church history

5 books

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.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


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.

Buy Know the Heretics at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon

Buy Know the Creeds and Councils at: Westminster BookstoreAmazon


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.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


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.

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon


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.

Links I like

Do Charismatics Deny Sola Scriptura Due to their View of Prophecy?

Michael Patton:

The other day (not at Credo), I had someone chase me down and prophecy over me. I was so excited when they approached. I think it was a husband/wife team. They said that when they saw me, they had a vision from God. It was a vision of me writing checks. “We saw you writing check after check.” I almost thought they had it right (considering how many bills I have to pay!), but they were talking about something else. They saw me giving money all the time to people in need. They talked about how generous I was. Now, as much as I would like to make such a claim, I certainly don’t have anything that would stand out in that area. Normally, my only version of giving significantly is taking a pay cut so Credo can move forward! Then they said that they saw the nations all around me. Various people groups, especially different languages, I was influencing. Again, they did not have the right person. Yes, this ministry is international, but their description of type of influence I was having was much different. In the end, I was very deflated. Whatever visions they had of my identity, they either had the wrong person or the wrong spirit talking to them. It was not God talking to me.

Things you do at weddings that’d be creepy anywhere else

HT: Mike

Twenty-Five Bloggers in One Sentence Each

This was fun. And mostly accurate.

If Church History Were Reported By Upworthy

Stephen Altrogge:

The website Upworthy is notorious for it’s gushing, over the top, massively politically correct headlines. So what would it look like it Upworthy reported on key events in church history? Probably something like this.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to yesterday’s list, here are a few new ones to check out:

Also, Logos’ free book of the month is Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann; you can also get Brueggemann’s David’s Truth: In Israel’s Imagination and Memory for 99¢.

Getting Religion & Rotten Sinners

Chris Canuel:

It has become quite the fashionable thing these days to bash religion. Sadly, this is almost as common amongst Christians as it is non-Christians. I’m sure many of us have heard the phrase, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.”

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I know what people mean when they utter this phrase. The problem is it’s simply not true, nor is it biblical.

Three reasons to study church history

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I never loved history in school. In fact, I downright hated it. It wasn’t because I didn’t care about history itself—it’s that it was pretty clear my teachers didn’t give a rip about it. This might be because, as Canadians, our history textbooks are notoriously dull (although our history itself isn’t).

Over the last few years, though, I’ve found myself drawn more and more to studying history—specifically church history. The history of Christianity is so rich and so fascinating—whether we’re looking at the shining moments of spectacular faith, or the worst gaffes of the Reformers and their persecutors, there is much to be gained by studying it.

So, with that in mind, here are three reasons why we should all be studying church history:

1. The Bible commands us to.

Over and over again, the Bible commands God’s people to “remember,” to look back on what God has done, to remember His wondrous works (Ex. 13:3; Deut. 5:15; 7:18; 8:1; 8:18; 1 Chron. 16:12; Psalm 105:5). By looking back at what God has done, we can look forward in confidence that He is faithful to keep His promises and fulfill His purposes in this world.

2. The stories of the past help us persevere in the present.

You can’t help but be inspired at the kind of faith that God’s people have shown throughout the years. When you read of the trials of so many men and women in a book like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, you can’t help but be amazed at how God’s people faithfully endured immense suffering and trial over the centuries—and be inspired to persevere in your own difficulties.

3. The past helps us defend the faith in the present.

Studying church history helps us better understand key events and crucial doctrines—how the New Testament canon came to be, or how the doctrine of the Trinity developed, for example. It also helps us to see patterns of thought, particularly when it comes to heresy.

“Heretics, in fact, served the church in an unintended way,” writes Bruce Shelley in  Church History in Plain Language. “Their pioneering attempts to state the truth forced the church to shape ‘good theology’—a rounded, systematic statement of biblical revelation.”

When you have a sense of the issues the Church has faced over the centuries, it helps you better understand the debates of our own day. Right now, there are a number of ancient heresies being promoted by popular authors, including Pelagianism (a rejection of the sinfulness of man), Marcionism (the rejection of God as depicted in the Old Testament—and of Christianity’s necessary connection to Judaism)… even Montanism has made its way back into the spotlight, if Phyllis Tickle is in fact promoting what she appears to be in her recent interview with Jonathan Merritt and in her book, The Age of the Spirit.

But by studying church history, we can see what’s come before and recognize the modern variants today, which better enables us to defend the truth.

Where to start?

The best thing to do is start simple. Read Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language, which is both brilliant and comprehensible. Start listening to Stephen Nichol’s Five Minutes in Church History podcast. Read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Take Robert Godfrey’s courses available through Ligonier Connect.

And from there, keep going. Start digging into books like Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context by Everett Ferguson or 2000 Years of Christ’s Power by Nick Needham. There is no limit to how deep you can go, and there is no limit to the rewards you’ll find in your study.

(Photo credit: Vincent_AF via photopin cc)