“Christian History Made Easy” by Timothy Paul Jones
I bought this book as a potential text for teaching a class at our church on church history. As the cover states, it is quite “basic”, but it is ideal for use as a beginner-level overview of the history of Christianity: exactly what I’d hoped it would be.
The twelve chapters — each of which covers the main events, names, and terms of a time period — read incredibly quickly, as each page contains colorful pictures, block quotes, and other graphics which present information in a variety of ways. The scope of the book is grand, covering the time of the apostles up through postmodernism and the Emergent Church, and everything in between. Obviously, nothing is covered in depth, but Jones provides readers with a “big picture” view of history, enough detail to have at least a basic familiarity with the most important aspects of church history, and resources for further study.
I was personally most appreciative of the author’s emphasis on the work of God in building the Church throughout history. He is honest about the many failings of the Church and its leaders, but highlights the ideas and contributions made during each era which ultimately led to the spread of the Gospel. This is most evident in Chapter 6 (“God Never Stops Working”), which covers the difficult period from 673-1295. Jones applies the words of Jesus in John 5:17 (“My father is always at his work“) to show how God worked through the monastics, the Scholastics, and the mystics to preserve the Bible and a remnant of believers even through the Dark Ages. Taking that view of history helps us to remain optimistic at times when it is difficult to see how God is working.
His final chapters are also helpful in introducing the various streams of Christian thinking in the world today. The book documents the rise of Dispensationalism, Christian liberalism, Pentecostalism, Fundamentalism, and the “Emergent” church. Jones sticks to the “facts” for the most part, describing what happened rather than making value statements about doctrinal differences within evangelicalism, but he does take time to point out the errors of liberalism and it’s later postmodern iteration (Readers should expect no less from a professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary!). I should also note that from the Reformation onward, the focal point is on the history of the Protestant church, with very little discussion given to events taking place within Roman Catholicism — the Second Vatican Council being a notable exception.
This edition contains a 12-week detailed study guide so that using the book as a teaching tool or discussion starter is also “made easy”. While group leaders may not choose to follow the guide exactly — each session calls for 60-90 minutes of guided discussion, worship through song, and a “learning activity” which often requires some preparation and supplies from the leader — everything needed to use in nearly any group format is included. Leaders can simply adapt the provided materials to suit their needs.
If you’re looking for a good introduction to church history that doesn’t require a long commitment to deep study, this one will serve you well. Buy it here. Also, if you are a member of Stevens Street Baptist Church (or live here in Cookeville) and are interested in participating in a group discussion based on this book, let me know! I don’t know when exactly I’ll be starting the group, but it will likely be sometime this Fall.