Jim’s #1 & #2: The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez and Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley

It’s about time I got started on posting to this thing!  I’m already behind and it’s only February.
I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to take two Church History Classes while in Okinawa.  I knew in coming here that I was pretty much historically illiterate when it came to my faith’s history and that always bothered me a little (Martin Luther/Martin Luther King, Jr.  I now know the difference!!!).  The course, and these books have truly opened my eyes to a few things:
1. There is plenty to be learned today from the great developers and reformers of the church.
2. There are innumerable events in the history of the church we should not be proud of.
3. Man can make a good thing bad quite quickly.
4. I wish my spiritual disciplines could compare with most anyone’s in the books that I read.
4. Every Christian stalwart of the past had not yet arrived when it came to sanctification.
5. I still don’t know that much about church history.
These two books by Justo Gonzalez and Bruce Shelley come from the second semester of this church history survey, covering from the Reformation to the present.  In the first semester I read a different text book by Kenneth Scott Latourette, so I will review my thoughts on these three authors and my suggestions based on what depth/style of history you are looking for.
Bruce Shelley Church History in Plain Language was an enjoyable book to read.  It’s considered more of a historical timeline than actual textbook because it covers the whole of church History, from Jesus to now in only about 400 pages.  Shelley starts his chapters out with a little story in history based on that section’s topic and then backtracks to give the complete picture.  It’s engaging and enjoyable to read.
Justo L. Gonzalez – The Story of Christianity is definitely more of a textbook.  It is a two-volume set with each one consisting of about 400 pages.   He covers almost the same material as Shelley but goes further in depth on everything and includes some additional chapters on more overarching issues/theologies.  For example, Shelley and Gonzalez both have a chapter on Zwingli and Calvin, but Gonzalez has an additional chapter on the reformed tradition, covering the differences in theology between Reformed, Lutheran, Anabaptist, and Anglican beliefs.  He did cover more on the Catholic church as well which didn’t interest me as much, but I guess that’s still part of church history.
Kenneth Scott Latourette – This man is one of the foremost scholars when it comes to church history.  Like Gonzalez, he has a 2-volume (600 pages each) history of the church but he also has an exhaustive, 7-volume series called The History of the Expansion of Christianity.  Read with a dictionary in hand.  He is not user friendly, necessarily, but he definitely has an incredible grasp on every aspect of church history.
Of the three, I would strongly suggest starting with Bruce Shelley as he will be able to provide you with the depth that you need and be able to keep your attention beyond the 3rd century when reading voluntarily.  To be honest, if you want more than that, I would go straight to Latourette.  If Shelley doesn’t provide enough depth for you, you might as well go for the top of the historical food chain and skip Gonzalez.  He really didn’t add THAT much more information and Latourette will be a resource to be used long down the lines.  His index in the back of the book will guide you to the specific topics you are looking for information on and then present those in much greater detail.
Sadly, for you, there will be quite a few more church history books to come in the next few weeks as I finish the course.  I will get to some more interesting ones eventually I promise.  It will also mean I can steal my kindle back from my wife!

1 Comment on Jim’s #1 & #2: The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez and Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley

  1. Thanks for the review Jim! I love (and hate at times) “church” history and am definitely going to check out Latourette’s books now.

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