Church history can be intimidating. The sheer number of topics, sub-topics, geographical locations, and important persons that participate in church history make many well-meaning historical forays unsuccessful. Not knowing where to start or on what to focus can discourage interested laymen and students from pursuing their endeavors.
In Church History: Pre-Reformation to the Present Day, John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III provide a companion volume to benefit students of God’s word with a well-crafted view of the church’s struggles and God’s ultimate faithfulness throughout her history. Though the material covered remains immense this book provides an enjoyable read and beneficial presentation that is capable of educating and encouraging.
When communicating church history multiple methods have to be incorporated to make the material both memorable and beneficial. Church History is broken down into chapters both historically and geographically. Often, these geographical chapters cover significant periods of time and provide a good view of the church in its historical context. This approach permits this book to communicate both necessary and interesting elements of history that are in proximity to each other geographically and influential upon the doctrinal discussions of the day.
Within these chapters, Woodbridge and James blend religious history with the history of philosophy and society to create a backdrop of the church’s drama. The reader can quickly become overwhelmed and intrigued at the wealth of information supplied in each of the chapters.
Though some chapters may provide historical whiplash to readers, the overall tone and flow of the book is very inviting and entertaining. Individuals lacking a natural disposition toward history, and specifically church history, will find a clear and full expression that makes sense of both the “when?” and “why?” of church history.
The content of this volume is massive. Covering such a wide range of church history is no small feat. But the particular value is found in its geographical chapter method. Important theological events are surrounded with political and philosophical information that bolsters the historical content of which the time period of the Renaissance (chapters 1 and 2) is an excellent example.
In the opening chapters, the foundations of the Reformation are laid. Their value lies in the backdrop they supply for the chapters focused on the Protestant Reformation. The information they supply provides a pronounced focus on the elements of world history that launched and made the Reformation successful. Details such as John Hus’s trial to the profiles of Renaissance men like Petrarch and Salutati make this time period both fun to read and fascinating to ponder as the Reformation slowly appears on the historical horizon.
Chapter 7 contains an outstanding overview of various Protestant traditions (1600’s). These peculiar denominations and views are displayed in proper context. Understanding these movements against the volatile state of the world provides the insight one needs to understand the similarly volatile state of the church. Though excellent at pointing out doctrinal differences among the multiple movements, this chapter does reflect a general issue with Church History: it does not provide clear doctrinal explanation.
Doctrinal clarity is the casualty of an already large book covering many other valuable insights. Given the abundant resource available for covering doctrine, this does not diminish the value of Church History: Pre-Reformation to the Present Day.
It’s still an entertaining and well written church history. Its range of covered subject brings more depth and light to many important portions of church history. Laymen, pastors, and students will find the book a valuable introduction to many time periods that are unfamiliar while encouraging future study.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”