Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

08 August 2009

The Story of Christianity Volume One by Justo Gonzales

When we study the life and work of past generations, and when we interpret it, we are doing history. But we must remember that future generations will read about our times as past history. In that sense, like it or not, both by our action and by our inaction, we are making history. This is both an exhilarating opportunity and an awesome responsibility, and it demands that we do history in order to be able to make it more faithfully.
(The Story of Christianity Volume One by Justo Gonzales p. xvii)

Now, if you happen to be looking for a good church history book to read, may I recommend "The Story of Christianity" by Justo Gonzales? This work is in two volumes. The first volume covers the early church to the dawn of the reformation – about 1500 years. The second volume picks up just before the reformation and continues on to present times – about 500 years. I have recently finished re-reading the first volume and am looking forward to getting started on the second, particularly as we celebrate Calvin's 500th birthday this year!

Gonzales writes in an eminently readable style - almost like reading a novel. In fact, it is almost as though you are sitting down with him and having a chat over a cup of tea. And the chapters are short – so if like me you are having a go at finding 15 minutes a day to do some substantial reading, short chapters work!

One feature of his writing that I love is the repeated use of the phrase, "To really understand what was going on you need to put your feet in the shoes of…" You would expect this sentence to be finished with the name of one of the greats of church history – a natural assumption for one reading church history from a Christian perspective. But surprisingly, this sentence is usually completed with the name of the opposing party which is in fact very helpful - to consider for example the impact of the Christian onslaught in its very early months upon long, long, long held traditions. You begin to understand why the persecutions broke out in the first place – which is not to condone them. Although Christian through and through, Gonzales' use of this writing technique among other things results in a very even handed presentation of events.

The maps and tables throughout are excellent. There are a few photographs scattered throughout, some of which to my mind, are not all that relevant. Other glossier overviews of church history do have better photos but for readability, Gonzales' rendering of events is second to none. And I believe that it truly is Gonzales' deepest hope in penning these volumes that we will make history in a more faithful manner by studying past church history, and thus reading these books is both educative and pastoral.

So, I'm off now to read the second volume!


Anonymous said...

Thank for putting this book in your 5 books that changed your life....because it lead me here.
Would a confident reading, history loving 11 year old be able to read it?
She has a bit of a weak stomach :) so 'Fox's' is no good.
...or could you recommend something else.
Thanks for participating in the meme.
Ally <'v'>

Meredith said...

Hi Ally,
I think your confident reading, history loving 11 year old will love this - at least the first volume. The second volume is a bit harder to follow, just because church history itself becomes harder to follow as things split off all over the place. But the first volume is great. And as I said, it is like he is having a chat with his readers.

It is not nearly as graphic as Fox although, as church history gets a bit rough at various points (like Constantine's time) it is clear that Christians were treated badly. But it isn't presented gratuitously from memory. I have a weak stomach too and I love the book so it is probably OK!!

I'd say give it a go.

And thanks for dropping by and thanks for the meme. It was a joy.