I was speaking to a friend about church history books the other day, having recently finished Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley. She commented that she's never really wanted to read a church history survey because they seem like a litany of bad, sad and sorry situations. And in a sense she is right. There is a lot that is grim about church history. And yet, in every bad and sad situation we find a man or a woman of faith who stands firmly, courageously, faithfully and steadfastly for what is Right. That is, we see God at work in and through His people. It is the unfolding of the unstoppable gospel.
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.
Acts 5:38, 39
And so the there is a lot that is inspiring in church history.
This particular rendering of church history is a great read. Shelley is a man who clearly loves God and his writing is very pastoral. He spends plenty of time explaining the contemporary significance of church history. This is extraordinarily helpful, making this book so much more than a list of dates, names, places and events.
Being just a single volume, he skips through events reasonably quickly. The upside is that he doesn't get bogged down, ever. The downside is that at times, it may be just a little bit sketchy in parts for church history novices. However his writing is clear. And in my view he presents the clearest explanation I've read of the last six hundred years, where things do get quite complicated. I understand the events of these times - and therefore what is happening in our own era of church history - so much better now. Thank you Dr. Shelley.
The chapters are short (yay!) and there are good tables, maps and diagrams. This is a worthwhile read, at so many levels.
Other church history books...
The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzales
Feminine Threads by Diana Lynn Severance
And here are five good reasons to read a church history book. Everyone should read at least one in their life time.