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A ONE-VOLUME HISTORY OF THE CHURCH

Back in March of this year, Tim Challies asked me for a suggestion of a one-volume history of the Church. I am glad I am finally able to say a few words on this subject.

I am leery of one-volume histories of the church, since they tend to be written by single authors, who, no matter how gifted they are as historians in certain areas, simply cannot know the entirety of church history well enough to provide a summary of it all. One sees this, for example, in K.S. Latourette’s history of Christianity. His specialty was the history of mission. In other areas, he is so-so. Even the great historian Jaroslav Pelikan, who has recently gone to be with Christ, has his weaker moments in his five-volume magnum opus on the history of doctrine. The first volume, on the patristic era, I consider utterly splendid and standard reading for anyone studying that era. But I found his treatment of post-Reformation Puritanism, Jonathan Edwards, and the New Divinity men sadly lacking.

With that said, then what would I recommend? Well, the text that I have used consistently over the past few years is Tim Dowley, ed., An Introduction to the History of Christianity (1990 Rev. ed.; repr. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995). It has a number of advantages. It covers the entire history of the church. It has been written by experts in the numerous fields. So it capitalizes on the strengths of a number of great historians of the church. And then Dowley has good editing skills and has produced a seemingly seamless text. I also admit to loving the many pictures, maps, sidebars (the latter essential for the post-modern reader who cannot handle large blocks of text without break!), and mini-chronologies.

I may find time to make a comment or two on church history sets. But that will have to wait.

Your comments on books are always helpful. I think I've bought everyone you've ever recommended. But then again, I just like excuses to buy books!

Dr. Haykin,
What's your opinion on
"Sketches from Church History"
by S. M. Houghton?

For me, it's okay to not have sidebars. But I like visual milestones in my books, such as maps, diagrams.

Thanks for this piece of information...

What about EH Broadbent's The Pilgrim Church?

Or the colourful book by Lion Publication - The History of Christianity?

jc:

Houghton's work is excellent for a church group, like a Sunday School or a Bible study group. He has judicious choice of topics and a biblical perspective to history.

Jenson: the Lion book is the Dowley; before Fortress Press started publishing it over here in N America, I used the Lion version from there in the UK. Broadbent is solid, but it does not shine as does the Dowley book, and it is out of date in some areas. But it is not going to mislead you on the big issues.

I've really enjoyed and benefited from the work of Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language.

I'd be interested in knowing your opinion, and hearing from others who have also read this text.

Blessings!

Tom
Doctrine Matters

Tom

I have not read Shelley. Maybe others have and can comment.

Dr. Haykin,
It's not nice to compare but, how does Dowley's Church History compare with Houghton's?
I'm guessing that one difference is that Dowley's is more comprehensive.

I'm curious also as to why you said that Houghton is good for group study. How about for personal study?

You could use Houghton for personal study.

SM Houghton was a master of English style--he helped the Banner of Truth in editing many of the early titles put out by that fine publishing house. But as for a critcal work of church history it really cannot compare to Dowley.

Houghton was a headmaster and English teacher by profession I believe. Dowley's work is by trained historians. But this does not mean Houghton's is a merely amateurish. It is very good for what it aims at: a popular overview with focus on selected key events.

Thanks for your recommendation, Dr. Haykin.

hello Dr Haykin, just a question is Phillip Schaff's 8 Volume "History of the Christian Church" composed by multiple authors or only Schaff? God bless you and take care

Thank you for these recommendations. And I wish to thank Tim Challies for alerting me to this link.

Haven't weven seen the Dowley, but highly recommend the Shelley - very comprehensive and inspiring in its scope and sweep. Helpful bibliographies for further investigation. (Paul Johnson's is serviceable but less accesable.)

For a modern multi-volume, I like Needham's 2000 Years of Christ's Power - excellent, with many quotes, and very conservative; and for an older set: the Pelican History of Christianity in 6 vols.

Good Reading!!

Schaff, as far as I know, wrote the whole of it himself. I have never heard or read otherwise.

Thanks Dr Haykin,
I've heard you speak numerous times and enjoyed many of your books as well. In the preface to Volume V we have David Schaff (Philip's son) writing :
"The further treatment of the Middle Ages, Dr. Schaff left to his son, the author of this volume. It was deemed best to begin the work anew, using the materials Dr. Schaff had left as the basis of the first four chapters."
So yes, Philip was involved the writing of this volume as well.

Ron

It seems Philip's son wrote volume V. "using the materials Dr. Schaff had left as the basis for the first four chapters"-preface

Much love and respect for Dr. Haykin,
Ron

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