Church History

Greg Strand – September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

A second volume of a new work on church history has recently been published completing the two-volume set. This set is one of the best treatments of church history now available. It should prove to be a standard for many years.

Everett Ferguson, Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2005), wrote the first volume. John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III, Church History, Volume 2: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), have co-authored the second.

Volume Two is described as follows:

A companion to Everett Ferguson’s Church History: Volume One, which covered the history of Christianity from the Early Church through the Patristic Period and Middle Ages, this story picks up just prior to the Protestant Reformation and extends to the present day. The combined academic expertise of authors James and Woodbridge, their engaging writing style, and their broad ecumenical approach will secure the place of Church History, Volume Two in many undergraduate programs, Bible colleges, and seminary classrooms.

When asked about Volume One written by Ferguson, Woodbridge notes two strengths:

First, it is genuinely comprehensive in coverage – much more than many other texts. Second, Dr. Ferguson’s expertise is poured into the text. Dr. Ferguson is one of the best Patristic scholars in the United States. The context of his volume reflect first-rate scholarship. . . . I believe Church History, Volume One is one of the best texts available in the English language.

When Volume Two was released, Woodbridge and James were interviewed about this new textbook. One of the questions addressed the uniqueness of this book over against other church history texts that cover the same period. In reply, Woodbridge notes four key traits (which I summarize in their main points).

First, Dr. James and I included various interpretations of different topics.

Second, Dr. James and I placed a premium upon writing clearly and in an interesting manner.

Third, Dr. James and I emphasized the relationship that exists between social, economic and political factors and the history of the Christian churches and doctrine. Readers should gain a good understanding of the historical contexts in which doctrine and church life has developed. At the same time, our study does not squeeze the divine out of causative factors that impacted the history of the Christian churches.

Fourth, Dr. James and I included the treatment of many subjects that are not covered in other texts.

James’ response includes the following distinguishing features not found in other evangelical writings.

First . . . to provide an honest engagement with the facts of history as best we can determine whether those facts comport with personal convictions or not.

Second, this volume endeavors to provide a global perspective.

Third, we intend this volume to be contemporary and relevant to the church today.

Fourth, we have not avoided the controversial issues of the past or the present.

Fifth, we are keenly aware that church history like all history, is culturally conditioned.

Sixth, we have written this volume with a special sensitivity to the evangelical world, which is our primary audience.

Finally, we have embraced a broad ecumenical stance; that is to say, we have endeavored to be respectful of all Christian traditions and indeed, to give a thoughtful and faithful treatment to other religions.

One of the significant differences is that most church history books are written by a single author and are limited to that author’s expertise. These two volumes expand this by including three authors that include a broader spectrum of expertise. The interviewer notes that this two-volume work

brings deep seated academic expertise to virtually the entire range of church history – Ferguson on early church and middle ages, James on late medieval and reformation, Woodbridge on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and both James and Woodbridge on contemporary American and global Christianity. Furthermore, all three authors are not just historians who understand the social and political dynamics, but practicing theologians as well who understand the power of religious ideas.

Woodbridge states that this book is designed to be used “as a textbook in colleges, Bible schools, and seminaries throughout the world.” But he also is hopeful, prayerful, that this book will also be included in every church. He writes,

It is an amazingly up-to-date, almost encyclopedic resource for the study of the history of the Christian churches. If its reputation grows, I would think that pastors will want to purchase it and recommend it to members of their congregations as a resource and an inspiring read concerning God’s amazing grace to humankind.

When asked about the importance of church history for students, pastors and all Christians, Woodbridge gives an extended response summarized in this way:

Not to know church history is to lapse into a kind of cultural amnesia. Moreover, we rob ourselves of a rich source of guidance and inspiration to help us live more informed and fruitful lives in our won day. Church history, stuffy and irrelevant? By no means!

The contents of the book:

  1. European Christianity in an Age of Adversity, Renaissance and Discover ( 1300 – 1500)
  2. The Renaissance and the Christian Faith
  3. Luther’s Reformation: A Conscience Unbound
  4. The Swiss Reformations: The Maturation of International Calvinism (16th Century)
  5. Radicals and Rome: Responses to the Magisterial Reformation (16th Century)
  6. Reformations in England: The Politics of Reform (16th Century)
  7. Refining the Reformation: Theological Currents in the Seventeenth Century
  8. Christianity in an Age of Fear, Crisis and Exploration (17th Century)
  9. Christianity and the Question of Authority (17th Century)
  10. Christianity under Duress: The Age of Lights (1680 – 1789)
  11. Christianity in the Age of Lights (1): The British Isles (1680 – 1789)
  12. Christianity in the Age of Lights (2): The Kingdom of France (1680 – 1789)
  13. Christianity in the Age of Lights (3): The Continent of Europe (1680 – 1789)
  14. Christianity in an Age of Revolutions (1770 – 1848)
  15. Adjusting to Modernization and Secularism: The Rise of Protestant Liberalism (1799 – 1919)
  16. Nineteenth-Century Christianity in the British Isles: Renewal, Missions and the Crisis of Faith
  17. The Christian Churches on the European Continent (1814 – 1914)
  18. Global Christianity: A Re-Centered Faith (20th and 21st Centuries)
  19. Modern Theological Trajectories: Spiraling into the Third Millennium (20th and 21st Centuries)
  20. Catholicism and Orthodoxy: Collision to Collegiality (20th and 21st Centuries)
  21. Contemporary American Evangelicalism: Permutations and Progressions (20th and 21st Centuries)
  22. Christianity and Islam: The Challenge of the Future (21st Century)

I give a strong recommendation to this book. I would recommend that all pastors purchase both volumes and read them. I would also encourage them to purchase a set for the church library. These works are not only informational, they are also edifying as you learn of the providence of God worked out in history in the midst of a fallen world.

I have great respect for Dr. Woodbridge, as a scholar, a fellow churchman and a friend. Everything I read that he has written results in being encouraged, edified and challenged to live more committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, for God’s glory and the good of His people. Reading this book is more of the same!

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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