Early Jr., Joseph. A History of Christianity: An Introductory Survey. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015. 504 pp. $39.99.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is an aphorism famously first uttered by George Santayana. Even in the midst of significant turmoil in the Christian church today (e.g. same-sex marriage, racial tensions, prosperity gospel), we must remember that previous generations of the church suffered greatly and significantly. A History of Christianity: An Introductory Survey provides a distinctly Christian perspective on church history. At just over 500 pages and 29 chapters, Joseph Early Jr. guides the reader from “Jesus and the World into Which He Was Born” (chapter 1) to “The New Christian World—Globalization in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries” (chapter 29).
Early remarks in his preface that he “hope[s] the readers of this book will be able to see the bright light of the gospel shining throughout the lives of heroic Christians no matter how dark the times may be” (xviii). An awareness of God’s sovereignty and the kingdom-building message of the gospel are present throughout to provide perspective on how to understand the grand narrative of history. Early writes accessibly for both lay audiences and students. Each chapter provides an overview of the individuals, events and movements of that particular period with brevity, simplicity and clarity. Considering the complexity of human history and the history of Christianity, this is no easy feat. Overall, Early has written a highly accessible work useful for a diverse audience.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
One of the challenges for pastoral ministry is that many lay people are ignorant of church history. It appears insignificant and irrelevant. Yet, if our opening quote is any indication, Christians should know their history, both the good and the bad. A History of Christianity can be a helpful resource for an adult Sunday school class, classroom textbook or even a refresher for the wearied pastor. It reads quickly and simply, providing enough information to understand the flow and movement of each time period and the related events. Condensing roughly 2000 years of history into just over 500 pages is an unenviable feat.
Early’s work does not get bogged down into any particular era or individual, but provides the broad and sweeping history from a Christian perspective. This will be edifying for students and adults as they study and understand how God has been at work in the world in and through individuals, councils, churches and even controversies. Throughout it all, God reveals that he is building his church in and through fallible human beings for his glory and for the growth and maturity of his bride, the church.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
A History of Christianity is a good overview of Christianity that will serve both students and lay adults without getting too detailed or lengthy.