Reading church history can be a daunting task.
Before you even get down to the reading there are a number of things to consider. For instance: Where do you start? A time-honored classic or something newly published? What length is adequate to get a grasp on 2,000 years? Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church is eight volumes. Talk about commitment! Then there are style questions. Dry and detailed or simple and sweeping? Academic or accessible? What type of history of the church gets you the most bang for your buck? Jaroslav Pelikan wrote a history of Christian doctrine, which amounts to a dense, dogmatic church history. David Bosch wrote a history of Christian missionary understanding and action, which amounts to a dynamic, fast-paced church history. Roger Olson wrote of the story (differentiated from history) of Christian theology, which amounts to an inviting, user-friendly church history. Of course there is the classic Miller’s Church History that traces the silver line of God’s grace and tracks along a prophetic interpretation of the Epistles to the seven churches in Revelation.
All these considerations can hamper the best intentions with the paralysis of analysis.
Thankfully there are some panoramic summaries out there that can at least give you some sense of the saga of church history.
Below is one such summary in less than 200 words:
For centuries Christians formed a small community, for centuries afterwards a large-scale organization; for centuries they were a minority, then became a majority for long ages; the persecuted became the powerful and even quite often the persecutors. Centuries of an underground Church were followed by those of a state Church; centuries of martyrs from the time of Nero by those of court bishops form the time of Constantine. There were ages of monks and scholars and– often intertwined– those of ecclesiastical politicians; centuries of the conversion of the barbarians and the rise of Europe were succeeded by centuries of the Holy Roman Empire, newly founded and again ruined by Christian emperors and popes; there were centuries of papal synods and centuries of councils aimed at reforming the papacy. After the golden age of both Christian humanists and secularized Renaissance men came the ecclesiastical revolution of the Reformers; then came the centuries of Catholic or Protestant orthodoxy and again of evangelical awakening. In sum: there were times of adaptation and times of resistance, dark ages and the Age of Enlightenment, centuries of innovation and centuries of restoration, periods of despair and periods of hope.
–Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, p. 122
What book on church history would you recommend?