Church history is the story of God’s providential workings in the church. And it is a sad fact that most Christians today know little of it. This is made worse because church history is exciting. The history of Christ’s church includes great people, great events, and great stories.
Teaching Church History
Church history should certainly be taught in the church, from the pulpit and in Sunday school or small groups. It should also be taught in schools. However, church history really should not have to be taught as a separate course. If Western civilization courses are taught properly, church history should be sufficiently covered. Yet somehow the majority of history courses in schools today manage to ignore or at least skimp on the church. They conveniently leave out important information on ancient Israel, the early church, Christendom, and the Reformation.
This really should not happen. Church history is central to the study of history. You would not have Europe, America, and Western civilization without Christianity. But our modern educational system has become so bent on secularism that it is willing to leave students woefully ignorant of history just so they do not have to mention Jesus, the Bible, and theological debates. Americans are thus left knowing little about history in general.
The good news is that you can still learn church history, regardless of how lousy your high school or college education was. You can also teach it to your kids. There is a lot to study on the subject, and you can further delve into specific topics or persons at your pleasure. A great way to do this is by reading a good biography. But for now let me recommend the best introductory resources that overview the history of the church.
Church History for Children
It is good to introduce children to church history. A short book for young kids (K–3) is The Church History ABCs by Stephen Nichols. For older children, consider the five-volume History Lives series. It is aimed at 4th through 9th graders, but the stories can be read to children even younger than that. The History Lives series can be purchased as a box set or individually.
Video & Audio Resources
I am a huge proponent of video education. And here I will recommend the church history video series from Ligonier Ministries. This is a six-part series (12 lectures each) taught by Dr. Robert Godfrey. The entire series covers from 100 A.D. to the modern day. You can download the video & audio for around $20 for each set in the series. Some of the videos can be sampled for free, and Ligonier occasionally posts some for free on the main page. You can also subscribe to all of Ligonier’s videos for $9 per month. This series is aimed at adults but could also be used for high school education.
Godfrey’s series is a brief survey. However, if you want a more in-depth study, check out the free audio lecture series by Dr. Donald Fortson from Reformed Theological Seminary on iTunes. These are not videos. However, if you plan on listening to them in your car, this is a good option.
The Best Books on Church History
Whether you listen to courses or not, you will still want to read some books on church history. The best introduction to church history is Justo Gonzalez’s two-volume series, The Story of Christianity. These books are well organized and comprehensive, and they are enjoyable to read. The only caveat is that Gonzalez occasionally makes feminist remarks that will irritate conservatives. But you have to just deal with this when reading history. Gonzalez’s series is often used at the seminary level, but these books can still be used by high school or college students.
I realize that the Gonzalez's books may be too long for some. So if you are looking for a one-volume work, I recommend Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language. Though not as organized or comprehensive as Gonzalez, this is still an excellent read.
Other Great Books
Here are a few other short books that are great for high school classes, individual study, or church study groups.
Turning Points by Mark Noll. This book focuses on several key events throughout church history. While not a comprehensive history, this is still an excellent resource.
The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves. This is a great short book on the Protestant Reformation. You will certainly enjoy it.
Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin Holcomb. This is a nice short introductory work on important creeds and councils of the church. Great for high schoolers or church groups.
Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb. This short book looks at heretical teachings as well as the orthodox consensus of the church. Both of Holcomb’s books will familiarize the reader with important events, persons, and beliefs within Christianity.
There are numerous other works on church history that could be listed. But this list should do for now. You will not regret your study of the history of the church! It will help you better understand theology, and it will provide you with the heroes in the faith that we so desperately need.