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More Readings in Historical Theology

Jan 12, 2011

Since my last article on this topic drew a number of comments (I was expecting only one or two), maybe it is worth writing more on some important books in church history and historical theology. I realise that I will still only draw a tiny minority of my readers here, but for you few individuals, please enjoy.

If my first piece on this was weighed heavily in favour of historical theology, this one will weigh a bit more heavily in favour of church history. But of course the two often can and do overlap. With so much out there, this listing is again highly selective. But if coupled with my earlier article, it will provide a pretty good introduction to some of the better works in the field.

First, for some general works on history from a Christian perspective, see Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History (Scribner, 1949); John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity (IVP, 1964); Roy Swanstrom, History in the Making (IVP, 1978); and D.W. Bebbington, Patterns in History: A Christian View (IVP, 1979). The many works of Catholic historian Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) are also well worth reading.

For an overall view of the history of Christianity, one can do no better than draw upon the many works of Yale historian Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884 –1968). This prolific writer is always well worth reading, and there are plenty of volumes to choose from. Let me mention four of his key works.

First is his magisterial 7-volume work, A History of the Expansion of Christianity (1937-1945). Then there is his detailed 5-volume, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age, which covers developments in the 19th and 20th centuries (1958-1962).

Then there is his 2-volume A History of Christianity (1953) which is still in print. Finally, one should also get his 1-volume Christianity Through the Ages (1965). If you had only these four works – comprising 15 volumes – your understanding of Christian history would be first rate indeed.

(Tragic personal note: in my college days I had purchased the paperback editions of both his 7-volume and 5-volume works. Yet later, when I went to a missions group, thinking it would not be so intellectually inclined, I foolishly sold these two sets, a decision I have regretted ever since. These books are no longer in print, but hardback and paperback versions can still be found – with much effort – in second-hand book shops. If anyone is looking to offload their sets, please let me know!)

Another worthwhile series on church history is the Penguin [originally Pelican] History of the Church. The seven volumes are:

Chadwick, Henry, The Early Church (1967).
Southern, R.W., Western Society and Church in the Middle Ages (1970).
Chadwick, Owen, The Reformation (1964).
Cragg, Gerald, The Church in an Age of Reason 1648-1789 (1960).
Vidler, Alec, The Church in an Age of Revolution (1961).
Neill, Stephen, A History of Christian Missions (1964).
Chadwick, Owen, The Christian Church in the Cold War (1992).

Many other sets and multi-volume works can be mentioned. One quite helpful set is the 2 volume work by Roland Bainton, Christendom (Harper Torchbook, 1964, 1966). Also of use is the two-volume work by Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity (Harper & Row, 1984).

Plenty of one volume works can be noted. These include Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Thomas Nelson, 1982, 1995); and A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson (Atheneum, 1976). Key Christian thinkers and theologians are covered in Tony Lane’s A Concise History of Christian Thought (Baker, 2002, 2006).

For a brief study of key moments in the history of Christianity, see Mark Noll’s Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Baker, 1997, 2001). And for an historical overview of the nature of heresy, see Alister McGrath’s Heresy (HarperOne, 2009).

As to theology in the early and medieval periods of the church, two helpful volumes are Ronald Heine’s Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church (Baker, 2007); and Bradley Green, ed., Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy (IVP, 2010). The former volume is as much about biblical interpretation as it is patristics, while the second features eight scholars assessing eight key theologians, from Irenaeus to Aquinas.

Since I have not mentioned anything about Eastern orthodoxy, here are a few good volumes to begin with:

Benz, Ernst, The Eastern Orthodox Church. Aldine Publishing, 1963.
Clendenin. David, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective, 2nd ed. Baker, 2003.
Clendenin. David, ed., Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader, 2nd ed. Baker, 2003.
Lossky, Vladimir, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1997.
Lossky, Vladimir, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction. St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2001.
Meyendorff, John, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes. Fordham University Press, 1987.
Stamoolis, James, ed., Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism. Zondervan, 2004.
Ware, Kallistos, The Orthodox Way. St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1995.
Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church. Penguin, 1963.

Given that 2009 was the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth, let me mention an 8-volume series which covers just about everything you might like to know about the reformer and his work. The Calvin 500 Series issued these eight helpful volumes over the last few years:

Battles, Ford Lewis, ed., The Piety of John Calvin (P&R, 2009).
Hall, David, Calvin in the Public Square (P&R, 2009).
Hall, David, The Legacy of John Calvin (P&R, 2008).
Hall, David, ed., Preaching Like Calvin (P&R, 2010).
Hall, David, ed., Tributes to Calvin (P&R, 2010).
Hall, David and Matthew Burton, Calvin and Commerce (P&R, 2009).
Hall, David and Peter Lillback, eds., A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes. (P&R, 2008).
Hall, David and Marvin Padgett, eds., Calvin and Culture (P&R, 2010).

On John Wesley, his theology, and his impact, see Howard Snyder, The Radical Wesley (IVP, 1980); Ralph Waller, John Wesley: A Personal Portrait (SPCK, 2003); Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Zondervan, 1994); and Kenneth Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey (Abingdon, 2003).

On America’s Christian history there is much to choose from. Sydney Ahlstrom’s A Religious History of the American People (Yale University Press, 1972) is a terrific volume. Also of help is William Sweet, The Story of Religion in America (Baker, 1930, 1979); and William Hudson, Religion in America (Scribners, 1965, 1981).

For a spiritual and theological assessment of America’s first few centuries, see the very helpful set of three volumes by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. Back in 1977 they wrote The Light and the Glory (Revell). A revised and expanded edition of this book appeared in 2009. It covers the period of 1492-1793. A second volume by these authors appeared in 1986, and a third appeared in 1999, which were re-released in 2009. From Sea to Shining Sea covers the period of 1787-1837, while Sounding Forth the Trumpet examines 1837-1860. This trilogy (totalling 1550 pages), is a terrific set of books and well worth having.

On American evangelicalism, see D.G. Hart, ed., Reckoning with the Past (Baker, 1995); Mark Noll, et. al. eds., Eerdman’s Handbook to Christianity in America (Eerdmans, 1983); and Nathan Hatch, Mark Noll and John Woodbridge, The Gospel in America (Zondervan, 1979, 1982).

This again has been an all-too-brief and very skeletal offering. There would be many thousands of helpful volumes to choose from. But the books mentioned here, and in my previous article, will certainly provide you with a recommended reading list of some very fine works in church history and historical theology. So happy reading (and don’t break the bank in doing so).

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4 Responses to More Readings in Historical Theology

  • I think a litmus test for the objectivity of a Christian historian would be how he handles the Nazi era. How does he explain the fact that millions of German Christians raised their arms for anti-Christian, neo-pagan psychopaths like Hitler, Himmler and Heydrich? How could millions of Christians be persuaded by a weird minority to invade a dozen countries and bring back their citizens as slave labourers? How did Latourette handle that?
    John Snowden

  • If only I could get through a quarter of these. Always thankful for good reading tip offs. Cheers, Bill.
    Simon Kennedy

  • Thanks John

    I am not aware of any worthwhile Christian historian who:
    -seeks to ignore or whitewash this issue;
    -seeks to justify or defend this tragic reality;
    -writes about it without grief and remorse;
    -does not see it as a blot on Christian history.

    Having said that, it is also true that secularists like yourself do enjoy a bit historical revisionism by conveniently ignoring the powerful Christian minority movement which did resist Hitler. I refer to the Confessing Church, the Barmen Declaration, and heroes like Bonhoeffer and Niemoller, and so on.

    More could be said about all this, including the fact that most German ‘believers’ at the time were at best nominal Christians, not genuine disciples of Christ. But this post is about recommended reading in historical theology, and so it is not the place for yet another instance of you wishing to argue and push your secular agenda – which is why so many of your recent predictable – and tedious – comments are going straight into the bin.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi John,

    It’s true that many ‘Christians’ in Germany did remain silent or actively support the Nazi cause. This is, as Bill says, because most German ‘believers’ at the time were at best nominal Christians and not genuine disciples of Christ.

    But a very significant proportion of those who did actively oppose Hitler were true Christians; unlike the secular politicians, intellectuals and journalists, who all quickly capitulated to the Nazis, as Einstein himself makes clear:

    http://exlaodicea.wordpress.com/2008/01/30/einstein-the-nazis-and-the-catholic-church/

    Interestingly, history is repeating itself almost exactly today. Faced with the abortion holocaust, most of the visible ‘church’ are either doing nothing or actively supporting the death of babies. Just like in Germany, this shows the terrible spiritual state the ‘church’ has fallen into.

    However, of those who actively oppose baby killing and work to bring an end to this slaughter, 99% are Christian, with atheists and other ‘religions’ almost completely absent from the fight. This speaks volumes, to anyone who has eyes to see, about who really has the truth.

    Mansel Rogerson

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