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Summing up the history of the Christian church, which spans 2000 years, in a mere handful of pages is no easy task. Any history is necessarily selective -- even the most detailed of analyses of particular events or the most comprehensive of encyclopedic tomes will by design have to include only part of the story, and exclude a great deal.
Justo Gonzalez is a name well known in church history circles; there are few more qualified to make the kinds of selection judgements required for a brief overview of church history, and he does this fairly well. 'Church History: An Essential Guide' is part of a series of Essential Guides put out by Abingdon Press, the object of which is to give key topics and subjects a brief but complete outline for introduction, reference, and refresher uses. In fewer than 100 pages, Gonzalez provides a concise yet useful summary of church history.
The first chapter is a summary of the summaries -- in one page for each of nine sections, this is the most basic of outlines of church history. The subsequent nine chapters look at church history according to time period, as follows:
- The Ancient Church (the origins to 313)
- The Christian Empire (313-476)
- The Early Middle Ages (476 - 1054)
- The High Point of the Middle Ages (1054 - 1303)
- The Late Middle Ages (1303 -1453)
- Conquest and Reformation (1453 - 1600)
- The Seventeenth and Eighteen Centuries
- The Nineteenth Century
- The Twentieth Century and the End of Modernity
Several of the dates signify that serve as chapter division points are key turning points in church history -- 313 was the year of the Edict of Milan (which, ironically, though a major division point for the chapters, is never explicitly explained); 476 is commonly held to be the date of the fall of the western Roman Empire; 1054 is the year of formal division between East and West in Christendom, etc.
Each chapter discusses both theological and worship/liturgical practices. After the East/West split, the book is almost exclusively Western in subject material, only occasionally referencing developments in Eastern Orthodoxy (a trend fairly common in church histories generally, although Gonzalez does do a bit more of such referencing than many). Each chapter also has a listing of selected and suggested readings -- given the admitted lack of detail due to space requirements, Gonzalez states that this introduction is meant to inspire readers to seek further information (often from Gonzalez's own well written church histories).
There is no index in the book, which is a drawback for those who might want to use this book as a reference tool. However, the book is well-written and concise, so making notes for one's own use in the back pages would not be a bad idea.
This is a book designed largely for the busy person in mind -- the reading is simple without being simplistic; there are not too many names and terms to wade through, and the whole of the book could be read in but a few hours, making church history readily accessible to even the busiest of lay persons, and a refresher handily available for the busiest of clergy.
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on January 31, 2012
The concept of the book is great, and, from what I gather from other reviews, so is the content... unfortunatly an important element of the content is missing in the Kindle edition: verbs. Many of the sentences are missing key verbs (or nouns) making their meaning unclear. This edition also has other, less harmful, editing issues, such as words "withoutspaces" or missing punctuation.
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on January 26, 2008
This review was originally a comment left under Rev. Michael J. Quist's review, but I felt it necessary to include it as a review. (See also Louis A. Decaro Jr's helpful comment which I have included at the end of my review.)

First, I just wanted to say that for 95 pages, this little outline packs a punch. Anyone who has read more from the same author is appreciative of the scholarship and scope that goes into his work. As such, the author's ability to provide a framework on the annals of Christian development is extremely valuable in that he gives you the big picture first. Such an introduction to the subject is extremely helpful for those who have a hard time trying to process dates and learning names without first having an answer to the question "Why is this relevant?" Now, on to Rev. Quist's review.

Quist is alluding to some invisible, unexplained standard of what should "spark the imagination." As I see it, anyone who isn't using the book for the express purpose of "prepping" him or herself for further research in the first place is, perhaps, guilty of intellectual pretense, i.e., trying to gain a little knowledge with the vested interest of claiming to be an expert on Church History...because, after all, they just read chapter 6 titled "Conquest and Reformation" [which encompasses all of 10 pgs., including a suggested reading list and a lot of unused white space on page 76]--and now they can tell you (in a nutshell) what the Reformation was all about.

If one doesn't pick up where this small text leaves off, it isn't the author's fault; it's the reader's for failing to follow up what was the author's clarion clear intention--continuing Church Hist. research using the present text as "an essential guide." (The author states plainly on page 9: "Since this book is no more than an outline, it is suggested that you choose at least one of the surveys [suggested readings] and use it to amplify what is said here. Again, this book should not be used as a substitute for those fuller surveys, but rather as a guide to them.") And as for the claim that the text fails to whet the interest of the reader towards further study, the author of a text like this never has that responsibility; in fact, the author assumes this has been done already. Justo Gonzalez simply meets the interested student and guides him or her through the rudiments of what should be expected along the historical journey.

As such, I fully agree with the comment left by Louis A. Decaro Jr. under Rev. Quist's review--which I include now:

"With all due respect to Rev. Quist, to fault this book for supposedly failing 'to spark the imagination or to challenge the reader to do further research' is highly subjective and certainly unfair. This is more than a 'decent attempt' by an excellent scholar and prolific contributor to Christian academics and spirituality. Why would anyone presume that a guide and overview has the burden of sparking imagination and challenging readers to do further research, and who says this work fails in this regard anyway? This book does more than 'suffice' it serves us well and will not be excelled in any significant manner, only complemented by future efforts."

In my honest opinion, the comment is as warranted as it is well said.
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on May 16, 2012
Point: Christianity has led a long and varied past. Understanding the big picture of this past will help us to appreciate and critique our present.

Path: González gives the big picture through summaries and generalizations. The book begins with an overview which is used as the outline for the rest of the book.
He has divided the book into nine chapters: 1) Ancient Church 2) Christian Empire 3) Early Middle Ages 4) High Point of the Middle Ages 5) Late Middle Ages 6) Conquest and Reformation 7) 17th-18th Centuries 8) 19th Century 9) 20th Century and the End of Modernity.

Sources: An accomplished church historian, González bases his work on the studies and works he has written over the years.
He also includes a list of recommended reading after each chapter, very helpful if you are just beginning to get into church history.

Agreement: I appreciate this little book for what it attempts to do - give a broad overview. I believe there is benefit in seeing the big picture before, during, and after an in-depth study. For this reason I plan on reading this book again, even though I have read other books by González and am currently in Church History in Plain Language, 3rd Edition. I would also pass this book along to someone interested in church history but didn't know where to start.

You should not buy this book if you are looking for a definitive work on church history (even the possibility that something like this exists is ridiculous). Don't buy this if you hate generalizations.
One thing that I noticed was the amount of formatting and spelling errors in my kindle copy. I would expect Abingdon to do a better job. It was annoying, but did not force me to quit reading.

Personal App: The Church has baggage. Don't accept everything that has been historically believed. Study it out and compare it with Scripture.
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on January 15, 2012
The book misrepresents the beliefs of the Non-Chalcedonians (the Armenians, Copts, etc.) and the reasons for our rejection of the Council of Chalcedon. We are not Monophysites, and we believe in Christ's perfect and complete humanity. We rejected Chalcedon because of real concerns that it was allowing Nestorianism in through the back door, despite its condemnation of Nestorius. This is not a very scholarly work. Fr. V.C. Samuel's Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined has a much more thorough and scholarly review of what happened at Chalcedon: The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined
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on January 31, 2012
The free Kindle edition is very poorly edited. Sentences are missing nouns or verbs. Paragraphs are missing sentences. It is sometimes very difficult to guess what the author has written.

You get what you pay for here.
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on January 31, 2012
I was excited to pick this book up for free, but soon realized why it came at such a cheap price. I have no gripes about the substance of the text aside from the fact that I have to make up my own words where it is obvious words are missing. It's almost like a mad lib. I made it through the Overview and Chapter 1 before I had to call it quits. If you're distracted by missing words or easily annoyed do not buy the Kindle edition of this book.
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on February 11, 2012
Reading the previous reviews, I see that the missing editor is not the only problem but it is a huge one with the Kindle edition. I don't see how anyone could have the effrontery to actually present it for purchase. It reads like a poor first draft document. The book obviously never saw a proofreader much less an editor. I don't even believe the author himself gave it a second look. You can find hardly a paragraph without such bad grammar that you have to interpret instead of read. When I came back to this product page to post this review, I saw that the book is no longer offered to US customers. No on has offered to refund my purchase price however. The English Kindle edition is simply unreadable.
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on August 3, 2005
If you're truly interested in church history, this should not be the only church history book that you read. I don't even think it should be the first church history book you read. But I do think that the more church history you read, the more you will appreciate how the author has distilled the most important events and people in church history over the past 2000 years into a concise book.

This book is written by an author whose name I kept coming across as I've been purchasing and reading church history books over the past couple of years, and although I haven't read his two volume church history work, I was glad to see that he'd also written such a small, approachable book. Reading this book gave me a sense of what events and people are generally regarded as the most important ones to focus on, and it gave me a framework to understand all the details that I had come across in all the other books.

If you're looking to get a graduate degree in church history, this book will probably be useless to you. But if you're just a person of faith who needs some help sifting through the massive amount of history for a few key historical names and events, this book will give you good points of reference for further reading and study.

(By the way, if you're interested in church history details, there are a lot of resources online as well, such as:

[...]

but, like I said, this book will help give you a framework to understand all the details.)
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on September 12, 2005
This was a nice, brief (very brief) overview of the history of Christianity. It sparked an interest in history that I never thought I had before, and it laid the groundwork for the history courses that I will have to take at some point. I recommend it for those that don't know much about church history and wish to learn as well as for those that might be taking an intense course in church history.
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