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Church History in Plain Language, 3rd Edition Paperback – December 2, 2008
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About the Author
Dr. Bruce Shelley was Senior Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Denver Theological Seminary. He held the M.Div. degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Among his previous publications are The Church: God's People; Evangelicalism in America; and The Cross and the Flame.
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Top customer reviews
As noted in other reviews, of course, this book has its faults. First of all, the author's tone toward the Roman Catholic church in general, but especially after the rise of popes in the late fifth century, is disapproving at best and hostile at worst (I say this as a life-long Protestant). However, this tone changes considerably once he reaches the post-WWII era and the Vatican II council, which he frames as the Catholic Church coming out of its Counter-reformation fortress. Secondly, the eastern churches are barely mentioned after the church council age. Russian Orthodoxy, for example, is mentioned in a passing paragraph, then ignored until the author describes the rise of communism in the 20th century. I would hope that, in a 4th edition of this book, Shelley would neutralize his tone toward the historical Catholic church, and add more information regarding the church in the East.
All in all, I am glad to have read this book. Even with its faults, I would recommend this book to someone who has not previously studied Christian history.
I was pretty surprised in his treatment of Christianity in Nazi Germany that he mentioned Karl Barth and Marin Niemoller - but not Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who is virtually a Saint to most Protestants and is venerated by more than a few Catholics, because of his leadership of the Confessing Church. Even for a quick cover of the topic, Bonhoeffer rated at least a mention. There are many good books about him that cover much Christian ground.
This book's value is in the fact that it's so easy to read and covers the basics of church history; the reader comes away with a solid understanding of Christian historical background.
There are 49 short chapters, covering seven "The Age of": Jesus and the Apostles, Catholic Christianity, the Christian Roman Empire, the Christian Middle Ages, the Reformation, Reason and Revival, Progress, and Ideologies. The book is a pinch over 500 pages.
Shelley believes that "clarity is the first law of learning" and so, instead of inundating the reader with dates, names, events, etc., he gets to the plot of the story rather than to every single detail. He writes in his prologue, "Taking this 'issues' approach admittedly leaves plenty of gaps in the story. Some readers will wonder why certain important people or events are not included. But this approach has the advantage of showing to the layperson the contemporary significance of church history. Many of today's issues are not unique. They have a link with the past." And this is where I think Shelley's genius comes out. The question everyone asks in a history course is, "What has this got to do with life NOW?" Shelley answers that. He writes in such a way that the reader immediately sees the connections between what has happened and what is happening. One purpose of the book is to show that church history is relevant and I think it does that very well.
I recommend the book as an introductory reader for other Church History students.