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Church History in Plain Language, 3rd Edition Paperback – December 2, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 139 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson; 3rd edition (December 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0718025539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0718025533
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read most of the older reviews on here before purchasing this book. Overall, it was a good read. It gave a good overview of the history of Christianity, from Christ's life to the turn of the 21st century. Shelley covers Christianity's rise and spread systematically, covering challenges to the church and the church's response in all different ages, from Gnosticism to post-modernism. He also ties the history of the church to the history of the parts of the world the church is found in; as a result, I ended up with a better understanding of 'secular' history, as I read how the church interacted with governments and important people to influence world history. One of the nice features of this book is that, at the end of each chapter, there are recommendations of books to read for further study on that chapter's topics.

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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this book for a class. I expected the class to be a very long list of dates and names and... very boring. This book helped make the class very enjoyable. Needless to say, this book is NOT a very long and boring list of whatever. I don't feel like the book made me any type of Church History scholar, but that isn't its intent. It's a great introduction, very enjoyable and readable.

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.
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Very readable - once I got started, this book kept me reading. Fascinating history of the church. I found out why there are Sunni and Shiite muslims, why the crusade happened, why the Inquisition was carried out. In perspective, these events made more sense. I like this book very much. Interesting and not boring at all.
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Format: Paperback
Church History in Plain Language provides one really, really amazing thing: perspective.

In the midst of this "movement" and that "movement" in the church and in the world today, it was refreshing for my soul to grasp the reality of Jesus' kingdom throughout the past two thousand years.

I recommend this for every Christian (really) because we must know the Story that we've entered into as the people of God.
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I purchased this book for a church study. It really is church history in plain language. It reads easily. Everything is explained well; you don't need to be a theologian to understand all the concepts presented.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book talks about the history of the Christian Church from the time of Christ until the present: The councils, the contracts, the proclamations, the movements and variations on doctrine, etc. It is overwhelmingly filled with facts and dates, as one would expect,however It is very informational, enjoyable and easy reading (with a little humor injected here and there.) I have learned more about the background and tenets of my faith from this book than in my 35 years as a Christian!
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This gives a pretty good survey of church history. I agree with other reviewers about the anti-Roman Catholic bias but he doesn't give the reformers any free passes either. I'm grateful for the references at the end of each chapter so that the reader can go more deeply into events that he can only cover broadly in an overview of this kind.

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.
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