Book Review: Church History: Volume Two – From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day

pBoHcdiFirstly, a huge thanks to Zondervan’s Koinonia Blog for giving away such a fine book. Church History: Volume Two, by John Woodbridge and Frank James III, isn’t the first book on Church history I have encountered, nor is it the largest. I think that award probably goes to one of Everett Ferguson’s massive tomes. Regardless, at first glance, Woodbridge and James’ work is quite overwhelming, coming in at an impressive 800 pages, and to be honest, I fully expected this volume to be quite tiresome to read. Fortunately for you, (and me,) that wasn’t the case.

Though academic in nature, Church History: Volume Two is unlike traditional textbooks, whose pages are full of glossy, partially relevant pictures intended to capture the reader’s attention, (especially when the call of Angry Birds can be answered with just a few innocent clicks). The visuals are sparse but relevant, and the content in these 800 pages spans the past 700 years of Church history.

The authors systematically address topics from the 1300’s to issues related to modern Christianity, but this book does have its limitations. Its size and scope allows the reader to engage a massive number of events, making it a fantastic resource for quickly understanding your selected time or topic. However those topics are not handled comprehensively, but are instead abbreviated overviews. That’s not an altogether bad thing. It is perfect first stop for any academic or layman who needs to reference the history of Christianity, be it for a research paper or a Sunday school lesson. So if you’re looking for a massive amount of detail on a specific topic, (such as Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries – an equally massive book whose focus is, you guessed it, baptism,) I would suggest you use this volume as a springboard into more detailed resources.

My only actual criticism on this book is in how the authors choose to close the book in a chapter entitled Christianity and Islam: The Challenge of the Future. In an otherwise well-balanced, seemingly bias-free history book, this chapter is the only scar I could discern. I believe the issue of Christianity vs. Islam is overstated, dramatized, and unnecessary, and the approach of which is a key example of why the post-evangelical evangelicals, the final topic of the previous chapter, exist.

That being said, the good definitely outweighs the bad. It remains an outstanding resource (I wish I had while in school,) and I would not hesitate to recommend this volume to anyone. Now I just need to seek out volume one.

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