Best Books: Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce Shelley

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Our “best books” series spotlights essential reading for Christian leaders. This week’s pick is Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce Shelley.

Church history, when rightly understood, is the exciting study of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work through the church of Jesus Christ. The characters, controversies, and complexities beat any Hollywood blockbuster film and help explain the Christian teams and traditions we have today.

But it’s tough to find books on church history that are not too scholarly and technical for the average person to access and enjoy them. This is why Dr. Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language is such a gift. Yes, it’s a long book. But it’s not an overly complicated, technical, or boring book. It reads more like a novel than a typical history text.

In my experience, historians tend to emphasize one of three things: leaders, ideas, or events. In this book, Shelley includes them all.

It’s tough to find books on church history that are not too scholarly and technical for the average person to access and enjoy them.

Also, books on church history often reflect the tradition of the author, so that it is less a telling of church history and more a telling of church history from the perspective of the tradition of the author. When it comes to church history, everyone has their own opinion on certain people, ideas, and events. But Shelley is to be commended for providing a broadly evangelical perspective that does not have any overt tribal bias.

As a pastor, I’m always looking for good books I can give to typical people. Over the years, this is the book I have purchased the most copies of and given away to the people I love and pastor. This includes some high school students who were able to read the book without getting lost or overwhelmed. Over and over people have read it and told me how much they enjoyed it.