Church History Volume 1: From Christ to Pre-Reformation
Merrick, James R A
Everett Ferguson. Church History Volume 1: From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.544 pp. $29.99.
Emeritus Professor of Bible at Abilene Christian University and renowned Patristic and NT background historian, Everett Ferguson authors the first installment of Zondervan’s two-volume Church History set. Beginning with a terse overview of the three cultures that set the stage for early Christianity-Jewish, Greek, and Roman-Ferguson moves through the historical and theological development of the church from Apostolic to Medieval times in twenty-four chapters. The terminus a quo is the advent of Jesus’ ministry; the terminus ad quern is the political weakening of the papacy under Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303). Here is a sweeping yet sensitive survey of the first thirteen centuries of the church.
The material is organized like snapshots which zoom in on different aspects of an era rather than along a rigid chronological sequence. So, for example, ch. 5 explores second century heresies (e.g., Gnosticism) while the following chapter outlines the strategies (e.g., apostolic succession) developed to counter those heresies. Ferguson’s presentation is simple and didactic, often codifying the subject matter into numbered points. Tables are used to highlight documents, events, or figures in terms of date and geographic location. Pictures of historical artifacts frequently appear throughout while key documents such as the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed are provided in full, giving the reader quick access to important data. Six maps aid geographic knowledge. The wide two-inch margins-great for annotation-occasionally contain notable statements drawn from theological works. Each chapter ends with suggestions for further reading which supplement the general bibliography. The seventeen page index is thorough and useful.
As the author works through topics such as the institutionalization of the church, he is not afraid to comment upon historiographical issues as they arise. When treating Gnosticism, for example, he rehearses three different interpretations of its relationship to Christianity. Moreover, Ferguson is aware of issues facing Christianity, occasionally departing from strict description in order to suggest contemporary relevance. His analysis of the formation of the biblical canon concludes: “[I]f contemporary Christians take the Scriptures, they must also take the church. But that does not mean they must accept the authority of the church per se” (p. 121).
Ferguson’s work fits more into the genre of a commentary on church history than a history of the church. Readers who enjoy narrative histories will prefer Bruce Shelley’s masterful Church History in Plain Language. Yet Ferguson’s text matches the quality of Justo González’s classic, The Story of Christianity. His carefully structured and thoughtful presentation combined with Tracey Walker’s excellent interior design of the book make it much easier to navigate than the somewhat scattered and visually burdensome Introduction to the History of Christianity edited by Tim Dowley.
Readable prose coupled with the basic discussion of material make this textbook highly accessible for beginners. The features noted above break the contents down into manageable portions, allowing an easy grasp of the key points and aiding exam preparation. As such, I commend it to teachers of both high school and undergraduate students for use in introductory church history courses as well as to adult education pastors who are looking for a less technical but still comprehensive text for lay classes on church history.
James R. A. Merrick
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Copyright Trinity International University Fall 2007
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