Some eight years ago now, Zondervan released the first installment of a two-volume church history set. The initial volume was written by Everett Ferguson, the author or editor of numerous works related to early church history. Ferguson is currently Professor of Church History Emeritus at Abilene Christian University.
In the preface to Church History (vol. 1), Ferguson defines church history as “the study of the history of God’s people in Christ, a theological claim, or, speaking more neutrally, of those who have wanted to be God’s people in Christ.” He then quickly notes, “It is a mixed people, and the story is a mixed story” (25). Ferguson sees people—God’s people—as the focus of church history, and pointedly remarks that “Those who profess to dislike history may as well profess to dislike people” (25).
Ferguson’s volume, as he admits in the preface, is focused more on Western church history than on the spread of Christianity in other places. And in this work, Ferguson discusses the history of God’s people from the time of Christ up through the reign of pope Boniface VIII (1294–1303).
In the second volume, just released this summer, John Woodbridge and Frank James pick up the story where Ferguson left off. They begin their book by describing the church’s struggle during the tumultuous years of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. The authors suggest a helpful aphorism to keep in mind as one reads about the history of the church: “God works through sinners to accomplish his good purposes” (29).
In contrast to Ferguson, Woodbridge and James attempt to write from a more global perspective. They recognize that the center of Christianity has shifted somewhat in recent decades, and so they want to give greater attention to the growth of Christianity in Africa, Latin America, and Asia among other places. In addition to a chapter on “Global Christianity” (ch. 18) the authors weave into other chapters relevant details about the progress of Christianity in Russia (ch. 1, 13, 17, and 20), other parts of Eastern Europe (ch. 8), and Asia and South America (ch. 17). The volume concludes with a forward-looking chapter on the relationship between Christianity and Islam.
Written in less of a narrative style than Justo González’s Story of Christianity and weighing in at more than 800 pp., this new volume by Woodbridge and James is not a quick read, but it is a very useful work and a welcome addition to the survey texts currently available.