Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

17 May 2014

Learning about the Past: The Beginnings of a Reading List for Pastors, Future Pastors, and Curious Christians

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I recently had a student ask what books pastors and future pastors should read in order to become familiar with the church’s past. I’d like to answer that question by suggesting a short list of books over a couple of blog posts.

Gonzalez, Story of Christianity (vol. 1)The nature of church history is such that one should probably begin by reading at least one or two survey texts before moving on to narrower studies and primary sources. And that’s how I’ll begin this list.

One of the best single-author surveys of church history is Justo González’s Story of Christianity. Each volume of this 2-volume set is about 500 pages long, which in my view is long enough to survey the time period without becoming tedious. As the title suggests, González tells the story of the Church’s growth and development throughout history, and in my opinion he tells that story very well. Both volumes of the current edition of this work were published in 2010.


Ferguson, Church History (vol. 1)Another excellent and even more recent survey text is the 2-volume Church History published by Zondervan. The first volume of this work was written by Everett Ferguson and was first published in 2005. That volume was updated very slightly and then released as a new edition in 2013. The second volume of the set was co-authored by John Woodbridge and Frank James and was published for the first time in 2013 (see my earlier post). This multi-author set is a bit longer than the González volumes but obviously covers similar ground.* For a couple of years, I had students read the volume by Ferguson and then the second volume by González. For the upcoming fall semester I’ve switched to using both volumes by González, but this set by Ferguson, Woodbridge, and James is very good as well.

Both of these surveys of church history contain helpful maps, photographs, and charts. Both are well-outlined and well-indexed making it easy to find a particular person, place, or topic. And both include suggested reading lists throughout the text. If you are looking for a way to brush up on church history this summer, either set would be an excellent investment. And all four volumes are available in either print or Kindle editions.

*The volume by Ferguson is just over 500 pages long, while the volume by Woodbridge and James is up over 850 pages. Interestingly, Zondervan printed the second edition of the Ferguson volume on extra thick paper so it appears significantly longer than the first edition even though both editions are exactly 544 pages long. The use of thicker paper in the second edition of volume 1 also caused the two volumes published in 2013 to appear to be the same size despite the fact that volume 2 is more than 300 pages longer than volume 1.

1 Response

  1. Don Johnson

    I have Gonzales on the history of doctrine – title escapes me just now. As I recall, he comes from the left theologically (this doesn’t necessarily preclude using him). Does his theology affect his history in any way, and if yes, could you illustrate?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3