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Church History in Plain Language

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  1,363 ratings  ·  141 reviews

With more than 275,000 copies sold, this is the story of the Church for today's readers.

This third edition improves the most engaging and readable single-volume history of the Church by bringing the story into the twenty-first century. Faced with some astonishing changes in the Islamic world, a global resurgence of Roman Catholicism, the decline of Christianity in the West

ebook, Third Edition, 544 pages
Published May 7th 1996 by Thomas Nelson Publishers (first published February 1st 1982)
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Bryan Paul Sullo
I'll begin by saying that this is probably one of the most easily readable church history books available. The writing style is straightforward and non-academic. The chapter lengths are perfect for daily reading. For a survey of the last 2000 years, Shelley manages to put in a lot of detail without getting bogged down in it. There's a lot to like about this book.

There are a few things to dislike about this book though. First, it should be called Western Church History with a Calvinist Bias. Ther
Elizabeth (Liz)
This semester (Summer 2009) was the first time since becoming a Christian that I'd studied church history. I really appreciated this book as a part of a class, to be read alongside other books. I think Shelley did an admirable job of reaching his goal - to convey church history "in plain language" - but the topic is so incredibly complex & storied that it's virtually impossible to tell the whole story in one volume. At times, this led to a feeling of things being glossed over or ignored, but ...more
For a number of years, I've wanted to fill in my lack of knowledge of the history of the church of Christ between the book of Acts and now. Hence, my purchase of this book. The "in plain language" part also was important to me.
Professor Shelley succeeds both in telling the story of Christian church history and doing so in plain language. It is such a massive topic that even in 500-plus pages he has to go over things very quickly. All sorts of fascinating characters step in and out of the narrati
Two-thirds finished!!! LOVE HISTORY! Just as they say, studying another language improves understanding of your native language....that is what this book has done/is doing for me--religiously!

FINISHED!! What a book. I loved it! The chapters I particulary enjoyed were those about the 18th-21st century. I am crazy-wanting to read a kazillion books now. I feel like this book does an excellent job of outlining Christian history, gives a few juicy details, and then moves on...just enough to make me l
A helpful introduction to Church History. Fairly comprehensive (for a survey) and quite readable -- each chapter is only about 10 pages. Having said that, 600 pages (with no footnotes taking up space) is a lengthy read! Helpfully attempts to draw out the significance of historical events for modern day readers throughout. Shelley writes as a protestant evangelical, but I thought he made a fair effort to be objective. The 'plain language' feature was frustrating -- I constantly found myself check ...more
This book is an approachable introduction to the history of the Christian church. Those seeking a basic understanding of church history (or a quick review of it) will probably be satisfied with what they find in it. The end of each chapter lists recommendations for further reading; and a list of popes and several indexes in the back of the book make this a ready reference book. It could be good for church small group study.

However, the book lacks two things for the academic reader. First, it lac
This book was really good. I was a history minor in college and have read through a few history books. This book takes the historical approach seriously. He does a good job at hitting the high notes and making you feel like a part of the story. My one complaint with the book is not really the authors fault, its the nature of history. So, many of the themes are overlapping by centuries and half-centuries that you can get side tracked on where he is at on the timeline while on a particular point. ...more
Nicholas Bradley
Oct 12, 2007 Nicholas Bradley rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in knowing Church history from Jesus until present day
This book helps you to palm church history and teach you about groups of people that are simply not remembered in every day life. It goes into where certain traditions and doctrines came from and how we as the Ecclesia all fit into this crazy world. It talks about doctrine to a fair degree and explores greatly where a lot of these doctrines came from. It is VERY understandable and is organized in such a way that you can either read straight through like a timeline (although it is a little jumpy) ...more
Jeff Mcadams
Fantastic! I finished this book with a sense of awe at the work of God, the Architect and Builder of the Church. I also gained a more gracious and inclusive perspective of my fellow Christians in sundry traditions and denominations here and abroad.
Bendick Ong
Being a new student in modern church history, this book is exactly the one i am looking for. Written in simple and clear language, the 520 pages of contents are informative and yet filled with interesting anecdotes and enticing appetizers while keeping the readers on track in a chronological account of events.

The whole book is divided into eight parts, beginning with the ministry of Jesus and ending with the rise of the mega-churches and the challenges that come with globalisation, both much-dis
Great start to find out the history of Christianity.

I enjoyed it very much, but I'm disappointed there isn't more about U.S. (Mormons, Christian Science, Scientology). Also when it did get to the late 20th century, I thought he lost his steam.

But, it made me feel I've got at least a good basic understanding to start learning more.
Kevin Riner
Great book for folks who want to know church history but don't want to wade through history heavy books. This was my textbook in college for Church History so it's worth the read.
David Smiley
Fantastic read for any lay person or undergraduate course. It is written like a novel and was an easy read. For a more indepth, technical book go read Justo Gonzalez.
Melissa Travis
FANTASTIC survey of Church history! Reads like an epic novel. EVERY Christian should invest the time to read this!
Emily Schatz
I'm always hesitant to review nonfiction works whose authors are clearly far more studied than I am because my praises are probably inadequate and my criticisms are likely to be uneducated. That said, here are my impressions.

Shelley does an impressive job of capturing the main currents in church history without either getting sucked into tangential situational details or failing to address important historical context. In particular, I liked how much he focuses on stories and biographical anecdo
Natalie Wickham
A fabulous read, this 500+ page tome gives the reader a survey of Christianity through the ages. I have long been a fan of church history and found this work to be replete with interesting stories and well-researched information. Vapid writing, regardless of the subject matter, is distasteful to me, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading the colorful storytelling of Mr. Shelley on a topic that is often relegated solely to the required coursework of seminary students. Each chapter is brimming with glimp ...more
It's always an interesting experience, reading a book with which one frequently, fervently disagrees. Dr. Shelley is most definitely a true believer, and he does get in his shots from time to time. To see Jerry Falwell or Ralph Reed striding heroically through the latter pages of this book, it makes my blood boil a little. Nonetheless, the book succeeds where I wanted it to succeed: in presenting a succinct, well laid-out history of the various Christian churches over the past couple thousand ye ...more
Jeremy Graves
Shelley's work lives up to its title. He presents the History of the Church in clear, straightforward language. He is able to condense challenging theological concepts into fairly easy-to-understand format. Although I expected the work to come down strongly on the side of protestant, evangelical orthodoxy, Shelley in fact maintains an objective tone throughout. He examines both the strengths and weaknesses of the various theological positions, movements, and denominations he explores, without pa ...more
Adam T Calvert
To cover 2,000 years of history in one volume is quite a feat - especially a history so turbulent as that of the church's. Yet Dr. Bruce Shelley does it well in this volume.

It reads more like a novel than it does a church history textbook, which is quite remarkable. While you're learning about the history of Christ's bride, you find yourself truly engaged in a real-life story, wanting to be a part of it. By the end of the book you find that you are a part of this history and that it's not over y
I am in a "learn about Christian church history" mode these days. I will be the first to confess also that I am not educated in this area and unfortunately have been brought up in a Christian tradition that does not emphasize much church history unless it is local, American, or protestant. Thus I am reading several books that all have to do with church history, each from a slightly different Christian tradition.

"Church History in Plain Language" is written from a western evangelical Protestant C
Nate Patrick
Overall enjoyed reading the book for the information I gained, but felt like it stumbled about in places. I would be curious to learn more about the non-populous side of the church history, say the underground churches and movements that have occurred throughout history. Reading this book about the mainstream church events (mostly) leaves one wondering how the Gospel has survived the pass of time.
John Kaess
This is the most readable of all the church history books i've examined. It is thorough and often gives unique insights. It is a relatively easy read as history books go and the accounts will hold your interest. I would recommend this book as a great starting place for a layman wanting to study church history and it has enough depth to still be of value for those conversant in church history.
Jon Young
I highly recommend that all Christian laymen or laywomen read this book. We live in the Information Age, where unverifiable information is being heaped on us from all sides via the Internet, particularly social media. This well-researched, practical book helped me to have a further sense of being centered in my Christian Faith. This book explains all the church movements that we see today and in history: where they came from and where they are going. This book can deal a heavy blow to ignorance ...more
This being my first venture into church history, I'll probably be quite generous with my review. I have no other accounts with which to compare this one to, to know what it may have glossed over or misconstrued.

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It took a bit to get into it, and the format in which Shelley wrote the book took some getting used to, as it isn't chronological but rather a way in which history as a whole makes more coherent sense.

My only real complaint about this book
Joshua Postema
This is a must-read for Christians. It avoids being technical and instead focuses on describing the eras and events of church history clearly and vividly. This is helpful, as the author himself states:

"In our day ... when mass media make the world our neighborhood, the ignorance of Christians is hard to justify."

With a book as accessible and packed with information as this, it seems even harder to justify. So go out and get a copy!

"Truly, [Jesus] is a man for all time. In a day when many regard
Rob Sumrall
I love me some church history! I try to constantly have at least one history book going in my repertoire. In preparation for teaching a church history class at my church, I picked up Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language.

I think parts of this book were very helpful. Shelley helps the novice reader to get the 30,000 foot view of what was happening in different epochs. He covers all of the major players - from Anselm to Augustine to American revivals. This work even goes into what is h
Gary Bourque
Shelley makes church history lively and entertaining. Very readable. This would be my recommendation for any person seeking an accessible and colorful history of Christianity.
Matt Butler
Was the textbook for History of the Christian Faith and it is so well written that it I can't imagine a better book for anyone to read and use to find out more about Church History.
Timothy Bandi
Great. I read the Reformation part of this book beforehand as I took Church History II first.Now it all seems to fit together nicely.(like a prequel) lol
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Dr. Bruce Shelley is the senior professor of church history and historical theology at Denver Seminary. He joined the faculty in 1957.

He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and received a theological degree from Fuller Seminary. He also attended Columbia Bible College.

Dr. Shelley has written or edited over twenty books, including Church History in Plain Language, All the Saints Adore Thee
More about Bruce L. Shelley...
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“In a sense the rise of Anabaptism was no surprise. Most revolutionary movements produce a wing of radicals who feel called of God to reform the reformation. And that is what Anabaptism was, a voice calling the moderate reformers to strike even more deeply at the foundations of the old order. Like most counterculture movements, the Anabaptists lacked cohesiveness. No single body of doctrine and no unifying organization prevailed among them. Even the name Anabaptist was pinned on them by their enemies. It meant rebaptizer and was intended to associate the radicals with heretics in the early church and subject them to severe persecution. The move succeeded famously. Actually, the Anabaptists rejected all thoughts of rebaptism because they never considered the ceremonial sprinkling they received in infancy as valid baptism. They much preferred Baptists as a designation. To most of them, however, the fundamental issue was not baptism. It was the nature of the church and its relation to civil governments. They had come to their convictions like most other Protestants: through Scripture. Luther had taught that common people have a right to search the Bible for themselves. It had been his guide to salvation; why not theirs? As a result, little groups of Anabaptist believers gathered about their Bibles. They discovered a different world in the pages of the New Testament. They found no state-church alliance, no Christendom. Instead they discovered that the apostolic churches were companies of committed believers, communities of men and women who had freely and personally chosen to follow Jesus. And for the sixteenth century, that was a revolutionary idea. In spite of Luther’s stress on personal religion, Lutheran churches were established churches. They retained an ordained clergy who considered the whole population of a given territory members of their church. The churches looked to the state for salary and support. Official Protestantism seemed to differ little from official Catholicism. Anabaptists wanted to change all that. Their goal was the “restitution” of apostolic Christianity, a return to churches of true believers. In the early church, they said, men and women who had experienced personal spiritual regeneration were the only fit subjects for baptism. The apostolic churches knew nothing of the practice of baptizing infants. That tradition was simply a convenient device for perpetuating Christendom: nominal but spiritually impotent Christian society. The true church, the radicals insisted, is always a community of saints, dedicated disciples in a wicked world. Like the missionary monks of the Middle Ages, the Anabaptists wanted to shape society by their example of radical discipleship—if necessary, even by death. They steadfastly refused to be a part of worldly power including bearing arms, holding political office, and taking oaths. In the sixteenth century this independence from social and civic society was seen as inflammatory, revolutionary, or even treasonous.” 1 likes
“Reason, said Butler, provides no complete system of knowledge, and in ordinary life it can offer us only probabilities.” 0 likes
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