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Church History in Plain Language

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  1,058 ratings  ·  112 reviews
It's about time that someone wrote church history that tells about people, not just about "eras" and "ages." Church History in Plain Language taps the roots of our Christian family tree. It combines authoritative research with a captivating style to bring our heritage home to us.
Paperback, Second Edition, 544 pages
Published May 7th 1996 by Thomas Nelson (first published February 1st 1982)
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Community Reviews

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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
Melissa Travis
FANTASTIC survey of Church history! Reads like an epic novel. EVERY Christian should invest the time to read this!
John
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...more
Carrie
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...more
Nicholas Bradley
Oct 12, 2007 Nicholas Bradley rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Becky
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.
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
Bill
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 through out. Shelley writes as a protestant evangelical, by I thought he made a fair effort to be objective. The 'plain language' feature was very frustrating -- I constantly found myself...more
Robert
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...more
Melinda
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...more
Rob
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...more
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...more
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
Will
If your only going to read one book on the subject, pick this one. Shelley writes with an ease and sensitivity rarely found in histories.
Heidi
i am currently reading and just want to say, "Bruce Shelley for President!!!"
lol. but i so appreciate the clarity and seeming accuracy with which he accounts church history...it's like he is handing you a weapon-i know that sounds funny, but i mean it in the sense of-a sword of truth-because of the clarity with which he recounts history and the focus of each chapter-it reads like a story-so enjoyable, really!...CS Lewis once said that you should read old books in between the new ones-and keep th...more
Jang David Kim
It is impossible for one book to cover the entire church history. However, if I had to pick one, I would recommend this book. It's easy and fun to read (remember, history can get a bit dry and the author can get off track in meaningless events), while hitting all the major significant events and persons of the church history.

I love Shelley's thoughtful reflections to the events, not just "this is what happened." And most of all, it gives you a healthy framework of the entire church history and...more
Trevor Parker
Feb 24, 2010 Trevor Parker rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Historians, and theologians, and all those wanting to learn.
Recommended to Trevor by: Brother John Peterson
This was a long read. Its subject matter is rather dense: the history of the Christian religion from the time of Christ until now (actually late 1990's). It was suggested to me by my LDS World and Christian History teacher. I can see why now.

The chapters are kept short so you can read one a sitting without hassle. Shelley manages to provide a constant onslaught of names, dates, locations, and significances while interweaving stories and keeping it entertaining. I especially enjoyed the look at t...more
Lana Ringgenberg
Used this one for a class, but I did read all of it.
Christen Nix
An easy read with tons of info. Love this book!
Nelvis
Apr 04, 2008 Nelvis rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Roman Catholics
Yes, written in very plain language - almost conversational. Seems to be culled from lectures. The narrative is often-times ciruclar and lacking cohesion.

A fair introduction to Church History, but hardly encompassing or bias-free. If you're a happy Roman Catholic, this will keep you happy -- example, the Inquisition and the Schism are discussed, but not delved into any great length.

I'd recommend this to an American Catholic who wants some Church History, but nothing that the Pope would dissapro...more
Sean Lynch
After having read this book, so much of what I learned in World History that seemed like disjoint events now make sense. I really feel like I have a much better grasp of not just the history of the Church, but also of how the events of the history of the Church interplay with World History. It also makes me understand much better some of the theological and emphasis differences of the Churches today.

I learned a tremendous amount by reading this book and highly recommend it!
Jacob
Tis is a really comprehensive book about the history of the Church. As the title states, it really is in 'plain language'; it's quite easy to read. It covers a lot of the main historical points of the Church, but it does lack some depth and doesn't cover everything, which is understandable. It gave me a good general understanding of the Church and piqued my interest in many different parts of church history. Would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in the subject.
Amandasaved
This was a concise book of church history. I thought it was great and I learned so much!
Paul
Almost 5 stars, because this was so much more readable that I thought it would be. Every Christian needs to know more about our history, it wasn't just Jesus then us — there's been 2000 years of believers before us. This book goes a long way at helping any Christian know a little more about their Christian ancestry.
Todd Miles
Good and readable church history. Each chapter stands alone, almost written as a consecutive series of anecdotes. This makes for an interesting read, but at times you lose the flow of the story and the interconnection between the events.
It is a good length for a college and seminary class, though it needs to be supplemented with primary source reading (of which there is virtually no reference or interactio in this book).
Terry Morgan
Great reference book. This is not a good casual read, but does give a ton of information on church history. Parts of this book are excellent, while some of it is wordy, and difficult to read. Some parts I would actually like them to include more information, to make it a better read. Overall I gave it a three because some of it deserved a two while other part deserve a four.
David
True to its title, this is a very readable history, and Shelley does a fair job of condensing 2000 years into 500 pages. He does a poor job of citation, though, and sometimes quotes whole paragraphs of descriptions from other sources without making his source clear. The coverage of the 20th century seemed a little disjointed, but as a whole, it was an enjoyable and enlightening history.
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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
More about Bruce L. Shelley...
Theology for Ordinary People: Over 300 Terms & Ideas Clearly & Concisely Defined What Baptists Believe All The Saints Adore Thee: Insight From Christian Classics Transformed by Love: The Vernon Grounds Story The Consumer Church: Can Evangelicals Win the World Without Losing Their Souls?

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“Reason, said Butler, provides no complete system of knowledge, and in ordinary life it can offer us only probabilities.” 0 likes
“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.” 0 likes
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