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Church History in Plain Language

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,569 Ratings  ·  167 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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Bryan Paul Sullo
Nov 03, 2014 Bryan Paul Sullo rated it liked it
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
Mar 27, 2010 Carrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Benedict Tan
Apr 10, 2016 Benedict Tan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommended
Shelley notes that ‘surely one of the most remarkable aspects of Christianity today is how few of these professed believers have ever seriously studied the history of their religion.’ I definitely belong to this category, and I certainly regret not studying the history of Christianity earlier.

What Shelley sets out to do in this book is to chart the development of Christianity from Jesus till the modern age (my edition is published in 2008, so up to that point). He attempts to do so by telling st
May 12, 2014 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 13, 2015 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Aug 26, 2012 Rob rated it it was ok
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
Feb 02, 2015 Will rated it really liked it
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 it was amazing
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
Jan 25, 2015 Jeff Mcadams rated it it was amazing
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.
Stuart Woolf
Apr 02, 2016 Stuart Woolf rated it it was ok
I should have known better than to have read a book with the words "in Plain Language" in the title, because this book sucked.

Actually, in all fairness to me, it is not immediately obvious why this book sucks. The reviews on GR and Amazon were, on balance, pretty good. It suffices to say I did not reconsider these reviews given the book's content before downloading it to my kindle for the small, small price of $19.99.

Here's the problem: the historiography of Bruce Shelley is not that of a detach
Bendick Ong
Nov 19, 2014 Bendick Ong rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christianity
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
D Posey
Nov 19, 2015 D Posey rated it it was amazing
Clear, concise , and fascinating. Well worth the time.
Todd Luallen
Mar 04, 2016 Todd Luallen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't exactly excited about listening to 20+ hours of a history book, but the reviews of this book gave the impression that each chapter was a short story of sorts, with many biographical nuggets that really hit home. So I took the plunge, and I'm glad I did. The “in Plain Language” portion of the title really is accurate in my opinion. I never felt lost with the way in which history was being told in this book. And as a whole this book accomplished what I hoped it would. It gave me a really ...more
Mar 31, 2013 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 21, 2014 Kevin Riner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 12, 2015 David Smiley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 17, 2012 Melissa Travis rated it it was amazing
FANTASTIC survey of Church history! Reads like an epic novel. EVERY Christian should invest the time to read this!
Jan 24, 2016 Igor rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: noone
Shelves: couldnt-finish
I'm not against apologetics books.
I'm not against Church history books written unashamedly from the Christian POV.
I'm not even against shameless mixing of the two.
I like books written in plain language.

I like good books.

This one is not. Neither is in in plain language. This is a bad book, the language is above all boring to death. What the book lacks in style, it has in abundance in bad history and pitiful apologetics. I can't understand how anyone could have read it, even on assignment.
Becky Pliego
Apr 01, 2012 Becky Pliego rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Very good.
John Martindale
Apr 28, 2016 John Martindale rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A good while back, In a little bible school that I attended, I read a good deal of Church History in Plan Language. Though I enjoyed it, I did however think that despite of Shelley's use of "plain language" his writing wasn't always very fluid and occasionally, especially in the intro-mini-story that he included at the beginning of each chapter, Shelley could be down right confusing.

When I get opportunities to teach on parts of church history, I have used Shelley as a resource, but of course, I
Mar 22, 2016 Heather rated it liked it
This book on the history of Christianity was pretty good and gave me an overview of Christian history, which was very insightful, but there were several things that could have made it a better historical account. My main issues with the book are as follows:

1) Grammar - There were run-on sentences, lack of punctuation at times and especially a lack of use for the comma where it was really needed. The lack of the comma (to the point of trying to understand what a sentence is trying to say) was a b
Frank Peters
Mar 01, 2016 Frank Peters rated it it was ok
While this book pretends to be a book on Church History, this is really quite deceptive. It is actually a history of American Christianity that happens to refer to other countries only when their histories will impact on Christianity in the USA. As an academic living in Europe, this focus felt highly unbalanced and entirely inappropriate. Thus, if you live in the US, and believe that the US is the centre of the universe, then perhaps this book is for you. Otherwise, I would avoid it.

On the posi
Emily Schatz
Sep 15, 2015 Emily Schatz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 18, 2010 Natalie Wickham rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 11, 2011 Robert rated it liked it
Shelves: research
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
Oct 18, 2013 Jeremy Graves rated it really liked it
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
Feb 26, 2011 Adam T Calvert rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Jan 28, 2016 David rated it liked it
I think it best to describe this as a very orthodox history. There are conclusions drawn from events which the author presupposes the biblical truth, yet claims events to be the proof. Given others authors that I've read, I wonder if his description of the uniformity of the early church is accurate. The more interesting parts involve the various and sundry heresies which see to pop up, again and again, in some new guise. I do think the author does cover the development of Christian thought quite ...more
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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
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