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Church History in Plain Language

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  3,434 ratings  ·  359 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. ...more
Paperback, Second Edition, 520 pages
Published May 7th 1996 by Thomas Nelson (first published February 1st 1982)
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Mike Day You can purchase an audio version. I have both, a print and audio version. This book is worth marking and highlighting and reading more than once!

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Average rating 4.12  · 
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Oct 15, 2014 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
Dec 31, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zero-stars, 2018
Yes, I did learn some stuff. However, this book is not objective at all. The authors assert their opinions and biases when describing historical events and critiquing people and people groups of the past. For example: the author unnecessarily criticizes the theology of a man from the 3rd century using a quote from a modern day theologian...this was written to a very specific audience with a very specific theology and assumes that not only does every reader have this same brand of Christianity
Jan 05, 2010 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
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: church, history
Although long, this book is broken into short chapters and is written in a style that makes it easy to read. It gives an overview of Church history from Christ to the current age discussing major themes, events, people, etc. It was kind of like drinking from a fire hose, but it was helpful. I'm slowly building on my church history context and this book was a great aid to that.

It's fairly neutral (although it assumes that the reader will be at least sympathetic to the Church; in the end it talks
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bruce left our world too early, but left us this wonderful, albeit brief tomb of church history. Evangelical in its approach, yet not ignorant of the fact that the Catholic church has made contributions to the overall invisible church, as well as others within Christendom (Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Coptic, etc.). Not overly detailed, but whets the appetite just enough to give you a solid basis to explore a particular something in a time period interests you, all the while peppering in ...more
Jake Welchans
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best church history material I've come across. Well organized, informative, detailed, and written in a way that won't put you to sleep. Love this books. Highly reccomend. ...more
David Bigg
Feb 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really good brief summary of the history of the church. Enjoyed reading this book a lot.
Lindsay Bowley
Outside of the Bible, I have not read another book that better helped me understand my faith. It is a frustrating time in the church right now, yet what we are experiencing is not new. I’ve never learned the context behind the denomination I am in versus all of the other denominations throughout history. I now know that my faith in this time period is not a blip on the church timeline but is instead part of a long story of a blemished body of believers constantly being wooed back to truth throug ...more
Robert McDonald
Dec 30, 2020 rated it liked it
I love the goal of this book: to increase the normal non-academic Christian’s historical literacy. The prose is natural and works well read or listened to. I fault it for its Eurocentricity, which was most obvious by my judgement into the 19th and 20th Centuries. The black American church was not given enough consideration, other events in America (culture wars, court cases etc) seem inconsequential in comparison. The global church was considered sporadically and usually as an afterthought.
Esther Nevener
I love this book! It has really shaped my faith in ways I didn’t even know were possible. The panoramic view of the church throughout history has given me so much perspective. I would highly recommend this to all millennial believers.
Brent Pinkall
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A good introduction to church history. Very readable. Although it's quite long, it doesn't go into great depth about any of the events it discusses. But neither does it sweep past them so quickly that they are no longer memorable. Shelley exercises constraint in choosing to discuss a smaller number of events in more detail than to discuss a larger number of events in less detail. I think this is the right approach. My only real complaint comes with the final few chapters where Shelley talks abou ...more
Jun 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first 75% of this book was great! It started to feel much more disjointed and incoherent the later into the history of the church he went. Didn't read the last few chapters because I felt I wasn't really learning anything after a certain point.

I would definitely recommend if you're looking to learn more about church history through the 1700s or so. Especially enjoyed the sections on the early and medieval church.
Apr 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Long complicated history of Christians persecuting each other, mostly
May 20, 2009 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
Mar 17, 2014 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
Simo Ibourki
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, christianity
The book is a good introduction to Christian history (inside and outside of the church). It's easy to read and a little bit long but that's okay because Christianity has a long history.

The author wrote the book from the christian POV. He said it in the beginning that the book is destined to the average christian who is ignorant of the history of Christianity. So while reading the book , I felt that Mr Shelley was on the defensive (read apolegitic), espeacially when he talks about "heritics", the
Nicholas Bradley
Oct 12, 2007 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
Nov 30, 2016 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: noone
Shelves: abandoned
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.
Jeff Mcadams
Jan 12, 2015 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.
Brian Eshleman
A good overview that hits the Big Questions of Christian history in an approachable way. Each chapter's suggestions for further reading also intrigue me. ...more
Donald Owens II
Mar 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I am a fan of plain language. So let me say this plainly. I would not recommend this book as an introduction to church history. A useful quick read for someone already familiar with church history, but not a reliable source. Not just because of the lackluster prose, or the factual errors other reviewers have catalogued, but because of his unadmitted bias.

In discussing the rise of the papacy (ch. 14), the author says, “Our primary concern, however, is neither the vindication nor the refutation o
Chris Campbell
Mar 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
An impressive condensation of 2000 years of history into 520 pages (just about 4 years per page when you think about it), Shelley and Hatchett do an admirable job of making the great advances of Christian thought easy to understand. This is clearest when writing about the early church councils and the Reformers, with theological conflicts carefully explained, and some clever supplemental material with genuinely helpful tables and charts. Shelley is never shy about his perspective, and any evange ...more
Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, christian
Bruce Shelly does a fantastic job at objectively outlining in broad strokes the historical landscape of the Christian church. He takes his readers from the days of the disciples walking with Jesus through the early Catholic Church, the crusades, the Reformation, the expansion of various veins of Protestantism and up through to the modern day.

Bruce tells the good, the bad, and the reality of where the church has been, as well as the challenges it faces on the horizon.

This book challenged me to
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's not possible to write a one-volume history of the church. Shelley, however, does a commendable job of selecting persons, times, and places for focus, without losing the sense of development and growth that is the history of the church. Obviously directed at a primarily American audience, this is a good way to get someone started on a perusal of the church's history. The chapters are brief enough that someone could read a chapter a day and still finish in less than two months with a decent k ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I feel like I was whirled though the history of the world while reading this fascinating book on how churches and their relationship with God, and especially Jesus, evolved. I admit to skimming some parts, and also to reading some parts aloud to my husband. :) The main takeaways for me: It is an immense privilege to be able to own and read scripture. Power corrupts. There have been so many groups and methods by which Christ has been preached...but the turning point really was the doctrine (again ...more
Liz Baker
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I would never have read or finished this behemoth apart from it being required reading for a class, but it’s a book I’m glad to have read. It walks through all 20 centuries of worldwide church history—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I felt the full spectrum of emotions as I read—amazed, horrified, thankful, sad. There are things over which we can rejoice and many that we are right to mourn.

One takeaway out of many....The age we live in is truly amazing...the idea of the separation of church an
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity
The title really is pretty accurate! Having come, lost and confused, off of reading Chadwick's History of the Early Church, this was a breath of fresh air!

This book managed to give a pretty good overview of the history of the (primarily Western) church in very clear, understandable language. When new people and ideas were introduced, they were actually explained somewhat succinctly. I felt this was a great introduction to the study of church history. The author freely included his opinions and
Jul 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
This reads like a textbook (which it is), so it is as dense as you might expect a book trying to encompass 2,000 years of church history to be. However, it easy to read and gives enough information on various figures and movements of church history that make you want to dig in further and learn more.
Chuck Barber
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
It’s hard to judge a book that attempts to cover 2000 years of history in 500 pages. Things are going to be left out or summarized. Most of the chapters could be (and likely are) books in and of themselves. But if the question is, how did we get to the current state of Christianity, with all of its denominations, divisions and categories, this book does a good job. The book is clearly written from an American/Western European perspective - Orthodox traditions sort of disappear from the story aft ...more
Stan Shelley
Feb 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
My favorite historian is Paul Johnson, who wrote A History of Christianity. Seminaries often us Latourette's two volume history - I have read part of it. But this Christian history book is better than either of the above. It is marvelous - starting with Jesus and the disciples and coming into modern times, Shelley (no relation) is careful not to dwell too long on any one subject or period. This is a great and informative book. ...more
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Dr. Bruce Shelley was the long-time 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 wrote or edited over twenty books, including Church History in Plain Language, All the Saints Adore Thee,

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Here’s some trivia for your next vacation get-together: The concept of the summer “beach read” book goes all the way back to the Victorian...
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“Christianity is the only major religion to have at its central event the humiliation of its God.” 5 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.” 2 likes
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