With more than 315,000 copies sold, this is the story of the church for today’s readers. The fourth edition of Shelley’s classic one-volume history of the church brings the story of Christianity into the twenty-first century. This latest edition of the book takes a close look at the rapid growth of evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity in the southern hemisphere, addresses the decline in traditional mainline denominations, examines the influence of technology on the spread of the gospel, and discusses how Christianity intersects with other religions in countries all over the world.
This concise book provides an easy-to-read guide to church history with intellectual substance. The new edition of Church History in Plain Language promises to be the new standard for readable church history.
Features include: Includes contemporary developments related to the spread of the gospel Discusses how technology has an impact on how the church worships and grows Covers the explosion of Christianity in the southern hemisphere.
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, The Gospel and the American Dream, Theology of Ordinary People, and The Consumer Church. He served on the editorial advisory board of Christian History and published numerous articles for magazines and encyclopedias. He served as consulting editor for InterVarsity’s Dictionary of Christianity in America. He was a corresponding editor of Christianity Today and published articles in Encyclopedia Americana, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, and New International Dictionary of the Christian Church.
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. There are factual errors and conflations of heretical and orthodox teachings. The Eastern church is, by in large, given fair treatment, but the Great Schism between east and west is hardly mentioned, and all of Eastern Christianity simply disappears immediately after, to reappear only in the 20th century—at least the Russian Orthodox church reappears—first as the victims of, and then as shills for the atheistic Soviet government.
Shelley takes great pains to describe the political climate and machinations that contribute to the rise of Christendom and the Roman Catholic church (as if these political events were the underpinning of the entire movement), but he essentially ignores the politics involved in the spread of the Reformation, leaving one to surmise that Protestantism spread solely by its own merit and Divine Will.
The major problems I found are related to Shelley's bias shining through the text at key points throughout the narrative. Some examples follow:
p. 4 — "[A]n unprejudiced reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John reveals Jesus' plans for a company of followers to carry on his work." This certainly seems to indicate the necessity of Apostolic succession. Shelley makes this bald statement almost as a thesis for the whole work, and then goes on to present a version of history that is highly critical to hierarchical ecclesiology, and which takes for granted the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
p. 13 — "Stephen, however, was a special case. He dared to renounce the law of Moses and attack the temple of God, openly and repeatedly. . . . He spoke of Jewish history, but he argued that men might worship God apart from the temple." The account of Stephen is given in Acts 6 and 7. Acts 6:13—14 specifically indicate that the accusations of Stephen speaking against the temple and the law are false witness. Furthermore, Stephen's quotation of Isiah 66:1—2 is a charge that the Jewish leaders were trying to subjugate God with their temple authority, not a renouncement of temple worship. Early Christians continued to worship in the temple until it became impossible to do so, after which they created new, sacred spaces, often in the homes of wealthy believers.
p. 17 — "These first Christians came to believe that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, followed by the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, were divine events. . . . In a similar way, the second ceremony, the Lord's Supper, as it was soon called, looked back to Jesus' betrayal and death and found in the events of Calvary and the empty tomb evidence of the 'new covenant' promised by the prophet Jeremiah. . . . This simple meal renewed their covenant with God and with one another." I doubt that early Christians would have characterized the Lord's Supper as a "simple meal". As early as 155 A.D. Justin Martyr records that Christians considered the Eucharist to be the flesh and blood of the incarnate Christ. Communion as a simple meal is a modern Protestant characterization.
p. 84 — "Among the earliest was a young law student from Asia Minor named Gregory, later nicknamed the Wonder-Worker, because of his unusually successful missionary labors among his own people." "Wonderworker" is not a "nickname"; it is a title bestowed upon St. Gregory by the Church, and not because he was a decent missionary, but because of the many miracles God performed through him! The idea that someone would be referred to as "the Wonderworker" because of his missionary prowess is ridiculous on its face, and seems to indicate a bias toward Dualism.
p. 85 — "Origen's overriding concern was to allow the whole Bible to speak for itself . . ." Another ridiculous statement. There was no "Bible" in the time of Origen. To speak of "the whole Bible" as existing at that time is a willful misrepresentation of facts, and only perpetuates the myth that the Bible descended, in bound form, from on high.
p. 102 — Shelley misquotes the Nicene creed by including the filioque ("and the Son") as part of the original text. This phrase (which has deep theological implications as to the personhood of the Holy Spirit) was added by the Roman church at a later date. It was never accepted by the churches in the East, and was one of the major points of contention that led to the Great Schism between East and West.
p. 106 — "It is clear that when we think of the Trinity, we should not try to think of three persons in our sense of the term, but three personal disclosures of God that correspond to what he is really like." Shelley spends an entire page discussing the difficulty the church had in expressing the nature of the Trinity, and then goes on to sum it up in one, trite statement—a statement which is, in fact, an expression of Sebelianism (or modalism), a heresy dealt with in the 3rd century.
p. 129 — Shelley's discussion of the heresy of Pelagianism is too broad. Not all of what Pelagius taught was condemned, and not all of what Augustine taught was accepted by the whole church, especially in the East. Augustine would remove Man's free will, a will that the early fathers explicitly taught as necessary to understanding salvation. The conflation of Pelagian heresy with standard Christian doctrine of the time reads as a setup for the doctrine of Calvinism some thousand years later.
p. 138 — "The sole and independent leadership of the Eastern church by the patriarch of Constantinople was confirmed." Shelley would have the Ecumenical Patriarch as some sort of Eastern Pope. This has never been the case. Eastern Church leadership (and until the Great Schism, this included Rome) has always been conciliar, with one patriarch enjoying primacy, but not authority, over the others.
p. 144 — "In the Church of the Twelve Apostles, which he had built, Constantine prepared in the midst of the twelve symbolic tombs of the apostles a thirteenth, for himself. . . . This thirteenth tomb gave rise to the emperor's title as 'equal to the apostles.'" St. Constantine, Equal to the Apostles is called such because he was instrumental in the spread of Christianity, not because he built himself a tomb. Again, Shelley is attempting to discount, or at least temper, the piety of the Medieval Church.
p. 145 — "Constantine discovered, however, that Christianity itself was divided and torn over differences in traditions of doctrine and practice. He was superstitiously anxious that God would hold him personally responsible for these divisions and quarrels among the Christians." Is fear of the Lord superstition? Constantine decreed Christianity as the faith his empire. Why would he not be anxious that God would hold him responsible for its practice?
p. 147 — "The state itself was conceived to be the only community established by God, and it embraced the whole life of man. The visible representative of God within it, who performed his will and dispensed his blessings, was the emperor." This sounds a lot like the Evangelical view of the United States. (Not a criticism, just an observation.)
p. 241 — "Thus, Luther brushed aside the traditional view of the church as a sacred hierarchy headed by the pope and returned to the early Christian view of a community of Christian believers in which all believers are priests called to offer spiritual sacrifices to God." This is a particularly rosy (and modern) interpretation of how the early Church was organized.
In the first half of the book, discussing the rise of Christendom and the church of Rome, Shelley is careful to point out the political climate and machianations that surround these events, almost as if they are the primary cause. In his discussion of the rise of Protestantism, he makes no attempt to ascribe any political motives to the spread of these new doctrines, assuming they are spread solely by Divine Will and their own merit.
In all the talk of the spread of Christianity, there is no discussion of the Christianization of Kievan Rus in 980, which brought Christianity to almost half the world (geographically). He also fails to mention that the Portugese merchants who brought their faith to India encountered Christianity already established there by Thomas the Apostle over 1,000 years prior. This demonstrates the pervasiveness of of Shelley's Western-centric view of Christianity.
p. 256 — Calvin steps in, right in the middle of the narrative, as the hero of the story. Shelley's enthusiasm for Calvin is palpable.
p. 281 — "During the Middle Ages, however, an important attitude developed among European Christians. The rise of Islam in the seventh century drove a wedge between Christians in Europe and their fellow believers in Asia and Africa. Only a few outposts of Christianity survived in the Islamic countries of North Africa and the Near East. Christianity was confined almost exclusively to Europe." If anything, the wedge that was driven was because the Western church began to borrow ideas from Islam (strict adherence to a text being one of them). The Eastern church may not have flourished under Islamic rule, but it did survive, and in many cases, coexisted peacefully.
p. 371 — "Early Christians believed that, amid his encircling gloom, the Lord Jesus himself prayed for his disciples: 'Father, . . . My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world' (John 17:15—19, NIV)." Do later Christians believe something different? I'm not sure what this statement is supposed to mean.
It is clear that Shelley's purpose of writing this book was its second half, the rise and spread of Protestantism, and specifically the history of the denominations in America. It's clear because his level of enthusiasm increases as he draws closer to the present. Shelley does an excellent job of documenting the people and processes that got us from Luther to this point, and anyone looking to quickly increase their knowledge of Church history would do well to read this book, keeping in mind the bias mentioned above.
0.0 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 but also lacks any type of brain to think for themselves. In total I threw this book across the room only 3 times.
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 lick my chops for more! For me the author's style of writing was enjoyable and I liked how he catagorized his chapters---I am amazed that he was able to take so much history and consolidate it into this 500 page book. I can't imagine the research process and then then eliminating and narrowing process.
The thought that came to me the most as I was reading is how grateful I am for all those devout and faithful Christians throughout history who have enabled me to have what I have now. I really enjoyed the book. Now, I hope I retained the parts my professor claims to be "important" so I can do super on my last test!!!
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 about "who we are" which seems to imply he wrote for the benefit of other believers). There were a couple parts (like when discussing dispensationalism and cessationism) that the author used less than neutral terms and I think readers would probably pick up on biases in the book depending on their own background/beliefs. I read one review that complained that it skewed toward protestantism. The author writes a lot about Catholicism, its developments and it impact over the centuries. Of course, as a protestant, I'm fairly satisfied with how Catholicism was handled in the book, but it probably does lean more heavily in the direction of protestantism (which I would expect from an author who is protestant). This is not a history of the Catholic church.
I'm not sure the best way to read this book. I know I will forget a lot of what I read. It's just too much and the dates, names, events, movements, etc. for 2000 years of history boggle the mind. The author divides the book into different ages and I think it would be useful to spend some time in each of the ages to solidify the main themes before moving on. I didn't have time for that with this reading, but I think it would work well in a classroom where it could be discussed and coordinated with other supplemental material.
A couple things I didn't really like were that there are no notes so things are quoted without reference to the source. I shouldn't say there are no notes. For this size of a book there is an astonishingly small amount of end notes at the back, but since there's no reference to the notes in the chapter itself, you have no idea in the end notes which thought the note refers back to. Each chapter ends with a list of suggested reading titles and I guess I assume that the content from each chapter is for the most part sourced from that reading list. While this system makes the text probably feel more casual and less intimidating, I don't really like not knowing where the author is getting his facts. However, I did like the suggested reading list and that it was specific to each chapter. I think is helpful for developing the material for a class or for choosing certain themes/time periods to study further.
The other thing that I didn't really like (but that is probably inevitable) is that despite the chronological structure of the book, I still felt like things jumped around a little bit with the chapters and sometimes I felt confused about who was doing what and when. I don't really think this can be completely avoided. I've noticed it in lots of other history books, but there were a few times where I got a little lost or felt like I needed to backtrack.
Overall, this provides an easy to read (the "plain language" title really fits), comprehensive (but not exhaustive) history of the church and I appreciated it. I would recommend it across the spectrum although most people will probably have a beef here and there with how certain aspects are covered. I think that is to be expected with this sort of overview.
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.
I really can't more highly recommend this book for those looking for an overview of Church History. I might even go so far to say it should be required reading for believers at some point in their sanctification journey, at the least, a church history book of some sort, though I think this one is excellent. I commonplaced endlessly and this book really secured my mental historical timeline. I think one of the most living ideas for me that I found in this book was that Christianity as a whole requires navigating the tension of being both a movement and an institution. When the Spirit moves and many come to faith, the organizational and structural needs increase; however, when the institution begins to impede the movement of the spirit, reformation and revival is needed. I can now see this repeated at so many times throughout church history. I think studying church history gives the believer such confidence to navigate whatever historical period that the Lord saw fit to have them born into. The bride of Christ will endure in the midst of heresies, war, ideologies, etc. until His return.
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 about Christianity in modern times. This part contains very little narrative of specific events and instead contains nebulous summaries of various denominations and trends in the modern world--very dull compared to the rest of the book.
Update: I just finished reading Needham's 2,000 Years of Christ's Power, and that book trumps this one. If you're looking for an accessible and thorough account of church history, go with Needham.
As a Baptist pastor, I've read a number of Baptist history books over the years as well as a number of biographies of various men—some Baptist and some not. I knew I needed to read a more general book on Christian history and Shelley's is probably the most widely acclaimed.
Dr. Shelley was a Christian. However, he wrote this book more as an outsider looking in. As a result, he uses the words "church" and "Gospel" more broadly than I assume he'd have used it in either the classroom or the pulpit. He also used "pope" earlier than I think the actual modern day office of "pope" existed. I assume he did this simply because of the point of view from which he wrote. This work is not intended to make theological arguments for or against any certain group, but simply to inform of progress under the "Christendom umbrella" from the days of Christ until now.
This book is a very easy read. It may be the easiest history book I've ever read. I never struggled to pick it up. I appreciated that he started with the ministry of Jesus. The book ends post 9/11. So, it comes all the way up to our present generation. You'll even find men like Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham along with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis mentioned.
I'm so glad I chose to read this book. Given the Baptist history books I've read, this helped to paint a much bigger picture as it weaved political history and church history throughout the centuries.
If you're looking for a book on the history of the Christian faith from a more general vantage point, this book is worthy.
An accessible medium length church history written by an evangelical for evangelicals. As such, it focuses on what is of most interest to evangelicals. I did not find it overly biased or apologetic and was surprised at the sympathetic attention given to the Roman Catholic Church. I was looking for a stepping stone between David Bentley Hart's slim and breezy history (which is not at all ashamed of its Eastern Orthodox biases) and the 1200 page volumes by scholars like Latourette, Macullough, and Needham--this was a fine choice.
This is an easy overall history of the church. A nice read for a general perspective. I found the beginning of the book very fascinating and helpful. The second half of the book was more difficult to follow. I was disappointed with how he covered the modern church era. I felt like it became political and too general. He seemed to pick random people like Ralph Reed and focused on him when IMO there is much more to modern church history to cover--how about the church in 3rd world nations, the communist church, the orthodox church, etc. He includes random facts that are curious--like John Wesley's wife and marriage, yet glosses over more impactful events like Vatican II or the fundamentalist/modernist controversy of the US Protestants. I did appreciate the timeline at the beginning of each chapter.
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 throughout the ages. The context this book has given to me in regards to the global story of the church is priceless. This is a book is one I will probably go back and read (listen to) every year.
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.
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.
Excellent read. Engaging and informative. I expected a dry historical tome but found it addressed a lot of my questions about the source of the creeds, when in history various splits occurred. The only reason I’m giving 4 stars is that I haven’t read enough to compare the claims of this book (for example how political moments shaped the church). The author is distinctly Protestant, but still spoke with respect about other traditions. Have already recommended this book to several friends.
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.
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 of the Roman Catholic claims; it is a survey of Christian history.” Could’ve fooled me. If he meant to present an unbiased account of history without comment, he failed spectacularly. He makes no attempt at neutrality, but openly critiques the decisions of various Christians and their theology and declaring them true or false, consistent or inconsistent with scripture, or his own views.
For example, in describing the closing of the canon, he asks, “how did it come about that, as Tertullian bitterly put it, 'the Holy Spirit was chased into a book’?” His answer? “The church was no longer a place where the Spirit of Prophecy could be heard… the distinction between church and world was fading. The church was becoming secularized.”
He describes the rise of bishops this way: “even in the 3rd century many felt that the coming of episcopacy meant the departure of the Spirit. In the 1st and 2nd centuries Christians looked for proof of the Spirit’s power not in an office, but in the lives of believers. They saw the spirit in terms of moral energy. The Apostle Paul had led the way in this. He described the Spirit’s work in terms of the edification of the entire church.”
Not that I object to bias; I even suspect it is unavoidable. But if an author would honestly admit it up front, the reader could more readily filter it. I get the impression that he is a doctrinally liberal, baptistic, non-denominational charismatic, telling the story of his own stream of Christianity.
2020 --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 Christian tradition. "Eastern Orthodoxy Through Western Eyes" was written by a western evangelical Protestant who has lived and worked in eastern Europe and Russia, and can thus write about Eastern / Russian / Greek Orthodox Christian tradition in such a way as to be understood by western Christians. "Ye Are the Body" is written from a western Anglican Christian tradition.
All three of these books are excellent, and I give them all the highest number of stars I can. I'm working on a review of each book, but have not nailed down all that much because I am in the "processing and thinking" stage about all of what I have read. I'll re-visit these books with reviews when I am able to organize my thoughts!
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 lacks adequate citations. To make the book seem more approachable, Shelley uses endnotes that vaguely refer to parts of each chapter; he does not use superscript numbers to point to these endnotes. Sometimes Shelley quotes people without even mentioning their names in the text. Second, Shelley's writing is often rather disorganized. Frequently his paragraphs don't seem to have a central idea or topic sentence, and some chapters thus become a bit hard to follow because of how they proceed or (fail to) cohere together. Perhaps he dictated this book and left it mostly as is. So the book is not so scholarly, despite the fact that its author, Dr. Bruce Shelley, was Senior Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Denver Seminary. Given the title of the book, though, it was probably never intended to be for an academic audience.
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 narrative, but getting to know any of them in any depth is the work of many other books. This is a survey, and I think it's accomplished in a very even-handed and understandable way. If you want to get it all in the briefest possible narrative, check out Professor Shelley's Epilogue. But if you go to the bother of purchasing or checking out this book, you're going to want more than that. Since Professor Shelley has passed beyond history, R.L. Hatchett took on the task of completing this fourth edition, which is so up to date it includes developments from 2013.
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 age of reason's thinkers, liberal christians, communists and secularists. At the end he becomes nostalegic when he talks about the decline of the church in Europe.
But overall I learned a lot about the history of the church, different movements and couter-mouvements and the never ending list of denominations.
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) OR you can look up certain groups of people in history and read all about their origins. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is at all interested in the history of the church. Enjoy.
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.
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 evangelical reader will leave this book with an enriched appreciation of the heritage of their theology.
Two complaints: first, Shelley's theology can overwhelm the history. Especially during centuries preceding the Reformation, the reader is placed less in the shoes of a 12th century Catholic than in the seat of a 2nd year seminarian in an evangelical college. This relatively blatant bias does diminish any work of history, and I'd be fascinated to see what a modern Catholic scholar would make of Shelley's characterisation of their church.
Second, while the language is accessible and the explanations clear, the book seldom moves into the genuine storytelling that distinguishes great history. This is probably a necessary constraint, you can't compress such a vast subject into even 520 pages without streamlining a lot of points of interest, but nevertheless it made for a less engaging read than I would have liked.