A few great books on church history

By Jonathon Van Maren

Every year as part of my reading list, I try to read a few books on the history of Christianity. Last year, I read Donald Fairbairn’s excellent The Global Church—The First Eight Centuries From Pentecost through the Rise of Islam. Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and The Global Church is both broader and more accessible than most books on the same subject, covering the spread of Christianity far more comprehensively. Fairburn examines the early church in Africa, Turkey, and Syria closely and gives fascinating insights into almost entirely unknown churches that sprang up in Persia and India, tracing their interactions with what would become the Western church. I highly recommend it.

For those who want a slightly more intellectual read, Justo Gonzalez’s two part The Story of Christianity is quite good (I listened to that one on Audible). For those who want a simple entry into a very complicated history, Dr. Nick Needham’s four-volume set 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power does a great job of laying out the narrative and terminology in an eminently understandable way (Needham is the Church History lecturer at Highland Theological College and is a Reformed Baptist, in case you’re wondering about his bias). And for those who are fans of beautiful books, the late Ted Byfield’s 12-volume series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, filled with beautiful photography and gorgeous artwork (much of it commissioned for the books), are a set you will return to time and again.

Several very well-done Christian documentaries were released in 2022, as well. In 2021, I interviewed Christian documentarian Tim Mahoney about his Patterns of Evidence series, in which he methodically interrogates the evidence for the Exodus. Mahoney’s films are both beautifully shot and persuasive; BBC-quality on-location investigations that cover everything from the authorship of the Torah (were they really written by Moses?), the location of the Red Sea Crossing, and now, in his most recent film, the location of the real Mt. Sinai. I watched a review copy of his latest installment, Journey to Mt. Sinai Part I, over the Christmas holidays, and recommend it to anyone interested in the historical evidence for biblical events.

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