Church History B
ook Recommendations

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Timeline Charts of the Western Church
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My Essential Church History Reference Library
ten books that have been indispensable to me in my study of church history
My Martin Luther Top Five
Martin Luther has been the topics of more books than perhaps any
other church leader.  These are my favorites.
My Personal Church-History Historical-Fiction Favorites
 Fiction, set in a real historical context.  Learn church history by osmosis.
Who am I?

 My Essential Church History Reference Library
ten books that have been indispensable to me in my study of church history

F. L. Cross and F.A. Livingston
Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church 

If I were limited to just one church history reference book, this would be it.  It's an alphabetical listing of articles on everything from theology to practice, people to institutions.  It has a distinctly British bias but is one of the most comprehensive one-volume church history reference books out there.  I tapped into the grocery money ten years ago to buy the second edition. After literally wearing the covers off it, I purchased this third edition, which is even more readable and useable.

Daniel G. Reid, et al.
 Dictionary of Christianity in America

Dictionary of Christianity in America
is the place I turn most often for general information about American church history.  Its greatest strength is its biographies.  It also has great capsule descriptions of history of various denominations.

Jaroslav Jan Pelikan 
The Christian Tradition:  A History of the Development of Doctrine

The third book on my list is actually five books, the five volumes in Jaroslav Pelikan's Christian Tradition series.  Pelikan traces the development of doctrine from the the earliest years to the present.  He expects a certain knowledge of church history events, but if you have that, he will take you through a grand tour of Christian thought. 
Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition 
Volume 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom, 600-1700 
Volume 3: The Growth of the Medieval Theology (600-1300) 
Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700) 
Volume 5: Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (since 1700)

Susan Lynn Peterson
Timeline Charts of the Western Church

    OK, so I'm a little biased about this one.  (At least I resisted the temptation to make it number one on the list.)  When I wrote it, it was with the intention that it become a mainstay reference for students of church history.  Chances are if you need a date or basic who-what-when-where information about an event in church history, it's in this book.  It's the product of a decade of research, and I think you'll find it useful. 

    For more information, check out the Timeline Charts Web site.


 History Kenneth Scott Latourette
A History of Christianity

If you're looking for dates and strict chronology, A History of Christianity may not be your best bet.  But if you are looking for a detailed church history book that you can curl up with on a Sunday afternoon, read, and enjoy cover-to-cover, I'd suggest this two-volume series.  Latourette is one of those rare writers who can convey complex ideas without obscure terminology. 

Volume 1:  Beginnings to 1500 
Volume 2:  A.D. 1500-A.D. 1975 

Karen Armstrong
A History of God

If ever a church-history writer deserved kudos for "thinking outside the box," Armstrong does.  Her book is ambitious-- the subtitle is The 4000 Year Quest for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  It's multidisciplinary:  part church history, part theology, part comparative religion.  But most of all, it's a fresh perspective.

Alstrom Sydney E. Ahlstrom
A Religious History of the American People

If I had to choose a textbook for an American history of religion course in a public university, I'd choose this one.  It's detailed, even-handed, and nonsectarian.

John R.H. Moorman
A History of the Church in England

    I betray my Episcopalian roots by recommending this one.  It's the best overview I know of the church in England.  But even non-Anglicans will see their roots here.  It discusses the Puritans, the early Baptists, and many other facets of the English-speaking church.

John Haddon Leith (Editor) 
Creeds of the Churches

The title speaks for itself.  Ancient, modern, denominational, ecumenical-- they're all here.

W.H.C. Frend
The Rise of Christianity

A detailed, insightful account of Christianity during the first six centuries.  This book, together with Jaroslav Jan Pelikan's The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine Volume 1:  The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, is an unbeatable resource for beginning to understand the depths and complexities of the early church.

My Martin Luther Top Five
Martin Luther has been the topics of more books than perhaps any other church leader.
These are my favorites in no particular order.
Roland H. Bainton 
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther 
    Bainton's Here I Stand may not be the best book ever written about Luther, but it is the classic English-language book about Luther.  Arranged sometimes topically, sometimes chronologically, it endeavors to give the reader a highly sympathetic picture of what the Great Reformer was like.
    If you are looking for detailed, well-written, meticulously researched information about the people and events in Luther's life, I'd highly recommend Brecht's three-volume work.  When it comes to presenting the facts of Luther's life, nobody does it better. 
Volume 1: His Road to Reformation, 1483-1521 
Volume 2: Shaping & Defining the Reformation, 1521-1532 
Volume 3: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546 
Martin Brecht's
Martin Luther
Heiko A. Oberman 
Luther: Man between God and the Devil
     If I had to choose my favorite one-volume work about Luther, this would be it.  In it Oberman presents Luther in the context of his times, as a medieval man doing battle with the devil.  It's a nice balance between facts and insight.
     This book isn't about Luther, per se.  But it is a book about Luther's world, both the world he lived in and the world he helped create.  Scribner looks at the illustrated broadsheets, picture books, and book illustrations that came out of the Lutheran Reformation.  What he gives us is a window on Luther's time.

For the Sake of
 Simple Folk:Popular Propaganda forthe German Reformation
Ernest G. Schwiebert 
Luther and His Times
    This book places Luther in context.  We see him interact with the people, ideas, and institutions of his day.  It's not a light-weight book.  But it does fill a niche for people who want to understand who Luther was.  If you are looking for the timeless Luther, Luther the symbol, Luther the story, read Bainton.  If you want to meet Luther the 15th century monk, university professor, administrator, read Schwiebert.

.My Personal Church-History/Historical-Fiction Favorites
Fiction, set in a real historical context.  Learn church history by osmosis
Frederick Buechner 
     Godric, a 12th century hermit-saint, was in his early years a merchant, perhaps pirate.  In his later years he became a hermit, perhaps with gifts of prophesy and abilities to speak with animals. 

     How does one get inside the head of such a man?  Buechner does so in this fictional autobiography.  He gives us a richly textured tale of human frailties and divine grace.  He takes a subject who could have been imposing and off-putting and makes him live for modern readers. 

    Godric was deservedly nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

     This murder mystery set in a medieval monastery is also the story of a young novice dealing with new ideas in the culture at the same time as he is discovering new ideas and impulses in himself.  Eco's best-ever novel can be read on a number of levels:  as simply a ripping-good mystery, as a detailed and accurate glimpse into a medieval monastic community, or as a semiotic parable.  Name of the Rose is one of those rare books that entertains while challenging the mind and engaging the heart.
Umberto Eco
Name of the Rose
Margaret George 
The Autobiography
of Henry VIII
     One interpretation of the life history of the man who set in motion the Anglican Reformation.  The writing is detailed and masterful, resulting in a book that is fascinating even for those who suspect they probably wouldn't like Henry.  George's fully developed characters, engaging plot, and historical accuracy set the bar much higher for all subsequent writers of novelized biography.
    Follett give you the chance to watch the building of a medieval cathedral through the eyes of the artisans.  It's the next best thing to actually being on the building site.  
Ken Follett 
The Pillars of the Earth
Who am I?
My name is Susan Lynn Peterson.  I'm a writer, former
church history professor, and the author of Timeline
Charts of the Western Church
, published by  Zondervan,
and nominated for a Gold Medallion Book Award.
If you'd like to know more about me or my books,
check out my home page or my resume.

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