Everett Ferguson’s textbook of Church history, covering the first 14 centuries of the Church, thoroughly and clearly introduces the reader to characters, issues, and events within Church history. Although there remain questions by the end of the book, he continuously focuses on the historical-theological issues as it regards various characters and major events. For questions to remain, though, is reasonable because it is a textbook designed for university students.
One of the most beneficial aspects of the book is its effectiveness as a textbook. This previous semester, Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation was my textbook for an independent study class. Through it, I was able to familiarize myself with various theological issues and political power struggles through the evolution of the Church. Although it was a challenging read, often requiring the reader to connect ideas from one chapter to a previous explanation/basis found in another chapter, it was nonetheless beneficial and informative.
Although he successfully provides a historical framework, as is his stated goal (25), Ferguson could have done one thing to improve the reading experience: more clearly mark why certain things were significant within the historical context. Although he does do this, explanation is generally included within a flowing historical presentation. As one not well read in Church history, this made in challenging is attempting to understand what the primary points were.
In conclusion, Everett Ferguson’s Church History is a fantastic introduction to the historical community called “the Church”. His discussion and openness about the multitude of elements within Church history shape a solid historical framework by which readers may operate from in the future, in whatever direction he/she chooses.
Click here to purchase Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, vol. 1, by Everett Ferguson.
Recently, Orthodox Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein visited Northwest University. I had the honor of speaking with him for an hour or so about a variety of topics including, but not limited to, Oral Torah, Jewish-Christian dialogue, and creation theology. Amongst the many things which caught my attention, there was one thought he expressed which I thoroughly appreciated. In essence, he said that Jews are unique in that they’ve thought through their theology and recognize the source of their traditions. For Jews, that is the Oral Torah, which is the framework of traditions by which they interpret the Written Torah.
Attending a protestant Christian University, I have often witnessed people who operate from a stance of sola scriptura. Many people I know often understand their traditions as something which originated in the Pentecostal movement of the early 1900’s or in the reformations of the 16th century. Unfortunately, though, people aren’t always able to, or willing to, recognize that they to, just as Jews, have a sort of “Oral Torah”. By “Oral Torah”, I really mean the foundations and environment in which the Church traditions were formulated, which vary significantly and are not completely linear. Foundations of Christian tradition are present in theologians like Irenaeus, Augustine, John Chrysostom, and, really, any other theologian from the past 1900 years who has dialogued with the Church and made any impact, positive or negative. This lack of recognition is often realized in people not being aware of why they think or how they think. In their minds, their framework is simply the Holy Spirit and some biblical interpretation of the 1st century context of the New Testament, or the 4th century BCE context of the Hebrew Bible.
In reality, if Christians truly do hope to dialogue with others and better understand their own beliefs within a contemporary society, it is absolutely necessary to recognize the “Oral Torah” of Christianity, those elements which shaped Christianity into what it is today.