I believe Christians need to read church history from time to time whether they want to or not – a strange thought for someone who formerly broke out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of church history. Thankfully, men like R.C. Sproul and John Hannah brought church history to life and awakened me from my dogmatic slumbers!
D. Jeffrey Bingham also has a passion for church history. Pocket History of the Church is a readable volume that circles the globe in less than 200 pages. He skillfully “skips” a handful of stones over the over the waters of church history, spanning from the 1st century to the present.
Part One – Diamonds: The Early Church
The author begins with an overview of the early church. The church fathers are explored and special emphasis is given to Ignatius. This hero of the Christian church “stepped into the ring” and pummeled the heresy of Docetism. Ignatius also spoke a great deal about unity in the church and sought with all his heart to bring like-minded believers together for the sake of the gospel.
Bingham summarizes a handful of important apologists of the 2nd century. He notes that while Rome threatened the church externally, false teachers were emerging within the church. Irenaeus fought against the heresy of Gnosticism and wrote five polemic books as a counter-punch. Additionally, Irenaeus battled Marcion in his Against Heresies.
The author surveys the Trinitarian and Christological controversies and places specific emphasis on key heretics such as Arius and important heroes such as Athanasius of Alexandria. He makes an observation that was true hundreds of years ago and equally true today: “Church leaders must first be the church’s theologians.” Tragically, many would disagree with his assertion and the church has and will continue to pay a steep price for neglecting the importance of theology.
Part Two – Emeralds: The Church in the Middle Ages
Bingham includes a helpful discussion that pertains to the rise of the papacy and the baggage that accompanied the power. He overviews Monasticism and the daily activity of the monk. He gives Scholasticism a fair treatment and also includes a general discussion concerning mysticism.
Part Three – Gold Sovereigns: The Church in the Protestant Reformation
Part three includes a broad survey of Reformation thought and history. Christian Humanism is contrasted with Scholasticism. The author spends a great deal of time (and rightly so) examining Luther’s views on soteriology and ecclesiology.
Part Four – Chains of Spanish Silver: The Church in the Modern Era
Empiricism is contrasted with Rationalism and the views of various proponents are examined. Obviously, both views are seriously flawed. The author presents a quick summary statement that accurately confronts both worldviews: “We need to remember that faith is ultimately our submission to God’s revelation.”
The Great Awakenings and Revivals are examined. Thankfully, the author is quick to acknowledge the roles of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. He also delivers a necessary blow to Charles Finney who denied the bondage of the will and the substitutionary atonement of Christ.
Pocket History of the Church is a great way to survey the major movements throughout church history. For a more comprehensive treatment, I recommend Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley or Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine by John Hannah.