I’ve never really liked history. It was boring in high school, and the one college history class I’ve taken made me almost suicidal. It’s always “so and so did this on that date” and “these people responded by doing that on this date”. It was always conveyed in such a matter-of-fact method that I felt the only reason I needed to know any of it was for the test I’d inevitably suffer. It was so lifeless.
Thankfully, Bruce Shelley took an entirely different approach in his survey, Church History in Plain Language. He absolutely writes about who did what and when, but he also tells us how it affected the people, and the doctrinal beliefs, political systems, and socio-economic statuses of those people. He writes all of this as if he were simply telling a story: with excitement and passion! I’ve read through chapters at a time and not even realized I had been reading that long. Shelley does a fantastic job of communicating how the early church councils formed the doctrines we hold dear and contend for today, and what impact the church had on the Roman Empire, and how the Empire affected the church during the time of Constantine’s rule.
In the book’s prologue, Shelley makes it a point to note that this book is not only for college students, or graduates entering seminary, but is designed and written so that all “laypeople” could understand it. Borrowing freely the ideas and descriptions of others, he wrote this book with one aim: keep the story moving.
Shelley has done an outstanding job doing just that, communicating both the monumental and the subtle pieces of one era of church history, and moving on to the next era, without leaving the reader feeling like he needs to self medicate for a month to recover from a reading induced migraine.