Broad Brushstrokes

Philip Parsons
Day One. 175 pages. £8.00
ISBN 978 1 846 256 424

The study of church history is sometimes regarded with suspicion. Even some Christians with a keen interest in biblical and theological studies perceive church history as confusing, dull, and disconnected from ‘real’ life and ministry.

In A Beginner’s Guide to Church History, Philip Parsons rebuts these misconceptions and demonstrates the accessibility and interest that the subject holds out for every believer.

The book provides a fast-moving introduction to the story of Christianity, progressing from the apostolic age all the way through to the incredible global expansion of Christianity during the 20th century. Along the way, Parsons introduces a diverse range of figures, events and themes, including the persecution of the early church, proto-Reformers like John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, and the explosive 18th-century preaching of Whitefield, Edwards, and Wesley. To cover this wide swathe of history in such a small space is a considerable achievement, and Parsons ably blends broad-brush descriptions with brief biographical sketches, colourful details, and points of application for contemporary evangelicals.

As this is not an academic book, the author’s conclusions may occasionally strike some readers as too hastily drawn and overly simplistic. Likewise, a project of this sort will inevitably disappoint some by what it chooses to include and exclude. I was surprised, for example, not to find some treatment of the Council of Chalcedon (451). But while such criticisms are not without validity, they ultimately miss the burden of a work like this one: namely, to present a brief, easily accessible, unabashedly evangelical overview of major movements and developments within church history. Readers seeking more substantive treatments of specific issues can find them elsewhere, but Parsons writes for those who are seeking a point of entry into the Christian story, especially those who have found past attempts to broach the subject of church history intimidating and unrewarding. To that end, A Beginner’s Guide to Church History provides a great service for Christians who are curious about church history but do not know where to begin. The book will surely spark interest and help readers to construct a basic framework which they can then build upon as time and inclination allow.

Dr Matthew Bingham

Dr Matthew Bingham, Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Church History at Oak Hill College

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