Church History: An Essential Guide, by Justo L. Gonzalez (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996); 95 pp., paper $12.00
Church History is a short overview of the history of the church designed to give believers a glimpse of the essential events related to the church since its beginning. The author begins with an eleven page introduction that maps out the highlights of various stages of church history, then uses individual chapters to fill in the details.
Gonzalez has broken church history into nine periods: the Ancient Church, the Christian Empire, the Early Middle Ages, the High Point of the Middle Ages, the Late Middle Ages, Conquest and Reformation, the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, the Nineteenth Century, the Twentieth Century and the End of Modernity. The periods are a bit arbitrary, and other historians recognize different stages, but what Gonzalez offers is helpful and gives him good handles to explain the development of the church over the last two millennia. It should be noted that since the book was published in 1996 it provides no insight into the 21st century church.
Because of the size of this volume only the highlights of each stage of church history are provided. But the highlights give the reader a reasonable understanding of what has taken place in the past and how it has affected the present. The key players throughout the ages are also introduced.
Gonzalez, perhaps by the very nature of his book, often discusses without comment doctrines and persons holding questionable, or even heretical, views without comment. For example he writes of Roman Catholicism and popes in neutral terms, and speaks of a “need” for a postmodern theology (p. 92). This is somewhat troubling and could communicate the author’s approval of many non-evangelical ideas. However, this is unclear.
Church History: An Essential Guide has real value in acquainting the believer with the big moments and important personalities found throughout the history of the church. I could see it being used as a tool for a Bible study course, although it would be helpful if the instructor is more knowledgeable of church history to fill in some of the gaps.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher Southern View Chapel