Church History Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation

Article excerpt

Church History Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation. By Everett Ferguson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, 544 pp., $29.99.

Everett Ferguson, an experienced scholar of the early church, provides a generally concise and thorough summary of the first thirteen centuries of church history in his book Church History Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Ferguson, professor emeritus of Bible and distinguished scholar-in-residence at Abilene Christian University, earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1960 and established himself in the decades to follow with numerous scholarly publications in the area of patristic studies. His publications include Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Eerdmans, 1993), Recent Studies in Early Christianity, ed. (Garland, 1999), and A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Eerdmans, 1996). Ferguson is past president of the North American Patristics Society, served as general editor of the two-volume Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (Garland, 1990), and has been co-editor of the Journal of Early Christian Studies. Church History Volume Two: Reformation to the Present (John D. Woodbridge and Frank James III) is forthcoming from Zondervan. In Church History Volume One, Ferguson uses his patristics expertise to relate the main narrative of early Christianity and introduce readers to scholarly debates in the field. Though as an introductory text the book does not argue one central thesis, some recurring themes are that church history is a history of people, a theological history, and a morally mixed history.

The preface outlines some of Ferguson's presuppositions and methodologies as a historian. First, Ferguson relates the narrative of church history as one who is friendly to the church. He "writes from the perspective that church history is the story of the greatest community the world has known and the greatest movement in world history" (p. 25). second, he regards the telling of church history as a theological enterprise. Without explicitly stating that the book engages in historical theologizing, Ferguson speaks in categories that show readers he is not afraid to speak in theological categories and at times make theological judgments regarding the characters of church history. For Ferguson, church history is a narrative with "great acts of faith and great failures in sin and unfaithfulness," as well as a story about people who made "the theological affirmation of being a redeemed people" (p. 25). Third, he gives greatest attention to Western church history because of his own heritage as a participant in the Western church. Methodologically, Ferguson's emphasis on the West may cause readers to underestimate the importance of certain movements and controversies in the East. But keeping in mind Ferguson's admitted focus on the West should prevent misunderstandings.

The book's twenty-four chapters are not divided into parts or sections, which may present difficulty for readers seeking to categorize church history in periods or eras. Yet the text presents substantive treatment of each major period during the church's first thirteen centuries. The narrative focuses on important ideas and movements rather than a collection of dates. The story proceeds generally along chronological lines, with some jumps back and forth in order to present the histories of movements and geographic regions with continuity. Summaries at the end of each chapter helpfully synthesize major historical trends for any readers who find chronological discontinuities confusing. In-depth profiles of important figures add substance to the narrative, and frequent discussions of art and architecture supplement the standard sources utilized by church history texts. Maps, charts, and illustrations are peppered throughout the book.

On the early church up to Constantine, Ferguson includes nine chapters covering the beginnings of the church in the NT, the generation immediately following the apostles, and Christianity's expansion through the Roman Empire. …