I’m currently taking a church history class for my seminary degree and remembering how much I love this topic. It’s not just interesting, but it shows where our theology came from, and as my professor says, “Church history is the history of the exposition of the scriptures.”
Ever since I took church history during undergrad I wanted to incorporate church history into youth ministry. When I am teaching I try and make references to people like Bonhoeffer, Augustine, and Luther. But why don’t we teach church history in our youth ministries (or our churches for that matter)? Has anyone ever done a study with their youth group about church history? What materials did you use?
And if you have thought, like me, that we need some church history in our youth ministries, what might it look like? Would you be willing to collaborate on an open source curriculum?
Below are some options for books that would be good candidates for building a church history curriculum:
Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, by Mark A. Noll
Mark Noll’s Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity might be a good text to base a curriculum from. In his 368 page book he has a chapter on what he thinks are 13 defining moments in Christian history, which would make a great outline for a semester’s study:
- Fall of Jerusalem
- Council of Nicaea
- Council of Chalcedon
- Benedict’s Rule (Monasticism)
- Coronation of Charlemagne
- The Great Schism
- Diet of Worms
- “English Acts of Supremacy” (1534 – The English church breaking from the Roman Catholics)
- Catholic Reform & Jesuits
- Conversion of John Wesley
- French Revolution
- Edinburgh Missionary Conference
- Further turning points in the 20th century
What do you think about the list? Does he pick the right big ticket items? What would you change out? My only thought is that he leaves out Augustine, and I love me some Augustine. I’d like to incorporate him into the mix somehow. The other approach would be to study figures rather than events (Athenasius, Augustine, Luther, Wesley, etc.).
Gonzalez’s Church History, An Essential Guide might be a more realistic option for busy volunteers. His book is a scant 95 pages, divided into nine chapters:
- 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
Obviously, being 95 pages this book will offer just a slight glance over the major topics he covers. But if you have read this book and found yourself wanting more, there is another option.
This is a much more substantial book by Gonzalez. At 368 pages, it is almost exactly the same length as Mark Noll’s book, but Gonzalez breaks his book into 31 chapters grouped under 3 Parts (I won’t list all 31 chapters, go look at it on Amazon for details)
- Part 1: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon (New Testament to Chalcedon)
- Part 2: Medieval Theology (from Augustine to Reformation)
- Part 3: From the Reformation to the Present
The interesting thing here is he spends a lot of pages leading up to the council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. For many, this early time of church history is the most interesting. If you fall into that camp, this book would be a good option.
Of course, I wouldn’t expect anyone to teach a 31 week series on church history in their youth ministry, but you could pick and choose chapters from this book as you saw fit.
If you are looking for a more strongly evangelical take on Church history, Bruce Shelley might be the best author for you. His book is nearly twice the length of the other books at 560 pages. Many people have recommended this book as being very readable despite its length.
The book’s 48 chapters give you a lot to pick and choose from if you are trying to winnow the material down into a shorter study. He does divide the book into multiple sections, each with their own chapters:
- The Age of Jesus and the Apostles, 6 BC – AD 70
- The Age of Catholic Christianity, 70-312
- The Age of the Christian Roman Empire, 312-590
- The Christian Middle Ages, 590-1517
- The Age of the Reformation, 1517-1648
- The Age of Reason and Revival, 1648-1789
- The Age of Progress, 1789-1914
- The Age of Ideologies, 1914-1989
- The Age of Global Expansion and Relocation, 1900-
Given these options, I think I’ll go with Noll’s book. I think building a teaching series around decisive events is more interesting for teenagers than focusing on thought, which seems to be Gonzalez’s approach, and Sheller’s book is quite lengthy. Any of the above would be good to read simply for background knowledge.
What other books would be good foundational texts to build a church history curriculum from? What do you think about the whole idea? Am I nuts to want to teach teenagers church history?