UPDATE ON PRICING: Illumination Publishers is offering holiday pricing until about December 13, 2019 – the 3-volume print set is only $15 (regular $45); digital ebook volumes are $7 each (regular $13.99).

For the past three years I have been the instructor for the “Christian History and Doctrine” course at Sunset International Bible Institute. But my love and study of Christian history (often called church history) goes back to my own Bible college days at Florida College in 1969-70. There for the first time I took a course on church history which was taught by Harry Payne, Sr. I can’t say it was my favorite class (Hermeneutics by Roy Cogdill and Minor Prophets by Homer Hailey were in that category), but the seed was planted.

Over the years since then, I have purchased and read numerous books, watched documentaries, subscribed to church history magazines, and otherwise fed my craving to know more about what happened between the end of the New Testament and today. I’ve also taught numerous classes and preached sermons to better inform others of what is to me a fascinating, rewarding, and essential part of a minister/teacher’s education.

Out of the above background comes my choice for this Pick of the Week: a three volume set entitled The Christian Story, by Dr. John Oakes. This set is published by my friend of 40+ years, Toney Mulhollan, and his staff at Illumination Publishers. While I cherish the printed set, I also own the ebook version for reading on my iPad when away from my physical ministry library.

I own several other books also written by Dr. Oakes, a professor of chemistry at Grossmont College in southern California. He is also a member of the Bakersfield (CA) Church of Christ. I enjoy his easy-to-read writing style which still is comprehensive and detailed in what is being discussed. Writing or teaching about any aspect of history requires the presenter to pick and choose what they present since much more material is often available than can be used, and different historians choose different sets of data as important. Dr. Oakes strikes a mostly neutral and non-judgmental view. This approach is what I look for in books such as his.

Positives of the 3-volume set:

  • Good depth and breadth of historical information. Some other popular texts – such as Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce L. Shelley and 30 Days to Understanding Church History, by Max Anders and Judith Lunsford – I feel are too abbreviated to give a true feeling and appreciation of the events, people and circumstances that helped shape Christianity’s advance century after century. There are certainly other textbooks which are larger and more detailed than The Christian Story, but I do believe the author strikes a good balance most of the time.
  • Biographical emphasis – time is devoted to telling more than just the bare minimum about many of the key figures in Christian history. This can increase appreciation for these people and what they were facing and trying to deal with in their generation.
  • Price. In my opinion, these books are under-priced for the amount of content and value they deliver.

Not so much:

  • To accomplish the above “Price” as a positive, the type size in the printed volumes is about 1-2 points too small for comfortable, long form reading. However, the smaller print means fewer pages to print and lower cost of publication. I get it.
  • Very few illustrations, charts, maps, and timelines. Being printed in black and white again keeps prices low. However, most of us can visualize historical events much better if accompanied by lists, charts, maps, timelines of events, etc.
  • Not as much a criticism as an observation: like almost all other commonly used Christian history texts, there is little attention or space given to aspects of Christianity outside of what occurred in and around the Mediterranean, Europe and the United States.
  • Another wish would be for some appendices which would document certain doctrines or practices through Christian history, putting the facts together all in one organized place to help students have a clearer pictures of how these teachings and activities reached their present state. Examples might be the eucharist, clergy, monasticism, baptism, etc.

Since volume III ends around AD 1730, I hope Dr. Oakes will produce a fourth volume completing Christian history until the end of the 20th century.

Because our school calendar runs on a quarter system, I teach Christian History in a single quarter of 8 weeks. As such The Christian Story has to be relegated to a recommended resource. My students would simply not have time to read and digest the 700 pages which make up these three volumes. This is no criticism, just the reality of trying to cover so much good material in such a confined amount of time. These books are worthy of any minister, teacher or serious student’s resource library.

Availability at IPIBooks.com: The Christian Story: Finding the Church in Church History, per volume: paperback print – $15.00; Kindle or Apple Books digital – $13.99