Summer is here and the HistoricalTheology.org crew has book recommendations to add to your summer reading list. Here’s something for all the historians and theologians in your family!
On the Incarnation by Athanasius
Too often, our thinking about the incarnation is limited to one time of year and associated with Christmas pageants and festivities. However, for Athanasius, he saw the incarnation as the proof of God's love for His people. He lived in a time when the idea that God would take on human flesh was mocked by unbelievers. And yet, he knew that losing this truth meant also losing not only Christ but God's entire answer to the problem of sin. These days, though we might not explicitly deny the incarnation, our lives betray a shallow understanding of this doctrine. Let Athanasius help you contemplate this subject more deeply, for your joy and confidence in God's salvation in Christ.
Bonus: Make sure you pick up a copy which has the classic preface by C. S. Lewis. Here, he warns against our own cultural and theological blind spots and recommends reading historical works because they are "the only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds." - GC
Confessions by Augustine
It would be difficult to identify a theologian who has had a greater impact on the history of Christian thought than Augustine of Hippo (354–430). However, his life was not always devoted to Christ. In his autobiography, entitled Confessions, the reader gets to see not only what Augustine wrote, but who he was, and how knowing Jesus Christ transformed his life. This reflective book revealed how a boy who stole pears from a neighbor’s farm, became a man who shaped the trajectory of Christian thought. Pick this book up and read it. Or, to borrow from Augustine, Tolle lege! —THS
Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis by Chris R. Armstrong
I picked this up at a conference book table last year and am excited to finally be reading it. As the resident medievalist, to say they “had me at medieval” is true enough, but the deal was clinched with the arguably the most profound four syllables in Christian writing: “C. S. Lewis.” Armstrong recounts his own journey of questioning as he asked why there was a “dismissal of more than a millennium of church history – more than half of the time between Christ and today” in our theological education. He goes on to use our beloved Lewis as the gatekeeper to this time he loved so much. The book is not shy to point out theological oddities or errors in medieval thought but is equally quick to find the deep truths mined by medieval thinkers. Armstrong takes the reader on a tour that is part biography of Lewis, part medieval history and theology primer, and all focused on edifying the modern Christian. - MF
Anne Bradstreet: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Poet by Heidi L. Nichols
Scholarship on Puritan women is fascinating, but also inundated by a lot of technical language and controversial issues. This is partly due to the nature of studying women in church history, and partly due to the fact that scholars from various fields approach these figures with divergent presuppositions about God, history, and women. For these reasons, I was happy to find a book on a Puritan woman that is affordable, easy to read, and explains both historical context and theology. It is one of a few books that can be purely read for fun, out of an interest in the Puritans, women in church history, American history, or theology. It is well-researched and will probably spark questions in your mind about big, controversial issues, but it is accessible enough to be a beach book read just to enjoy learning about history and theology in the life of a Christian woman.
If you have been wanting to read about women in church history or Puritan women, either out of personal interest or as a way to expose yourself to neglected voices in church history, this is one of the best books to start with for the reasons I listed above. I’ve found that it’s often more mature women that are interested in books like these, but this book is also great for older teenage girls who are starting to ask questions about women in history and women doing theology, as well as those who may not be thinking about this yet but have many ungodly examples in their lives and would benefit from seeing a godly example. Of course, men and boys should also be influenced by these godly examples and make themselves aware of women in church history, and this book could be a good place to start, especially for those who already have an interest in church history, American history, or the Puritans. - JD
Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace
I was led to this book because of high praise it received from Tim Keller, David Powlison, Ray Ortlund, and Douglas Groothuis. I’m slowly working my way through it, trying to digest Lovelace’s storytelling and biblical evaluation of various periods of spiritual renewal throughout history. It’s an eccentric book that jumps between church history, theology, philosophy, and cultural commentary. There have been points where I wanted to put it down because I wasn’t sure what direction we were going, but I’ve pushed through and it’s proven beneficial to my own spiritual life. Plus, the original 1979 version has wonderfully-bizarre cover art which for whatever reason endears the book to me even more.
Those who are interested in spirituality (in general) and important movements in American Christianity (more specifically) will find Dynamics of Spiritual Life an interesting read. The book helps synthesize some major figures and movements since the time of the Reformation, which makes it helpful for those who have a base of knowledge of the time period but are not sure how the pieces fit together. It’s not light reading, but Lovelace’s emotive style makes for an enjoyable experience. I’ve underlined numerous insightful nuggets throughout the book that I’ve not heard or seen anywhere else. - JP
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson
Long time pastor, writer, and follower of Jesus Eugene Peterson (1932-2018) tells the story of the modern Christian’s path to God against the backdrop of the Old Testament songs of ascent. Like these ancient pilgrims to Jerusalem, today’s Christian needs to tell an honest story of struggle and victory as they grow to understand the love of the God they claim to know. It seems that every line of this book is quotable and impactful, and it has proved to be an encouragement to me among the busyness. In our rush to meet deadlines and schedule meetings it is more important than ever to reflect on discipleship as a long journey of faithfulness rather than an occasional or episodic experience. - MF
Church History in Plain Language (4th Ed.) by Bruce Shelley
If reading history books have always been a bore to you, and you’ve struggled to finish one, then try Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. This book is currently in its 4th edition, and for good reason—this book works as a foundational book for the college student or first year seminary student, but it is also a book that you could read on the beach. Shelley had a gift for writing history in a concise, accurate, and readable way. The chapters are short and digestible, and the book covers the history of Christianity from the early church through modern times. Don’t give up on reading history yet. Give this book a try. - THS
The Trailblazers Series
For the aspiring historian in your home, the Trailblazers series (think Boxcar Children reading level) are a great introduction to church history through short biographies of significant figures in church history. Each chapter focuses on important events in the person’s life and they combine to tell their stories in a captivating way. Characters include men and women and range from theologians, to missionaries, to pastors, to poets, to scientists, and more. This would also make a great option for summer bedtime reading with the little ones in your home. Where to begin? Spurgeon, of course! - GC