My knowledge of church history was spotty – at best – for a very long time. My grade school and undergraduate education was almost entirely secular. I took two years of catechism (Lutheran version), and in my 20s took several extension courses about the Old and New Testaments. But if you asked me what I knew about the history of the early church before my mid-30s, I would have given you a timeline that leaped from the book of Acts to St. Augustine, and from St. Augustine to the Reformation.
That state of affairs changed, dramatically, when I pursued a liberal arts master’s degree in my mid-30s. I took course like “Athens or Jerusalem,” “History of the Early Christian Church,” and “The Image of Rome.” I read the early church fathers, like Origen, Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. I read Peter Brown’s marvelous biography of Augustine. I read the Didache. And the Desert Fathers (and a few Desert Mothers). I read Kenneth Scott Latourette’s A History of Christianity (two fat volumes) and The Rise of Christianity by W.H.C. Frend. And a whole lot more.
And I learned that the Christian church had an unbelievably rich, complex, and often profound history. And I realized how much of that history had been erased from so many of my history courses in high school and college. And I’ve often wondered how one could introduce that history to children and young people.
Luke Herron Davis has an answer – a series on church history written especially for younger readers. The first volume in that series is Redemption: The Church in Ancient Times. And far from being a weighty tome that could be a weapon if thrown at someone, it’s short, readable, interesting, and tells engaging stories taken straight from the Gospels and the Book of Acts as well as other sources of early church history.
Davis tells the story of the church by telling the stories of some of its leading historical figures from the first through the sixth centuries A.D. Each entry is 10 to 12 pages, written in story format – enough to impart important information about each figure and whet the appetite for more.
The people included are Peter, Paul, Ignatius, Polycarp, Cyprian, Constantine, Athanasius, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, and Patrick. Many others are mentioned in side notes (including one of my favorite figures, Tertullian). Each chapter is written like a story, bringing a freshness and a contemporary feel. The reader feels an integral part of what’s happening.
It's an easy, interesting read, and I suspect that even adults would enjoy it (and learn a few things).
|Luke Herron Davis|
Davis teaches at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis and chairs the Bible Department there. He’s also taught at schools in Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia. He describes himself as “Presbyterian body, Lutheran heart, Anglican blood, Orthodox spirit,” all of which have served him well in writing the Cameron Ballack mysteries. He has published three Ballack mysteries, Litany of Secrets (2013), The Broken Cross (2015), and A Shattered Peace (2017), and the first book of a new series, Joel: The Merivalkan Chronicles Book 1 (2017). He blogs at For Grace and Kingdom.
Redemption is not written to be a complete, encyclopedic overview of church history. What it does is, aiming at young readers, provide an introduction to some of the leading figures of early church history, the people who evangelized, taught, encouraged, and admonished, and who often had the specter of martyrdom hanging over them (like Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was himself discipled by the Apostle John). These are the people who faithfully transmitted the faith to future generations, and Davis is providing a real service in introducing them in such an engaging way to contemporary readers.
Next week: Reign: The Church in the Middle Ages.
Top illustration: a representation of the burning of Polycarp of Smyrna (168 A.D.), drawn by Jan Luyken in 1685.