Top ten books on church history for non-academics

Luther at Diet of Worms

Like others, I lament the weakening awareness of  doctrine in the faith of many modern Christians, and see one remedy to be giving people the tools to learn about how great Christians in the past grappled with issues like God, the world, human fallenness, purpose and salvation.  Here are ten astounding books which I recommend when church members ask me what to read (in chronological order by subject):

Henry Chadwick “Augustine of Hippo” – a great writer, on one of the greatest thinkers in history, and perhaps the first autobiographer and historical interpreter

GR Evans “Anselm of Canterbury” – a key medieval thinker on the existence of God and the nature of the atonement

Josef Pieper “Guide to Thomas Aquinas” – highly readable introduction to the life of the thirteenth-century “dumb ox, whose bellow the world will hear”; another remarkable theologian

Roland Bainton “Here I stand”, a page-turning biography of Martin Luther, tinderbox of the Reformation (pictured above)

JC Ryle “Five English Reformers” – one for Brits: a passionate case for the Protestant identity of the Church of England

THL Parker “John Calvin” – balanced and accessible account of this cool pastor-theologian who is interested in so much more than predestination

JI Packer “Among God’s Giants” – a superb introduction to the thought of the Puritans, who tried to reform the reformation, and banned theatres

John Pollock “George Whitefield and the Great Awakening” – the Anglican evangelist and (arguably) founder of Methodism

Jeremy and Margaret Collingwood “Hannah More” – a remarkable female writer and abolitionist of the late eighteenth century (available secondhand)

Edwin Robertson “The Persistent Voice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” – controversial but remarkable pastor and protestor against the Nazi ideology

What would you add to this shortlist?


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Rector of Holy Trinity, Norwich, since Sept 2017, writing on pastoring, preaching, resourcing discipleship, and apologetics/philosophy.

2 thoughts on “Top ten books on church history for non-academics”

  1. I’m little more than a dabbler in church history, but those I’ve found most helpful are W.H.C. Frend’s ‘The Early Church’ and a couple from Alister McGrath: ‘Christianity’s Dangerous Idea’ and ‘Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth’. The latter of these is probably the most useful in terms of your opening paragraph, as it gives a nice overview of a lot of ideas in the early church that have come to be rejected.


    1. Thanks, I’m aware of McGrath’s “Heresy: A History…” but haven’t read it so will have a look. He’s usually very clear and readable. Frend is another classic alongside Chadwick, I agree.


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