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Carl Trueman was once asked if he could recommend a couple of resources for students on church history and historical theology. He responded:

(1) The series being written by a guy named Nicholas Needham. It’s called 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power (Evangelical Press) and is proving to be a very good, comprehensive, but easy-to-read account of church history. It comes in several volumes.

(2) And the other book I recommend to students—the best single-volume on the history of theology —written by a Scandinavian Lutheran named Bengt Hägglund, titled simply, History of Theology (Concordia: 2007). It’s a single volume that takes you from the early church almost down to the present day in terms of the history of theology.

So those would be the two books I would recommend.

Needham’s 2000 Years of Christ’s Power is a projected five-volume history of the church, of which three volumes have already appeared:

A few notes about these books:

(1) They are based on excellent scholarship, but they are quite accessible.

(2) There are virtually no footnotes, except as short explanatory material—including, helpfully, pronunciation guides on ancient places, names, and events that may be unfamiliar.

(3) This is not only a comprehensive overview of historical theology, but it also contains primary source reading at the end of each chapter, so that you are not only reading about, say, the church fathers, but also sampling their actual writings.

(4) These volumes originate in the UK, and as such, they have a different aesthetic feel in terms of cover design, font choice, typsetting, etc. than you would find in the United States.

For a better overview than this, see Tony Reinke’s helpful post.

Reviewing volume 3 for Haddington House, Carl Trueman writes:

This book is the third volume in Dr Needham’s projected comprehensive history of the church from the age of the church fathers to the present day. While Dr Needham is an accomplished scholar in the fields of church history and historical theology, in these volumes he brings his learning to bear in a manner which is easily accessible to the layperson.

In a time where neither history nor the reading of books seem to be a particularly strong part of church culture, we should welcome the fact that there are books such as these which compress so much valuable information into a such a relatively short compass is to be welcomed by all who have a concern for the church’s historic heritage. . . .

In short, this book, indeed, this whole series, is well worth purchasing, reading, and inwardly digesting.

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10 thoughts on “Recommended Books for Church History and Historical Theology”

  1. Michael says:

    The link to volume 1 is not working. Is it still in print?

  2. Jon says:

    It’s a shame that Needham’s Vol. 1 is nearly impossible to find or prohibitively expensive, making null the point of introductory material to church history :(

  3. Chris says:

    I got it from a UK place called Eruitor for $25.00 including shipping to US.

    Also, The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent is a fascinating telling of church history. Broadbent was part of the Plymouth Brethren in the late 1800’s.

  4. I think it is about time we had an updated, multi-volume, extensive work on Church History. Schaft is great, but a newer work is overdue. With so many areas getting treatment from numerous sources, the field of Church History seems neglected, with the exception of individual biographies. I look forward to examining this new work…and I hope it goes all the way to the 20th Century.

  5. Matthew Burt says:

    I have used Needham for Seminary Level Church History for the last 8 years. It comes with somewhat of a reformed bias and has helpful primary sources at the end of each chapter to give the student a feel for the people making the history.
    I have also used Justo Gonzalez The Story of Christianity for the last ten years (25 if you want to count my seminary days). Excellent material and available ion a one – volume edition for only about $20.

  6. Greg Long says:

    If you’re looking for a simple and colorful introduction to church history that would be perfect for use at your church, I’d recommend Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones,

  7. Lee says:

    I’m just glad God started saving graphic designers.

  8. Joel says:

    “I’m just glad God started saving graphic designers.” Not here in the UK he didn’t. IVP’s (bless them) covers are terrible too.

  9. A revised edition of volume 1 is now available – with a new cover!

    See the Grace Publications website at under “Church History and Biography”.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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