Question: Dear Dr. Luginbill, I really like your website and would love to print the entire site but----- Is there a specific book of Church History you would recommend? I have a friend who is wanting one and I don't know what to recommend. Have found one by Kenneth Latourette---what do you think?
Response: Yes, printing out the whole of Ichthys would take a lot of paper! I do have it all in Adobe format on the download page (which can be put in hand-held devices, though most of us are not that tech-savvy - I am certainly not). My long, long range plan is to have these things available in paper-back format someday (well in the future at this point). You might also consider for your friend Charles Ryrie's A Survey of Bible Doctrine. It is good, basic stuff, done in a way that makes basic doctrine accessible. As to Church History, yes I have Latourette's books. It is supposed to be more conservative/evangelical than works of the past, but in my view often is merely less interesting and less readable.
Despite its somewhat liberal approach, the best one volume work remains, in my view, Williston Walker's A History of the Christian Church (I have the older 3rd edition - there's probably a newer one out by now). The classic, of course, is Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church in eight volumes. The problem, as I see it, with all of these histories is that they never go far beyond the received historical view of what happened before the Reformation. The thing of it is, what is happening in the Church that is of true spiritual import in any generation is not necessarily what is obvious to the human eye or what is set down for historians to consider. That this is so is obvious from the divine synopsis of Church History contained in chapters two and three of the book of Revelation (see The Coming Tribulation: Part 2A: The Seven Churches of Revelation). Much of what secular and even Christian historians have been able to glean from the scant records of antiquity gives in many cases a completely false impression about what actually happened in some of these Church eras. To put it bluntly, from the records available before the Reformation we know a lot about the popes and famous scholars (few of whom are at all important in the true Church of Christ), but little about the spiritual dynamics of what was really important from God's point of view (again, obvious from Rev.2-3). Case in point is the body of texts surviving from antiquity known as the "Apostolic Fathers". These writings which date from the generation immediately following the apostles (and some centuries later) show a cataclysmic drop-off in understanding of scripture and spiritual power. Yet if we were to approach things from a secular, historical point of view only, we should have to afford them a weight equal to that of the epistles and the book of Acts.
Clearly, there is nothing like the Word of God. The main lesson I have learned from my own study of Church history from seminary onward is that looking back to past generations for guidance in scriptural interpretation is usually a big mistake. The apostles came to understand and to write down through the Spirit all the truth we need to know (in conjunction, of course, with the scriptures already available). However, their audiences did not, by and large, "get it", and after their departure much of the understanding of the truth of scripture was lost (and many egregious practices and developments followed in the wake of this mass ignorance). To take but one example, the entire category of eschatology was almost completely (and to some extent deliberately) ignored until the 19th century. In my view, we are only now climbing back to a true understanding of the power of the scriptures and what they really mean (and only in a few small circles where there is some interest). Going back to the days where interpretation was built not on scripture but upon the interpretation of famous scholars who were wrong more often than not is not, in my view, a particularly profitable approach. However, some attention is possibly not a bad thing, if only for the main lesson that such investigation teaches, namely, that there is no substitute for the direct study of the Bible, the Word of God. Well, you have caught me in a rather long digression. I hope some of this was of some help to you, and, again, thank you for your interest in Ichthys.
Yours in Him who is the only truth, the Word of Truth, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.