To guide your summer getaway book selections, try this formula: E=FB²
The Dawn of Christianity
Robert J. Hutchinson
If you want more background on the events, institutions, and characters of the New Testament, Hutchinson’s retelling of the Gospels and the first 15 chapters of Acts will be just what you’re looking for. Current archaeological research and discoveries figure prominently in Hutchinson’s account. He deftly uses Old Testament quotations and draws connections to deepen his story, sticking close to Scripture and never presuming to correct the inspired authors. The book includes a helpful timeline and character list. Hutchinson lightly fictionalizes some details (Simon Peter’s boat was “fine Lebanese cedar”?), but the information he gives helps the first century seem more real.
The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years
John Anthony McGuckin
McGuckin, an Oxford professor and Romanian Orthodox archpriest, tells the linear story of the church’s first 1,000 years in his first 750 pages. In the remaining 400, he treats fascinating themes like the development of Christian hymnography and Christian attitudes toward prayer, women, magic, and slavery. He is deeply familiar with the church fathers in their original languages, and his meandering sentences owe a heavy debt to Greek and Latin vocabulary. He’s not afraid to argue theological points, but narrates far more than he evaluates. This book may be massive, but every page exalts Jesus Christ.
2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Vol. 4: The Age of Religious Conflict
History is biography in this excellent treatment of the church’s long 17th century. Needham summarizes the life and achievements of key figures, including Lutheran Scholastic Johannes Quenstedt, Orthodox Patriarch Cyril Lucaris (who may have been a Calvinist), and Roman Catholic mystic Madame Guyon. The author, an Englishman, focuses much of the book on Britain. Although he is a Reformed Baptist, his work is remarkably fair to all parties and lacks the apocalyptic coloring of pre-20th-century church histories. The primary sources are enticingly excerpted at each chapter’s end. Both Christ’s power and the church’s rich heritage are here in plenty.
Papa Don’t Pope: Why I’m Not a Roman Catholic (and Why the Future Is Protestant)
Twenty loosely connected chapters of informative and occasionally sharp musings on Roman Catholic theology and practice deal with everything from icons (Chapter 10, “Take the Blue Pomegranates, for Example”—referring to the decorations in the tabernacle) to theologically diluted ecumenical efforts (Chapter 20, “The Smell of Boiling Water”). Wilson’s book is a pastoral appeal to Protestants impressed by Roman Catholic antiquity and theology. Don’t get in bed with Rome, Wilson says, because the faithful are actually doing what the church really teaches. To those who say we already have enough disagreement between Geneva and Rome, Wilson says we don’t have enough clear disagreement.
In The Starry Messenger (along with The Greatest Day Ever and The Bottomless Dinner Basket, CF4Kids, 2016), Selah Helms and Susan Kahler encourage parents to teach children doctrine. Each short chapter has several catechism questions and a story, related Scripture passages, and discussion questions. The authors write, “Our goal is to equip both parents and children with a robust enough theology to answer the hard questions of life.” They’ve edited the catechism to leave out questions about baptism, making the guides useful for believers across denominations.
In What’s Up With the Fig Leaves? (Christian Focus, 2016), Heather Thieneman explores modesty and what it means for the Christian. From her discussion of Adam and Eve and shame in the Garden to her last summary chapter, Thieneman treats the topic thoroughly and winsomely: “Having been given such a good gift by such a good Father, let us treat it like a good gift and not like a gift no one wants.” —Susan Olasky