Church History for Local Churches

Elsewhere I’ve blogged on several occasions about the role of ‘historical intelligence’ in contemporary Christian discipleship, and a long-running interest of mine is how to enable local churches to engage with the ‘big story’ of the history of Christianity, as a resource for reflecting on their contemporary practice.

I’m starting this additional page on the blog as a way of collecting together a few resources I’ve developed (or am developing) which might help with this.

Some resources for congregational learning about the history of Christianity…

  • I’m currently writing a couple of different versions of a card game on the history of Christianity.  The basic idea of this is to introduce some key events, movements, people and ideas in over 2000+ years of Christian history, in an accessible and engaging way.  There will eventually be several different versions, with different rules, depending on the size of the group, the setting (formal or informal), the amount of time you have to play, or the topic(s) to be covered.  This will include:
    • A 200 card version (10 cards per century) useful for repeated game-playing in informal settings.   I have a trial version of this available – contact me if you’re interested.
    • A 50 card version which could be played over a couple of hours in a teaching setting
    • A suite of ten card versions, with sets of ten cards on particular themes – e.g., ‘ten key moments in Christian mission’, ‘ten key Christian spiritual writers’, ‘ten key moments in the development of Christian denominations’, etc.
    • A 20 card version recently trialled with a group of students from the University of Worcester, where I have been teaching a couple of sessions on a module called ‘Encountering Christianity’
  • I’ve also tried out with a group an activity based on David Bosch’s 7 ‘missional paradigms’ in the history of Christianity, where participants try to arrange aspects of each missional paradigm in order, under some broad period headings.  It seems to work pretty well.  Again I have a trial version of this, if anyone’s interested.

Once I’ve got these where I want them, I’ll upload them to this website, along with some simple playing rules, for downloading.  But please be patient – I’m working on this in my spare time and this stuff may not appear until late 2018!

Writing games which condense the whole history of Christianity down into a small number of ideas, events, people or statements inevitably presents a whole load of historiographical challenges.  When I have a moment, I’ll add a blog posting about these.  Meanwhile…

A few existing posts on history, from this blog…

Drinking from our own Wells – Deepening Discipleship through Engagement with History 

Faith, History and Music: Introducing the History of Christianity through Songs and Hymns

Discipleship through History – some first thoughts…

Discipleship through History – Three Early Christian Writers

‘Discipleship’ in the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch

Christian Discipleship through the Ages

Christian Mission and Listening to History


A list of good books for non-specialists interested in the exploring the history of Christianity…

Here, I’ve confined myself to individual books which cover the entire history of Christianity rather than individual periods.  As this page is on ‘church history for local churches’, I’ve steered away (with a couple of exceptions) from books aimed primarily at academics, and also left out multi-volume series’.

Accessible but reliable introductions for the educated general reader (who is content with text only):

  • Miranda Threlfall Holmes, The Essential History of Christianity (SPCK, 2012)
  • Nick Page, A Nearly Infallible History of Christianity (Hodder and Stoughton, 2013) – lighter and more humorous in tone, but with secure subject knowledge
  • Stephen Tomkins, A Short History of Christianity (Lion, 2005)

Best comprehensive one-volume survey (stunning, engagingly written and suitable for the educated general reader, but at 1000+ pages, definitely for the enthusiast):

  • Diarmuid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (Penguin, 2010)
  • Accompanying BBC series (2009), still available on DVD, is also extremely good and would make a good focus for a church discussion group

Some decent textbooks, good for undergraduates and educated general readers with little prior knowledge of Christianity:

  • Sebastian Kim and Kirsteen Kim, Christianity as a World Religion (Bloomsbury, 2008) [more contemporary in focus but attentive to the historical]
  • Douglas Jacobsen, The World’s Christians: Who they are, Where they are, How they got there (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) [especially good for those with little prior knowledge]

Particularly good for having plenty of short articles and illustrations on different topics:

  • The Lion History of Christianity (various editions)
  • Stephen Backhouse, The Compact Guide to Christian History (Lion, 2011) – this is my overall star choice for a novice wanting to buy one single introductory book on the history of Christianity – chosen for its attractive format, copious maps, timelines and images, its one-chapter-per-century format and its genuinely global coverage.

Good for containing plenty of primary source extracts:

  • Jean Comby with Diarmuid MacCulloch, How to Read Church History (2 volumes) (SCM Press, 1989)
  • Jean Comby, How to Understand the History of Christian Mission (SCM Press, 2011)

The latter is particularly good on Roman Catholic history, less strong on other   denominations.

Reflection on why Christians should bother with history, and on how and why we write the history of Christianity:

  • Euan Cameron, Interpreting Christian History: The Challenge of the Churches’ Past (Blackwell, 2005)
  • Jonathan Dean, Servitude and Freedom: Reading the Christian Tradition (Epworth Press, 2009)
  • Rowan Williams, Why Study the Past? (Eerdmans, 2005)

On Christian Mission:

  • Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions (Penguin, 1964) – scholarship is now very dated, but still worth a read
  • Stephen Spencer, SCM Studyguide to Christian Mission (SCM Press, 2007)

On Christian Spirituality through History:

  • Gordon Mursell (ed.), The Story of Christian Spirituality (Lion, 2001) – beautifully produced, scholarly and quite comprehensive
  • Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith (Hodder and Stoughton, first published 1998, new edition 2017)

Not history books, but workbooks for personal spiritual development, drawing on historic streams of Christian spirituality:

  • James Bryan Smith and Linda Graybeal, Lifestreams (Bible Society, 2010) – adapted from Renovare’s Spiritual Formation Workbook (see also Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water (Harper and Row, 1998)
  • Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe, Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 2009)
  • Heather Zempel, Sacred Roads: Exploring the Historic Paths of Christian Discipleship (Lifeway Press, 2009)


My own published writing on the history of Christianity…

Books/Edited Collections

  • The Local Church and Generational Change in Birmingham, 1945-2000 (Royal Historical Society/Boydell and Brewer, 2012)
    • ‘not only a good book, but an ambitious one’ (review by Prof. Jeffrey Cox in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Winter 2014)
    • ‘an outstanding contribution to the study of religion in modern Britain’ (review by Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, in Theology, Jul-Sept 2014)
    • ‘this rich account of local church life deserves a wide audience’ (review by Prof. Steve Bruce in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, July 2014)
  • Women and Priesthood in the Church of England: Ten Years On (Church House Publishing, London, 2004)
  • Ian Jones, Janet Wootton and Kirsty Thorpe (eds), Women and Ordination in the Christian Churches: International Perspectives (T&T Clark/Continuum, London, 2008; paperback 2012)

Journal Articles

  • ‘Faith in the Public Square in 1941 and 1991: Two Malvern Conferences Reviewed’ in Journal of Beliefs and Values 37:3 (2016), pp. 247-58
  • ‘Unemployment and the Response of the Churches: A Historical Conversation’ in Crucible: Journal of Church and Society (July-September 2012), pp. 7-20
  • Ian Jones and Peter Webster, ‘The Theological Problem of Popular Music for Worship in Contemporary Christianity’, Crucible July-September 2006, pp. 9-16
  • Ian Jones and Peter Webster, ‘Anglican “Establishment” reactions to “Pop” Church Music in England, c. 1956-1990’ in Kate Cooper and Jeremy Gregory (eds), Elite and Popular Religion: Studies in Church History 42 (2006), pp. 429-441
  •  ‘Earrings behind the Altar?  Anglican Expectations of the Ordination of Women as Priests’, Dutch Review of Church History  83 (2003), pp. 462-476

Book Chapters

  • ‘Introduction: Daily Life and Worship’ and (with Peter Webster) ‘Church Music’ in ‘The Churches since 1945’ in Dee Dyas (ed.), The English Parish Church through the Centuries: daily life & spirituality, art & architecture, literature & music [DVD-Rom] (Christianity and Culture Project, University of York/St John’s Nottingham, 2010)
  • Peter Webster and Ian Jones, ‘New Music and the Evangelical Style in the Church of England, c. 1958-1991’ in Mark Smith (ed.), British Evangelical Identities Past and Present vol 1 (2 vols, Paternoster Press, 2008), pp. 167-79
  • Ian Jones with Peter Webster, ‘Expressions of Authenticity: Music for Worship’ in Jane Garnett, Matthew Grimley, Alana Harris, William Whyte and Sarah Williams (eds), Redefining Christian Britain: Post-1945 Perspectives (SCM Press, London, 2007), pp. 50-62
  • ‘The Clergy, the Cold War and the Mission of the Local Church: England, c. 1945-60’ in Diane Kirby (ed.), Religion and the Cold War (Palgrave/Macmillan, London, 2003, paperback 2013), pp. 188-199
  • ‘More Desperate than any other Diocese in England?  Christianity in Modern Birmingham’ in Nils G. Holm (ed.), Christianity and Islam in School Religious Education (Abo Akademis Tryckeri, Abo [Finland], 2000), pp. 137-165


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