(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:
- Vol. 1: Age of the Early Church Fathers [sample pages]
- Vol. 2: Middle Ages [sample pages]
- Vol 3: Renaissance and Reformation [sample pages]
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.