Books on Church History

Good general places to start: this is the best one volume starting-out history of the church.  It is Reformed, and gives great scope for the whole, while still giving many good details. This looks to be a great set (I don’t own it, so I am not able to say for sure how good it is; however, they have excellent editors).

Early Church History: In this category, this is essential reading, as is this. For further primary sources, go here and here. Of course, nothing substitutes for the original sources. You can download many of the Migne set (the definitive Greek and Latin source texts) on Search for patrologiae in full view mode. Good secondary sources are here, here and here. I especially appreciate Pelikan. His whole series is well worth purchasing (here, here, here, here, and here), not least because he pays careful attention to the Eastern church, which not too many Western church historians do, and because it is a history of doctrine, which is an appropriately limited scope (contrary to many other histories, which try to tell us everything).

Medieval Church History: Here is excellent sources for primary material (includes the outstanding Cur Deus Homo, by Anselm). Secondary sources are here, here, and here.

Reformation History: I am assuming that most people will already know how to get their hands on Calvin and Luther’s works. But I cannot recommend too highly this work. You could go broke on secondary sources on this period. But this, this, this, this, and this are good secondary sources on Reformation history.

Modern Church History: I am also assuming that anyone who wants primary sources can find them for themselves. With regard to secondary sources, I would go here, here, and here.


Lord’s Supper and Imputation

The next two sections deal with the Lord’s Supper and Imputation. The only thing objectionable in the first section is their paedo-communionist view. They do make a strong effort to avoid ex opere operato on this Sacrament, and succeed, I think. They emphasize that the bread and wine remain the bread and wine, and they affirm the real but Spiritual presence of Christ at the Supper. I have dealt with paedo-communion already here. So, I will not hash it all out again, but rather direct readers to read that post and the many comments there.

The second section is on imputation and faith union with Christ. There are some good points and some not-so-good points here. Good points: 1. The first sentence is certainly encouraging. Yes, the sinless life of Christ, His death, and His resurrction are all credited to us. It is somewhat surprising to me that they are even willing to use an accounting term. It has not been my experience in the past that they have exactly rejoiced in such terminology. 2. I agree also with Jesus being the anti-type of Adam and of Israel.

Some concerns are raised when we consider these several questions: what is meant by union with Christ in this section? Anyone who is baptized, or is it faith-union whereby someone enters the ordo salutis irrevocably? This is utterly ambiguous here. Given the confusion that has resulted surrounding the doctrine of union with Christ, this would be THE place where it should be clarified. If, as I suspect, the union with Christ in view here is baptismal union with Christ (regardless of whether the person is elect or not: i.e., if it is “John 15” union (according to their view), then they are affirming that ordo salutis benefits accrue to the non-elect), then I strongly disagree with this statement. If by union they mean irrevocable faith-union with Christ, by which the elect only participate in all the ordo salutis benefits irrevocably, then I heartily agree. But the statement itself solves precisely nothing. It is the nature of union with Christ that is in dispute here, and they do not define it here in this place, where the entire ordo salutis is said to hinge upon it (as I believe it does).

This is where I would voice my one disagreement (there may be more, but this is the only one I can think of right now) with R. Scott Clark. Clark would not say that the entire ordo salutis hinges upon union with Christ (understood in a saving way). He would say ( I think) that the entire ordo salutis hinges upon justification. Without diminishing in any way the central importance of justification, I believe that Ephesians 1 decisively supports saving faith-union with Christ as the fundamental benefit of salvation. Within this faith-union, there is justification and there is sanctification, which two benefits are distinct, yet inseparable. I do not agree that saying that union with Christ underlies justification and sanctification is equivalent to saying that we are justified by our sanctification. Union with Christ means that imputation is no legal fiction, but a legal reality, and is far from making imputation redundant. Imputation is essential, and is the core of justification. Without it, there is no salvation.

I have flip-flopped several times on whether the imputation of Christ’s active obedience is absolutely necessary to have a saving Gospel. On the one hand, I believe that all the standards teach it. Many people have misused Chad Van Dixhorn’s work on this subject. They emphasize the fact that the language of Chapter 11 was “pulled.” But they forget the rest of Chad’s research, which plainly indicates that the active obedience of Christ was firmly taught in the LC and the SC. It’s there. Of course, it is also present in the 3FU (maybe even more clearly than the WS). On the other hand, there is this magnificent article by Wes White. Upshot? It is taught in the standards, and should be upheld, and I think we ought to hold ministers to the IAOC. The last statement I find particularly disturbing. Roman Catholics can say that our salvation is all of Christ and not of us. But how is it made ours? Imputation or infusion? The IAOC is not so unimportant as the FV would make it out to be. On the contrary, there is no hope without it, as Machen said.