Why Study Church History?: Duane W.H. Arnold

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26 Responses

  1. Shawn says:

    It is interesting that when I taught classes on Church History and Theology many years ago I never asked that simple question you opened with. Why study church history? A Novel idea looking back.

    For me it was a task, a dreaded one at that. I think I intuitively knew I was starting out ground zero and there was a lot of ground to cover. I knew I could not sufficiently wade through the topics not to mention constraints to paint certain ideas, even Orthodox ones, in a somewhat negative light (Calvinism for one).

    Thankfully I had Mark Knoll’s concise tome to loosely guide me but even that felt woefully insufficient. It did provide me with an unexpected spark and appreciation.

    So I fumbled my way through and did the best I could considering. However, unbeknownst to me it also broadened my perspective on the church outside of the fishbowl. Now thanks to you I am wading back into those waters, especially Church History, for education, edification, and enlightenment.

    Thanks a million. Keep on!

  2. Michael says:

    I was searching for my favorite church history lectures only to find that what I got for free is now a couple grand from Logos…iTunes U had lots of great classes, but sadly, they are no more.

  3. Duane Arnold says:


    Many thanks! Mark Noll is well worthwhile. Keep wading back into those waters…

  4. Duane Arnold says:


    I’ve noticed that some materials have left the land of the free! On a positive note, I was pleased to see that you can now get Justo Gonzalez on Audible…

  5. Michael says:


    It’s a big loss for people who desire to learn but can’t afford Logos insane pricing.
    I have both of Gonzalez audible works…good stuff.

  6. Michael says:

    Covent Theological Seminary has all of David Calhouns history classes available for free.

    Calhoun was an acquired taste, but he really grew on me.


  7. Duane Arnold says:

    I’m always fearful that when you start to talk about church history, people relegate it to the “dry as dust” category. Anything that excites interest, I see as being positive. I have often recommended John Romer’s video series ‘Testament’ and ‘Byzantium’. I have also recommended Diarmaid MacCulloch’s BBC series ‘History of Christianity’.

    While everything presented in such series may not be to my liking, I feel that they fire the imagination and allow people to see that although the past may be a different country, it’s an exciting place. I’ve always felt that education should not be a matter of setting up barriers, but of building bridges. Whatever helps a person to cross that bridge is, in my mind, a very good thing…

  8. Josh says:

    I’m sure I greatly disagree with Covenant’s theology, but that page is an amazing resource.

  9. Duane Arnold says:


    A bit of Reformed theology will do you no harm… I recently had to ask for absolution from Michael when I acquired a new translation of Calvin’s Institutes…😁

  10. Michael says:

    So…I no longer consider myself Reformed…but taking any systematic or biblical theology class will give you a foundation to think from and get you used to textbooks.

    I used to buy all the text books for the free classes and do the work, but that isn’t necessary to learn a lot.

    I’m really grieved that so much of what I used has been taken down and monetized…

  11. Joshua Robert Barron says:

    I see the eminent Justo L. González mentioned above in the comments. He’s an excellent historian, scholar, theologian, and (what doesn’t necessarily follow) writer. But his two volume history is rather parochially eurocentric. My first choice for an introduction to students is Frederick W. Norris’s CHRISTIANITY: A SHORT GLOBAL HISTORY (London: Oneworld, 2002). From there I’d perhaps move to Ian J. Shaw’s CHRISTIANITY: THE BIOGRAPHY: 2000 YEARS OF GLOBAL HISTORY (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016) and then Dale T. Irvin and Scott W. Sunquist’s HISTORY OF THE WORLD CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT, vol. 1 (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 2010) and vol. 2 (Orbis, 2017).

    Duane, have you read Rowan Williams’s WHY STUDY THE PAST? THE QUEST FOR THE HISTORICAL CHURCH (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005). If not, I’m sure you’d enjoy it (though of course it wouldn’t offer anything radically new to you).

    Anyway, thanks for another well-written post.

  12. Josh says:

    Oh, i’ve taken in a whole bunch of that stuff over the years, but the content is good enough that it is worth picking around.

  13. Michael says:

    This site has a number of good classes…I was less than happy with the church history by Bray, but there is much to glean elsewhere on the site…


  14. Duane Arnold says:


    Many thanks and especially for mentioning Fred Norris, who is a treasure! Rowan’s book is well worthwhile, as well as being beautifully written. In fact, I have found very little of Rowan’s work that is not of value!

    I take your point that Gonzalez is eurocentric, but I think this is in keeping with his, and my, generation of Church historians. We all have our blind spots and comfort zones! Thanks for the other suggestions…

  15. Muff Potter says:

    Michael wrote:
    “It’s a big loss for people who desire to learn but can’t afford Logos insane pricing.”

    Sooner or later they’ll learn about market forces and what the traffic will bear or not bear.
    Not everyone can afford a Ferrari (so to speak), but just about everybody and everybody’s brother can afford a Hyundai.

  16. Duane Arnold says:

    When 200 volumes can go on a 1 Gig flash drive… It does make one wonder.

  17. Linn says:

    i missed all the great discussion because I’m getting ready for school (we start a week from tomorrow). It was so great to read the comments and know that people are aware of church history. Church history was one of the things that God used to draw me to himself. The question as I studied history from Roman times to the Reformation was why on earth would all those people give up their lives for an idea? Reading taught me the idea was a Person who I could read about more in the Bible, and I did! i would probably place myself in the middle-of-the road Reformed category, but I have always understood if there hadn’t been a Catholic Church, we wouldn’t have ever had the Bible (all those monks who copied so carefully by hand).

    Justo González is great in Spanish! I took a class on him and his writings when I lived in Colombia, in Spanish. I learned much.

  18. Duane Arnold says:


    What a great testimony of the power of church history leading someone to something more! Many thanks…

  19. Muff Potter says:

    Anyway, I think it’s a good idea to study Church history for two reasons:
    1) we can look back on the good, the bad, and the ugly.
    2) and hopefully, with any luck, not repeat the bad and the ugly.

  20. Duane Arnold says:


    I used to start my second lecture on church history with the statement “we’ve been through this before…”

  21. Duane Arnold says:

    This is a select bibliography from Trinity College, the University of Toronto. Looking through the listings, it’s one of the better ones that I’ve seen…


  22. Steve says:

    Curious, what folks think about the council of Trent? My wife is starting a teaching job at a Catholic HS, my daughter is currently attending a Catholic day camp and we know very little about Catholocism. We are fish out of water in a densely populated Catholic area. With a steady diet of reformed teaching from john Mac, James White to R.C, Sproul, they had me convinced RC is a false religion but now Im questioning all of it. Who do I start with in understanding the reformation and the counter reformation? Luther used to be my hero but now from a Catholic perspective he comes across as the greatest schismatic of all time. Who is right and what sources of history should I read?

  23. bob1 says:

    Actually from things I’ve read, there are a lot of Catholic writers who are pro-Luther, some even saying his reformation of the then-Catholic church was necessary. You really need to widen out your Protestant sources. Maybe Duane would be helpful here.

  24. Steve says:

    But why stick with protestant at all? I haven’t met many pro Lutherans that are Catholic. Could you share some of those authors? It seems most despise Luther. Maybe the RC church is the only true church. I’m questioning the entire protestant movement.

  25. Duane Arnold says:


    I would suggest that you start off with a reasonable history of the reformation era, one without polemics. There are several good ones, but I’ve always enjoyed ‘The Reformation’ by Owen Chadwick. It will provide a context for the theology and for the disputes. Once you have the background, you can approach biographies of central figures of the era, such as Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Loyola, etc. It is also important to note that the Roman Catholic Church is not the monolith which some make it out to be. There are liberals, traditionalists, and everything in between just as there are among Protestants. I know of a number of evangelicals who have found a home there, just as others have found a home in Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. Between them all there are issues of doctrine and, importantly, of culture and aesthetics.

    Again, my advice is to gain perspective over a large canvas before focusing in on particular issues which divided the church…

  26. Steve says:

    Thanks Duane! Good advice.

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