Robert F. Rea’s new work, Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn from Our Past, is a well-needed clarion call to all Christian traditions that have largely ignored the history of their faith. I have considered church history a vital part of Christian discipleship for many years and in this book Rea clearly spells out many reasons why this is so. In fact, I believe that both Christian churches and Christian schools should be careful to form their children in Church history as much as (if not more) than national history. Thus, I enjoyed Rea’s book and firmly believe that his message is an extremely important one for the Protestant church to hear.
The book is divided into three parts: 1 – How We Understand Tradition, 2 – Expanding Circles of Inquiry, and 3 – Tradition Serving the Church. Part one of Fea’s work explores the meaning of history and tradition and takes a special look at how various groups have understood and related to Christian tradition throughout Christian history. This serves as a helpful background to his discussion on how various Christians understand tradition today. Part two of the book serves to explore the many ways that our Christian identity is necessarily connected to the brothers and sisters who have come before us. He discusses how Christian tradition is actually a vibrant part of the Christian community, how historical Christians can serve as accountability partners, and how they can helpfully broaden our views and correct misunderstandings in our faith. Part three of Rea’s work explores how a proper understanding of Christian history helps the church both understand Scripture and minister more faithfully. Rea helpfully walks through the various strategies of exegesis that have been characteristic of different time periods in church history and gives practical examples of how these historical truths might inform responsible exegesis today.
For the most part, Rea’s book is plenty accessible to students and lay readers. There are times where he condenses a lot of information/names/theories in a few pages (such as when surveying the history of “tradition” from the early Church to the modern period or when detailing the history of exegesis from the early church to the modern period). This may seem overwhelming to novices or, alternatively, over-simplified to those with further education. Rea’s book reads as an apologetic for Christians to know their history and integrate it into their lives, faiths, and ministries appropriately. With this goal in mind, I found Part Two of his work to be the most engaging and practical portion of his book. Ultimately, I believe that an actual primary study of church history is the best way to open one’s eyes up to its incredible importance for today’s church. Thankfully, Rea ends his book with a list of recommended resources – personally, I recommend starting with Justo Gonzalez’ The Story of Christianity.
I’d Recommend This Book For:
– Those wanting to know “why” they should care about Church History
– Those looking for a brief overview of Church History
– Perhaps as a textbook for an introductory undergraduate class on Church History
– Perhaps a church small group unfamiliar with church history yet wishing to dig into it.
Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for an unbiased review.