The introduction to In the Year of Our Lord says it ‘is not a history of the church… it is more like a personal tour of some of the people and places that the author has encountered over the years’ (p.2).
The book began as a series of talks to Sinclair Ferguson’s church, covering some highlights of each century of church history. Owing to numerous requests it has now been produced in book form. Strictly speaking he is correct that it is not a formal history of the church. Nonetheless it is about many interesting events and people in church history.
The book has 20 chapters. The format of each chapter is straightforward: it opens with a quotation on which to reflect, followed by a brief narrative of individuals and events from that century, and concludes with a hymn written in the same century.
In preparing for this review, I chose to read carefully a single chapter a day and allow time to reflect on it. This has been valuable. To read substantial quotations form Patrick, Athanasius, Benedict, Jonathan Edwards and others followed by an outline of their history has been very helpful.
It is easy for us to see historical characters in distinct shades of good or bad, but this book shows that few were entirely either of these. In brief well-written biographies they have been presented in the context of their history, circumstances and the issues which they faced, which helps us to see their significant challenges and struggles. Although many had great strengths, they had weaknesses as well. Salutary lessons for us all.
Whilst this book could easily serve as an introduction to church history for the newcomer, its main value will be for those who know at least a little about the subject. Most will find it to be a stimulus to research and discover more. Certainly it has led me to read through it carefully a second time.
Overall the theme that runs through the chapters is that, according to his promise, Christ is building his church; and despite the twists and turns of history, the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
This book is well written and, with no complex theological or technical language, is easy reading.