Making Church History Fascinating

8 May 2023 by Wes Bredenhof

Church History, Simonetta Carr.  Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2022.  Hardcover, 265 pages.

When I was a lad attending our local Christian school, I endured several years of church history class.  Some of the students approached it with indifference, but some, like me, had an intense loathing for it.  Some of it had to do with the textbook.  It was a three-volume translation from the Dutch.  While perhaps it resonated with Dutch boys and girls in the 1960s, in translation it fell flat with Canadian kids in the 1980s.

Today’s Reformed students need an illustrated reference book in the style of DK.  For those who don’t know, Dorling Kindersley publishes these well-crafted hardcover books exploring all sorts of topics.  They captivate your attention and keep it – you can’t help but flip the page and continue.  They’re perfect for curious children and adults. 

Simonetta Carr has delivered just such a church history book.  If this book will be used in Reformed classrooms and kids still hate church history, it won’t be because of the book.  When my copy arrived and I cracked it open, I was instantly beguiled.  There’s nothing like it.    

Carr is a former elementary school teacher and accomplished author.  Among other books, she’s written many “Biographies for Young Christian Readers,” also published by RHB.  She’s a member of the Christ United Reformed Church in the San Diego area. 

Church History is an overview from the early church to today, aimed at young readers from the age of 9 and up.  Some of its features:

  • Global in scope, including church history in Asia, Africa, and South America.
  • Numerous helpful maps
  • Timelines throughout
  • Insights into men and women of church history
  • Richly illustrated
  • Key terms are typeset in bold, directing the reader to the glossary

It also includes these regular features in each of its 9 parts:

  • “Great Questions of the Church” – various issues the church has struggled with
  • “Think About It” – questions to get young readers thinking
  • “Did You Know?” – great little non-trivial facts

All of this is presented carefully and with an eye to recent scholarship.  I appreciate, for instance, that she doesn’t repeat some of the Reformation legends with no solid basis in historical fact – i.e. that Luther said, “Here I stand, I can do no other…” or that Hus prophesied the coming of a swan (Luther) that couldn’t be cooked

While it is certainly expansive, there were a couple of notable gaps.  While the early church history of Australia gets a brief mention, Canada is overlooked.  That’s unfortunate since our country does have a rich Christian history going back to the days of New France.  With respect to Dutch church history, Carr stops with Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck at the turn of the 20th century.  Since she’s writing for a broad audience, I don’t fault her for that – however, those hoping to use this as a textbook might want to keep that in mind.

In her blurb on the back, Rosaria Butterfield calls Church History a “visual encyclopedia.”  She says she’s eager to use it in her homeschooling.  Whether you use it in the home or in the classroom environment, I’m sure it’ll be not only helpful, but also enjoyable.  Kids might actually start to love church history!

Originally published in Clarion 72.6 (April 28, 2023)