Book Review: “The Church in History” By B.K. Kuiper



Reviewed By: Dominic Silla


Upon the recommendation of my pastor, once he learned of my avid interest for the history of the Church, he recommended to me this book as a well written, comprehensive, yet brief (only 400 Pages in total) overview of the historical life of the Christian Church! Written by Mr. Barend Klaus Kuiper in 1951, this high school textbook has seen an number or revisions, corrections, and new editions since then, (six in total I believe) with the most recent reprint in 2000 (at least the copy I have was reprinted then). Published by Eerdmans Publishing Co. the text itself is supported and promoted by the ‘Christians Schools International’. The book was published in Grand Rapid’s, Michigan and it’s price runs between $8 and $20 on Amazon.

There are hundreds of texts on Church history, probably dozens that could be used for a teaching a high school class, so why should one recommend or use this one? Why read this particular text? Being a Reformed Christian myself, the first part that influence me to recommend this book to other readers is that it is history written from a Reformed perspective. Considering the author was a professor of “Dutch Calvinist History” at Calvin College, this is unsurprising to me. While attempting to represent history fairly and honestly, there is no doubt that the author of this text pays special attention to and records a definite Calvinistic bent to history.

Beginning with the foundation of the Christian Church, the author carefully takes the reader through both the timeline of events in the history of the Church and the rise of specific doctrines that have arisen within Christendom down the centuries. From the creedal definitions of the Trinity at Nicaea, to the rise of the doctrine of purgatory; from the popularization of Arminian theology under John and Charles Wesley to the fight to the death between orthodoxy and modernism, this text covers the breadth and width of the history of the Church.

While obviously not every single event, character, or doctrine that one could learn about within the confines of the history of the Church can be covered I would say this text is an excellent primer to anyone seeking to find a place to begin in the study Church history. While many greater texts in Church history can be found, many going into much greater depth than this history, one could do a much worse job. My only two criticisms of this work would have to be first that the text is somewhat dated. Most of the statistics specifically mentioned in the later parts of the book dealing with the modern age are pulled from the 1980’s and the USSR is mentioned as still being a problem. As a result of the dating there arise several numerical errors, and dating errors where the wrong date is mentioned, but these are not pervasive throughout the book.

Secondly, the textbook seems at times to be somewhat culturally insensitive. What do I mean? At times the language used to describe other cultures or persons as inferior or not so important to the grand stage of history comes across as somewhat offensive. In this modern age, where racial and ethnic tensions are very near the surface, if any revisions are to take place in the future, a more attentive hand could be used to fix some of the language and how the general reader would perceive it. However, this may just be the result of importing my modern ideals into the text.

In closing, I would say that this book is worth the read, even as just a primer, but one should not stop here but carry on in their study of Church History! Many more texts, many more in-depth studies remain to be seen. Off the top of my head, Philip Schaff’s 8 volume series “History of the Christian Church”, though dated, is a careful and extensive study of the history of the Church. Another fine work is “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch. Studying Church history, tells us where we come from and helps point out to us where we might or ought to go, and I think this book is a great place to start!