Title: In the Year of Our Lord: Reflections on Twenty Centuries of Church History
Author: Sinclair Ferguson
Publisher: Reformation Trust
Date Published: September 2018
Length: 229 pages
Genre: Christian Church History
Score: 3/5 – Worth a read as a very basic primer and personal account of Church history.
It’s important to remember, as author Sinclair Ferguson himself indicates at the beginning of this book, that In the Year of Our Lord isn’t intended as a comprehensive history of the Church but rather a look at people and movements that have been of particular interest to Ferguson himself. It’s also important to be aware that this book carries a heavy emphasis on Ferguson’s own default position of Reformed Evangelical Theology. If that’s what you want (albeit on a basic level) then it’s worth a read. If you’re looking for even a basic look at wider Church history and movements then look elsewhere.
It is structured in twenty chapters each covering one century and with each chapter beginning with an excerpt from an important piece of theological writing from that century by figures including Tertullian, Athanasius, Gottschalk and John Bunyan. Some of the writings from the earlier centuries are a little hard to read simply because of the older styles of writing but this is actually good as that in itself takes the reader back to a different time and era. There then follows snapshots of people and events in each era important to Church history and Ferguson provides his own reflections on these and lessons we can learn today. Each chapter ends with a hymn from that century.
In general I found this book faithful to what it promises, almost reflective in nature, and I’d say it is a decent basic primer for a beginner or perhaps someone who hasn’t studied Church history for a long time and wants a refresher. I did have to keep reminding myself that this is Ferguson’s own thoughts on his own interests from each century and not a more comprehensive look at a wider sweep of the Church through the centuries but there is enough here to encourage further reading should you wish to do that.
Yet this is part of the problem as well. For a book with just over 200 pages it attempts to pack too much in and suffers for it. I found that while giving a very basic overview of each century, the inclusion of Ferguson’s own reflections as well as a hymn at the end of each chapter and an excerpt from writing specific to that century at the beginning, it manages to squeeze the actual ‘history’ bits to the extend that at times it almost feels like you’re reading study notes for exam purposes. I honestly felt if the century specific writings at the start and the hymns at the end had been omitted from each chapter then the actual history bits could have been given a little more room to breathe. That’s not to say the start and end bits in each chapter aren’t interesting in themselves, they are, but their inclusion means the history bits, already handicapped by the smaller size of the book, are squeezed still further.
One thing which irked me a little was that the author includes quite alot of latin words and phrases which I really don’t think need to be there and sometimes it isn’t really explained what they mean but this may be more of a personal preference by myself.
Overall the book provides brief glimpses rather than being indepth but you can’t cover twenty centuries in a little over 200 pages and cover more than the basics even if it sometimes feels like even the basics have been put on a crash diet! That said the structure of the book could be put to good use to compliment your devotions and it would be a good exercise to work through with a book/study group. All in all it does what it promises even if it leaves you wishing for a bit more and for that there are plenty of more detailed Church history books out there. It’s worth a read as a basic primer as long as you recognise its self imposed limits.
One point worth noting is that in the introduction Ferguson pays a touching tribute to his friend, sometime mentor and theological heavyweight R. C. Sproul, who died in December 2017. Ferguson dedicates this book to R. C. Sproul and his widow Vesta.
Thanks for reading.