This is a guest review by Kyle Powell
A consequence of the emphasis Protestants place on the Reformation doctrines lead many to neglect the study of Church history before that time. An accurate summation of the view many Protestants have of the time before the Reformation is essentially a period where the Papacy reigned and the Church was non-existent. Yet In the Year of Our Lord, by Sinclair Ferguson, traces a theme of the providential preservation of Christ’s Church throughout the centuries and sees that even in the most dark period of the Church age, evidence of the gracious presence of God are still present in His saints.
In the Year of Our Lord does not endeavor to be a detailed examination of Church history. In the introduction, Ferguson writes, “In the Year of Our Lord is intended to be a very simple but (I hope) informative, encouraging, and enjoyable introduction to some members of ‘the Christian family’”. In line with this vision, if I had to classify this book, I would label it a book on practical-historical theology, written in the manner of a devotional. There are twenty chapters with each one detailing one of the centuries since the incarnation of our Lord, with each chapter beginning with an excerpt from a piece of literature written by a Christian living in the century addressed.
Ferguson, at the beginning of each chapter, gives excerpts from men that range from famous early Church fathers like Tertullian and Athanasius, to lesser known figures like the evangelist Patrick and Gottschalk, to scholastic theologians in Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, to giants of the Reformed tradition in John Bunyan and Jonathan Edwards. Yet in the writings of these men, the theme Ferguson is crafting is all the same: God will triumph in the world and He will do so through His Church.
The content of the individual chapters all contain the pattern of examining the Christians who lived during the time in question, and seeing God’s work in His people. Ferguson does not gloss over the imperfections in the people he speaks of, and portray them as perfect, but gives us a cursory glance over our historic brothers, imperfections and all, while drawing practical application from their lives to encourage the pursuit of holiness in the life of the reader.
Ferguson addresses important historical events such as the Great Schism, the rise of Islam, the Crusades, and the Enlightenment, while explaining the impact these events had on the Church. He also consistently speaks of the false doctrine, authority abuses, and persecutions that have plagued the Church throughout the centuries and draws parallels to the Church today with words of caution and exhortation to live as true Christians.
Each chapter is ended with a hymn written in that specific century, which adds the devotional feel of this book. A person could read a chapter a day, beginning with an excerpt from a great brother, then an examination of God’s providential love to His people in the chapter, and end with singing a hymn written by those who lived many centuries ago.
This book is written not for the seminary student, but for the layman who wishes to get a dose of Church history, with many practical exhortations interspersed throughout the book. Ferguson (as in all of his books), writes with a warm and pastoral tone that ensures I never felt I was reading a history textbook. Many details are left out (for many thick volumes could be written on a single century, let alone all of them), but this is an informative and edifying read that reinforces the words of our Savior: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
I’d recommend this book for the Christian who knows little of Church history and wishes to get a basic overview, and also the Christian who knows much of Church history, but would like practical application based on the successes and failures of God’s people in the past.
About the Reviewer. Kyle Powell is a Reformed Christian currently living in Louisiana that lives to exhort Christians to a greater knowledge of the one true God.
A copy of this book was exchanged for a fair and honest review.