Book Review – The Shape of Christian History.


The Shape of Christian History by Scott Sunquist (IVP, 2022, 177 pages)

The study of the history of the Christian church can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. Especially when it is presented in the form of a survey unit. In those cases, the focus is often on covering as much territory as possible, so that students will leave with a solid understanding of many of the names, places and people associated with the unfolding of Christian history.

Unfortunately, the survey approach leaves precious little time for a thoroughgoing treatment of the broader historiographical, philosophical, and theological principles that should undergird the study of history. Scott Sunquist’s ‘The Shape of Christian History’ would, therefore, be a great title to read alongside some of the standard survey-type church history textbooks. This is because he draws upon more than three decades of teaching church history to present some foundational convictions that should, in his opinion, undergird our studies of Christian history.

Sunquist begins his book with a survey of past approaches to Christian history (‘A History of History). He then uses the words ‘Time’ (reflecting on God acting in time through creation and the incarnation), ‘Cross’ (placing the work of God in Christ at the centre of history) and ‘Glory’ (positing eschatology as the basis for the historical development of ethics and theology) as organising principles for his key arguments. The final chapter deals with a ‘Faithful Call to Read Christian History’.

The value of Sunquist’s work can be found in the fact that it provides a solid theological and theoretical framework for the study of Christian history. He also does an excellent job in tying that study to key biblical themes, causing the reader to deepen his/her appreciation of God’s work throughout history. It lastly, presents some basic historiographical principles that could be very helpful for anyone just starting out on the study and writing of history.

This is a work that I will henceforth recommend to all those who take historical survey units at the RTC. Beyond the classroom, it will add significant value to the experience of getting acquainted with major figures from the history of the church.