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Why Church History Matters, An Invitation to Love and Learn from Our Past

Biographical Sketch of the Author
Robert F. Rea, PhD, is professor of church history at Lincoln Christian University in Lincoln, Illinois. He is a member of the North American Patristics Society and the American Society of Church History. Prior to teaching he was in pastoral ministry from 1974-1987. He received a PhD from Saint Louis University. He received a MDiv from Emmanuel School of Religion and a BA/B.Th. from Kentucky Christian University.1
Summary of the Contents
When Dr. Rea began to teach, he knew that he needed a text book that would inspire students to study what he calls “the Christian tradition.” The book is broken down into three sections following an introduction. Each section is further broken down into 2-4 subsections. The main three sections are:
1.      How We Understand the Tradition.
2.      Expanding Circles of Inquiry.
3.      Tradition Serving the Church.
In the introduction, Dr. Rea explains in brief the question that he intends to answer in the book, Why Church History Matters? When Dr. Rea came to do his doctoral work on church history, he was asked by an inquisitor, “If theology only comes from the Bible, and if we can get everything we need from the Bible, why are you here?”2 The inquisitor knew that he was a protestant and heard him answer another inquisitors question about his beliefs on theology by saying, “I believe that theology should be Bible-based.”3
This book is a call to Christians who love the Bible to study historic Christians and their wisdom and experiences throughout the ages—to understand the Bible and theology better and to experience a fuller Christian life…I hope to stimulate the study of church history among those who love God, love the Bible, love the truth and seek to know the truth and its application for life.4
In short, the book is a call for Christians to join hands with all Christians across throughout the ages.
In part 1, “How We Understand the Tradition,” Dr. Rea shows how Christians throughout the ages understood the tradition. That throughout church history Christians looked to their predecessors to understand truth. Some abused this to promote their own agendas, but we should not cast aside tradition because someone in the past used it for wrong.
In part 2, “Expanding Circles of Inquiry,” Dr. Rea explains why church history matters, it is because Christianity is not a self-faith, but it is a we-faith. We can study the Bible ourselves, but then need to go outward, to those closest to us, to our local church, to our own denomination, to other denominations with similar theological views, to those with contrasting theological views, to cultures different than our own, and across the ages. It is when we go through these circles that we come to what he calls “Consensus Fidelium.”
In part 3, “Tradition Serving the Church,” Dr. Rea explains how Christian history helps us to minister more effectively in the same way that it helps us to better understand Scripture. We can study what others did in the past to more effectively minister in the present. In the end, he tells us the real reason church history matters. “Church history helps us celebrate the whole body of Christ!”5 Studying church history helps us to see that our church family extends far beyond the local body.
Critical Evaluation
In the introduction Dr. Rea said, “The ideal reader of this book is a student who, throughout this book, is described as a Bible-focused Christian.”6 What he means by this is Bible-focused Protestants Christian. Having just studied through church history myself, from the 1st century to the 21st century, and being a Bible-focused Protestant Christian, I can say that it is very worthwhile to know the tradition. My pastor has a PhD in Patristic Church history, because of the things that he says from the pulpit about the early church beliefs and practices while expositing the Scriptures, I decided to study theology formally at a seminary. Encouraging others to study “the tradition” as Dr. Rea does in this book is very important to the body of Christ.
I would recommend this book to all my Protestant brethren. Most love the Bible, Jesus Christ, and the Church. As this book attest, they can understand the Bible better by knowing church history, and know the Church better as well. I would like to use the teaching from this book, especially the three parts:
1.      What is the Tradition?
2.      Expanding Circles of Inquiry.
3.      Tradition Serving the Church.
To encourage my local brethren to study church history in order that they may embrace the whole body of Christ and learn from their extended family. Excellent book for anyone who loves God, loves the Bible, loves the truth and seeks to know the truth and apply it in ministry to others.

1 Dr. Robert Rea, Lincoln Christian University, accessed May 04, 2017,
2 Robert F. Rea, Why church history matters: an invitation to love and learn from our past (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014) 13-14.
3 Ibid, 13.
4 Ibid, 15.
5 Ibid, 192.
6 Ibid, 17.


Rea, Robert F. Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn From Our Past. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Robert F. Rea. n.d. (accessed May 4, 2017).

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