For an introduction to early Christian church history, it's tough to imagine a more compelling book than Peril and Peace, volume one in "History Lives: Chronicles of the Ancient Church" by Mindy and Brandon Withrow. It is a surprisingly good page-turner.
The Withrows combine great knowledge of history with the novelists art, making this volume a fun read even for kids who normally think history is boring. Nearly every chapter is a novelized snippet of early Christian life, covering such important Christians as Paul (Saul), Polycarp, Justin, Origen, Cyprian, Constantine, Athanasius, Cappadocians, Ambrose, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Patrick, and Benedict. Full of action, dialogue, and interesting details, these chapters make me wish I was reading an entire historical novel about each individual, rather than only a single chapter about them.
Modern Christians will have a tough time not scrutinizing their own lives after reading about the trials of many of these early Christians, who often preferred to die in the name of the Lord rather than run from their persecutors. This is no dry rendering, full of dates about when the early church began doing this or that. This book focuses on famous martyrs and church formers and what life was like for them.
We can also see some problems never change. For example, it's nothing new for the government to find Christianity a threat, and it's an ancient trend for those who encourage others to focus on God and his Word, rather than worldly pleasures, to find popularity passes them by.
There are also a few nonfiction chapters interspersed throughout, introducing readers to life in the early church, how we got the Bible as it reads today, and very general information on how early Christians worshiped. In the back of the book, there's also a map of early Christendom, plus a bibliography of sources.
What I Like: Nearly everything. This book is a superb way to introduce reluctant students to history, and of making ancient church history come to life. Kids who are already interested in history will also find this a fascinating and moving introduction to early Christianity. The authors are highly skilled; even adults will find this book a page turner.
Too, the authors carefully stay away from subjects that might cause disputes between Catholics and Protestants, which is a good thing, I think, for an introduction into the subject of early Christendom.
Peril and Peace also sells for an excellent price, considering it's over 227 pages long.
What I Dislike: The first chapter made my eyes glaze over. And I like history. But once you're past that first background-supplying chapter, I think you'll find everything else excellent.
That said, there isn't a lot of information in this particular book about how the Christian church formed after Christ's death. How did they develop early church practices, like gathering on Sunday instead of the Jewish Saturday Sabbath? We never learn. Also note that this is a history - not a defense of - the early church. Actually, it's more a glimpse into the life of the Christians who shaped the Christian church.
Overall Rating: Excellent.
Kristina Seleshanko, Managing Editor
Christian Children's Book Review