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Essential Writings on Church History Set Review by Kirsten West

(AD 30 to the Present)
Hardback Student Book and Teacher Guide (with student worksheets)
(High School History/Literature)
Kevin Swanson and Joshua Schwisow

If you have high school aged children and you want to teach them the history of the early church, the Essential Writings on Church History Setis a perfect choice.

The curriculum begins with an overview of the history of the church beginning in 30 AD that includes fascinating biographies of the men who wrote the pivotal texts that make up the body of work referred to as the history of the early church. My children and I found this section particularly fascinating as it helps you piece together all the history your child has learned to this point and put it all in context with the history of the church. So many history courses and curricula leave out reference to the development of the Christian church, even if they do refer to the history covered in the bible. So once your child reaches high school and has a basic understanding of his history, this curriculum will reinforce that knowledge he has and use it as a thread upon which to string the history of the church fathers.

The curriculum is broken into historical eras with primary source writings to study in each section. From the martyrdom of Polycarp, to the writings of Eusebius, the first major section in the text provides original source readings that open the world of the apostolic fathers to your child in the words of people who saw and lived through the events. The second major section of the curriculum covers the development of the church during the middle ages through the writings of The Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, and excerpts from Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church. In the next section of the book, your child will continue reading more excerpts from Philip Schaff’s history as you study the reformation. Finally, your child studies the development of the post-reformation church through the text from a book by William Carey, published in 1792, that was designed to provide encouragement to missionary societies but has become one of the most influential texts on Christian history.

The work is laid out in reasonable chunks. Each reading selection is formatted with broad margins that are filled with explanations and extra historical references, including specific bible verses that the authors considered in their writings. In fact the information is so fascinating that it might be really enjoyable for you to purchase this curriculum a few years before your children are ready so that you can work through it yourself.

Overall, the lessons consist of a lot of reading. You can have your child read on his own, or you can read alongside him and take turns reading aloud. We read as a group and I found the text perfect to read some and pass the book to a child to practice reading aloud. The writings, being primarily primary source documents, could be disturbing for younger children as the hatred towards the early Christians was intense and the way in which many were treated by non-Christians was horrific. As a result, this curriculum might be best for older teens. My children are in ninth grade, but are a year older, so I agree with the suggestion by the author that the course is best for grades 10-12. Regardless it is best for you to review the text carefully yourself before you give it to your children so that you are aware of what they are learning before exposing them to something that could potentially be disturbing. My kids are mature enough that they had no issues with the material in the text, but there could be children who might be troubled by, for instance, the account of the martyrdom of Polycarp.

There is a companion Teacher’s Guide which provides you with an overview, daily reading assignments, study questions for each reading assignment, essay assignments, and exams. The design of this one-year (36 week) course is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of learning styles and homeschooling methods from traditional, to classical, to Charlotte Mason, or even eclectic. The author even includes a grading methodology that allows you to assign quantitative grades to this 1 credit high school history course. The bulk of the teacher’s guide is filled with study, essay, and exam questions that are laid out with space so that your child can write on the pages. The answers to each question are all located at the end of the Teacher’s guide making it a combination between a guide and a consumable workbook which is perfect for high school aged children.

I had planned to work through the early church writings with my kids, but I did not realize how many important works I was missing until I began this curriculum with my kids. It is very handy to have all the readings and historical background in one volume, instead of spread across individual books. While I knew of some of the authors covered in this history, there were some who I was unfamiliar with and without this curriculum I probably would have missed the opportunity to expose my children to all the important works.

-Product review by Kirsten West, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July, 2018