Book Review: Urban Legends of Church History: 40 Common Misconceptions

Urban Legends of Church History: 40 Common Misconceptions by Michael Svigel and John Adair is the third book I’ve read in the “Urban Legends” series by B & H Academic. The first two address commonly repeated inaccuracies about the Old and New Testaments. Though all written by different scholars, all three books have the same accessible format, and all three books are extremely helpful to both the layperson and to those in ministry. Of the three, I found Urban Legends of Church History most interesting probably because (like many) my Bible knowledge is better than my church history knowledge. So, Urban Legends of Church History is a welcomed and much-needed tool, conveniently packaged. 

I would recommend all Christians—for their benefit—to pick up a good overview of church history, such as Church History in Plain English by Bruce L. Shelley or Justo L. Gonzalez’s two-volume The Story of Christianity to get a good grasp of the key events and movements in Christianity’s board and diverse 2,000-year history. Then, read Urban Legends of Church History as a helpful side-kick for tightening up that new knowledge. I believe all Christians and the Church at large can benefit by having a firmer grasp of Christian history. 

The book is broken into four parts: early church (AD 50-500), Medieval period (AD 500-1,500), the Protestant era (AD 1,500-1,700), and the modern age (AD 1,700-present). Some would want to read it from front to back, but if you don’t have time for that, when reading through the titles of the 40 chapters, many will jump out at you and pull you in for a reading: “The Earliest Christians Worshipped on Saturday”; “Nothing Good Came from the ‘Dark Ages’”; “John Calvin Summarized His Theology in ‘Five Points’”; “None of the American Founding Fathers Were Orthodox Christians”; “Women Never Served as Church Officers in the Early Church.” My only complaint is that since the book is just under 300 pages, I always ended up wishing that many of the more compelling chapters were longer. I was left wanting more explanation and details, even opposing viewpoints, but such is not the nature of this book. Anyhow, the authors provide plenty of references and recommendations for further research. 

Finally, I wanted to comment on the apologetic value of this book. As one who is in ministry where I defend the faith and teach others to do the same, I found it helpful as a quick resource to point people to. Everyone in ministry regularly hears “urban legends,” so where this might not be considered an apologetics book, I would point out the apologetic value of it. I especially found the first part focusing on the early church (AD 50-500) as helpful for addressing attacks on historical, orthodox Christianity by anti-theists, cults (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons), and “progressive” Christians, chapters like “The Church Apostatized Shortly after the Apostles”; “Pagan Philosophy Contaminated Christian Theology”; and “The Doctrine of the Trinity Developed Centuries after Jesus.”

*B & H Academic provided me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.