We have tried a few different things for studying church history. Here’s my take on each:
Sketches from Church History by S.M. Houghton — I had my then 9th and 10th graders use this book and the additional workbook last year. We abandoned the workbook fairly early on. I thought it would make like simpler to use a workbook for once. I was wrong. It was the sort of thing that asked them to fill in blanks or answer questions about very specific points in the reading and they couldn’t do it. When I asked them to narrate what they had read, on the other hand, they did just fine and clearly could grasp the material. The book itself seems decent. It is not written as one riveting story but, as its title suggests, is a series of brief sketches on the key points. It could probably be used for middle school on up through adults who want a overview of the topic.
History Lives: Chronicles of the Church by Brandon and Mindy Withrow — This is a five volume set with titles like “Perils and Peace” and “Hearts and Hands.” Each chapter covers a different figure with occasion blurbs giving more of an overview of the time. It’s been a while since we did these books. Amazon calls them 2-4th grade level which I have a hard time believing. They would be great for read-alouds at those ages but I think for reading on one’s own I’d go upper elementary-lower middle school. My kids really enjoyed these books and looked forward to them. That says a lot.
Heroes of the Early Church by Richard Newton – I first ran across Newton through Simply Charlotte Mason’s Spelling Wisdom. They use many of his quotes for their dictation exercises. I liked them enough to look the man up and to buy a couple of his books. The one we have worked through so far is Heroes of the Early Church. He also has Heroes of the Reformation as well as many other books on the Bible and other Christian topics. Newton was known as “the prince of children’s preachers,” and his style is more preachy than the History Lives series. In many ways, the two are similar. They both focus on individual stories as they move through Christian history chronologically. History Lives adds some small intermediate chapters to provide a little more historical context. Newton is very deliberate in drawing lessons from the lives of his subjects. He will say things along the lines of “Chrysostom is an example to us of the importance of piety.” In fact, I found him a bit too preachy and obvious. This was easily remedied in read-alouds, however, by just skipping over the first and last sentences of a section which tended to be where the lessons were made too obvious. If your goal is to learn the history of the church, then this is not the best book. If your goal is to learn about the lives of Christians who have come before and particularly to learn from their virtues, then this book could be a decent choice. The reading level is similar to History Lives – read-aloud to elementary, read alone for upper elementary-middle school.