Church history is complicated. The problem with accepting complication is that some, maybe most, just ignore it. Many others want to suggest that the complication can be easily simplified and really if you ignore the uncomfortable or difficult sections then it is easily understood. It is only the few that want to wade through and really attempt to understand church history with any level of detail.
I cannot really claim to be a part of those that know a lot about church history. The last class I had in church history was in 15 years ago. And that class was a History of Christian Thought and ignored all of those pesky details about secular history, and demographics and external influences on church history and instead concentrated almost entirely on the academic Christian thinking of the middle ages.
I have done a little bit of reading about church history since then, but not that much. I have started trying to find free ways to listen to audiobooks. (I may read a lot but I still work as a nanny and do not have unlimited funds.) So I have started listening to free audiobooks from my library. NetLibrary, which I have reviewed here before, has a number of audiobooks that I can download.
One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic: A History of the Church of the Middle Ages is another in the Modern Scholar series. This means it is a college lecture repackaged as an audiobook. I like this format. It is about fifteen, 45 minute lectures on the subject.
I listened to the a history of the church until about 500 AD a couple weeks ago, and this starts off basically where that book ended.
The Middle Ages is not just a vast wasteland, as many (including myself) tend to make it. There is a lot of intellectual and organizational development. The world makes some major strides. Reading and Writing and the middle class all make major strides at this time. An idea of law courts, although ecclesiastical law courts, comes into being and law starts having real authority outside of the governmental or ecclesiastical individuals that enact the law.
Demographics is a major influence on the Middle Ages. First there is a movement to urban areas, then climate change affects crop yields which affects health, eventually leading the large numbers of deaths because of famine (about 10% of population). Then soon after the rise in trade contributes to the rise is disease and the Black Death kills another 40% of the population.
Wealth and concentrations of wealth lead to reform movements and the church continually returns to the message of Jesus.
Evangelicals like to ignore the Middle Ages and assume that the first three hundred years of the church and then Martin Luther are important. But without these middle years we would not have (or need) Martin Luther.
Thomas Madden is presenting a very classic, majority opinion view of the Middle Ages. This is probably best. If you are reading an introduction to a topic, it is probably best to not get wrapped up in minutia or a lot of different theories.
This was a good use of a bit more than 8 hours. It helps me to appreciate my own church history and the weaknesses that we as humans are prone to. Even when influenced by the Holy Spirit.