Westminster Shorter Catechism and Confession — The Westminster Assembly of the 1640s was hugely influential in English-speaking Christianity, for a variety of reasons, but especially in the Reformed churches (like Presbyterianism). The Assembly produced a number of documents, and one of the most famous is the Shorter Catechism, which would have been used in a question-and-answer to teach children and newcomers the faith; this link is to that document. The most famous line of the Shorter Catechism is the first answer: the chief point of human living is “to enjoy God and glorify him forever.” Kind of cool, right? (The Confession of Faith can be found at this link.)
More on the English Civil War — The English Civil War affected English Christianity quite heavily. You can read a lot here and there about the war, but not many sources make good connections with the actual English churches, in my opinion. This link gives you more information about the War, but it should also help you see the religious context more successfully.
More on Church Groups in England — Similarly, this site also discusses the English Civil War, but it also has lots of helpful information about the actual groups of English churches. If you’ve ever wondered how the Levelers differed from the Independents, then this is your source.
More on the Thirty Years’ War — When you read church history books on this time period, you sometimes hear about the religious implications of this war, but not as much about the political or military aspects. But you might want some of that. Here’s a link that can tell you more about that important war, with clickable links for even more information on specific parts of it.
An Intro to Early Modern Science — If you’re interested in the emergence of modern science in the early modern period, you might check out this link, which discusses several important scientists. It’s a good reminder of some things you probably learned a long time ago in school, and it makes a few comments on the connections of religion and science.
A Letter from Voltaire — Voltaire, that important Enlightenment figure, is often depicted as a relentless critic of the established churches. This is a letter from Voltaire to a prince of Prussia (in part what is now Germany). Notice that while he talks about God, it is in very rational terms. Additionally, he has a rather cynical view of human attitudes toward morality; he thinks there is nothing in us that tends toward revealed truth, but rather to the expedient.
Pascal’s Vision, His Life, and His Wager — This is a site devoted to a sympathetic description of Blaise Pascal, the 17th-century figure who marries the Enlightenment and the “life of the heart” in some interesting ways. Toward the bottom of the page, you can find the full text of the letter that he carried in his pocket. Higher up, there is a description of his “wager.”
The Puritans’ “Cambridge Platform” — In terms of early American Christianity, there may not be a group more influential than the Puritans. In reading about them, you might see the term “Cambridge Platform” but not be sure of the referent. Here’s a link that can help clarify.
More about Zinzendorf and Herrnhut — Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf was a seminal figure in the second half of the history of the Moravian movement within Christianity, and Herrnhut was the community built on his lands. The Moravian movement was strongly influenced by Pietism and themselves influenced John Wesley, and thus the Methodists. This link is explorable and includes a good deal of information about both the Count and the community he founded.
Latitudinarianism — If you read about the early modern period of Christianity, especially in England, you will probably run into the term “Latitudinarianism,” but you may not catch the definition. Here’s an informative page to help you understand.
The Hymns of Charles Wesley — The Methodist movement, which began at this time, is most closely associated with the figure of John Wesley. But his brother Charles was also a hugely important part of the movement. You may have heard of him before — especially in his role as a song-writer before — but either way, you should check out this link, which is one man’s choice of 5 great Wesley hymns. You’ve probably heard of them. Another resource is this link, which gives you a huge clickable list of his hymns. This guy was prolific.
Great Quotes from Jonathan Edwards — If the Puritans were a major influence in 17th-century American Christianity, then Jonathan Edwards was a huge influence in the 18th century. Sadly, this important figure sometimes gets short shrift in church history books. Edwards is rightly remembered as a stern preacher — one who could depict a congregation as “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” But he also, more than any other early American preacher, reminded us of the importance of the heart, the affections, in our relationship with God. For example, he spoke once about an “inward, sweet delight in God and divine things.” See this link for some more great quotes from Edwards, many of which speak to this importance of the heart.
Image credit (John Wesley): http://anglicanhistory.org/wesley/jwesley.jpg
Suggested next click: the next set of links (the contemporary church period — since 1800)