From the preface to A Handbook of the Christian Faith (2004) by John Schwarz:
Some people write several books. I write the same book several times. In 1980 I wrote a Bible study called A Year With the Bible, which I taught in several churches in Minneapolis. In the mid-1980s my wife and I went to Kenya as missionaries, where I taught a slimmed down version of the study in 1985 and 1986. In 1992 I began producing Christian education videos and developed a video-assisted Bible study course called Word Alive! An Introduction to the Christian Faith and wrote a study manual for the course. Bethany House Publishers asked if they could publish the study manual, which I revised and they published as The Compact Guide to the Christian Faith (1999). I revised the book again in 2004, titled A Handbook of the Christian Faith. (NOTE: Schwarz has since revised his book two more times. Living Faith: A Guide to the Christian Life (1999) is a briefer edition of the book, containing only about 25% of A Handbook. The most recent update (2015) of the entire book is What’s Christianity All About?, described below.)
From the Preface to What’s Christianity All About? (2015) by John Schwarz:
I grew up in the Episcopal Church, where I was an acolyte as a young boy and confirmed as a teenager, after which I was not involved in the church. When I was in college, I was influenced by classes I took in philosophy and humanities and by teachers who challenged my thinking. I began to wonder if Christianity’s truth claims were true. I assumed, without any real basis for doing so, that some were certainly questionable. When I graduated from college and began working in the business world, I had colleagues and clients who were Christians, people whose lifestyle and confident faith I much admired. I read books about Christianity and asked lots of questions and came to believe in the Christ of Christianity, which started me on my Christian walk.
When I became a believer I didn’t know much about the Bible or the history of Christianity or what Christians believe. I decided some years later that I would write the kind of book I wished someone had given to me when I began asking questions about Christianity.
My first book was Word Alive! An Introduction to the Christian Faith, which Bethany House Publishers printed in 1993 as a 10-chapter resource guide for an in-church Christian education program, which included DVD presentations on each of the chapters by Tom Wright, Martin Marty, Tony Campolo, and others. I later wanted to see if I could get the book published and asked John Stott for a commendation. I told John that if he thought the book was worthy of an endorsement, I would send him, gratis, copies of the book for John Stott Ministries. John sent me the commendation on page two of the commendations, and then asked for 30,000 books for evangelical pastors and teachers in the majority world. In 1999, Bethany published Word Alive! under the title The Compact Guide to the Christian Faith for sale to bookstores and churches. In 2001, I expanded the Compact Guide, which Bethany and Baker Books (after Baker acquired Bethany) published as A Handbook of the Christian Faith. As the books grew in popularity, foreign publishers asked Bethany for permission to translate and publish the Handbook In French, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Korean and other languages. What’s Christianity All About? is a revised, shortened version of the Handbook.
The book has two halves. The first five chapters have to do with the structure, formation and message of the Bible; the Old Testament story of God’s creation and covenants and the rise and fall of Israel; Jesus and the first-century world in which he lived and carried out his ministry; the Gospel testimonies to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; and the story of Paul and others who spread the gospel— the good news of Jesus— throughout the Roman Empire. The second five chapters have to do with the history of Christianity; the bottom-line beliefs of Christianity; a comparison of Christianity with other religions and belief systems; growing one’s faith through prayer, study, service and evangelism; and guidelines for Christian living from the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ parables. The book has discussion questions at the end of each chapter that relate the material in the chapter to everyday life.
What’s Christianity All About? reflects an orthodox view of the Scriptures. Where there are disagreements regarding the interpretation of words and passages, I set forth the different ways that scholars have understood the text. Where there were differences in spelling, the dating of events, matters of geography and the translation of Hebrew, Greek and Latin words, I used a “majority rule” approach. The scriptural quotations in the book are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
In an effort to make the book easy to read, I amplified materials parenthetically rather than cluttering up the text with footnotes. Several of my quotes and statements lack source citations. They come from personal notes I scribbled to myself over the years before I had any thought that one day I would write this book.
There maybe things in the book you will not agree with. A friend of mine who has spent his life teaching the Bible and theology and was the president of a seminary said, “I have learned more from people who disagreed with me than from those who didn’t. They caused me to reexamine my positions and beliefs. Sometimes I had to admit that they had stronger arguments for their positions than I had for mine.” You may find this to be true in your case as well.
I am a layman, not an academic, and asked the following people to review and comment on what I had written: Roy A. Harrisville Jr., professor emeritus, Luther Seminary, a widely-published author and mentor, edited the final manuscript; J. Andrew Overman, theologian, archaeologist and chair of the classics department, Macalester College; Grayson J. Carter, associate professor of church history, Fuller Seminary Arizona; and Lee Martin McDonald, president emeritus, Acadia Divinity College, and past president, Institute for Biblical Research.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
John Schwarz has academic degrees in business management and law and spent thirty years in the corporate business world. He also has a Masters in Christian Studies from Regent College, a non-denominational graduate school of theology in Vancouver, British Columbia. Schwarz took early retirement and went to Nairobi, Kenya, where he taught and started an MBA program at Daystar University, the largest Christian college in Africa; taught the Bible for two years in an indigenous Pentecostal church in a large slum; and, with his wife, started a K-12 school and a clinic-based community health care program in two other slums.
Schwarz was raised Episcopalian. As an adult, he and his wife and children were members in a Congregational church; while in seminary, he and his wife attended a Plymouth Brethren chapel; when they lived in Nairobi, they worshiped in a Pentecostal church and an African Baptist church; for many years they attended an inner-city Methodist church in Minneapolis; today they are members of a Lutheran church in Minneapolis and a Presbyterian church in Scottsdale. Their ten children are members of churches in different denominations, including a son who spent ten years in a Catholic order.
From the John Schwarz’s preface to A Compact Guide to the Christian Faith (1999):
When I buy a book, I like to know something about the author and why he or she wrote it. So let me tell you something about myself and why I wrote The Compact Guide to the Christian Faith. I grew up in a Christian home in Minneapolis. In 1946 at age fourteen I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church. My grandfather gave me an engraved leather Bible to mark the occasion. The Bible sat on my shelf, unopened, for thirty years.
In the fall of 1976, my older brother persuaded me to go with him to a Bible Study Fellowship class. This began a long passionate love affair with the Bible. I started reading Bible dictionaries, Bible commentaries, Bible atlases— in fact, almost anything I could get my hands on. In 1977 I joined a two-year Bethel Bible Series teachers training class and in 1979 I started teaching Bethel classes at my church. In 1981 I developed a thirty-week Bible study course called A Year With the Bible, which I taught in various churches in Minneapolis.
In 1986 went to study at Regent College, an international graduate school of Christian studies in Vancouver, British Columbia. I graduated (after trips back and forth to Africa) with a Master’s in Christian Studies in 1990. In 1992 I began developing materials for churches to use for adult education classes.
“John Schwarz’s book What’s Christianity All About? offers a good overview of the Bible. It also provides a brief sketch of the history of Christianity, sets forth important Christian beliefs, suggests ways for Christians to deepen their faith, and offers some guidelines for Christian living… For those curious about the Christian faith, this book is a good place to begin. It is not the last word on any of the subjects it covers, but for many people it may be a first word.”
–N. T. (TOM) WRIGHT, Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of Saint Andrews, Scotland; Retired Anglican Bishop of Durham, England
“What’s Christianity All About? is a both a guidebook for inquirers and beginners, and a refresher course for the casual believer. It contains brief surveys of the Christian Bible, Christian beliefs, Christian history, Christian living, and Christianity alongside other faiths. Brisk, exact, and user-friendly, it merits a very wide ministry and will bring clarity of focus wherever it goes.
–J. I. PACKER, Board of Governors Professor of Theology, Regent College
“John Schwarz writes as a layman, and he writes so that laypersons can understand. However, what he writes shows the result of serious biblical scholarship. This is good read for those who want to know what the Bible is all about and Jesus’ relevance to the modern world.”
–TONY CAMPOLO, Professor Emeritus, Eastern University
“What’s Christianity All About? is a much-needed book that provides information to whet readers’ appetites. It also opens wide the doors to help us see and imagine the future into which God is calling us even now.”
–SARAH S. HENRICH, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
“John Schwarz has written a reliable introduction to Christianity– simple but not simplistic, straightforward and brief.”
–TIM STAFFORD, senior writer, Christianity Today
“John Schwarz is a careful thinker, a lover of the faith, an equipper of the church. He has devoted himself to making an understanding of Christian Scripture and thoughts available on a broad scale. I am grateful for his work.”
–JOHN ORTBERG, Senior Pastor, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park, California
“The most appropriate description that I can think of for John Schwarz’s book is that it is a great deal in a small space. We are given a succinct summary of the contents of the Bible, a brief history of Christianity, an introduction to other religions, together with outlines of both Christian belief and behavior. John Schwarz has succeeded in giving us a mine of information, some skillful overviews, and in areas of controversy, a fair statement of the different options.”
–JOHN R. W. STOTT, Former Rector Emeritus, All Souls Church, London
“What’s Christianity All About? is an excellent road map for those starting out on the Christian journey. It is a good primer on the Bible, one that paints a picture of the big story of God at work in the world and shows how the different parts of the Bible fit together. I warmly recommend it to those who want to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ.”
–LEIGHTON FORD, President, Leighton Ford Ministries
“What’s Christianity All About? combines an encyclopedic breadth of information and insights— and materials not usually found in overviews and surveys of the Bible— with an easy-to-read style. I can think of no other introduction, intended for the lay reader, that does the job as well.”
PATRICK R KEIFERT, President, Church Innovations Institute
“For years, as I traveled around the world to teach and preach, I have searched for a simple, readable but comprehensive introduction to the Bible, Christianity and world religions, one that is understandable to all, but especially to my Chinese audiences and readers. I could not find one until came across John Schwarz’s book, What’s Christianity All About? I am surprised by its simple elegance, but also by its broad coverage and pertinent information. I hope that one day it will be available in the Chinese language.”
–SIMON YIU CHUEN LEE, Senior Pastor, Richmond Chinese Alliance Church
“What’s Christianity All About? is concise, readable, fascinating, accurate and, above all, compelling to both believers and nonbelievers who know little of the Bible and the life of Christ.”
–JERRY WHITE, President Emeritus, The Navigators
“What’s Christianity All About? is a must read for anyone looking for an informed overview of the Bible, Christian traditions, and the continuing imperative for evangelism. Schwarz, long a lay teacher, provides an easy-to-read guide to basic facts, themes and dates pertaining not only to the foundation and development of the church, but also to simple but important clues for living the Christian life amid the challenges of a confusing world. I highly recommend this book.”
–CAIN HOPE FELDER, Professor of New Testament, Howard University School of Divinity
“John Schwarz has written a “manual” for Christians, whether they’re skeptics examining the faith or believers wanting to know more. As someone active in youth ministry, I see many Christians today who have not been taught the fundamentals of the faith. Whether it is broad themes or specific questions, the answers are probably in this book— and in straightforward language all can understand and apply.”
–JEFF POPE, Former Board Trustee, Young Life
“If you want an overnight read that will give you a good foundational underpinning of the Christian faith, this is the book. I studied theology for seven years on my way to becoming a deacon in the Catholic Church. What’s Christianity All About? is a book that I wish I had read at the beginning of my studies.”
–THOM WINNINGER, Deacon, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church
“For those who have never done any serious Christian study, What’s Christianity All About? is a good place to begin. John Schwarz, a layman, has produced an extremely lucid bird’s-eye view of the Bible, the history of Christianity and its doctrines, reasons for faith, and guidelines for Christian living and witness in today’s world. If you are wondering what to give to people who are starting their Christian walk, this is it… I cannot think of a more helpful resource.”
–WARD GASQUE, Co-founder, Regent College
“What’s Christianity All About? is a breath of clarity and simplicity, and a thorough explanation of the essence of Christianity. For me, as someone who grew up in the church and discovered, at age thirty-three, that I didn’t have a clue about the true nature of the Christian faith, this book was spot on. As a follower of Christ, I come across people inside and outside the church who totally miss what it means to be a Christian. They would be aided by John Schwarz’s book, which organizes, explains, and distills what others have made complicated and mysterious.”
–JOEL JENNINGS Founder and CEO, Gopher Sport
“This is a marvelous first book on the Christian faith. Anyone searching for meaning in our confused world will find here an excellent introduction to the Bible, to Jesus and his teachings, to the history of the church, and to the relationship of Christianity to other world faiths. For anyone curious about the Christian faith, this is a great place to begin.”
–DR. JAMES SIRE, Senior Editor and Campus Lecturer, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship