MacCulloch''s very detailed Christianity starts a thousand years before Christ with the Greek and Jewish foundations that formed the world''s biggest religion. MacCulloch describes himself as a "a candid friend of Christianity" (p. 10), and perhaps some will find his...
MacCulloch''s very detailed Christianity starts a thousand years before Christ with the Greek and Jewish foundations that formed the world''s biggest religion. MacCulloch describes himself as a "a candid friend of Christianity" (p. 10), and perhaps some will find his viewpoint more objective than that of a devoted believer. I am less enthusiastic. But I am glad I read the book.
To the extent that I am qualified to comment, I find his views in line with mainstream Christian scholarship. Since I have difficulty with what I will uncharitably call the biblical revisionism that forms the foundation for much of the modern understanding of ancient Judaism, Christianity, and the Bible, at least in mainstream liberal critical circles, I found his exposition of Jewish and Christian history, through the second century, disappointing but unsurprising. I look forward to the day when scholars come to terms with the fact that, if they reject the more speculative aspects of nineteenth and early twentieth century biblical revisionism, they must also reject the more recent extrapolations of the earlier conclusions. My viewpoints are much more inline with those of Bruce, Carson, Kitchen, Longman, and Robinson.*
After introducing himself, MacCulloch starts his book with a discussion of ancient Greek history and philosophy, and its influence on Christian belief and theology. I found this very helpful. MacCulloch explained how Greek culture influenced Jewish culture throughout the Roman empire. He discussed how Greek notions of the perfection of God clashed with the more personal, passionate, and earthy Jewish God of the Bible. He pointed out how that for Greeks, the God of the Old Testament was the almost the antithesis of their ideas of God. Included in the discussion was Diogenes, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras. MacCulloch later shows how these philosophers influenced both mainstream and heretical Christian belief throughout Christian history.
MacCulloch is really quite ambitious to try to teach all of Christian history, in all the world, from before Christ to now. This is not just a broad brush summary of Christian history: there is depth and detail, in my opinion, too much detail. In any given century, there seem to be about a half a dozen major heresies, at least two or three mainstream accepted theologies, a number of important Christian leaders, several major wars, one or more genocides, a new expectation of the end of the world, a few major missionary efforts, one or several large political shifts, a new understanding of what it means to be Christian, and the relentless expansion of the Christian church. There is a lot of information here, and I would like to assimilate it better, but for me, I am overwhelmed.
I like MacCulloch''s story telling style. It is enjoyable and informative and very readable. But I had trouble absorbing key points. As MacCulloch points out, many Christian leaders and theologies continue to impact the faith for centuries after their inception. When a student first encounters these leaders and theologies, it is not obvious which ones will become important. As I am reading about them, I don''t know what to focus on. Without knowing history, I don''t know how to read history! A little help from the teacher in this instance would be appreciated.
As an example, MacCulloch describes Martin Luther''s theology in the context of his life, including his upbringing, rivalries, influences, politics, and travel. We then learn the stories of Luther''s followers. Eventually great changes are triggered by Luther''s writing, several large protestant denominations develop, even the course of nations is changed, and each development has a history of its own. MacCulloch expounds seemingly on each development of theology, ritual, art, politics, and culture, decade by decade, throughout Europe, and then beyond. In the midst of all this information, I become lost. What was it that Luther was trying to say? The problem with history is there is just too much of it!
In spite of my complaints, I am glad I read the book. It has made me aware of the size and diversity of Christianity. I have learned a little about tolerance, and especially intolerance. I have learned about the quest for power, influence, and control in human institutions, churches, and nations, and especially the horror that can result. And I have learned a little about belief, faith, hope, and spirit; I think I have especially learned that humility is key to love and understanding, for each other and our creator. Overall, I liked the book, not a lot, but I liked it. I may read it again, and if I do, I will take better notes. I hesitantly recommend it.
* That is I more closely embrace the viewpoints expressed in the following books:
- Bruce, F. F. The New Testament documents : are they reliable. Grand Rapids, Mich. Downers Grove, Ill: Eerdmans InterVarsity Press, 2003.
- Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2009.
- Kitchen, K. A. On the reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 2006.
- Longman, Tremper, and Raymond B. Dillard. An introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006.
- Robinson, John A. Redating the New Testament. London: S.C.M. Press, 1976.
Note: Rated three out of five stars on Goodreads, as Goodreads defines three stars as "I like it" and two stars as "It''s okay".