Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

Here is a review of the new Diarmaid MacCulloch book, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (MacCulloch previously published an accessible survey of the Reformation period). The provocative title refers both to the future of the faith, and to the presence of certain proto-Christian ideas before Jesus.

A couple of clips from the review, which appears on the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s website, and is written by Margaret McGuiness, chair of the Religion Department at La Salle University:

No text purporting to trace the rise and development of a major world religion can do it all, and Christianity is no exception. MacCulloch does at least touch on many important representatives of events, movements, and doctrinal developments. Topics as diverse as the teaching on Purgatory, Eucharistic doctrine, and evangelicalism are explained and placed within the context of major events such as the Reformations (Protestant and Catholic), the Enlightenment, and the culture wars of the 20th and 21st centuries.

In addition, the author attempts to incorporate the role of Christian women into the larger history, and includes figures as diverse as the mystic Teresa of Avila; Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursuline nuns, the first active women’s religious community; and English Protestant feminist Mary Astell.

4 responses to “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

  1. I’ve also seen parts of his History of Christianity series, and I was impressed with the breadth of it, if not always the depth. But I have various problems with MacCulloch. See my blog:

  2. Mark is right that the companion video series is well done and engaging. It is, however, also quite tendentious. He rails against Roman Catholicism for its alliance with the state, but then he lets Eastern Orthodoxy and the Oriental Orthodox off the hook and ignores the history of Orthodox Caesaropapism. He also uses this video (in the final disk) to promote the normalization of gayness. Features a CofE priest who says that such affirmation of gay people is what will keep the church from dying. Sorry. Just look at the statistics on that one.

    • David, thanks for this. It’s helpful. I remember too that David Steinmetz was not entirely thrilled with MacCulloch’s Reformation book either. Of course, these sorts of surveys do have the benefit of giving folks an overview of periods, movements, and ideas that so often are taken out of context–as long as one can correct for the sorts of bias you describe.

  3. Thanks. I just started watching his BBC History of Christianity series. They seem to be really well done and engagaing.

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