Once in a generation, a historian will redefine his field, producing a book that demands to be read and heard - a product of electrifying scholarship conveyed with commanding skill. Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity is such a book. Breathtaking in ambition, it ranges back to the origins of the Hebrew Bible and covers the world, following the three main strands of the Christian faith.
Christianity will teach modern listeners things that have been lost in time about how Jesus' message spread and how the New Testament was formed. We follow the Christian story to all corners of the globe, filling in often neglected accounts of conversions and confrontations in Africa and Asia. And we discover the roots of the faith that galvanized America, charting the rise of the evangelical movement from its origins in Germany and England. This audiobook encompasses all of intellectual history - we meet monks and crusaders, heretics and saints, slave traders and abolitionists, and discover Christianity's essential role in driving the enlightenment and the age of exploration, and shaping the course of World War I and World War II.
We are living in a time of tremendous religious awareness, when both believers and non-believers are deeply engaged by questions of religion and tradition, seeking to understand the violence sometimes perpetrated in the name of God. The son of an Anglican clergyman, MacCulloch writes with deep feeling about faith. His last book, The Reformation, was chosen by dozens of publications as Best Book of the Year and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. This awe-inspiring follow-up is a landmark new history of the faith that continues to shape the world.
©2010 Diamaid MacCulloch (P)2010 Gildan Media Corp
"Assuming no previous knowledge on the part of readers about Christian traditions, MacCulloch traces in breathtaking detail the often contentious arguments within Christianity for the past 3,000 years. His monumental achievement will not soon be surpassed." (Publishers Weekly)
"A work of exceptional breadth and subtlety." (Booklist)
I think it's interesting how folk from the more "conservative" side of the spectrum tend to call something "biased" if they don't agree. Rather, MacCulloch comes from a specific scholarly school in the study of religion. This is not a question of bias, but one of approach. I tended to disagree with him on some fine points, such as the bit in Corinthians where Paul allegedly instructs women not to speak, but also, in the same book, tells women that they need to cover their heads when they prophesy. MacCulloch just calls that an "unstable" contradiction where my understanding is that this might have been an interlineation by some copyist. So is MacCulloch biased? Of course he is, to the extent that we all approach the world from different world views. But generally, we just happen to disagree on that point.
Despite my occasional disagreements, I found the book ably written, giving me a lot to mull over. New material that I hadn't read before. That's always the glory of good writing. It's never a good thing to take in anything as "gospel truth." One should always read from a variety of sources, because there may be a new take on the subject that will also be compelling.
The reader, Walter Dixon, is really quite good. He reminded me of a good university professor, rather than a random audiobook reader. He was easy to listen to and never irritated me. I found that his reading kept me listening, while I walked, drove, and made dinner. I even tried to listen while doing some work work, but I kept getting distracted so had to turn it off.
MacCulloch uses a huge canvas for this book: all continents, all times, and (if there weren't so many of them) you could say all sects and denominations as well. The book is a remarkably good listen, considering the amount of detail it includes, a tribute to Walter Dixon's steady pace and his clear and pleasing voice. Because Christianity has been so tightly bound with the West for the last 2000 years, it becomes in places a "Western world history" as well.
One of the hardest areas of Christian history to grasp is the centuries-long debate about the nature of the Trinity, and its equally long-lasting partner, the debate about the exact nature of Christ. (Human? Divine? Both? If both, what percentage of each, and how mixed or not mixed?) It's a story of determined attempts to fashion a creed and equally determined attempts to resist credal formulations. MacCulloch navigates this territory well, giving plenty of time to each viewpoint and noting that many of the viewpoints, assumed by many Christians to be long dead, are in fact alive and thriving in one or another sect to the present day.
MacCulloch is writing as a friendly outsider, which pretty well sums up my position as a listener. His attempts to describe Christianity's romance with temporal power, and its frequent turning of a blind eye to social injustice, may offend some people. My own impression is that his account is balanced and largely non-judgemental. Highly recommended.
When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
If you think this is a sit-back-and-relax kind of book, you will be disappointed in it. It is not a book that you can listen in one go... but all that said, Diarmaid MacCulloch history of Christianity is probably one of the best works on its history.
Previous histories would focus on Western Christianity, MacCulloch includes the various forms of Eastern Christianity, orthodox and not so orthodox. This makes it probably one of the most complete histories in the last few decades.
One thing that does hinder when listening to the book is the conceptualising of the dates and eras. I think Audible can give some or other download that might help with it. MacCulloch also seem to make a few irritating sidelong remarks, about historical figures en situations, that made me wonder what the basis for these remarks are.
The person reading the book does a decent job of the whole. It is however important to remember that he is reading an academical work.
This book is meant for academics and people with a big interest in the history of Christianity and the Christiandom throughout the ages.
This is a monumental book which surprises with its depth and breadth of coverage. Nothing is left untouched. The story is told well. One chapter pulls you to the next. The narrator is good, but he mispronounces some esoteric words. Perhaps I'm being picky, but I find it a little disturbing to hear "Thessoloniki" mispronounced especially when I lived there, and its not just Greek city names that get flawed narrations. However, this is a small price to pay for the best history of Christianity ever written. A must read for every Christian and non-Christian. You will fully understand this religion's impact on world history and often wish that this mighty faith had taken some less violent turns. However, every turn and development is in this book and explained in detail. You will understand Christianity and the world as never before when you are done.
MacCullough has managed to present a long, and exhaustively complex story in an interesting and clearly understandable manner. He treats his subject matter respectfully, focusing strictly on the historical record and not taking a religious stand. Walter Dixon, the narrator, does a good job as well reading clearly and briskly, not getting bogged down in sometimes hugely complicated text.
This is one of the few attempts I have seen so far to take on the whole of Christian history, or at least a bigger chunk of it that is normally offered in a review of the history of Christianity. In doing this the book includes the winners and loosers in the heresey battles, offering us an expansive perspective on Christianity that is illuminating and insightful. For presenting this broad perspective I give the author much credit.
The problem in doing this is that the interesting details of history seem to get short changed on occasions. For example, when he touches on the late middle ages, a period of time about which I have a fairly detailed knowledge, I found his presentation superficial and often frustrating. I assume that it the cost of trying to cover as broad a swath of history as 3000 years. Getting through the material is also a mammoth undertaking. At forty plus hours I was able to work through to the Reformation but simply bogged down at that point from sheer exhaustion and needed to take a break from the book, eventually returning.
The narrator is adequate. He has his quirks of pronounciation but is tolerable.
The author presents the book as a work of history and not as a work of apologetics for any particular tradition within Christianity. In that he seems to succeed fairly well. He offers his opinion on occasion as an aside, which is the right of any author, as long as he makes it clear that that is what he is doing.
In summary, I find the book a good overview of the history of Christianity; though perhaps more a reference work than beach or vacation reading. I recommend it with the cautions mentioned in this review.
Avid reader until vision impairment set in. Now an avid listener!
I enjoyed the first few chapters about the early church, especially the analysis of Origen and Augustine's theology, and the effects of neo-Platonism on Christian thinking. After that, however, I lost interest for different reasons: while the chapters on the variants of the eastern church were too detailed and sometimes just plain dull, subsequent chapters on the medieval and especially the renaissance church seemed rushed and raised more questions than they answered. The author seems more concerned with the "what" than the "why," which isn't unusual for a historian, but I would have liked more explanation of, for example, why the ideas of Lutheran and reformed theologies were so appealing to people at the time. Unfortunately when the author does explain the appeal of ideas, he's frequently reductive, as when he tries to explain iconodulia as a result of the need for certainty and tangibility in troubled times. I guess it would be an impossible task to achieve in a one volume history, but I wish he'd given as much play to the importance of ideas in later chapters as he did in those concerning the early church.
Maybe to those who want an overview. It's certainly a jumping off place for further reading.
I liked the chapters on the early church. There's a feel in those chapters for how compelling the new theology must have seemed to its early adherents and teachers. I also enjoyed hearing about the application of Platonist ideas to scriptural interpretation and to the development of theology.
Hasn't the BBC already done this?
The narrator deserves a lot of credit for his stamina and for the majority of times his pronunciation of foreign terms was correct. A few quibbles about the ancient Greek, but altogether an excellent job. I hope he got a lengthy vacation after narrating this work.
This was time well spent, a lot of time. The author has the idea that he is writing a complete history of Christianity. He alludes to the fact that he is a modern British author, and a friend of Christianity, which is code for "I no longer believe in Christ, I am too modern for such a view, but I appreciate the things the Christian culture has brought to the world." One gets the idea that McCullough was writing for his peer group of secular, atheistic British scholars. His has done his home work, and his detailed descriptions of much of the historical processes of the institution of the Church is informative and interesting. However, he makes unsupported assertions throughout the book criticizing the motives or the church which is distracting and often shocking in a book that is supposed to be a clear history of the church. One gets the idea that this is a piece of rebellion against the author's father, who was a priest in the Church of England.
Clearly I did not really understand the way the institutional church split into western, eastern and Russian churches. Often the politics of various leaders of nations worked to co-opt the leaders of the church to get the church to support the secular leaders. Often church leaders were forced to make political decisions for the good of the church as an institution. There were great leaders and weak leaders of the various churches throughout the ages, but the church survived. I also did not understand the development of the Coptic Christians in Egypt. Fascinating reading, but keep in mind the author has a political, secular agenda and watch for his unsupported assertions about the church's leaders and their motives.
This was a good audio book.
Yes, I was inspired to do much more research due to the unsupported assertions concerning the motivations of various church leaders that the author makes. This additional research has been wonderfully confirming of development of the Christian culture in the west and the key role the church has played in creating the civilization of charity we have today.
Listen to the book, but keep your ears open. I bought a copy of the book as a reference and have used it concerning the historical facts that are presented.
I have been extremely disappointed with this book. MacCulloch has an axe to grind against Christianity. It was a waste of a credit. I am still waiting for a quality history of Christianity, this book is not it. The book is filled with speculation, conjecture and the author's opinions.
While he covered some of the history and in many respects was enlightening, whenever possible he will take a negative slant against Christianity. There are too many areas where he speculates about the absence of documents and then proceeds to impute his theory on what a particular thinker, saint or actor in Christian history "might really have said". I am looking for unbiased history. If it comes out good or bad so be it. There are enough facts, writings and archeological evidence regarding Judaism and Christianity that there is really no need to speculate on what may or may not be missing. Or what late Christians/the Church may or may not have excised from the records. So many of his statements are conjecture ending with "we may never know".
I do not write this to defend Christianity, the book is just bad history writing filled with the author's supposition and outright hostility.
MacCulloch throughout this book makes snide comments on people and practices he writes about, speculates about things that don't exist and will continually give his opinion on the intent of whom he writes.
A much better writer is Rodney Stark and the book: The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion. It does not cover the Hebrews or Church history in as much detail but gives excellent treatment to the preceding roots of monotheism.
I have nothing but high praise for the book. It is an enormous undertaking, and it succeeds remarkably well. I have one personal problem with the audio presentation: the narrator possesses a very good, very smooth voice. I wish he had taken the time to look up some of the words instead of just deciding on a pronunciation. It was very disturbing to the flow of the book to hear a word pronounced in an unfamiliar way.
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