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First of the Month Review

Sometimes, an overview book is required for research; sometimes it is required to provide a larger picture of events. Finding a good overview book tends to be a difficult proposition especially in certain fields such as religious history. One of the books that I recently discovered fills in a missing portion of my research in Church history.

The author of this book has also written one concerning the Reformation which I have yet to read, but I look forward to the other book because I have enjoyed this one so far (I'm only half-way through Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years). I first borrowed the book from my local library, but in the process of trying not to underline important facts or ideas, I decided to purchase the book therefore the one in the photograph is my personal book.

The book begins with the years before Christ's birth and life on Earth. Providing the context of the world, MacCulloch begins with Greece, expands into Rome and Israel to give a grounding for the world of the Early Church. Since most of Early Church history revolved around the Mediterranean Sea, the first few chapters follow this line focusing on the divisions between East and West (Greek Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism) as well as the Coptic influence on the church and early troubles with Gnostics and Manicheans. Leaving the East, the author focuses on the West with the rise of Rome and her growing influence on the church. Focusing on Western Christianity until the fifteenth century, the author then shifts his point of view back to Easter Christianity and follows it's progress through to the nineteenth century. After this point, the book develops into a more chronological avenue of Church history up to modern times.

The good points of the book include its readability (always a good thing for a history book), but it can be confusing not so much because of the writer's style but from Church history. The other aspect that I enjoy is the author's scholarly approach to church history which is obvious regarding the foundations of the Church. While most people admit that Jesus lived, His divinity is up for debate yet it appears that the author has balanced faith and history well.  Growing up in the Church, I have often found that Christian authors either gloss over or completely ignore some of the portions of the Christian faith such as the lack of extra-Biblical proof of individuals such as Peter, Paul and others. With Protestant accounts of church history, it sometimes comes across as though nothing happened after the fall of Rome until the birth of Martin Luther let alone beyond the borders of Europe. Christianity provides accounts of the early church in Iran, China and India, and touches on the development of the Church both doctrines and creeds.
At nearly a thousand pages, Christianity is a large book. It takes time to process what the author says, and reflect upon it. He has provided insights into my faith's history that I have not learned through other history book, and developed some portions that had confused me such as Charlemagne's rise and the evolution of the church and state from that point. If you want a good overview book of Christianity, this is a good starting point. If you want a good book for an adult or high school Sunday School class, this is a good book to have even if only for teacher reference. The chapters are long, but divided into sub-themes to help define the time periods covered. All in all, I recommend Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch for all who want to learn about the history of the Christian faith: its origins, its divisions and its current roles.


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