- Paperback: 508 pages
- Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (1 Nov. 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060816104
- ISBN-13: 978-0060816100
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.7 x 22.9 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 984,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
From Jesus to Christianity: How Four Generations of Visionaries & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith Paperback – 1 Nov 2005
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Starting with the trials and travels of Paul, Professor White analyses the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. He examines the most likely places and times where various letters were written and why. He explains by the evidences and even the form of the structure of the individual letters the purpose, for whom they were intended, and even by whom they may have been carried to their destination.
Next he approaches the gospels in a manner you may never have seen before. For starters, he presents them in the most likely order in which they may have been written. Then he explains the geographic and social context in which they came to life.
Over all, this is the most extraordinary book I have ever read of its type. Professor White has created a volume that every serious student of Christianity should read carefully to get a clearer understanding of the time, geography, and the social setting in which the New Testament and all its stories came into being. As a practicing Christian, I personally found that this greater understanding was a comforting reinforcement to my personal faith.
Whether the author has in a few cases over-imposed his explanatory scheme on the material is a matter for Biblical scholars to debate, but I found this to be a very plausible account. If you follow White's presentation and read the works as he discusses them, you will spend a few weeks, at least, working your way though the book; but it will be well worth the investment. Be aware, though, that this is an extended and serious argument, not a popularizing superficial treatment that you can read with one eye on the TV. The book is tightly written, and you will have to pay attention. Even so, I found myself losing the thread once in a while and having to go back and re-read a section.
Committed Christians of conservative stripe may be made uncomfortable here and there, but there is no need for that. This kind of historical reconstruction exists at right angles to the spiritual content of scripture, and to the leap of faith that believers must be willing to make in any case. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in NT writings, from whatever perspective.
I especially appreciated the tables which White provides summarizing the information available about the books of the New Testament and some of the early Christian leaders. These provide a handy reference point to which to turn when the intricacies of some doctrinal points become too complex to follow easily.
From Jesus to Christianity will allow Christians and non-Christians alike to gain a better understanding of the early years of that faith, and a better appreciation of the lives of those early men and women who labored so mightily to help that faith survive.
The author presents the Biblical world at the time of Christ's birth, with all of the social and religious factions that contributed to the climate in which He healed, taught, called disciples and began the movement that is Christian faith. For those who want a less than one page, but scholarly, account of groups such as the Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes and the Zealot party, White's book offers them all, in one easy to use reference.
I especially like the tables and outlines, both of familiar works such as Luke and Acts but also of some of the books that did not make it into the Bible, such as the so-called Gospels of Thomas and Peter. In his review of such non-canonical works, White helps us better understand some of the conflicts that shaped the Early Church. Decisions made then have been normative for how the majority of Christians understand our belief, down until today. If you want to know why the Christian Church has emphasized what we have about Jesus, for example, then the chapter called "Christology and Conflict" is essential reading.
White also talks about the teachings of such Early Church leaders as Marcion. No, we don't hear much about Marcion in the 21st century congregation, but the four issues he brought to the discussion are still with us: Emphasis on Paul's letters as the only true or normative Christian theology; rejection of the Old Testament; insisting only on Luke's Gospel to know the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth; emphasis on the proper or "original manuscript" of scripture. Such tendencies to narrow-down and obscure the impact of the Gospel, although rejected by the Early Church, continues to influence some misguided Christian thought today.
Moreover, White gives a good overview of how we went from house-churches to buildings that were specifically set aside for use as churches. (I really enjoyed that part of the book, complete with photos and floor plans of recent archeological discoveries).
This work is filled with outstanding footnotes and references for further reading. It could be the start of much exploration into not only what made the Early Church "tick" but also what makes the present-day church what it is.
If you find this review helpful you might want to read some of my other reviews, including those on subjects ranging from biography to architecture, as well as religion and fiction.