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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immense, magisterial and definitive...
I'm what you might call a slightly bewildered agnostic, but I've always had a particular interest in Christianity. So much of its own history - fragmented, argumentative and hypocritical - has always seemed to be at odds with much of Christ's core message, and I've never quit understood how so many Christians can fail to see that contradiction in their own faith's...
Published on 25 Nov 2010 by C. Ball

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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's a Long Story.
This is a secular book of history, written by a `candid friend' of Christianity. He does not make any judgement on whether Christianity is `true' in that he doesn't examine history with a view to validating the claims of Christianity. The story however is true in the sense that it is part of the human story (p.13). From this unfolds not so much a history of Christianity...
Published on 23 Jun 2011 by F Henwood


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immense, magisterial and definitive..., 25 Nov 2010
By 
C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (Paperback)
I'm what you might call a slightly bewildered agnostic, but I've always had a particular interest in Christianity. So much of its own history - fragmented, argumentative and hypocritical - has always seemed to be at odds with much of Christ's core message, and I've never quit understood how so many Christians can fail to see that contradiction in their own faith's history. But this book, which is surely destined to become a classic in the field, goes a long way to explaining why Christianity has had so many schisms, so many sects and splinter groups, reformations and counter-reformations.

It is an immense book, and justifiably so - such a complicated history, ranging across the entire globe and spanning more than two thousand years, could scarcely be anything less, but it rarely flags or fails. It is a difficult history to tell, particularly when the major Churches begin to establish themselves - the early African churches, the Ethiopian Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church - and it becomes impossible to tell the full history in any meaningfully chronological way.

But it's well-worth the challenge, particularly in the areas not usually focused upon in the West - such as the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. I personally found it particularly interesting to see the history of Christianity as a whole and how all the different Churches that seem so far apart relate and respond to one another; and particularly how the various trends in religious attitudes and behaviour have evolved and changed over the centuries.

It's hard to tell MacCulloch's own position from this book, and that's another mark in its favour. If I had to tell, I'd say the overall tone is one of fond and perhaps somewhat bemused affection, tempered with a healthy dose of enlightened scepticism. It makes for a lively and engaging read, although not one to be entered into lightly.
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192 of 199 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview, 19 Nov 2009
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C. Harris (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This book goes with a TV series, but it is not the over-illustrated coffee-table type book you might expect. On the contrary, it is long (1150 pages) and scholarly, though not dauntingly so. The style is readable and engaging, and the book provides an excellent overview of the history of Christianity. It begins with Judaism and Greek philosophy, giving the background to religious thought in the Roman period. It then covers the origins of Christianity, before going on to trace its development and the varying forms it took as it spread over the world. The mainstream of Catholic / Protestant /Orthodox Christianity is well covered, but the book is particularly good on the odd corners of Christianity, such as the sects that took hold in China and India.
The tone is mildly sceptical, but respectful, so believers and non-believers will find nothing to object to, and both will learn much about what Christianity actually is.
Highly recommended.
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81 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply monumental, 9 April 2010
By 
Jeremy Bevan (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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This vast and almost encyclopaedic new history of the Christian faith is an incredible achievement, and a really absorbing read, despite its length (over a thousand pages). Its intriguing subtitle - `The First Three [sic] Thousand Years' - gives you an early clue as to one of its great strengths: an ability to take an unusual angle on its subject that reveals fruitful new perspectives. In setting the Christian faith firmly against a backdrop of Judaism's origins in the flight from Egypt of the Israelites (characterised, in line with some of the latest scholarship, as a weak and disparate grouping bound by common social, rather than ethnic, bonds), MacCulloch helpfully roots Christianity in humble and marginal beginnings. In his closing musings, he urges it to rediscover those roots after near enough two millennia of ambiguously successful Church/state collaboration that has arguably betrayed the founder's vision as much as, if not more than, it has enhanced it.

And those twin themes of faithfulness to Jesus' prophetic vision and its betrayal are in constant interplay in the intervening chapters. As a self-described `candid friend' of Christianity, MacCulloch is not shy of confronting the faith with a few home truths as to its shortcomings, as he roams far and wide, exploring in depth the dynamic of power and humility. The rise and fall of the churches of the East, the often turbulent progress of Orthodoxy and the rise of Western Christianity; the ever-modulating relationship of holy and secular powers through the Middle Ages; the intellectual battles of the Reformation and Counter- (or Catholic) Reformation; the worldwide missionary efforts of the churches in the modern period against a backdrop of the Enlightenment; and the church's contemporary challenges: all are held to up for sometimes unflattering inspection. MacCulloch perhaps writes best, and in most compelling detail, on the churches of `Christendom', the Middle Ages and the 16th century, but throughout there is a wealth of fascinating and sometime surprising detail. Highlights for me included Bede's role in defining `Englishness'; the way monastic use of the land `enserfed' the people and deprived them of its use; the non-denominational settlement of the 16th-century Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth; pockets of enlightened Catholic missionary endeavour among indigenous people in Latin America; discussion of the role of Spinoza, Locke and Hobbes as early supporters of religious liberty and disestablishment, an argument that continues today; church music's metamorphosis into secular entertainment in the 17th and 18th centuries; Methodism as an established (and monarchy-founding) church in Tonga; and the role of the World Council of Churches in drafting the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A rich and diverse tapestry indeed.

Inevitably, the breadth of forms and expressions of Christianity as we approach the 21st century means that the author's treatment of it becomes a little more sketchy in the modern period (an account of Catholicism's rapid rise in contemporary Africa was missing, for example), but the 100 pages of references and discerningly annotated bibliography will take the interested reader further. A monumental work, then, rich in scholarship, replete with intelligent analysis and judicious conclusions: it seems unlikely to be surpassed as a one-volume history of Christianity for a generation.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Big Book, 27 April 2010
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After all the plaudits which have been heaped upon this book, it seems presumptious of me to say anything. When I first saw it in a bookshop, I was overawed by its size, but after reading one particular review I was convinced that I should attempt it. The amazing amount of information is presented in an accessible form and it is a joy to read. There is a comprehensive bibliography; in some cases, one has the feeling that bibliographies are added to lend credibility to what may be a dubious 'agenda' to the book, but here that is not the case. Unfortunately, without access to a university library, it can be more tantalising than helpful. The illustrations are carefully chosen, and do their purpose:they illustrate the text appropriately. Perhaps my most positive comment is to say that no-one need, or should, be detered by the size; it would not be possible to do justice to the subject in anything less.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Outsiders View, 23 Jan 2011
By 
R. Iain F. Brown (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (Paperback)
As a non Christian I found this hard going from time to time. It was not always compulsive reading. Nevertheless having ploughed througn it and looking back on it, I find it immensely rewarding in the long term. It provided for me some understanding of such a diversity of beliefs,practices and forms of governance within the supposedly single tradition that I can only marvel at it. A very important framework in time and space within which much can be understood with a formidable and a very helpful reading list as a springboard for futher exploration of narrower specific interests. Tough but worth it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sure to become a classic, 23 Oct 2010
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This review is from: A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (Paperback)
This is quite simply a magnificent book. MacCulloch's scholarship, and his ability to synthesise and organise a vast amount of material, are truly remarkable. But equally impressive are the wisdom, humanity and occasional acerbic wit that he brings to the task. Time and again his approach results in a different and enlightening perspective on world history. As an non-believer, I feel that he is scrupulously fair to (and hence equally critical of) all sects and forms of Christian belief, now and in the past. But I imagine that this will sometimes make the book uncomfortable reading for some more ardent believers! Above all this is a terrific read, and one of the most engrossing history books I've yet come across.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth buying for anyone who has an interest in the history of Christianity, 18 Mar 2010
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I bought this book and the accompanying DVD a couple of weeks ago, and have watched the DVD and am now making my way through the book. The DVD and book (so far) complement each other beautifully. The way I am approaching them is that the DVD gives the overview and the book the detail. In addition, having studied aspects of the history of Christianity at university, I have not yet found too much about which to quibble. I think MacCulloch's views on the early controversies and councils are fair and balanced, and I am delighted with his coverage of the Russian and Oriental Orthodox Churches whose contributions are not well known in the West.

I am sure I will find issues in which I disagree with MacCulloch, but that's the nature of historical research and reflection upon it. One reviewer writes of MacCulloch's anti-Catholic bias, but I have not got that far into the book, and may update this review later. However, so far, I think it is a fair and sensitive history of the subject that brings the reader up-to-date with contemporary research.

In short, this book and its accompanying DVD are worth buying for anyone who has an interest in the history of Christianity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As a one-volume history of the whole of Christendom, this will be very hard to beat., 18 April 2014
By 
Varian Beauregard (Le Jardin d'Angleterre) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (Paperback)
Well I for one did read this book end-to-end and very swiftly, considering its length and my lack of free-time. I found it absolutely riveting and it gives an excellent summary of the full history of Christianity; covering all the main denominations, events and places. It does not shy away from the complex theological debates that influenced many of the disputes (in tandem with the politics). It does of necessity move back and forth in time and place, but it is generally well cross-referenced. There is a full glossary and further reading suggested. The author writes from a particular perspective and does frequently give his own judgements, but he is very up front about it. (We all have our own perspective but are not all so honest about it!) He is fond of the Anglican Church but not afraid to criticise it, just as he is keen to highlight the great positives in the history of Catholicism as well as the negative aspects. He also seems to write from the perspective of a non-believer (who is intimately familiar with the Anglican Church). This allows him a certain "historian's distance", but also leads to certain assumptions and statements that seem unjustifiably hyper-critical of Christian belief. Despite this, I found the text to be highly educational; and in spite of the hefty size, this tome frequently feels all too brief. (E.g., Bernadette Soubirous is swiftly dismissed in about sentence or two.) That cannot be avoided given the scope of the subject matter. However, I often read a sentence that stated or alluded to a very interesting fact, almost as an aside; but that carried no further explanation, and left me wondering as to the actual details. Finally, as the author often writes in long, complex sentences; one does have to occasionally re-read sentences to correctly comprehend them.

In summary, though, this is an excellent, informative and interesting overview of the history of human Church organisations. It covers most of what you should know as a cultural inheritor of this wide-reaching legacy. It may of necessity lack depth in places, but is should show how relevant, interesting and indeed fundamental this subject is to a proper understanding of our history and culture. Hopefully, it will also lead to further study.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sceptical yet respectful, 3 Jan 2010
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S. K. Lewicki (North Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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Its 1000 pages are probably not for the faint-hearted, but MacCulloch's book obviously will take you much deeper than his recent excellent TV series, and I'm glad I persevered with his book. He is very interesting on the early centuries of Christianity, its links with ideas and philosophies from Greek and Roman times, and its many forms and the way it spread eastwards initially. Certainly he demolished the impression of a Rome-dominated church that many of us may have of pre-Reformation times. For me he explained very clearly many concepts and ideas I'd come across in earlier reading - about heresy, for instance - and showed me many interesting connections and links which had never occurred to me. What came over most strongly, however, for me, was just how quickly the essentials got lost or were overshadowed by sordid politicking and jostling for power and influence by those who found Christianity a convenient tool for advancing themselves. Then when well-meaning people repeatedly tried to re-connect with the roots of the faith, lo and behold, they were heretics!

I know I oversimplify; there's so much in this book that every reader will get something different from it. And ultimately comes the affirmation that there is clearly something in the original message that has led to its survival...
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wise,Cool View, 7 Jan 2010
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Dmpearce - See all my reviews
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The History of Christianity is exceptional in several ways.It is profoundly informed - wide scholarship lightly warn. The style is accessible and easy to read without the least lowering of quality.The approach stands somewhere between Anglicanism and Agnosticism and is directed at grown-ups.His enemies atre the fanatics, literalists and clerical politicians.He is wise to clericalism, the exaltation of the priesthood - in Tennessee as much as Rome. His understanding of how complex theolgy was created out of institutional purposes puts the Church parties' correct lines into an ironical light from which they don't escape.He is excptionally good on the Tractarians of Oxford, St Paul, Calvin and Calvinism,D.F.Strauss and what followed him. He is too especially sympathetic and understanding of the Anglican Church through all its vicissitudes.This is a book to learn from, honest, fair, humorous and marked by affectionate doubt. It is also written in the sort of quiet good English, not readily available in these slatternly days. Genuinely I think this is a masterpiece. Edward Pearce
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A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch (Paperback - 2 Sep 2010)
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