A great story...,
This review is from: The Story of Christianity: A Celebration of 2,000 Years of Faith (Hardcover)
DK Publishing, who have the past few years been building a reputation for accessible, beautifully-illustrated and well-organised survey books, have produced another good volume by Michael Collins and Matthew A. Price.
Drawing heavily on artwork contemporary with the historical period being covered, Collins and Price supplement the imagery with texts and other artwork gives a visual sense of the text (for instance, we have no contemporary portraits of Judas Maccabeus, so a painting from Paul Rubens - painted a millennium-and-a-half later - is used; however, Alexander the Great had many contemporary statues and images left, so these are used to show him).
DK books have an interesting organisation, that reminds me of a web page -- perhaps this is a deliberate intention on their part. Every page has a full-colour image. Every page has a side-bar, a separate box highlighting an important idea, event or person. Every page leads the reader through short pieces that connect well to a larger theme. Given the increasing short-attention span of many readers (even those who like to read), this kind of book can be useful at drawing people in and keeping them interested.
I give kudos to Collins and Price for including a significant chapter on Global Christianity. So many histories of Christianity end in the European/North American arena, with only lip service paid to other part of the world. Apart from this chapter, which covers theology and practice in the non-Eurocentric Christian churches, the authors pay attention to developments outside western Europe through the two millennia of history. Collins, a Catholic, and Price, a Protestant, have managed to be very inclusive of the wide spectrum of Christian belief and practice. I regret that an Orthodox scholar was not included in this collaboration.
- The Roots of Christianity
This section explores the Jewish roots of Christianity, the Old Testament, and aspects of the wider cultural influences of Hellenism and the Roman Imperial structures. It continues up to New Testament times.
- Church & Empire
This section explores the church from the earliest days of uneasy life in the Roman Empire. It explores problems the church had with wider society as well as many of the early issues that confronted Christian unity, a unity that would make it through these times of turmoil, but would ultimately not endure.
- Christian Empire
From the time of Constantine, the church assumed a different character, first as a protected and permitted faith, and finally as the dominant religious power in the empire.
- The Conversion of Europe
From the time of the fall of the Roman Empire to the turn of the first millennium, Europe underwent various struggles, internal and external, including barbarians from the East and followers of the new religion, Islam, from the South.
- Crusades to Renaissance
The clash between Christendom and Islamic powers resulted in the Crusades. Scandinavian countries were converted, but Christianity's outreach was blocked by geographically and by Islam in the South and East. It was also during this period that Constantinople fell, and the major centre of Orthodoxy came under the control of Islamic sultans.
- The Reformation
The Reformation had many faces, and took different character in various countries in Europe. This is where many Christian denominations trace their historical/philosophical roots away from the Catholic church, and the Catholic church in response to the Reformation incorporated major reforms, as well.
- Enlightenment & Revival
Christianity and science come into conflict during the Enlightenment, yet many zealous preachers and missionaries take to the field, which includes an ever-growing world that includes colonies on every continent on earth.
- Mission & Revolution
In America, many populist religious movements formed, largely in response or by encouragement of the revolution for independence. Around the world, Christianity was grappling with revision of Enlightenment ideals as a changing society thanks to the industrial revolution.
- The Global Church
From World War I forward, the character of almost everything in the world has changed, and Christianity has had to adapt in many ways. Every denomination has seen reforms (some radical and fundamental) and the second millennium closes on hopeful notes for Christian cooperation, if not unity, all the while the era of Christendom has truly ended, as two-thirds of the world are non-Christian. How will Christianity adapt as a minority voice in world affairs, after having had centre stage or at least a major voice in the chorus for so long?
One bias of the book is that it intends very clearly to celebrate Christian history, as the subtitle suggests. Various of the nastier bits of Christian history, therefore, tend to get neutralised in their treatment (the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc.). I would hope there would be a bit more confession on the part of an institution that expects confession and repentance of everyone else. To err is human (perhaps the most human thing!) -- let us not try to avoid facing the errors of the past. I also question certain statements, such as: `Meanwhile, as Europe recovered from centuries of war and invasion, Christianity inspired a flourishing of art and learning that led to the Renaissance.' Christianity's role in supporting the Renaissance is a decidedly mixed one. It was at times as much of a hindrance, and I feel it is probably an overstatement to attribute the Renaissance to Christianity.
This book presents the major figures, major events and timelines in Christian history in a language and presentation that makes it accessible to high school and undergraduate students, makes it useful as a companion to parish Bible studies and Christian education programmes, while still maintaining a level of detail and narrative that would please more clerical and scholarly tastes.