Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
by Diarmaid MacCulloch
This book is a 1161-page tome, delightfully written in engaging language by an Oxford scholar of church history. I am reading “in” the book, moving from subject to subject rather than starting at page one and slogging through. MacCulloc describes himself as “a candid friend of Christianity.
I still appreciate the seriousness which a religious mentality brings to the mystery and misery of human existence, and I appreciate the solemnity of religious liturgy as a way of confronting these problems… I live with the puzzle of wondering how something so apparently crazy can be so captivating to millions of other members of my species.”
If the cornerstone of your Christian belief is in a literal understanding of the Bible, this book is not for you. If, like me, you understand the bible as an eclectic mix of history, stories and myths that points to truth rather than claiming fact, you will love it.
MacCulloch begins his story a millennium before Jesus. He writes that “Within the cluster of beliefs making up Christian faith is an instability which comes from a twofold ancestry. Far from simply being the pristine innovative teachings of Jesus Christ, it draws on two much more ancient cultural wellsprings, Greece and Israel” and Romans.
And how the interactions of religion, social institutions and politics forged the emerging Christian identity. He concludes the book with and examination of the culture wars, 1960 through the present day. In the book and in the subtitle, MacCulloch “invites the reader to consider whether Christianity has a future (the indications, it must be said, can hardly be other than affirmative),; yet it also points to the fact that what became Christian ideas have a human past in the minds of people who lived before the time of Jesus Christ.”