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A History of Christianity: An Introductory Survey

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A History of Christianity examines the development of Christianity from its biblical foundations to modern times. While seeking to be comprehensive, historian Joseph Early Jr. centers on key events, people, theological developments, and conflicts that have shaped Christianity over its two-thousand-year history. He also presents the development of Christianity within the so A History of Christianity examines the development of Christianity from its biblical foundations to modern times. While seeking to be comprehensive, historian Joseph Early Jr. centers on key events, people, theological developments, and conflicts that have shaped Christianity over its two-thousand-year history. He also presents the development of Christianity within the social, political, and economic challenges of the times. In doing so, he paints a clear, detailed, and balanced picture of the opportunities and struggles faced by the church and the contributions made by significant people, institutions, and traditions.   A History of Christianity is an ideal introductory survey for undergraduate students and any reader who desires to know more about the broad scope of Christianity.


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A History of Christianity examines the development of Christianity from its biblical foundations to modern times. While seeking to be comprehensive, historian Joseph Early Jr. centers on key events, people, theological developments, and conflicts that have shaped Christianity over its two-thousand-year history. He also presents the development of Christianity within the so A History of Christianity examines the development of Christianity from its biblical foundations to modern times. While seeking to be comprehensive, historian Joseph Early Jr. centers on key events, people, theological developments, and conflicts that have shaped Christianity over its two-thousand-year history. He also presents the development of Christianity within the social, political, and economic challenges of the times. In doing so, he paints a clear, detailed, and balanced picture of the opportunities and struggles faced by the church and the contributions made by significant people, institutions, and traditions.   A History of Christianity is an ideal introductory survey for undergraduate students and any reader who desires to know more about the broad scope of Christianity.

30 review for A History of Christianity: An Introductory Survey

  1. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    Introduction: Arguments & Dissent This is essentially an outline for the entire history of Christianity. It provides an overview sufficient for a layperson to garner understanding, but is generalized enough to condense under 500 pages. What stands out most about the history of Christianity is the fact that it rests on relentlessly diversified opinions and debates that have occurred since the death of Jesus and the Apostles. Men have often molded Christianity to fit their own purposes through the Introduction: Arguments & Dissent This is essentially an outline for the entire history of Christianity. It provides an overview sufficient for a layperson to garner understanding, but is generalized enough to condense under 500 pages. What stands out most about the history of Christianity is the fact that it rests on relentlessly diversified opinions and debates that have occurred since the death of Jesus and the Apostles. Men have often molded Christianity to fit their own purposes through the issuance of myriad creeds, councils, theologies, schisms, arguments, publications, and belief systems. Too often these have been instituted by force or coercion. It’s hard to see the hand of God in the Inquisition, the selling of indulgences, the rampant marketing of relics, the burnings at the stake, or the rash conglomeration of religious nonsense erected since Christ’s death. The history of Christianity exhibits much rash, incessant, and childish arguing about aspects of things unknown. Reading this book makes one want to shout: “Enough”! Enough of this constant embellishment! Enough of this twisting and turning and rendering of religion into these myriad and complex forms! But then one stops to wonder if it is perhaps this “process”, this relentless “seeking”, this religious “evolution”, through which humanity must first evolve before merging into a greater clarity, sufficient to sustain a Kingdom of Truth. What we lack is a body pure enough to reason logically for the whole. That is, a body that will not succumb to the unjust enrichment of certain of its hoarding segments. We have the specifications for this body, as laid out by Jesus, but its construction remains in the formative stages. Historical Ignorance Widespread ignorance about the history of the Church is one reason for the persistence of so many rash speculations and diversified opinions. Once one reads this book, one is able to see if ones particular revelations about God have already been postulated and how the church received them or ingrained them into a particular denomination. Seeing your own religious beliefs in the context of this entire history is very illuminating and will solidify some perceptions, while inviting you to re-think others. Without doubt, knowing this history of the church will open your awareness and understanding of God and your beliefs. Unfortunately, most Christians have little or no idea of their religious history or how their denomination compares to others. Most Christians simply inherit a denomination from their parents and then bear or ignore it, without exploring the full realm of Christian diversity and history. J. Bradley Creed remarks about this in the forward: “It is a peculiar temptation for Baptist Christians and others in the free-church tradition to leapfrog mentally over hundreds of years of history and to place in limbo, within historic parentheses, everything that happened between the age of the apostles and the faith of their grandparents.” -J. Bradley Creed A remarkable thing about the history of Christianity is that it is also a history of human contemplation. The thoughts, concepts, and theological assertions that comprise Christian history all come about as a result of various humans contemplating their relationships with God. Additionally, Christian history involves the much less eloquent manner by which humanity seeks to engage these concepts into tangible actions, among their fellowmen. Christian history has been largely about the conflicts introduced through such interactions. Hopefully, our future will involve more mutual understanding and concerted effort, as the body of Christ gels into increasing tangible cohesiveness, from amidst the mess of our divisiveness. Tendency Toward Exclusivity Every sect wants to be or considers itself “the chosen ones”. The reality of Christ is that we are all chosen, all forgiven, all loved, if only we would but realize it. It is this tendency to imagine ourselves superior to those around us that separates us. It is sheer narcissism that leads us to believe that our understanding is truer than our neighbors, that our way of living is best, and that our rituals and beliefs are the only way. We excommunicate one another with our prejudices, biases, and narrow-mindedness. The reality is that we can’t conform ourselves to one another because none of us are perfect. We fail as living human icons because we will invariably let one another down. None of us can stand blameless. None of us can offer up ourselves to everyone else around us as the example they should follow because we invariably slip up. However, Christ serves this purpose for humanity, as one fully worthy of emulation, as one who has succeeded in representing God in human form, and as one who would willingly choose death before sin. So long as we look to Christ as our example we can be unified. It is when we branch into petty rulemaking, dogmatic theology, and superstitious ritualism that we begin to splinter into petty denominations. It is when we pervert the image of Christ that our unity disintegrates. The Nature of Christ Much of the divisiveness in the history of the church comes about due to arguments about the nature of Christ. As humans we want to dissect and define His every characteristic, even though there are things He purposefully left unsaid as a mystery for us. In the history of the church, the heart of this argument is whether He was human or divine. Those that deny the humanity of Christ seek to deny any aspect of Him as a creature, which they connect with the animal nature within themselves. And yet, embracing our “humanness” is what Christ called us to do. Christ showed us how to be human, which is what differentiates us from the animals. God is synonymous with goodness and righteousness. Jesus is synonymous with the materialization of goodness and righteousness into our physical environment so that it becomes tangible for us to see, touch, and witness. As a tangible man, Jesus is demonstrative of how a man imbibes goodness and righteousness and ascends to transformation. Transformation involves the process of humans coming to consensual union with God. It involves the purposeful cultivation of the seed of God that resides within us all. This seed can give birth to a lovely organism that matures and sends many more seeds flowing within the wind, in all directions. That is what Jesus did. That is what we are also called to do. If this is facilitated in martyrdom, so be it Martyrdom The entire history of Christianity is about those with the guts to speak out about what they believe, based upon the convictions of their conscience, instead of accepting passive indoctrination to the prevailing ways of their time. It is this unwavering persistence in belief that has moved the church forward, on the backs of martyrs. Tertullian of Carthage (160-225) put it this way: “The more we are hewn down by you, the more numerous do we become. The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” The Church as Collective Consciousness As we move through the history, we witness a string of horrible conflicts between the pope and the monarchs, as well as deeply troubling immorality among church leaders. The church’s power against the monarch is sustained by the widespread allegiance of the people and the fear perpetuated by its superstitions. Deep down though, these struggles between the papacy and the monarchs are essentially a struggle between the commoners and the aristocracy; and they hinge almost exclusively upon the popes ability to command the general populace. To the extent that its religion remains authentic, the popes are able to gain and sustain great power. However, as the popes become corrupt, the power of the church deteriorates before the monarch. There is a direct relationship between the authenticity of the church and the extent of its influence, and this holds true even to the present day. Such authenticity is manifest in unity, order, and consistency; in holding fast to the basic moral decency recognized in the hearts of humanity. The church finds such unity and oneness only in the person of Jesus Christ. Without the nature of Jesus, the church has no legitimate unifying consciousness. As a result, when the members and leaders of the church fall away from Jesus, the framework of the church deteriorates. The church may only assemble itself into a functioning and powerful body through the concerted consciousness of its members, by which the many individuals become one in Christ. Christ must become a live and functioning reality in our midst. In such a way, the organization produces a collective consciousness, or higher state of being, that manifests in the larger body. I leave you with a list that I have compiled while reading this history. It is a list of historical activities of the church that were never sanctioned or practiced by Jesus. The practice of these things by the historical church has worked to thwart the formation of Christ in our midst. Anti-Christ Practices Exhibited by the Historical Church • Persecutions & burnings of perceived heretics • Adoration of objects • The sale of indulgencies, relics, sacramentals, & blessings • Praying to & adoration of saints • The worship of Mary • Excommunications for political & monetary purposes • The belief that icons & relics were capable of conferring grace, expelling demons, or intercession. • The selling of ordinations - clergy purchasing their offices & bishoprics • The selling of access to the sacraments • The deeding of church property to the clergy’s children • Forcing Jews and Muslims to wear readily identifiable clothing • The myriad atrocities of the Inquisition and a culture of violence • The atrocities of the Crusades • Purgatory & the claim that one might purchase ones deceased relatives out of purgatory or that ones time in purgatory would be shortened if they participated in the Crusades. • Militant extermination of rival religions • Belief that penance can be achieved with indulgences and pilgrimages • Using the sacraments superstitiously to suggest a ritual can make someone righteous • The superstitious contention that a priest has the power to confer the Holy Spirit into people through infant Baptism or other means. • Perpetuating the superstition of transubstantiation that partakers in the Eucharist actually cannibalize Jesus because the elements consumed really change into the blood and body of Christ in their stomachs • The superstitious belief that the cup should be withheld from the laity for fear they might spill Christ’s blood • Contention that objects or actions blessed by the clergy (sacramentals) can ward off evil • Charging people to see relics harbored by the church • Idolatry – holding fast to a crucifix, relic, ritual, purchased indulgence, alternative Biblical character, icon, or anything other than Christ for salvation • An institution more concerned with taking care of itself than caring for souls. Looking at this history, the church appears to me much like a careening drunken driver, unable to stay the course along the narrow road paved by Christ. This history lets us see clearly how evil has constantly corrupted the simple message of Christ with elaborate falsehoods and undue complexities, often designed to misdirect our faith toward idols, things, ritualistic procedures, or narcissistic people. These are exactly the very things that Christ railed against. It is quite amazing how easy it is to get people to believe in superstitious nonsense. Let us throw off the plague of superstitions and petty denominationalisms so that we may unify in the powerful light of Christ alone. Vocab Catechumens – new converts Eschaton – end of time Animus – ill will – active hostility Arianism - a non-Trinitarian belief that Jesus is a Son of God, created by, distinct from, & subordinate to God Proscribe – command against, opposite of prescribe, bar, forbid, exclude Typological – classification according to general type Acerbic – sour, bitter, corrosive Episcopacy – church government by bishops Ameliorate – enrich, upgrade, enhance, better, perfect, improve Simony – practice of selling church offices and roles Pedagogy – teaching, instruction, training, schooling, tutoring Sacraments – baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penances, marriage, holy orders (ordination), and extreme unction (last rites) Genuflecting – groveling, crawling, prostrating, kowtowing Rosary – series of prayers, Catholic prayer beads Modalistic – doctrine that the Trinity is composed of three modes of divine self-revelation rather than 3 parts of God Ilk – A kind of person Anathema – a formal ecclesiastical curse and excommunication – a detested person Gallicanism – belief that the pope had spiritual but not temporal authority Antinomians – maintained they were not liable for sinful actions because all actions were foreordained by God Soteriology – theology of salvation Arminian – opposing Calvinism

  2. 4 out of 5

    Joel Zartman

    The book was written, Early states in his preface, to fill a need for a survey of Church History that is not written from a Catholic view and is not overly academic (p. xix). He has succeeded. The whole of the history is covered, there is no obvious Catholic bias, and the book cannot be described as overly academic. Besides that, it is hard to think of anything important that has been left out, and as far as an introductory survey goes, that is an accomplishment. The book sets the facts of histor The book was written, Early states in his preface, to fill a need for a survey of Church History that is not written from a Catholic view and is not overly academic (p. xix). He has succeeded. The whole of the history is covered, there is no obvious Catholic bias, and the book cannot be described as overly academic. Besides that, it is hard to think of anything important that has been left out, and as far as an introductory survey goes, that is an accomplishment. The book sets the facts of history in chronological order in accessible, understandable language. Some background is useful, when considering historical events, and Early provides this in his first chapters, setting the scene in the first century A.D. Brief summaries of the Apostolic Fathers are provided, then the successive waves of Roman persecution are summarized. This provides a transition into intellectual persecution, and with that the apologists. Heresies and schisms concern him next, all briefly described, and after that a sketch of what orthodoxy looked like before Nicea. Chapter five pauses the narrative of events to provide some interesting details of how the early Church worshiped and functioned. The events surrounding the Emperor Constantine, the theological world wars of the fourth and fifth centuries and the outstanding theologians of those times are then presented and explained. Pages 1-122 are devoted to the early Church. From 122-210 we have the Middle Ages. There is a chapter on the early middle ages and on the high middle ages, with the development of the papacy. Then follow chapters about monasticism and scholasticism, the renaissance and the decline of the papacy. The section on the middle ages concludes with a chapter on worship that outlines the sacramental system and provides something of an explanation for the role of relics in that age, along with their ramifications in architecture. The rest of the book—we are at the halfway point—deals with Church History from the Reformation on. Luther, Zwingli (along with the radicals) and Calvin each get a chapter, and the events and contribution of each are summarized and evaluated. Then follows a chapter on the English Reformation, with an explanation of the rise of Puritans, and, unexpectedly, also Separatists—presumably because they tie into Baptist history, since Early is a Baptist historian. A chapter on the Catholic reaction includes information on humanism and mysticism. The Christianizing of the New World, follows, which is divided into general overviews of the Spanish and the French efforts, and becomes more detailed with the British colonies. The next chapter brings up the rise of rationalism leading to the enlightenment, and notes some of the challenges this raised for Christianity. The state of the Church under these conditions in the eighteenth century then occupies the two next chapters, the first being about American and the second about England. After this, comes a chapter on the next century, the Second Great Awakening and its consequences, including sketches of the rise of several sects in America. From sects, he transitions to a chapter surveying denominations: their distribution and influence in America. The last three chapters deal with the twentieth century and the state of the church today. The first deals with Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the second with Protestantism and its various theological and practical challenges, including Neo-orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, and the very last chapter explains globalization, narrating something of the condition of the church in the rest of the Americas, Africa and Asia. When the last fact is told, the story ends, and following the endnotes there is a bibliography for primary and secondary sources and which concludes with alternative suggestions for surveys of Church History. Name and Subject indexes are included. As I have indicated, nothing major is left out though nothing is considered in great detail; the book is a survey, and it surveys from a reasonable height. Here are a few errors I found: “When Calvin arrived in 1536, the city was a virtual republic administered by the Little Council, the Council of Sixty, and the Council of Two Hundred.” (p. 246.) These are all true facts, the problem is there is no explanation for these three councils. Why are we told about them? What are we to make of them? These named councils are randomly inserted without further elaboration. It excites curiosity but offers no explanation. If it does not serve a purpose, why put the information in? “Anglican missionary John Wesley (1703-1791) came to Georgia in the mid-1730s and failed utterly at evangelistic endeavors. He then returned to England and launched the Methodist movement.” (p. 307.) The omission here is the most salient fact in John Wesley’s life. In a way, these two sentences admirably compress a lot of important information about Wesley, but between the two sentences the event that drops out of view is his conversion. “Hellenistic Jews . . . compromise . . . their moral standards, as when young Jewish athletes competed with Greeks in the nude.” (p. 5.) Surely morality and propriety, while related, are different things. “When cathedrals were built, martyrs’ bones were placed in reliquaries, pilgrimages to them began, and the martyrs’ cult grew” (p. 59). This is found in a chapter on second and third century worship. It is probably unintentionally misleading, but the sentence suggests there was no martyrs’ cult before cathedrals were built. There is no evidence of cathedrals in the second or third centuries. “With Christians free from persecution, the clergy was able to discuss delicate theological matters, the most serious of which was Arianism” (p. 73). Had persecution continued, one gathers, nobody would have bothered discussing Arianism. “Led by the Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia, Athanasius was exiled from Alexandria” (p. 85). I had a good laugh at the thought of Athanasius being personally led into exile by his wily antagonist. “Gregory of Thaumaturgos” is an epithet with too many prepositions (p. 87). Speaking of the Cappadocian fathers Early says: “The Trinity was defined as three distinct hypostases (modes of being) in one ousia (substance)” (p. 90). I do not think the Trinity can be defined as three distinct modes of being unless one is a modalist, not an orthodox Christian. “A vindictive man with an acerbic writing style, Jerome . . .” (p. 104.) It is the only comment offered on the prose style of a man whose command of Latin was second to none, and whose writing is extraordinarily versatile and has been universally admired. “William the Conqueror (1066-1087) made England a viable nation-state.” (p. 150.) The dates are obviously not birth-death, which is a confusing thing that is done throughout. One expects the dates to be consistent, but without any other indication sometimes time of rule is provided (as in that of the Conqueror) rather than the usual lifespan (see John Wesley above). One can work it out; still, one can imagine a student being misled. Also, the nation-state in 1066. We are told that Catholics believed in a flat earth before the time of Galileo (p. 309), which if C.S. Lewis, who wrote a book on the medieval world-view, is to be believed, is not true. The book is not hard to read. In fact, the sentence structure is never too complicated. The effect of this is very steady; but sometimes, especially in the first chapters, tedious. There is also occasionally the sense of reading chronologically arranged Church History encyclopedia articles one after the other with little obvious narrative continuity, again in the early chapters. A survey needs the long view of history to prevail over facts and dates. It needs a narrative meaning that gives order and purpose to the facts and dates included. This is sometimes but not always achieved.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Luke Gorsett

    Well Done This is a great introduction. He hits the highlights and lays out the material in a linear and logical way. He seemed fair and represented different views well.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Interesting read. As usual, the line is not clear between true Christianity and Catholicism. A deeper analysis of the theological evolution of Christianity vs. false Christianity would have been helpful.

  5. 4 out of 5

    William Brown

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brian Gillispie

  7. 4 out of 5

    Reinier

  8. 4 out of 5

    Binsy

  9. 5 out of 5

    Helen Fonville

  10. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tamra LeValley

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Faigh

  13. 5 out of 5

    S.Grannum

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sallie Garvin

  15. 5 out of 5

    Damaris Bredin

  16. 4 out of 5

    Herbs Kindle

  17. 4 out of 5

    Craig Hurst

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gary Good

  19. 4 out of 5

    Trina

  20. 4 out of 5

    Frances Allen

  21. 5 out of 5

    Flavie Joseph

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steven

  23. 5 out of 5

    Paul Creasy

  24. 4 out of 5

    Miia Rauhala

  25. 4 out of 5

    Uriel Valdes

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kwang Lee

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joan Mendez

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joel Hoyt

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michael S.

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