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Worlds apart: Christianity divided to conquer the world

  • Jun 14, 2014
MacCulloch's massive one volume history of the religion based on the man and the mission of Jesus Christ is imaginative, insightful, and mostly maintains interest beginning to end.  The interest starts with the intriguing subtitle, as MacCulloch begins by examining the roots of Christianity in the Jewish, Greek, and Roman worlds that the man Jesus bridged.  The collective human and spiritual legacy that became known by His name (originally meant as a slight, a naming convention that MacCulloch points out would be reused throughout controversies in church history) might better be termed by the plural "Christianities." The author describes how the church grew first in the Middle East, then moved West and North and South and East, in separate geographical dispersions and doctrinal groupings that constituted both real (often violently bitter) differences and potential directions for the future of the main core of big-C Christianity.

Perhaps the most insightful part of this early history is the less-traveled road documenting the early
church as it spread east all the way to India, China, Korea, and even Japan.  While Prester John would remain a myth, very real missions established churches in these Asian realms, to establish their own history even as they disappeared from attention until rediscovered by astonished western explorers centuries later.  MacCulloch's point in describing these far flung churches and doctrines is fascinating to consider in its implications:  while perhaps driven by God's will from afar, there were still multiple alternative paths by which Christianity might have grown.

Similarly, he refers to "Christian Reformations" plural when his history reaches the era of Martin Luther who was neither the first who pointed back to the good new of grace to return to a more perfect religion nor was his insight only from outside the established church in Rome.  MacCulloch again walks through Europe west to east and north to south as he looks at the many variations of the Reformation both outside the Catholic church and the positive and negative influences within.  The unintentional outcome was a further splintering of the Christianities, especially in the former Eastern Orthodox empire.

It was only with technological advances in communication and transportation that the worlds of Christianity were brought back together, but the reunions were not always happy ones.  Doctrine,history and tradition were divisions that kept Christianity plural as nations and governments also struggled adjusting to the new realities.  MacCulloch documents how individual denominations responded to the new technological and political realities, some thriving, some barely surviving, but always disunited. 

Its a thousand page saga and a fascinating reminder of the depth and breadth of human history reflected in the history of the church.

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June 15
Church history is fascinating.There are some gaps in the official record like the Great Fire of Rome in 70AD. In addition, the writings of the 1st century Roman authors have a paucity of information about Jesus Christ and the adversarial relationship He had with Rome. Early 1st century authors of Rome included Strabo, Velleius, Seneca the Elder and Columella. I have a continuing unresolved question as to why the early Roman authors did not write about Jesus Christ specifically.
June 15
Good points.  I would suggest two reasons.  From and to Rome,

1.  the little province of Palestine was not of great importance.
2.  Jesus Christ was just one of many messianic pretenders who kept popping up among the vassal ethnic Jews in the province, and none of them represented any serious threat to the Roman empire. 

And if you've already executed him, at the request of his own people, why write about him?

One of the strongest evidences for me of the truth of the New Testament accounts is that in the absence of a unifying and strengthening opposition from Rome, a "resurrection hoax", especially one maintained by such an apparently inept (or turncoat in the case of Peter) group of disciples, would surely have quickly fallen apart.  The appearance decades later of a vibrant and spreading community of faith around the eastern rim of the Mediterranean professing belief in the resurrection and power of the man they had so readily dispatched in Jerusalem must have given the Romans pause.  Those conversations and confrontations lost to history would certainly be fascinating to find.
June 16
I think that some of those conversations were destroyed in the Great Fire of Rome 70AD. A researcher unearthed blood samples which he believes are that of Christ due to the unique chromosomal combination. Take a look. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWMw6eNmsh8
June 20
According to Anthony Burgess the Christians were the convenient scapegoats of the Romans for the fire, most probably set by the Romans themselves.
June 20
The emperor was a strong candidate for the originator of the fire.
More Christianity: The First Three ... reviews
review by . July 08, 2010
Diarmaid MacCulloch begins his detailed study of Christianity in Greece around 1000 BCE. He continues with the history of Israel during the same period, and then with the story of Jesus' birth in 4 BCE, for Jesus is said to have been born during the reign of King Herod, and Herod died in 4 BCE. MacCulloch states many other facts that will bother many Christians.    He notes, for example, that only two of the Gospels have the birth narrative. These tales tell that that he was …
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #37
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Where does Christianity begin? In Athens, Jerusalem, or Rome? How did the early creeds of the church develop and differentiate? What was the impact of the Reformation and the Catholic Counterreformation? How have vital Christian communities emerged in Asia, Africa, and India since the 18th century? Award-winning historian MacCulloch (The Reformation) attempts to answer these questions and many more in this elegantly written, magisterial history of Christianity. MacCulloch diligently traces the origins and development of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christianities, and he provides a more in-depth look at the development of Christianity in Asia and Africa than standard histories of Christianity. He offers sketches of Christian thinkers from Augustine and Luther to Desmond Tutu and Patriarch Bartholomew I. Three appendixes contain a list of popes, Orthodox patriarchs, and a collection of Christian texts. Assuming no previous knowledge on the part of readers about Christian traditions, MacCulloch traces in breathtaking detail the often contentious arguments within Christianity for the past 3,000 years. His monumental achievement will not soon be surpassed.(Mar.)
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ISBN-10: 0670021261
ISBN-13: 978-0670021260
Author: Diarmaid MacCulloch
Publisher: Viking Adult

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