A People’s History of Christianity (Review)

A People’s History of Christianity, named after A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

I liked this book.  But it was not what I expected and it could have been much better.  With the title it has, I expected a retelling of Christian history with a focus on figures, groups and movements that do not get top billing in more traditional history books.   Bass says she is specifically going to avoid a way of telling that focuses on C’s – Christendom, Calvinism and so on.  The first part of the book mentions many figures from the early church who are familiar to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of church history.

This made me wonder who the target audience for this book was.  With so many familiar stories, I do not think it is pastors or seminary graduates.  Further, every single chapter (or at least, every one I recall) began with some sort of contemporary illustration.  Thus it is not  a straight up history book.  This is odd because it gets its title from a straight up history book, of much longer length, which was a best seller.  I suppose Bass, or the publisher, did not think such a history of Christianity would sell.

Ultimately, this book reads more like a Christian spirituality sort of book.  That is, the kind of book people read who want to grow in their faith.  But rather than being held together by Bible passages, this book is held together by the story of church history.  Such a book is valuable, any book that introduces people to Christians who have gone before and manages to inspire and not just inform is worthy of a wide reading.  Yet, and maybe I am just stuck on the title, I expected a history book.

As the story moves closer to present day, Bass does manage to tell more stories from the margins.  Maybe it is a case that such lesser-known stories have not survived from ancient days so she had few options till she got to more modern times.  At the same time, there are stories of people she could have mentioned but did not from more ancient days, fringe movements we do know about.  And I would have loved her to take a stab at painting a picture of how normal, everyday Christians lived in the early or medieval church.

Oh well, it is what it is.  Truly it is a good book, worth a read by any Christian.  Just do not expect history or anything comparable to Zinn’s work after which it is named.

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