The Rise Of Christianity, edited by Don Nardo
This book reads like a history of the rise of Christianity by people who have very little understanding of biblical Christianity. It reads like the sort of story that many writers try to tell about early Christianity without taking the Bible seriously , or having any knowledge of the endurance of Jewish Christianity to the present day . It is more than a little bit awkward as a reader to come to a book like this one and know more about the subject matter being swept under the rug than the author is letting on about. And, to be sure, it is more than a little bit unsatisfactory to read the alternate facts about Christianity being promoted by this book, whether that concerns the betrayal of Christianity by many of those who professed it in the period of the ante and post-Nicene fathers or by the book’s endorsement of the ecumenical movement and its general view of Hellenistic Christianity with such high praise. As someone who has a rather negative view of Hellenistic Christianity, the fact that this book falsely equates biblical Christianity with its heathen imposter is troubling.
The contents of this book are mostly an uneven series of excerpts about the religious of history, biased towards the first few centuries of the common era from various scholars of history. Some of these essays are rather good, like that from Will Durant, but many of them reflect the biases of the writer or the sort of armchair philosophizing about the history of early Christianity by those who know next to nothing about it. One particularly egregious example of this comes when one of the essays early in the book claims that Christianity has been particularly occidental and Western in its orientation, showing a total lack of knowledge of and appreciation for the extensive spread of Christianity early on by Nestorians in the Middle East and Central Asia as well as the lengthy and noble history of the Christians of Axum and its Ethiopian successor states. Its roughly 200 pages of material are divided into four chapters: the birth of Christianity, the growth and spread of Christianity, the “problems” of Christianity, and the triumph of Christianity, as well as the best part of the book by far, a collection of excerpts from original documents (including the Bible) relating to early Christianity. The book is at its best when most of its writers put down their pens and let the Bible and ancient (even if sometimes Hellenistic) believers speak for themselves.
It is difficult to see an audience that would be edified by this book. Although the book’s editor calls some of the writers of the book’s materials eminent scholars, most of them know very little about biblical Christianity and are merely repeating incorrect myths about Paul and the Church. This is the sort of book that would give unwary readers fuel for their prejudices against God’s ways, and fail to understand the nature of genuine Christianity, and would not even allow readers to grasp a sense of the wide geographical dispersion that was the case of Christianity from the beginning, as the book focuses mainly on the “progress” of Christianity within the Roman Empire to the exclusion of other aspects. This is a book written by the ignorant for the ignorant, that will likely improve no one and provide a simulacrum of knowledge rather than the real deal. Ersatz history is worse than no history at all, and this book is saved from being totally worthless only because it includes enough primary documentation for wise readers to come to their own conclusions based on at least some evidence.
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