The Dawn Of Christianity, by Robert J. Hutchinson
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishing. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
As someone who reads a lot of histories of the early Church , this book happens to sit within an interesting middle position. The author portrays himself, and the book bears him out on this, as someone who neither believes in the full inspiration of the Bible nor is he someone who is intensely critical of the Bible. Neither a minimalist nor someone who believes in full inspiration, this book is aimed at those who are fair-minded about considering the Bible to be a worthwhile historical source but who are not people of faith. This is a book for people of reason–at least moderately sound reason–and not necessarily people of faith. It’s a savvy choice from the point of view of marketing, as the author assumes that other writers will have the perspective of faith covered, and comparatively few people will write books for a nonbelieving audience that is as pro-biblical as this one. Beyond being a savvy choice, this book is actually an excellent one for those of us who are scholarly even if believers. And that is somewhat of a surprise, albeit a good one.
The book as a whole consists of a few unequal parts that largely mirror the scriptural account of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ and and the history of the early Church of God. The book begins with a large introduction including maps as well as a section on apologetics and archaeology that is around twenty pages long. After that the book is divided into four sections that take up about 240 pages or so material. The first section, which takes up about half the book, consists of the road to Jerusalem and crucifixion, divided into twelve short chapters. The next section of about thirty pages in length gives a strong case for the veracity of the resurrection account. After that comes a fairly lengthy section of about eight chapters looking at the beginnings of prosecution, and the main part of the book closes with three chapters about the evangelistic efforts before the Council of Jerusalem spearheaded by Paul and Barnabas. After that the book contains some useful appendices and a lengthy set of endnotes and an index.
There are a few aspects of the book that are worthy of comment. Not all readers will be as pleased by this book as I was, based on what context they bring to it. For example, the author conflates the two episodes of cleansing the temple and both of the anointings of Jesus, similar to the way that many readers of the Penteteuch conflate the two incidents at Massah and Meribah because they fail to see the point of the various duplicate incidents in scripture. Likewise, the author uses some language that many readers will find to be somewhat odd, like the “Jesus movement.” That said, neither of these matters will be surprising to those who are used to reading critical accounts of scripture like this one is, and compared to which this is a very mildly critical account. Much depends on context. To this reader at least, given the genre the book falls into, this book comes off as witty and deeply sympathetic, and certainly reasonable, if lacking in the sort of faith that would make someone a believer. For a generally friendly biblical history, given the other books that written about biblical subjects, this is certainly a book that I can read with some enjoyment, and that is not something I say lightly. To be sure, it is not inspired history, but it presents a thoughtful view of early Christian history from someone who is at least a mildly friendly outsider, and most books of its kind are far, far worse.
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