I am thrilled to have Diarmaid MacCulloch's new book Christianity: The First Three thousand Years, a historical tome weighing in at 1016 pages. As a self-professed "candid friend of Christianity" and a Professor of Church History at Oxford University, MacCulloch covers not only the two thousand years of Church history from the crucifixion of the Jesus to it's current state, but also investigates the inheritance the Jews and the Greeks gave to the faith.
This history is written for Christians and non-Christians, for those who love and hate it, and the author is a conscientious host who invites the reader into the web. MacCulloch writes:
"I make no pronouncement as to whether Christianity, or indeed any religious belief, is 'true'. This is a necessary self-denying ordinance. Is Shakespeare's Hamlet 'true'? It never happened, but it seems to me to be much more 'true', full of meaning and significance for human beings, than the reality of the breakfast I ate this morning, which was certainly 'true' in a banal sense. Christianity's claim to truth is absolutely central to it over much of the past two thousand years, and much of this history [the book] is dedicated to tracing the varieties of this claim and the competition between them...There is, however, an important aspect of Christianity on which it is the occupation of historians to speak: the story of Christianity is undeniably true, in that it is part of human history."
I opened the book last night as I sat down to my nightly coffee at our dinner table, and read the first opener paragraph about the Logos, John's invocation that the "Word became human flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." Cue electrical failure, every light out and me sitting in the dark. It was like a vigil all over again. The lights flickered several more times. So I fetched a zoo of candles (what is the proper collective noun for candles? a troop? a pool?), lit them by matches and grouped them around the book and me. It was a beautiful experience seeing the flickering lights on the crisp pages of this magnificent book. I look forward to reading more and perhaps hearing the author in person in the future.
There is a review from the New York Times here.