A People’s History of Christianity….

Bass BookI have been studying the history of the church to try an understand how we got to where we are today. An important book in that investigation is entitled “A People’s History of Christianity, The Other Side of the Story” by Diana Butler Bass. This is not the first book I have read by this author and it certainly won’t be the last. With this post I am starting another book review series around this book. Here is a little about what Wikipedia says about her:

Diana Butler Bass is a historian focusing on the history of Christianity and the author of six books on American religion, three of which have won research or writing awards. She earned a Ph.D. in religious studies from Duke University in 1991, with an emphasis on American church history where she studied under George Marsden. From 1995–2000, she wrote a weekly column on religion and culture for the New York Times Syndicate that appeared in more than seventy newspapers nationwide. Currently, she is a blogger for the God’s Politics blog with Jim Wallis at Beliefnet [1] and is a Red-Letter Christian.

Being a U.S. history buff, when I see a title that starts with “A People’s History” I assume that it is more about what happened to the common people rather than the dominant leaders of those time. Many times the two are very different. A history of the depression as seen from the eyes of Roosevelt or any of the Washingtonians is very different from the history as seen by a dust bowl farmer or someone out of work for a long time. That is what I expected when I started this book and I was not disappointed with what I found.

The history of the church most often is around the predominant saints and theologians of the times. Or maybe it is about some of the shakers such as Luther, or a pope. What happens in the rank-and-file of the people often is unreported. There is an old saying that “history belongs to the victors” and the church is certainly not immune from that concept. Very little seems to still exist about those who had different views than the ones who won the individual battles.

Mrs. Bass spent I think three years researching this book. I personally have tried to study some of the early church writings but quite frankly they are difficult to understand given the different use of language of the periods. This book is well written and to the point.  Most of the posts in this series wills start out with a given idea and a quote, or quotes, from the book. I will then add my personal observations and thoughts.

The posts will not be in a chronological order, nor will they be complete. I would highly encourage anyone looking for that depth to get a copy of the book and read it in its entirety. Since this review is being written as it is posted I don’t know exactly how many posts will be involved but I imagine it will be more than ten but less than twenty.  For those who really want to understand how we got to where we are it is important to realize that there has never been a totally homogeneous period in the church where differing opinions were lacking.

Oh That Founding Father Origen…

As we have learned in several of my recent posts Origen was one of the most influential theologians in the early church who was later deemed a heretic and then after that a saint again.  He spent quite a bit of time reading the “scripture” of his day. I put scripture in parens here because there was no Bible as we know it today in existence.

Today Origen is definitely not one of the more popular early Christian figures with some in our establishment churches. That is particularly true of those that believe all of the Bible comes from God’s lips and is totally factual and inerrant. That belief has never been as universal as some would have us believe. Here is another quote from A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story  by Diana Butler Bass.

Origen pointed out scriptural contradictions from Genesis through the Gospels. Not intending to ridicule God’s Word, Origen claimed, The object of all these statements on our part, is to show that it was the design of the Holy Spirit, who deigned to bestow upon us the sacred Scriptures, to show that we were not to be edified by the letter alone, or by everything in it—a thing which we see to be frequently impossible and inconsistent; for in that way not only absurdities, but impossibilities, would be the result; but that we are to understand that certain occurrences were interwoven in this “visible” history which, when considered and understood in the inner meaning, give forth a law which is advantageous to men and worthy of God.

Origen believed that scripture was much like Jesus’ teaching in that he used parables which are fictional stories to relay a message and so to do the other writers of ancient script.   Origen was not an infrequent visitor to the scripture. In fact he spent twenty years on his Hexaple which was a massive work of Old Testament analysis. There was probably no one in his day that had more knowledge of the ancient writings than him.

This will probably conclude our study of Origen. As I have said before he definitely shows that the earliest versions of Christianity were very diverse. It was not until the power struggles that frequently occurred within the church establishment did this willingness to accept a diversity of belief become stifled. I celebrate the fact that the current emergent movement is willing, in fact they actually celebrate diversity in their midst.  They accept that there is more than one “right” way to being a follower of Jesus Christ and that gives me confidence that the church of Jesus Christ just might live to see a bright future.