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A People's History of Christianity: The…

A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (2009)

by Diana Butler Bass

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  StPaulsChurch | Jul 19, 2016 |
Following the history of "Great Commandment" Christianity (as opposed to "Big C" Christianity), Basss offers a window into a Christianity that has made, is making, and will continue to make a positive difference in the world. ( )
  bibleblaster | Jan 23, 2016 |
Having just finished Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, I can attest to the frustration Diana Bulter Bass expresses. The history of Christianity can feel like a tale of arguments, violence, crusades, inquisitions, and capitulation to power. It looks diametrically opposed to the actual life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

In A People's History of Christianity, Diana Bulter Bass attempts to tell (as the subtitle suggests), the other side of the story. In her words:

[quote]I sidestep issues of orthodoxy and instead focus on the moments when Christian people really acted like Christians, when they took seriously the call of Jesus to love God and love their neighbors as themselves. (15)[/quote]

The author accomplishes this by surveying (in wildly broad strokes) all eras of church history with special attention to how Christians exercised their devotion to God, their ethics to others.

Sounds good, right?

The truth is, despite the promise of the thesis, this book frustrated me. In the selection and interpretation of the stories, Diana Bulter Bass selectively expounded a version of Christianity that looks like her. Now, this is not a bad picture—I think it's fair to call her a progressive, inclusive, emergent-minded Christ-follower. That said, mining the history of Christianity for anecdotes and lives that confirm your view, only to call it a "People's History" implies that those who don't conform to your image are somehow in a category other than "people". Ironically, this is precisely what this history attempts to correct.

What the Jesus Seminar did with Jesus, Diana Bulter Bass has done with his followers. The great cloud of witnesses deserves to be taken on their own terms—warts and all. ( )
  StephenBarkley | Jul 24, 2014 |
Diana Butler Bass’s A People’s History of Christianity is a resistance of the church history that use historical markers of wars, persecutions, and church bureaucracy. Those shouldn’t be the highlight of any properly-understood expression of Christianity, so why would we tell a history by those measurements? Instead, her history focuses on ordinary, extraordinary people. Christianity is retold from a framework of positive change effected as a result of Christianity – the kind and loving above-and-beyond throughout history.

On one hand, this makes for lovely and inspiring reading, a sort of less pious “lives of the saints” text. But on the other, by bracketing the darker parts of Christian history, I kind of lost the sense of just how fantastic and counter-cultural some acts of Christian charity were. This absence was solidified for me toward the end of the book, when Bass was writing about Christian involvement in housing Underground Railroad refugees – without the contrast provided by the recognition of actual danger for everyone involved, it becomes a laudatory passage of history on par with any other moment of hospitality, that’s all.

Bass once comments how Constantine’s adoption of Christianity took away the “paradox” of Christianity – Christians could now be “dual citizens” of Heaven and Rome both without conflict of interests. The initial paradox to which she was referring was Jesus’ riddles of the first shall be the last and so on – finding honor and worthiness in opposition to the hierarchical, materialistic, ostentatious, chauvinistic status quo, not playing its corrupt game to get to the top. I would’ve loved to have this retold Christianity tweaked to this end: rather than telling of acts of love alone, write of acts of love that represent prophetic critique of the system. Retain the danger and retain the grit, because Christianity would have never become what it has without it, but recognize people’s strength derived from faith has been a driving force of the positive social change that Christianity has historically effected. ( )
1 vote the_awesome_opossum | Jun 30, 2011 |
A very good history of the lesser known, though no less important or fascinating, figures and movements of Christianity, from the early church through today. ( )
  JRexV | Jan 20, 2011 |
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While bringing to life the movements, personalities, and spiritual disciplines that have always informed and ignited Christian worship and social activism, Butler Bass persuasively argues that corrective--even subversive--beliefs and practices have always been hallmarks of Christianity and are necessary to nourish communities of faith.… (more)

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