September 11, 2009

A Review of A People's History of Christianity

I wish I had received this book earlier in the year...I could have referenced it during a church history class I was teaching. Though for introductory, academic study of Church history I still recommend Justo Gonzalez's two-part series on Church History. This book would be a great supplemental text.

Diana begins the book by telling the story of her having dinner with a friend who expressed some consternation at Diana's ability to hold on to her faith. Her friend says, "I don't have any trouble with Jesus. It's all the stuff that happened after Jesus that makes me mad." This same question rattles around the minds of many both within and without the church.

The answer for me (and for Diana) is that the true history of the Christian faith does not lay in the official history of its structures and theology. "Big C" Christianity as Diana calls it. The true history of the faith lays in the people who have faithfully lived out the message of Jesus in their everyday life. It is like a current flowing through the center of a large river. One only needs to look at the lives of various individuals throughout history to see genuine faith in practice...more often than not they are not the ones leading the Church...Big "C."

For many, the inability to answer the tough questions of Church history (i.e. how can the church do the things it has done and still call itself Christian?) has caused many to neglect and reject history. This too has led to many problems because it creates an amnesia in the church that causes it to repeat many of the mistakes, heresies, and sinful actions of its past. Diana states, "Thus we inhabit a posttraditional world-a world of broken memory-in which some tell history badly, others do not know it at all, and still others use history to manipulate society to their own ends."

Diana does a great job of finding some of Church history's least noticed people (and some its most noticed people) and looking beyond the "official" history. She helps us see them as real people with real struggles, but also a real faith. She also reminds us of the importance of knowing our history...knowing OUR story.

Check out the video of Diana Butler Bass's interview here.

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