Book Review: Essential History of Christianity

Essential History of Christianity
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes
SPCK Publishing
October 2012

I liked this book. That’s the ‘essential’ version of my review but I’m guessing you might want to know a little bit more about why.

It’s readable, interesting and informative. Still need more?

OK, then. The content started life as lectures which I think explains the sense of storytelling. Tackling a narrative as long and wide-ranging as that of the history of Christianity in less than 200 pages necessarily means we are only given a broad sweep. It’s a 1:100,000 scale map with major themes and key highlights plotted out. In other words, absolutely brilliant for someone like me who is basically curious as to why some things are the way they are (but has a short attention span and doesn’t want to spend scarce leisure time wading through a complicated history).

At the same time as taking in general themes I find myself equating these historically brief periods to actual lifetimes. Twenty years is not long in the scheme of two millennia but could have been half a lifetime: I was prompted into thinking about the effects the changes imposed on my religious practice would have been. Or not. Not just the headline changes (Am I Catholic or Protestant?) but the way Church did things – my relationship to my church. One year ornate, next year plain, next year ornate again.

I have much envy for M T-H’s absolutely accessible writing style. New terminology is gently explained without breaking up the flow of storytelling. I didn’t believe her claim that it would be the work of one or two evenings, and I do read fast, but it only took a week of commuting to finish.

You have choices on how to approach the book. Speed through and take in general gist as I did, dip back in and read more carefully and follow up suggestions for more information, as I might in future. Or there are study group suggestion questions should this form part of a serious study package.

I feel better informed about the faith I subscribe to. Particularly about how depressingly trivial things lead to schisms and the Bloody history of conquest, imposition, tainted with greed and corruption. Our current experiences of church and Christianity sit atop that lot, and it’s – to me, at least, important to understand where criticism is grounded as well as where our custom and practice comes from.

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