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The Christian World: A Global History


In this cogent volume, renowned Christian historian Martin Marty delivers a brief yet sweeping account of Christianity and how it spread from a few believers two thousand years ago to become the world’s largest religion.

Comprising nearly one third of the world’s population–more than two billion followers–Christianity is distinctive among major faiths in that it derives both its character and its authority from the divinity of its central figure, Jesus Christ. Examining this ...

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In this cogent volume, renowned Christian historian Martin Marty delivers a brief yet sweeping account of Christianity and how it spread from a few believers two thousand years ago to become the world’s largest religion.

Comprising nearly one third of the world’s population–more than two billion followers–Christianity is distinctive among major faiths in that it derives both its character and its authority from the divinity of its central figure, Jesus Christ. Examining this facet of Christianity from historical and sociological viewpoints, Marty lays bare the roots of this faith, in turn chronicling its success throughout the world.

Writing with great style, and providing impeccable interpretations of historical, canonical, and liturgical documents, Marty gives readers of all faiths and levels of familiarity with Christian practices and history a highly useful and supremely accessible primer. He depicts the life of Christ and his teachings and explains how the apostles set out to spread the Gospel. With a special emphasis on global Christianity, he shows how the religion emerged from its ancestral homelands in Africa, the Levant, and Asia Minor, was imported to Europe, and then spread from there to the rest of the world, most often via trade and conquest. While giving a broad overview, Marty also focuses on specific issues, such as how Christianity struggles with the polar tensions inherent to many of the faith’s denominations, and how it attempts to reconcile some of its stances on armed conflict, justice, and dominion with the teachings of Christ.

The Christian World is a chronicle of one of the great belief systems and its many followers. It’s a magnificent story of emperors and kings, war and geography, theology and politics, saints and sinners, and the earthly battle to save souls. Above all, it’s a remarkable testament to the teachings of Christ and how his message spreads around the globe to touch human experience everywhere.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This is the sort of large-scale, global history that is not often pursued by academics anymore, for fear of oversimplifying narratives that fail to attend to local detail. This is a vitally important book: Christianity has never been a more global religion than it is today, yet here we can see how global it has always been. Before Marty, dean of American church historians, even turns his attention to European Christianity he spends long chapters on Asian and African episodes. The book concludes with second African and Asian episodes, suggesting the faith's future lies on those continents: "The European presence wanes and the promise of Christianity elsewhere rises," he writes. Few scholars other than Marty would have dared write a book such as this, with details on figures as diverse as Bar-Daisan in ancient Syria and present-day Pentecostal evangelists in Africa. Historians and theologians will naturally quibble over points of detail, which may not always be up-to-date on current scholarship. Yet Marty writes with whimsical accessibility, the passion of a believer and the critical eye of a hard-nosed skeptic. This is a book that offers a tentative yes to the ancient question of Jesus, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Jan. 15)

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Library Journal

Few scholars today could have attempted what Marty has done here; few combine Marty's broad scholarship and long experience with his accessible style: Swiss Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kung is Marty's match and more in intellectual reach, but he is too dense a writer for general readership; Paul Johnson's History of Christianityis comparable but tendentious and now dated. Marty's Christian Worldattempts, in fewer than 250 pages, to offer a worldwide history of Christianity from its beginnings to the present day, not overlooking, as many do, Africa, Latin America, and Asia. As a beginner's introduction, it can hardly be bettered, although some will feel the abbreviated discussion of theological change and cultural influence. Readers of a scholarly bent will grieve the lack of footnotes and a bibliography, but Marty's work will serve many church groups and classrooms well. Highly recommended.
—Graham Christian

Kirkus Reviews
Christian history within the context of continents as well as content. Eminent religion historian Marty (Emeritus/Univ. of Chicago; Martin Luther, 2004, etc.) copes with the limitations of a slim volume by focusing on Christianity's global character and its continued emphasis, however fractured, on Jesus Christ. He begins by tracing "The Jewish Beginnings," then follows Christians into Asia and Africa, as Roman persecution drove them east from Jerusalem. Constantine's conversion ushered in "The First European Episode"; the second came as the faith was stymied in Asia and Africa during the Middle Ages. Marty goes on to explore the spread of Christianity to Latin America and North America, closing with the faith's resurgence in Africa and Asia. His honest attempt to view Christianity from a truly global perspective and as a global religion is to be commended, especially since most church histories basically present the European perspective with only slight nods to other regions. Instead, Marty looks for evidence of the church "going global" across its history. Though he pointedly notes the many heroes the religion has spawned, he does not shy away from the controversial, often brutal role Christians have played in the faith's spread. Emphasizing the unique place held by Jesus among believers, he stresses that no matter how poorly some Christians have emulated Christ, the religion's defining mark is the belief that "the human Jesus is the exalted Lord." Marty's account has a slightly Protestant bent, but he employs an effective combination of erudition and accessibility. A helpful glossary is included. Sturdy church history, vivified by a fresh, though not always seamless approach.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781428181175
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 8/26/2008

Meet the Author

Martin Marty was a member of the faculty at the University of Chicago– where its institute for advanced studies in religion, the Martin Marty Center, is named for him–for thirty-five years. He has written a number of seminal works on religion, especially A Short History of Christianity, and has received some seventy-five honorary doctorates. His awards include the National Book Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He lives in Chicago with his wife.
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