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

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

by Diana Butler Bass

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Overview

The Grassroots Movements That Preserved Jesus's Message of Social Justice for 2,000 Years and Their Impact on the Church Today

For too long, the history of Christianity has been told as the triumph of orthodox doctrine imposed through power. Now, historian Diana Butler Bass sheds new light on the surprising ways that many Christians have refused to conform to a rigid church hierarchy and sought to recapture the radical implications of Jesus's life and message.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061448713
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/23/2010
Pages: 353
Sales rank: 322,489
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Diana Butler Bass is the author of eight books on American religion, including Christianity After Religion, Christianity for the Rest of Us, and A People's History of Christianity. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Duke University, has taught at the college and graduate level, and is currently an independent scholar. She was a columnist for the New York Times Syndicate, and blogs for the Huffington Post and the Washington Post on issues of religion, spirituality, and culture. Bass is a popular speaker at conferences, colleges and universities, and churches across North America. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband, daughter, and dog. Her website is dianabutlerbass.com and she can be followed on Twitter at @dianabutlerbass.

What People are Saying About This

Gary Dorrien

“With her customary lucidity and charm, this time in the mode of Howard Zinn’s historical populism, Diana Butler Bass gives us this splendid account of the grassroots movements that have kept alive the spirit and way of Jesus for 2,000 years . . . enjoyable and illuminating.”

Alan Jones

“Butler Bass invites us into a deep conversation with the past which thrusts us into the future with hope. A must for Christians and seekers of all stripes...”

Shane Claiborne

“Intelligent and sassy, honest and redemptive. ...a warning that if we don’t remember the blood-stained pages of the past, then we are doomed to repeat them., but also an invitation to participate in the next chapter of what it means to be the Church in this broken world.”

Walter Brueggemann

“...immediately accessible, helped along by frequent and shrewd linkages to contemporary counterpoints. This presentation includes lots of folk along the way who never made the ‘power lists.’ Readers will resonate with this inclusiveness and be grateful to Bass for making them fellow travelers in the on-going story.”

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush

“...a compelling refresher course in our common religious heritage. Bass reacquaints the reader to 2000 years of Christian voices whose faith called for social justice and radical love. By rendering their wisdom accessible, the author encourages the reader to a devotional and ethical renewal that is exhilarating and challenging.”

Sara Miles

“In this beautifully written history, Diana Butler Bass reveals the living, beating heart of love at the core of Christian faith.”

Philip Jenkins

“It would be difficult to imagine anyone reading thi book without finding some new insight or inspiration, some new and unexpected testimony to the astonishing breadth of Christianity through the centuries.”

Brian McLaren

“...this book is so much more than a wonderful overview of Christian history. It is also a joyful apologetic for a ‘new kind of Christianity.’ I already gave away my copy, because I knew it would help salvage the faltering faith of a disillusioned friend.”

E. Brooks Holifield

“The prose is sparkling and the insights are manifold.”

Wade Clark Roof

“A People’s History of Christianity is just that-a people’s history, describing the diversity of Christian thinking, ethics and practices over the centuries, and so important to the renewal of religious imagination today.”

Justo L. Gonzalez

“An excellent introduction to grass-roots renewal movements as well as to the various shapes that Christian spirituality has taken through the ages. ...necessary reading for any who may have thought that history is irrelevant for present-day living.”

Daniel Walker Howe

“Diana Butler Bass presents a wide diversity of Christian experience in her gallop through two thousand years of history. The curious but hesitant reader who wonders whether Christianity just might have something in it for them will find that the answer is YES.”

Phyllis Tickle

“Charmingly written and refreshing to read, yet rich in details and thorough in its mapping of the major themes and events that have shaped the evolution of the Western Church, A People’s History is our story re-told with both clear-eyed affection and a scholar’s acumen.”

Marcus Borg

“Interesting, insightful, illuminating, and remarkably relevant.”

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A People's History of Christianity 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
canonJH More than 1 year ago
As an historian and theologian, I really appreciate this work of Diana Butler Bass. It is well researched and marvelously written and truly accessible even for those without a background in history or theology (though is challenging even for those in the fields.) The themes for the different historical periods are thought provoking and even inspirational. I recommend this book not only for church book clubs and discussion but also for those who might be intrigued by Christianity as an institution and are willing to look beyond the usual interpretations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While there are a number of good parts to this book, it has a fatal flaw. The author can't seem to make up her mind if she is writing a history book or a political commentary. As such there are numerous occasions where there sudden diversion from both history and theology to take pot-shots at current political leaders. The most obvious example is where in a half page discussion about the origin of the "just war" theory she spends half of that denouncing former president Bush. She clearly has no use for the "conservative" Christian, but at the same time bemoans the lack of unity in Chritianity. Some parts of the book are very well done, but the reader should be aware of the author's biases.
Jake0704 More than 1 year ago
This was a very enjoyable book to read. It was well written and I appreciated that it had a focus on the more positive history of Christianity. I especially enjoyed the early Christian history.
warrenawade More than 1 year ago
The original reason that I requested this book was its obvious allusion to Zinn; however, much to my initial dismay, I found the book was nothing like that. My expectation was that this book would be a detailed narrative of the history of “Christianity” as it has unfolded throughout the millennia told from the perspective of those that were victimized by “Christian” history, much like Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” documented the lives and experiences of those who suffered through America’s “manifest destiny.” I often feel like sometimes that component of the church’s collective history is down-played or ignored or considered part of the “manifest destiny” of the church by those within the church or it is the only thing associated with Christian history by those who see (sometimes justifiably) not a lot of good in “Christian” history when they look at the past two millennia. To that extent, I was initially disappointed. However, what I found was that this book is written about groups of people similarly overlooked, ignored or castigated. They faced similar persecutions by members of their own creed, were discriminated against due to ethnic differences or were martyred annihilated for their spiritual differences. They have been left out by those both who have strong-armed Christianity today and by those outside of the faith in their hold. Their stories must be told in order to gain a more perfect understanding of the History of Christianity. (I am not suggesting that some of the atrocities perpetuated by “Christian” leaders throughout the ages against their own kind carry nearly the same gravitas nor am I suggesting that those atrocities that were executed internal to the faith have the same global and trans-era ramifications. It is clear that those external expressions of religious contempt and persecution by those under the moniker of Christianity to those outside have negatively altered the state of the world and the world’s perception of Christians and, thus, Christ.) If, at any point in your life, you have found some irregularities in the branding of Christianity today and what you have observed of the life of Christ and have known on some intrinsic spiritual level, this book is for you. This book is a reflection of and on communities that have enacted the spiritual life of Christ to the world by way of charity, love, hospitality, goodness and care for the poor. They have lived in small and large towns, monasteries and cathedrals. And, while the wounds inflicted by Christians throughout the ages have left scars on this planet and its people, the works and lives of the subjects in this book provide the healing and comfort necessary to introduce a sick world to the goodness, grace, mercy, peace and reconciliation of God.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JRexV on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
ALincolnNut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In recent decades, historians have begun questioning common historical narratives for long-held biases, particularly those that favor the authority of males who governed, published writings, or both. Fearing that these texts not only overly favor social elites but also dismiss and overlook women and the lower classes, some have worked to explore this 'missing part' of history, a project that is often referred to as social history.Social history has been prominent in recent accounts of American and European history; it has been influential, but less obvious, in recent historical studies of Christianity. Diana Butler Bass, a prolific writer trained in church history, has worked to address this omission with her recent volume "A People's History of Christianity." Drawing inspiration from Howard Zinn's popular "A People's History of the United States," she tries to develop a single narrative of the overlooked and underappreciated stories throughout Christian history.Like Zinn in his book, though it is unclear if this was intentional or not, Butler Bass appears rather obsessed with her interests within the story, especially the role of women and the preservation and development of the theological principles eventually identified as "social justice" in the late 19th century. Also like Zinn, she is heavily focused on the United States; though she defends this as an attempt to tell a story of importance for her intended American audience, this is a bizarre choice in a history that attempts to tell of overlooked Christianity, given that so much of what is overlooked in traditional narratives has been Christianity outside of the Western world.Despite these significant limitations, the book is highly readable and offers one narrative thread of Christian history that is especially informative for liberal American Christians in mainline Protestant denominations and some liberal Roman Catholics. Butler Bass is a skilled writer who strives to be accessible to a broad audience. Of note is the frequent use of modern (often autobiographical) anecdotes at the beginning of sections, serving to invite the reader into the historical context from modern experience.The book is a quick read, with sections, equal in length, detailing four epochs in Christian history -- early (100-500), medieval (500-1450), reformational (1450-1650), and modern (1650-1945) -- with a brief concluding, and overly anecdotal, section on contemporary Christianity (in the US) since World War II. Butler Bass briefly introduces key figures and ideas, without lengthy biographical or theological sections, always singling out female writers for special attention.Ultimately, though, the book is disappointing. If one is not a liberal mainline Protestant, one will likely cringe at some of Butler Bass' assertions which evidently match her theological beliefs but ignore entire theological points of view that are still widely held and influential. (Her persistent dismissive attitude toward the "Religious Right" is not only annoying, it is bad history even within the limited scope she has placed upon this volume.) If one 'doesn't know much about church history,' one will know only a little bit more after reading this book, and will be confused if anyone starts a conversation about controversies about Christology that led to the defining creeds developed in councils at Nicea and Chalcedon, and won't be able to say much about crucial thinkers like Augustine, Anselm, or Aquinas. And one will have no conception of the global influence of Christianity, particularly on the non-elites, for the past 2000 years.
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
juglicerr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the beginning of this book, Butler recounts a conversation with an irreligious friend. Butler said that she loved Jesus and his teachings; the friend replied that she had no problem with Jesus, it was the things that happened afterwards with the church. So Butler has set out to focus on some of the more appealing bits of Christian history: the humble, the hospitable, the generous believers. The problem is, that the other parts of the history still happened. And all to frequently, as she admits, they brought violence to these very same saintly souls. I would therefore recommend this book to believers who are looking for kinder, gentler historical example. I doubt that it will counter the objections of those bothered by the frequently violent and power-hungry history of the church.
bobcornwall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Diana offers the reader an accessible social history of Christianity tha t allows people to see that there is more than one side to the faith. It does, however, have a Western trajectory.
sirfurboy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a serious and well researched book that takes a different tack in documenting the history of Christianity by underplaying the big names and focussing on the individuals and movements who make up the church as a body. This kind of approach is long overdue. It will not show you so much where the great debates of the history of Christian doctrine took place - but there are other excellent books that cover those issues. Instead this book looks at stories so foten overlooked and untold, and yet without which the Church through the ages would have been very susbtantially impoverished. At times I almost felt like saying "what happened to the history of X" for some person X , as to me these people almost defined their age. Other times I thought "I wish she had mentioned Y" for some little remarked on person, Y, who would deserve a place in such a history. But what makes this book good is not its comprehensiveness - no People's History of Christianity could ever be comprehensive, as that is really the story of everyone who ever belonged to the Christian church. What makes this book powerful is the recognition that there are untold stories of a Christian church that has been known throughout the ages by the outworking of its call to love one another.The author occasionally perhaps plays to a liberal bias. I think this is largely unintentional, and certainly not a strong criticism as she attempts to cover an evangelical history too. But whatever your theological position, this book is worth a read.
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