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A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story Paperback – March 23, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this panoramic view of two millennia of Christian history, Butler Bass (Christianity for the Rest of Us) attempts to give contemporary progressive (the author prefers the term "generative") Christians a sense of their family history, refracted through little known as well as famous men and women whose work within and outside the institutional church fueled sometimes "alternative" practices as they tried to follow Jesus the Prophet. "Without a sense of history, progressive Christianity remains unmoored," argues Butler Bass, a former columnist for the New York Times syndicate. Organized chronologically, each section of the book includes a chapter on religious observance and one on social justice, illuminating the author's conviction that authentic Christianity can be discovered in the practice of loving God and neighbor. Laced with stories from the author's own life and with contemporary examples of "generative Christianity," Butler Bass's version of Christian history includes familiar figures like the fourth-century church father Gregory of Nyssa and lesser-known individuals like the 19th century American abolitionist Maria Stewart. Is this truly "the other side of the story," as the subtitle proclaims? It's definitely a start. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Bass borrows Howard Zinn’s perennial concept of history from the perspective of ordinary people to tell the story of Christianity by focusing not on institutions but on tales told down through the ages by the constituents of what she calls “generative Christianity,” who sought to live the Christian life by doing right in the eyes of God, as well as on those who rebelled against the church when they felt it necessary; that is, when the church became too rich or too comfortable with the wielding of power. Still, besides ordinary folks, she includes well-known authors, pastors, and theologians (e.g., Origen, John Calvin, Henri Nouwen). It’s a messy story, incorporating plenty of personal anecdotes en route from the early Christians (100–500) through medieval (500–1450) and Reformation (1450–1650) Christianity to modern (1650–1950) and contemporary Christianity (1945–the present). Clearly, Bass intends this to be the alternative history of a complicated topic and an important contribution to the historiography of Christianity. --June Sawyers --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 Reprint edition (March 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061448710
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061448713
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Diana Butler Bass was born in Baltimore, Maryland and grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. For as long as she can remember, she's been interested in spirituality, religion, history, and politics--passions she intertwines in her books and writing. She holds a Ph.D. in American religious history from Duke University. After a dozen years teaching undergraduates, she became a full-time writer, independent researcher, educator, and consultant. Her work has been cited in the national media, including TIME Magazine, USA TODAY, and the Washington Post, and she has appeared on CNN, FOX, PBS, and on NPR. For five years, she wrote a weekly feature on American religion for the New York Times syndicate. She currently writes for Huffington Post and Washington Post and is a contributing editor at Sojourners magazine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 92 people found the following review helpful By David Crumm on March 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"History will not tell us what to do, but will at least start us on the road to action of a different and more self-aware kind, action that is moral in a way it can't be if we have no points of reference beyond what we have come to take for granted." (Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, quoted in "A People's History of Christianity")

Earlier this week, I was talking with a small group of educators -- women representing various religious and cultural backgrounds -- and I told them that one of the most powerful things we can do to light up our neighbors' lives is: "Teach people how to make a friend across a boundary they don't expect to cross."

The most important thing I can tell you about Diana Butler Bass' new book, "A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story," is that you'll leave her book having made dozens of new friends across the chasms of history -- friends who will light your spiritual pathway in directions you may not have expected.

The title of Bass' new book pays homage to the influential historian Howard Zinn. His famous 1980 book, "A People's History of the United States," recovered the stories of many Americans -- and groups of Americans -- whose stories were marginalized in traditional histories. Bass is a historian and educator herself and knows how to produce a 14-week course that jogs undergraduates quickly through 2,000 years of Christian history.
This new book is not that kind of work.

Rather, this new book is more of a manifesto about rediscovering and reclaiming spiritual gems long overlooked in Christian history. Or, as Diana herself puts it: "Exploring the past, we begin to understand our actions anew; we discover new spiritual possibilities for our lives.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Reed on August 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This latest book by Diana Butler Bass continues a string of Spirit filled books that help challenge modern Christians to return to the Way taught by Christ and followed by Christians of earlier time periods. I was excited to read this book because Butler Bass's two previous books, "The Practicing Congregation" and "Christianity for the Rest of Us" were extremely useful in my own church as we attempted to develop first a Single Adult ministry and then Young Adult ministry that focused on growing and nuturing disciples of Jesus Christ through encouraging them to take up traditional spiritual disciplines utilized by Christian Spirituality from the earliest centuries of the Church but that have been seemingly lost over the last 300 years.

This book does not disappoint. If you have never read about Christian history or if you engage it as a hobby, such as I do, Diana Butler Bass takes you on an exciting tour of Christian history while continuing to emphasize the spiritual practices and disciplines utilized by followers of the Way at the various time periods. Additionally, Butler Bass also paints an enlightening picture of the ethical lens employed in the various epochs of Christian history through which Christians in their historical context viewed their interaction with their neighbor as they also sought to engage and deepen their relationships with God. Interestingly, as I start seminary this Fall her book is on the required reading list for my first semester of church history!

Using the tools of spiritual disciplines and ethical frameworks, Butler Bass in a most easy to read way successfully unpacks five historical periods, each full of unique challenges and obstacles, in which individual followers pursued an ever deepening relationship with the Divine.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bass, Diana Butler, A People's History of Christianity, The Other Side of the Story (New York, HarperCollins, 2009)

I would recommend this book to anyone who has never read any book on the history of Christianity. But be warned. This book is not a `complete', or even a scholarly study of its subject. You may wish to graduate to a more conventional history after taking three or four evenings to finish this. It is patterned after Howard Zinn's essay, A People's History of the United States, which tells history from the viewpoint of social activism. However, while Zinn's book exceeds 760 pages to cover 400 years, Ms. Bass gives us 352 pages to cover 2000 years. Ms. Bass wishes to tell the story `from the ground up', stressing those things which the average lay Christian, with eyes blurred by 'spiritual amnesia' may have no knowledge. Her example of `spiritual amnesia' is the undergraduate's asking what the Protestants thought of the Crusades in 1095 CE.

Her main target is what she calls `Big C Christianity, whose highlights are Christ, Constantine, Christendom, Calvin, and Christian America, which `then became the most important Christian nation in the world, a beacon of faith and democracy.'

In spite of the fact that Ms. Bass is a card carrying member of the highly educated Christian scholarly fraternity, she does claim the imprimatur of what is known in Catholic theology as sensus fidelium, the wisdom or understanding of the individual believer within the community of the faithful.
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