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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on December 24, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I have a stack of church history books in my personal library, and many others that cover this period, not to mention having studied this material in seminary. Gonzalez' work is undoubtedly the best of those. He has a remarkable gift: He is able to bring insights about the underlying processes at work in church history without actually needing to focus on them. He is able to discuss all of the major figures and movements of church history without making it seem laborious. He displays his depth by often bringing in details that are outside of the common narrative, but which supplement our understanding of the era, how and why the church develops -- not just names and place. I can think of few other writers with this talent. It's as easy to read as Church History in Plain Language, 3rd Edition but with rich insights like A History of Christianity, Volume 1: Beginnings to 1500 (Revised)

What this has meant for me is a deeper insight into church history while at the same time having a fun read. As for his perspective, Gonzalez is very even handed in volume I, however in volume II his bias as a liberal-leaning but believing protestant really comes through. He has an animus against anglo-protestant evangelicals and he writes that into his history. Which if you share that bias, it may be the perfect book for you. Regardless, volume I is fabulous no matter what perspective you are coming from and I highly recommend it!
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63 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I have assigned this book to the undergraduates (mostly sophomores) in my Early Christian Writings class as a narrative accompaniment to primary sources. On the one hand, it is helpful in giving students the big picture, as it provides all of the key names and dates of early Christianity, and its simple language is easy to process. On the other hand, its radical oversimplification of complex issues is at times misleading, and I occasionally have to trouble Gonzalez's interpretation so that the undergraduates get a fuller and more complicated picture of Christian development. At other times, the author's bias is too readily apparent: for example, he calls Marcus Aurelius "superstitious" (which is no doubt the same word Marcus Aurelius would have used for the Christians, as Pliny does in his correspondence with Trajan). Finally, I have found at least one factual error, as Gonzalez claims that Philip was the apostle whose authority Constantinople claimed; in fact, Andrew was Constantinople's apostle. While I find these difficulties with the book troubling, I will probably continue to assign it to my undergraduates on account of its accessibility, affordable cost, and the many pictures that liven up the reading. But I will be on the lookout for something better.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Gonzalez' magnum opus (so far) "The Story of Christianity", covers the background and setting in which Christianity developed historically. It is an interesting look into the primary figures and events that shaped Christian doctrine and practices as well as how Christianity affected the world around it.

Although Gonzalez is a professed Protestant, I personally did not find any blatant bias within the text itself. Gonzalez creates a strong narrative using the facts available, which should entice readers of any persuasion to delve further into Church History (especially Jaroslav Pelikan's history).

The only drawback of the book is that it possibly could have spent more time developing what happened between Pentecost and the establishment of the Nicene Church. However, it is impossible for a book to be all things to all people, so this is not as much a criticism as it is a comment.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2013
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The book was great, there was an excellent flow and the author is able to go into strong detail without taking the reader away from the overall narrative of what was happening throughout the years of early Christianity. When i started reading i knew i would be giving this book a five star rating, until i got to the Dark Ages. The book really slowed down, which isn't necessarily the author's fault because he was staying true to what was happening during that time. However, I felt it was over extended and it made me put the book down when I originally had trouble doing so. I thought some of those later chapters could be condensed and that is why i ended with a four star rating instead of five. But other than that, it was a book i greatly enjoyed and learned much from. I especially enjoyed when the author dedicated chapters to individual church leaders. Again, i learned a lot and it gave me a greater desire to study the early church fathers since the writer brings the reader into a connection with them.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I'm not an academic, so this was a big undertaking for me, having been a Christian most of my life I recently attended an Orthodox Church for a couple of months, while I'm not saying anything good or bad about the Orthodox style of faith, what I realized after attending this church was that I was very challenged by a very different approach to Christianity. So is it right, is it wrong? What kind of church was really being experienced by the 1st century believer? I had no idea. Where, from what process has my idea of Christianity come from? I had no idea - after reading this book I can at least say that I now have at least a basic sense of how this thing called Christianity got here, that is at least to the reformation.
I liked Justo's objective approach, he just presented the facts. Wasn't trying to convince me of a certain point of view, other than history is full of people being totally committed to God in a really good way never getting their picture in the paper and a lot of people that being in a position of Church authority were .... terrible!
The book was not too much of a college level read, like when you really have to fight your way through the book, or give up half way through it.
We talk about miracles, reading this book makes me realize that it's a major miracle that either Christianity survived through the centuries or that God put up with us "Christians" all this time.
So I'm looking forward to Volume 2- see you all on the other side of that.
Enjoy
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
After reading Samuel Hugh Moffett's fantastic "A History of Christianity in Asia," I was looking for a book which covered global history (East and West) to recommend to others. Tragically, I've found no single volume which melds Eastern and Western Church history into a single volume. The person who recommended this book to me was mistaken; Gonzalez does not cover global church history, just Western with a few pages on the Eastern from a decidedly Western bias. Where are Ephrem the Syrian, Mar Narsai, and Timothy I? How is monophysitism dropped on the reader with no explanation of miaphysitism?

I do not fault Gonzalez for handling church history like most Westerners. I fault Westerners for failing to investigate the historic, worldwide Christian faith. "The Story of Christianity" covers Western history adequately, but would more accurately be titled, "The Story of Western Christianity."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2014
Format: Paperback
This book includes all the major episodes of the history of the Christian church in the first 1,500 years in a clear and accessible writing style. Gonzalez is one of a growing number of writers of the history of Christianity who remind us that the church was strongest in the East before it became dominant in the West, and that the history of the transmission of Christianity to Africa and Latin America is more than the history of political expansion. He reveals both the admirable and ignoble leaders of the church, the memorable personalities, and the impulses behind mass movements like monasticism. This book is highly recommended for undergraduate studies, education in the church, and the interested lay person, as well as for advanced readers who need a refresher.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2014
Format: Paperback
Starting with the preface, I loved this book because it is obvious that the author is a Christian and has a Christian heart. He encourages the reader to not be too judgmental towards the historical figures who failed in one way or another.
The discussion of Arius and Arianism spans quite a few chapters. Arius had an unorthodox view of Jesus, believing that Jesus was the creation of (and subordinate to) the first person of the Trinity. This heresy was put down at the first Council of Nicea, but it kept popping up again and again. First Constantine indorsed the Nicene Creed (which affirms that Jesus was not made), then the Arians whispered in Constantine’s ear and won him over to Arianism. It shows up in later chapters when barbarians invaded the Roman Empire and converted to an Arian form of Christianity.

Most of the book describes prominent people (emperors, popes, and such) and events, and less space is devoted to describing the theological developments. In Chapter 26, Pope Gregory added the doctrine of purgatory and the doctrine that in the Mass, the sacrifice of Jesus was repeated.

Lots and lots of popes and emperors are mentioned, it’s hard to keep track of them all. Once Constantine made Christianity the established state religion, new problems appeared. The Emperor sometimes picked the pope and often times took sides in theological disputes. The Church and some of the monasteries became rich, the clergy became comfortable, and simony appeared – the buying of church offices. A recurring theme is that, on one hand, the church was becoming wealthy and some of the clergy were greedy, and on the other hand there were Franciscans, Jesuits, and Dominicans who were devoted to teaching the Gospel and helping the poor. The last chapters describe the spread of Christianity to the western hemisphere, Africa, and the Far East. Again, some of those who claimed to be Christian had no regard for the native people and exploited them, and some had real compassion for the natives, genuinely wanted to spread the Gospel and help the natives.

The tone is relaxed and casual in a way that makes it readable and enjoyable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon February 6, 2013
Format: Paperback
"The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1" is on the whole a good introduction to the history of the church up to the time of the Protestant Reformation. (The second volume covers the history of Christianity from the Reformation to the present.) As an introductory text I would definitely recommend it. It is readable and covers the essentials.

However, for someone looking to ask the "Why?" question (e.g., "Why did the papacy become the tool of the powerful Roman families during the early Middle Ages and again during the Italian Renaissance?"), "The Story of Christianity" offers less help. While it is not the place for an introductory work to delve into every issue in depth, it is also possible to combine historical interpretation with description even in a work that is intended as an introduction.

Although for the most part factually accurate, there are a few places where I would quibble with the information contained in the book. One such place is in an Appendix where Gonzalez lists the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. The Eighth Council (IV Constantinople) is listed as taking place in 869-870. While it is true that a council did take place in those years, originally a council that took place in Constantinople a decade later (879-880) was considered the Eighth Council. Only much later (in the eleventh century) did Rome repudiate the later council and declare the former council to be the Eighth Ecumenical Council. Even today the Orthodox church regards the later council as the true Eighth Council. (Although this problem appears in the appendix, the text itself is of no help in this regard. In the body of the text, Gonzalez speaks briefly about the Photian schism, which was the reason for both these councils, but does not refer to either council in relationship to it.)

Again, this is a decent survey for the beginner. However, don't expect any issue to be covered in depth.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I don't usually enjoy reading textbooks very much at all. However Gonzalez's "The story of Christianity" really feels like a good friend telling me the parts of Christian history that excite him the most. It's fun to read, and I've learn a lot from this book!
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