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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Christianity Paperback – March 2, 2004
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About the Author
Jeffrey B. Webb, Ph.D., is a historian and professor at Huntington College, where he teaches advance courses in the history of Christianity and American religious history. He was baptized a Lutheran, but later grew in the faith in a non-denominational Christian church. Today, he is an active Elder, liaison to the Wabash Presbytery's Committee on the Preparation of the Ministry, and an adult education facilitator in the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America. Dr. Webb received his B.A. degree from Baldwin-Wallace College (OH), his M.A. from Cleveland State University, and his Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago. While at Chicago, he participated in The Fundamentalism Project, directed by Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby, and wrote a dissertation in the field of early American religious history. He also participated in Chicago's Sublime Society of Eutychus' Window, a graduate fellowship of academics working to integrate faith and scholarship. He is a co-editor of the Newsletter of the Conference on Faith and History, and his written work on topics in Christianity and Christian history has appeared in numerous academic journals and reference collections. In addition, he teaches advanced courses in the history of Christianity and American religious history, and has been invited to speak to community and civic organizations on topics in Christian faith and practice.
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It is a highly detailed overview of the Protestant sects of America today and in the past. It explains the meanings of Christian rites and the differences between many sects and how they are related. In some ways, it is probably better as a reference book than one you read straight through, due to its detail. It is an excellent view of what Christians believe, styles of worship, and major points of disagreement. It also somewhat addresses the question of why Christians seem uniquely focused on whether or not someone else is a Christian.
Special sections explaining many buzzwords, such as evangelical, born-again, and fundamentalist, are highly useful. There are also sections on specifically American groups: Seventh-Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses. I can't comment on the accuracy of those parts; sometimes it did feel like the author clearly was not in agreement, though the tone is always respectful and tries to be neutral.
That said, the book is highly focused on the American scene. Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodoxies are given light treatment relative to their populations, histories, and geographical spread (or maybe this is more noticeable to me coming from outside the US). They are often painted in broad strokes, while the slight differences between something like two kinds of Baptist may receive a whole chapter.
This book gave me exactly what I needed. Things it does not include are any kind of mysticism or personal experience anecdotes. It is not necessarily an accurate historio-sociological study of Christianity (except possibly for modern Protestant schisms), and there are certainly a few eye-roll inducing lines for the non-believer - historical accuracies are sacrificed and the Christian scriptures are presented as history a few times, and there are some pointed jabs that the "theory" of evolution isn't real, but overall a neutral tone is maintained. I wouldn't use this as an exclusive reference to Christianity, but it is a good guide to the American scene.