Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ Free Shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story Paperback – March 23, 2010
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
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.
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.
If you buy a new print edition of this book (or purchased one in the past), you can buy the Kindle edition for only $2.99 (Save 75%). Print edition purchase must be sold by Amazon. Learn more.
For thousands of qualifying books, your past, present, and future print-edition purchases now lets you buy the Kindle edition for $2.99 or less. (Textbooks available for $9.99 or less.)
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
A People’s History sets out a history of Christianity that can inform and inspire moderate and progressive Christians who have little knowledge of church history. The title borrows from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Like Zinn, Bass tells stories of lesser-known and marginal figures, especially women, as well as surveying most leading figures of Western Christianity.
A People’s History is divided into five main sections, covering early Christianity (100-500), the medieval church (500-1450), the Reformation (1450-1650), the modern era (1650-1945), and contemporary Christianity (1945+). For each era, Bass chooses a few central religious ideas and practices grouped under the headings “devotion” and “ethics”, and explores them with a mix of personal anecdotes, historical context, and theological reflection. She focuses more on people than events or institutions, selecting individuals whose thought and especially actions exemplified “generative” Christianity, and drawing parallels with modern progressive Christianity. The result feels almost like a modern-day version of the medieval Lives of the Saints – intended to inspire and affirm devotion, but not always perhaps historically objective.
A People’s History has limitations. Readers from elsewhere will find its cultural and political references distinctly North American. There is a certain irony in Bass attempting to repudiate the “us an them” mentality of “Big C” history with her own rival counter-narrative. She perhaps goes too far in projecting contemporary progressive values onto historical figures, for example calling Irenaeus a “Christian Humanist”, and comparing the biblical exegesis of Origen and Barack Obama. The book will not appeal to politically or religiously conservative Christians uncomfortable about the strong identification of the great commandment with progressive notions of social justice; or to secular historians seeking an objective and balanced view of Christian history. But these are not Bass’s intended audience. A People’s History sets out to provide and approachable an inspiring introduction to the history of generative Christianity for progressive and moderate Christians who have lost touch with their history and traditions. In this, it succeeds.
There are places where the author rises to the task, but I found the work plodding. The examples from her contemporary experience were, to be kind, distracting - except for a very few.
I think would this could better be called a "liberal's" history of Christianity, whereas I was looking for a radical history of Christianity where stories of Jan Hus, the Beguines, Mother Mary McCauley, and Dorothy Day would be treated in some depth. We need a radical people's history of Christianity. Maybe Robert Ellsberg's ALL SAINTS is a good starting point (though he does put his "saints" in a chronological order).
A people's history should be about the people. I sometimes thought this was more a middle class people's history.
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. The book does not deal with orthodoxy, doctrines, dogmas, or theologies, but on those moments `when Christian people really acted like Christians', even when, from our point of view, these people acted in ways which are simply un-Christian, as when John Chrysostom writes things which are deeply offensive to the Jews. Since our own actions will be similarly judged by our great grand children, Jesus' teaching to "judge not, lest you be judged". History, like Paul's law, offers lessons in how we can do better. Thus, an objective of the book is to help teach humility and discard the arrogant `Big C' history of Christianity. Another limit to the narrative is that it deals exclusively with `western' Christianity, giving no attention to the Orthodox churches. In order to address our `amnesia', the book is certainly a decent chronology of the high points of Christian history, even if some important actors, such as Athanasius and Søren Kierkegaard are left out. But these are theologians, and this book is only very tangentially about theology. It is as if one were flying above the clouds, over the Himalayas, and only the peaks of those 22 mountains which are taller than any other mountain range in the world, peeked up above the clouds, except that the seven or eight peaks which represent Eastern Orthodox confessions are fogged in and invisible to us. Since the story begins in 100 CE, it also seems as if our airport, including the Gospels, St. Paul, and the rest of the New Testament are also fogged in, temporarily. I am also surprised that the book does not mention today's great theological buzzword, `post-modernism'. This may be more regrettable than it sounds, as one of Ms. Bass' believes one of the most important aspects of Christianity is hope in the future. If one is distressed about the lost influence of the church, the though of going backward to ways of thinking which ruled in the age of glory (1945--1964) for American churches is simply not the answer. Nostalgia buys you nothing in the future.
In a sense, this is a history of people who believed in Christianity, and what they did, rather than a history of beliefs. This is entirely appropriate, as one of the more important contemporary movements in Christian thought is that it is not what we believe, but what we do that is most important. This means an emphasis on 'Great Commandment' theology of working through love of others. Most chapters include an anecdote of experiences by the author or one of her friends, to help associate the musty events of the past with modern experience.
The book is entertaining. For that reason, it is a book you will read rather than leave on the shelf to impress visitors with its title on the spine on your bookshelf. It has many odd observations, such as the fact that the early cathedrals had no chairs at all. This is offered as an antidote to those who insist on having pews in a new church, because `we always had pews, because they are uncomfortable'. A more serious story connects Mother Theresa and Emily Dickenson, who were both filled with doubt, revealing that `doubt is the primary language of God'.
I believe that any book which either confirms a hunch you had, or offers a whole new avenue of thought, is worth the time it takes to read it. At the risk of contradicting the statement I made about the past, my most delightful find was the explanation of one reason why the early church was so successful in the years between Paul's missions and the `nationalization' of Christianity by Constantine in 313 CE. This is the fact that Christians were willing to care for the sick when most non-Christians barred their doors to others when epidemics flowed through the cities of the Roman world (see the NT reading for Wednesday). Ms. Bass does not point out that there were other reasons for the early success, but this strengthens the picture that Christianity succeeded due to filling some notable `holes' in the Greco-Roman Weltanschauung. It would seem that success in the future would be to bring hope and comfort to those still outside the great umbrella of the modern state.
A metaphor from Ms. Bass regarding the Christian history is of a stream flowing among many rocks, which split the water into separate rivulets, each going in their own course, in spite of a common source. But one trend in history is to see the water rise, covering the rocks, to form a single course, moving forward unimpaired.
The folly of looking backward applies to `what worked' and what didn't work 50 or 500 or 2000 years ago. It does not apply to the world of ideas. In spite of our post-modern glitterati, we are still wrestling with 2400 year old ideas from Plato and even older ideas from the Bhagavad Gita, which was quoted at the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions by Swami Vivekananda. This reflects an aim to have our waters rise high enough to join all faiths together.
As a Latter-day Saint reader, my only disappointment was that it said nothing about the Restoration begun by The Prophet Joseph Smith in 1830 and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). I had hoped that would be mentioned.
I don't recall reading much about the Roman Catholic Church after the Reformation either, or about the Orthodox Church or the Coptics. It seemed centered on Protestantism.
Still it was a good work and I would recommend it.