Christianity: A Global History

David Chidester, Author
David Chidester, Author HarperOne $32 (640p) ISBN 978-0-06-251708-1
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
Paperback - 656 pages - 978-0-06-251770-8
Paperback - 704 pages - 978-0-14-025711-3
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It takes a brave author to write this kind of history, where every chapter, in some cases every sentence, requires passing through territory that has been analyzed, debated, deconstructed and reassembled for 2,000 years. Yet Chidester (professor of comparative religion at Cape Town University) is up to the task, providing a readable, objective sweep of Christian history that reflects an admirable knowledge of the details without ever losing sight of the larger currents. He takes the reader through three epochs: from the birth of Christianity in 1st-century Roman Palestine to the 4th century, when Christianity was the imperial cult; from the fall of Rome through the Reformation; and from the discovery of the New World to today's New World Order. Perhaps necessarily, his most intriguing chapters come in the final third of the book, where there is less familiar material to explore, though each of the first two sections offers a lucid summary of current scholarship. In the chapter on Asia, his description of the fracture between Thomas Christians in India (who took on the trappings of elite Hindi culture) and 16th-century Portuguese missionaries, laden as it was with issues of class as well as theology, has great relevance for today's debates over inculturation. Specialists will find omissions and oversimplifications, but Chidester has braved their scorn, and the reader seeking a broad understanding of Christianity's evolution will be grateful. (Dec.)
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