The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity Summary

John McManners

The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Some people read history with the present always in mind, seeing the past with the eyes of a detective looking for clues. Others savor the strangeness of the past for its own sake. Still others try to do both. For history-readers of every persuasion, THE OXFORD ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY is a must. There’s hardly an aspect of contemporary life, from the abortion debates to films such as TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, that isn’t illumined in some way by this history, yet the safest and most economical form of time-travel.

This volume consists of nineteen essays by prominent scholars, preceded by editor John McManners’ introduction and followed by a list of sources for further reading, a chronology, and an index. As noted above, the emphasis falls decidedly on the modern period, with considerable attention given to developments outside Europe and the United States. With the exception of Martin Marty, author of the chapter on North America, and Frederick Pike, who writes on Latin America, all of the contributors are based at British universities.

Along with a great harvest of learning there is much to take issue with in these pages. With an extraordinary combination of hubris and naivete, McManners proclaims that history is a science and that the contributors to this volume, as “professional historians,” write “with detachment from their convictions.” How they manage to do this (and why it would be desirable to do so, if it were possible) he does not make clear; he does acknowledge that “In handling such an emotive subject as Christianity the difficulties are enormous.” Fortunately, not all of McManners’ writers share his conception of history.