Book Review: A People's History of Christianity

Added on by Keegan Osinski.


Last week I started riding the bus to and from work, and it has given me so much time to read! My first bus book was A People's History of Christianity by Diana Butler Bass. It was pretty good, but perhaps not what I was expecting.

Given the obvious rip-off of Howard Zinn's title, I thought the book would be more about the "losers" of church history who haven't gotten their story told--the heretics, the faithful poor, the obscure upholders of Christianity. But it seemed like much of the same mainstream, rich, well-educated dudes that everyone knows about. Mother Julian, St. Francis, Martin Luther, George Fox etc. Perhaps it's more a credit to my professors that few of the stories were new to me.

The book did remind me of some forgotten favorites (who I plan to feature on upcoming Theologian Thursdays), and it did leave me feeling hopeful for the church in its floundering entrance into postmodernity--a testament to the positive tone of the book, which I appreciate, even if it did gloss over some of the sticky, more painful aspects of church history. She focuses on the idea of "generative Christianity" rather than militant Christianity.

Butler Bass weaved together the stories of the church with stories of her academic journey, and how the context of her life affected her reception of the history she was learning--something I can surely relate to. The personal narrative alongside the historical one gave a unique context to what could have been a rote history.

I'd recommend this book to people who are interested in church history but have not studied it much before. It's an accessible read about a not-always-so-accessible topic.