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A History of Christianity

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  496 ratings  ·  46 reviews
A History of Christianity by British journalist & author Johnson aims to be comprehensive. Roman Catholic, he takes the view that "During these two millennia Christianity has, perhaps, proved more influential in shaping human destiny than any other institutional philosophy, but there are now signs that its period of predominance is drawing to a close, thereby inviting ...more
Paperback, 556 pages
Published August 1st 1979 by Simon Schuster (first published 1976)
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Paul Bryant

Sometimes a thing will quack and waddle and not be a duck. Religion is the human shape which has grown up around a few crucial questions, in the middle of which are “where did all this come from?” and “what’s going to happen to meeee-eee-eee?” (you have to be clutching a pillow or cushion when wailing that question to the darkening void), the twin poles of life (we’re here) and death (....and now we’re not!). Along the way religion has ac
Paul Johnson’s “A History of Christianity” is a sincere and fascinating (and I do mean fascinating*) effort to tell the multifaceted and incredibly complex story of the development of the followers of Jesus Christ. Such competitors as he has—at least those with which I am familiar—tend to veer to either of the two opposite sides of evangelization or vilification. Whether their purposes for writing are conversion, abrogation, shock or tedium aren’t always clear; they could in truth be unaware of ...more
Jeff Miller
This book was quite a disappointment considering how much I have heard about this historian.

Now a one volume history of Christianity is a difficult undertaking since almost 2,000 years of history is not easily condensed. So there is an editorial process by the writer as to what to cover.

This is a very opinionated history as variant interpretations are not discussed at all. I am quite aware of how messy Church history is and the histories I have read before were forthright in acknowledging this w
Skylar Burris
Although I am a Christian--or perhaps because I am a Christian--I did not find this historical compendium quite as interesting as the author's History of the Jews. Nevertheless, much of it was fascinating, and Paul Johnson certainly put a great deal of research into this tome, which spans the period of the New Testament through 20th century America. For a Catholic, Johnson does not seem the least bit ashamed of depicting all of the dark, sinful actions of the institutional church. He approaches ...more
Ugh. Skepticism masked as open-minded scholarship.

I didn't finish it, but I'm finished with it. His doubt over the authenticity and reliability of scripture shadows his interpretation of historical events. He does not interpret History as someone who interprets Scripture well. His academic and scientific tone certainly give him scholarly bona fides, but puts his orthodoxy in serious question.

The contradictions between pagan sources and the NT ought not to cast doubt on scripture's accuracy nec
Matthew Benjamin
Paul Johnson wrote this book in the mid 1970s and probably at the height of his scholastic career. He set out to present an unbiased view of the birth and evolution of Christianity and that is exactly what he does. He states from the beginning that he is a Roman Catholic and perhaps because of that one of his objectives is to boldly confront all the data or lack of data and examine this phenomenon called Christianity. His approach, though, is that of a disciplined historian and not a Christian h ...more
This history of Christianity was not written from the perspective of a Christian, nor does it come from someone who has an axe to grind with Christianity. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in a pure history without a dripping bias one way or the other.
Many people wish we would just go away, and stop with our "silly" claims for the Divine lineage of a nobody Jewish carpenter born in very obscure circumstances, who died at age 33, was betrayed by one of his closest followers and executed
Paul Johnson deserves his place among the greatest historians alive today. This broad look at the rise and development of Christianity is insightful yet not over-bearing. It takes on a vast topic which Johnson handles with an appropriate pace and evenhandedness. For those who have grown up in Christianity, this book will challenge historical assumptions (such as a friendly relationship between Peter and Paul) while taking the reader deeper into likely forgotten men and women of the faith (Erasmu ...more
Michal Gregor
A bitter disappointment. There are passages in this book, where the author actually seems to be telling his own fictious story and twisting facts so as to suit it rather than anything else.

Also, the very worst habits of journalism are apparent in this work. Author's approach to citations is rather unscrupulous as he seems very ready to mingle them with his own thoughts on the matter so that you cannot tell one from the other.

On the whole one of the worst things I ever read.
To provide a history of Christianity is in itself a daunting task, even more so if one wants to write a work bereft of doctrinal and sectarian bias, and available to a general readership. Paul Johnson has done just that. For a book originally published in 1975 to stay in print for such a time, when the field of history is constantly being updated, replaced, and revised, circulation of non-fiction is often short-lived. Paul Johnson’s work has proved durable, and for good reason.
Paul Johnson begi
Karl Kindt
This mediocre text would more accurately be termed "A Summary of the History of Christianity." There are so many gaps, so many flaws, and I suppose they could only be excused because this author tries to summarize the entirety of 2000 years of a religion in 500 pages. The biggest omissions are the good things. The bulk of the text is focused on the conflicts, the negatives, and the controversies. Imagine writing a history of America and then spending 90% of your text on the wars in which America ...more
Erik Graff
May 22, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
My background as regards the history of Christianity is strongest as regards its origins and not so bad as regards everything up through the Reformation, but weak as regards the modern period. Consequently, most of what Johnson had to say in his first chapters was rather old-hat, but much of his coverage of modern developments was new to me.
Loved it. Some parts were difficult, but in the end it is a great overview of the rise of Christianity. Many of his suppositions and speculations on early Christianity were without support, but the overall story was told in an engaging and compelling manner.
Gloria Vivo
Un libro que aúna ciencia histórica y cristianismo. Obligatoria lectura de este gran glosador que es Paul Johnson
Joab Cohen
Neat Book Review #10 The History of Christianity by Paul Johnson

Plot summary

This book discusses the history of Christianity from its origins in Jesus's times up to 1975.The book is divided into eight parts, all of which follow the historical timeline except for the seventh section, which suddenly goes back a bit to discuss a separate issue: the idea of Christians as being "chosen", which deals with the founding of America and with missionary work and its complex relationship with colonialism. T
The topics I wanted to learn more about form this book are how Christianity gained popularity in its very beginnings, the history of the Scriptures and the relation between Christianity and other religions and cultures, in particular, the cults of the Ancient Egypt. In his "Civilization of Ancient Egypt" Johnson briefly touched upon the latter topic and what he said there made me so curious that I hoped he would elaborate on it in this book. So I have not read the whole book but the first three ...more
This is an intriguing and colourful story of Christianity through the last 2,000 years.

The topic may seem daunting for those not fond of reading history books, least of all religious history. This is not a light-weight coffee table book but is completely text-based (not a single photo). But I find this book fascinating as Paul Johnson is such a good story teller and gives such interesting analysis that you would find it hard to put this book down.

Unlike some books on the history of Christianit
This is an amazing book. The only thing that I have read that I can compare it to is the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Gibbon. It manages to take great movements of history and by looking at them in a broad way, make them understandable. Did you ever wonder why Jesus came at the time he did? Read the book! Did you ever wonder why the Reformation happened when it did? Read the book! Do you want to understand the movements that created the churches of the Americas? Read the book! And a ...more
Not only for those who are interested in the history of the religion, but also for those who have any interest in what made the modern world what it is -- this is a great review of history from the first century to the middle of the 20th. Certainly no one would deny that much of the creative force behind what made the world what it is today, for good or bad, especially in North Africa, Europe, and the Americas, but also any land touched by EuroAmerican expansionism, is closely, strongly affected ...more
For some reason, this book took me a lot longer to read than a book of its length should have. Nevertheless, I did enjoy it and learned a lot about the history of the church. I did feel that, in the post-reformation age, it focused more on the Catholic church and not as much on the many protestant denominations that have shaped global Christianity.

Reading it from a twenty-first century perspective it does seem to leave something unfinished, but this is only because the book was written forty ye
Mano Chil
An amazing historian though I was disappointed that he never mentioned that the first nation to embrace the Christian faith was Armenia.

Paul needs to write a new edition as the book covers till the 1960s shy of the 2nd Vatican Council.

Every history is written from perspective. I accept that. And perhaps I hold historians to impossible standards, but in my opinion Johnson oversteps his historical bounds into the realm of (shortsighted) theology. To be honest (and I hate to admit this), I didn't finish the book. I didn't get more than two hundred pages into the book when I had to close it due to my frustration at Johnson's treatment of Augustine. One cannot (regardless of opinion) underplay the importance of Augustine for histo ...more
Paul Johnson is a well known British, conservative, historian/commentator who converted to Catholicism. That conversion may have been behind his chosing this interesting topic.

As usual, Johnson does not hold back or whitewash the facts of history. The history of Christianity is brutal, inconsistent, and dark at times. But can also be heroic and inspiring.

As an LDS reader, who believes the Church fell into apostacy during the early christian era and then was restored in modern times, the book gav
Tommy Grooms
I knew I was largely ignorant of the history of my faith, and I wanted a broad overview as a baseline for further study (as far as single volumes go, Johnson's book seemed universally praised). It's not easy to cram almost 2000 years into 500-some pages, but Johnson crafted a comprehensive, objective, and well-paced narrative capturing the patterns, conflicts, and character of Christianity. It was necessarily heavy on the negatives (the author was conciliatory in the epilogue), but also a wonder ...more
Frostik Dar
This is one of those books that i give away frequently, as it is the best short history of christianity in print, bar none. Johnson's style is sprightly, yet richly historical. the one maddening thing about the book as that he includes not one footnote or citation -- even for his most outrageous statements -- often one would love for a claim to be true, but johnson leaves no easy trail to test out where he got the idea. yes, he includes a bibliography, but much of it is a listing of secondary so ...more
Paul Marin
This is one of the poorest written books I've ever opened. After reading a third of it, I could no longer take it and closed it for good. The author, while showing that he has a good knowledge of the subject, seemingly refuses to put much of that knowledge onto paper, instead appearing more interested in whether the given individual he's writing about concerning Christianity was "particularly oversexed" or not. Blah. Don't waste your time on this one. A real disappointment.
Who thought it was a good idea to take a book of this size and depth of topic and only divide it up into a handful of sections? Each section covers an era of time (often spanning centuries), and there are no chapters or subsections of any kind---just a continuous narrative that goes on for 100's of pages. I don't see myself finishing this book anytime soon.
Shannon McDermott
The author's analysis was not always convincing, and much of the last section is already dated, but this remains a broad and fascinating history. Johnson, as a historian, anchors the Christian story in the history of the world as a whole, and provides an incredible examination of Christianity and its impact on mankind.
I'm not going to claim that I actually finished the book. However, I did read as much as I wanted - I got through the history of early Christianity through the beginning of the Reformation. Then I realized I needed more background in Ancient World History. So, I moved on to Johnson's History of the Jews.
I took two years to read this detailed history. Of course I read other books in between sessions with Paul Johnson. I found it interesting as I learned a lot especially about the first 1000 years. It will go on my shelves as a reference when I am reading other histories.
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Paul Johnson works as a historian, journalist and author. He was educated at Stonyhurst School in Clitheroe, Lancashire and Magdalen College, Oxford, and first came to prominence in the 1950s as a journalist writing for, and later editing, the New Statesman magazine. He has also written for leading newspapers and magazines in Britain, the US and Europe.

Paul Johnson has published over 40 books incl
More about Paul Johnson...
Churchill A History of the American People Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties, Revised Edition A History of the Jews (Perennial Library) Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky

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“He [Augustine] admitted: 'I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress by writing.' 4 likes
“If Paul brought the first generation of Christians the useful skills of a trained theologian, Origen was the first great philosopher to rethink the new religion from first principles. As his philosophical enemy, the anti-Christian Porphyry, summed it up, he 'introduced Greek ideas to foreign fables' -- that is, gave a barbarous eastern religion the intellectual respectability of a philosophical defense. Origen was also a phenomenon. As Eusebius put it admiringly, 'even the facts from his cradle are worth mentioning'. Origen came from Alexandria, the second city of the empire and then it's intellectual centre; his father's martyrdom left him an orphan at seventeen with six younger brothers. He was a hard working prodigy, at eighteen head of the Catechetical School, and already trained as a literary scholar and teacher. But at this point, probably in 203, he became a religious fanatic and remained one for the next fifty years. He gave up his job and sold his books to concentrate on religion. he slept on the floor, ate no meat, drank no wine, had only one coat and no shoes. He almost certainly castrated himself, in obedience to the notorious text, Matthew 19:12, 'there are some who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake.' Origen's learning was massive and it was of a highly original kind: he always went back to the sources and thought through the whole process himself. This he learned Hebrew and, according to Eusebius, 'got into his possession the original writings extant among the Jews in the actual Hebrew character'. These included the discovery of lost texts; in the case of the psalms, Origen collected not only the four known texts but three others unearthed, including 'one he found at Jericho in a jar'. The result was an enormous tome, the Hexapla, which probably existed in only one manuscript now lost, setting out the seven alternative texts in parallel columns. He applied the same principles of original research to every aspect of Christianity and sacred literature. He seems to have worked all day and though most of the night, and was a compulsive writer. Even the hardy Jerome later complained: 'Has anyone read everything Origen wrote?' 3 likes
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