More on MacCulloch’s new “History of Christianity”

Current Affairs / Religion

Mark Vernon has posted a review over on the Guardian of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s new work. Vernon picks up the main thrust of MacCulloch’s argument and reiterates what the BBC reviews says:

“As MacCulloch puts it: the sheer variety of Christianity is ‘a vital lesson to learn for modern Christians who wish to impose a uniformity on Christian belief and practice which has never in fact existed.’ And this rollercoaster ride of intellect and experience is far from over yet. Christianity today has two billion adherents, a figure that has increased fourfold since 1900. That’s a third of the world’s population. Only those who inhabit Europe’s secular enclaves can pretend it’s passing.

In fact, it may only be a question of time, muses MacCulloch, before nations declare themselves Christian once again, as Constantine did for the Roman empire in the fourth century. The president of Zambia attempted it in 1991, when he submitted ‘the government and the entire nation of Zambia to the lordship of Jesus Christ.’ Perhaps South Korea will try next, a country in which Christianity has a massive following, not least because the translation of the Bible into Korean resonated with a cultural revival not unlike that which took place in Elizabethan England. More bizarrely, Christendom could conceivably be reborn in China, not just because the country will soon be home to the largest number of Christians on the planet, but also because Christianity has flourished there from at least the seventh century. This is one of the forgotten elements of Christian history to which MacCulloch draws attention.

He examines these Christianities neither as if from the vantage of the dispassionate scholar, nor with the loaded agenda of a person of faith. Instead, he positions himself as a ‘candid friend’. That enables him to assess where we’re at with this movement that has shaped, and will shape, so many cultures and lives. For example, he suggests that the energy behind the most vocal forms of Christianity today, those of angry conservatism, might originate with shifting gender roles. Christianity validates the place of heterosexual men in society, by allotting them the positions of leadership. But that privilege is no longer secure because of social changes. So, the Anglican church is rent asunder over gender and sexuality, and the Roman and Orthodox churches refuse to countenance such questions at all. Further, fundamentalism seems most attractive to literate but marginalised men who feel that modernity has left them stranded and without purpose.

Read the full article here.

That last bit seems to hit the nail rather squarely on the head; especially the part about the marginalization of very bright literate men. It’s pretty extraordinary to look at the education levels of many of the Islamic fundamentalists. Many are well educated and underemployed. And look what they’re most upset about: the encroachment of Western Culture (read that as new roles for women in traditional society). It would be surprising (even a violation of the principle of minimum astonishment!) if the same sociological pressures weren’t active in the West and within Christianity as well.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. I cannot wait for this to be available! I see that I can get it from and am very tempted to order it now.

  2. got a copy to me here in New Hampshire in less than a week, discounted and with free shipping. (Note that this is their UK site, not the US .com) They’re a great source, by the way, for those impatient for British books to be republished in the States. Now all I need is to figure out how to stop time so that I can read it….

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