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Once upon a time in first-century Roman-occupied Palestine...

Once upon a time in first-century Roman-occupied Palestine...

…an itinerant Jewish teacher began to attract attention for his surprising statements about God, his radical approach to religion and politics, and his healing care for the poor, lonely, and sick. His message offended the ruling authorities, and he was executed. Shortly thereafter, his followers began to claim that their leader was not dead but had been raised to life. What is more, they began to make startling claims about the divine nature of this man whose influence continued to animate their growing communities.

It began to dawn on these people that this man Jesus was not only God’s “Messiah” or “Christ”—a saviour awaited by the Jews who was expected to bring God’s kingdom on earth—he was also, in some mysterious way, God himself in human form.

Jesus Christ’s main message was that the kingdom of God was not only near, it was here. His followers taught that through Jesus, forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, and membership of this kingdom were open to all. Citizenship in this kingdom came with its own set of freedoms, rights, and responsibilities: a new spiritual reality that had practical, social consequences. Belief in the God who became Man and belief in the values of his kingdom provided the twin drives for the new movement that came to be known as Christianity.

Christians have not always been true to their namesake, and the societies they produce have not always expressed the best of their values. Yet time and again Christianity has inspired heroic men and women to work against their own best interest, and against the common sense of their culture, in the service of others. Christendom’s kings have started wars, and its merchants have traded in exploitation, while its peacemakers have brought down tyrannies and its scientists have cured diseases. Acts of deepest folly can be found alongside work of the highest wisdom: the same century that saw the first Crusades also saw the creation of the first universities and hospitals of the modern tradition. Christendom’s thinkers provided the foundation for the philosophical ideas that continue to shape modern life. Its artists, writers, and musicians account for many of the world’s cultural treasures. From the start, the various communities of Christ have displayed a vibrancy, originality, stubbornness, flexibility, ferocity, and gentleness unparalleled in history.

In the telling of this story, certain themes can be traced throughout the centuries. One recurring motif is that of martyrdom. Christianity began with a crucifixion, and persecution of Christ’s followers remains a constant reality worldwide. Indeed, more people have been killed for their Christian faith in the modern age than at any other time in history. The reality of martyrdom is closely related to another common theme, that of the ambiguous relationship between Christians and their countries. From Constantine to Charlemagne, Kublai Khan to King Henry VIII, from Russian tsars to American presidents, the story of Christendom is, in many ways, the story of the state seeking to control, manage, or harness the power of Christianity. Another key theme is that of internal restoration. Wherever Christian institutions have become too much like the world around them, reform movements are never far behind. Historically, Christians have often proven to be the fiercest critics of Christendom.

Christianity is the most diffuse faith on earth. Its followers are widespread, its ideas profound, and its implications far-reaching. As a result, Christianity has provoked dissent as much as it has inspired emulation, and for this reason it is apparent that a history of Christianity is also, in many ways, a history of the modern world itself. The whole history of Christianity can never be told, as the full, real story lies in the day-to-day lives of men and women who lived the faith and transmitted it to others, keeping alive traditions and customs that would shape future generations. While not a total history, the Zondervan Essential Companion to Christian History provides a guide through the whirlwind of extraordinary people, ideas, events of war, and pursuits of peace that have come to the attention of historians and that have shaped the major contours of Christian thought and practice throughout the world.

How To Use This Book

This book delivers what it promises: the essentials of Christian history. There is a chapter devoted to each century of the church’s story, presented in a highly visual and engaging way. The final chapter, devoted to the present century, identifies key themes that the Christian church is presently dealing with and suggests future issues. A glossary of terms is provided at the end of the book, plus a list of suggested reading. This book will help you grasp the global, multifaceted story of Christians. View a sample and order a copy today for your home, students, or church library.