Reviews - What do customers think about A History of Christianity in the World?
May suffice as an introduction Jul 11, 2005
I'm not familiar with any other complete histories of Christianity. I bought this one when a recent interest in early Christianity, Gnosticism, and Catharism made me aware my background in Christian history was inadequate.
I have read an excellent history of Zen Buddhism ("Zen Buddhism: a History" by Heinrich Dumoulin). As a survey of a religion, Manshreck's survey does not match up to Dumoulin's. I didn't see a single footnote in Manschreck's book (Dumoulin has many within each chapter).
Rather than group by major themes and go into those items in more depth, the coverage is quite flat, i.e. a narration of many facts without that many themes developed. That may be useful to get familiar with a lot of items, so that one can go find more thorough coverage of selected topics in other books, but it makes for dry reading. 21 chapters subdivide 360 pages, with minimal subdivisions within chapters. There are a few maps, but no timelines and no diagrams. This book reads like an extended encyclopedia entry.
Giordano Bruno, the heroic Dominican priest, is included but only for 1 sentence: Manschreck identifies him not as a priest but as a philosopher-scientist.
The Cathars get about 3 pages of coverage, mostly to detail the Church's actions to destroy them. Manschreck notes "the records of the suppression of the Cathari may be exaggerated". But a Crusade using experienced Crusaders back from the Holy Land was among the ways they were slaughtered. The first Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church was created specifically to target them. So what possibly could the exaggeration have been?
I found no mention at all of the Rosicrucians, despite their impact and profound critique of mainstream Christianity. Similarly I found no mention of Freemasonry. I suppose a survey can't include everything.
This first edition appeared before translations of the Nag Hammadi texts were widely available and the early section on Gnosticism does not mention those texts. Misleadingly, Manschreck spends a few chapters developing an orthodox view of early Christianity, then introduces not "Gnostic Christianity" but "Gnosticism". So the formative years before orthodoxy emerged when Gnostic Christians were mixed closely in among all Christians instead appear as if orthodoxy were present all along and then battled off this other thing called Gnosticism that came along. He wrote: "Early Christian writers ... devote much time to refutation of its [Gnosticism's] contentions." But at that time, Gnostic writers were also Christian writers. Manschreck seems too attached to orthodoxy to have noticed that.
It should not be surprising that Manschreck not only identifies himself as Christian but that he states very early his presupposition that divine love (agape) was revealed in Christ and he assumes the New Testament writings be taken as virtually factual, in terms of the historical information they provide. He doesn't seem to consider that vested interests may have influenced the writing. Where a Gospel seems not to be "scientific history", as Manschreck indicates for Luke's Gospel, he accounts it as "witness to what the early Christians believed and experienced in Christ".
In the final chapter, Manschreck seems to lump a lot into nihilism, including all of existentialism.
After reading this, I'm curious what another history of Christianity might be like. This one doesn't seem like one I will rely on much.
Not a bad read Feb 28, 2004
Manschreck's text was written for the intermediate student of Christian History. If you're looking for an intro text, this is not it. On the other hand, if you want something that will take you months to devour, this is still not it. The author does a good job in covering as much of christian history as the average reader can stand. Though he ignores the demise of paganism and because of the date of publication, it will not include any newer developments in Christianity. A good book, but try and buy a used copy, it's not worth the price of a new one.