A History of Christianity

MacCulloch, Diarmaid: A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, Allen Lane, 2009. ISBN 9780713998696 ppV-XVII, 1-1161

BBC DVD 3132 — 349 minutes

McCulloch's book is adapted for television in six episodes.

The following points and questions are listed as they occur in the book, grouped within their respective DVD episodes. Questions and points arising from the television programmes and suitable for discussion are marked with an asterisk:


0.1       Christianity is in perpetual tension between Judaism and Greek philosophy.

0.2       The most influential ideas in Greek philosophy are: Plato on archetypes and the perfection and consequent impassability of God; Aristotelian empirical method.

0.3       Does it matter that the Old Testament is an historical and theological jumble?

0.4       Does the Apocrypha matter?

Programme 1 - The First Christianity

1.1*     Is Christianity a personality cult?

1.2       Paul's strategic significance lies in embedding Christianity in the Roman world.

1.3       The essence of the Christian church is its canon, creeds and ordained ministry.

1.4*     Was the isolation and self-mortification of Simeon Stylites an appropriate response to the communal Christian commitment in the world?

1.5*     How significant for our Christian lives is the distinction between the Alexandrine view of the merged human and vine natures of God and the 'orthodox' two natures proposal adopted at Nicea?

1.6*     What can we learn from the way the Church of the East conducted itself?

1.7*     Did the Syriac Church have a better balance than the Latin Church between the rational on the one hand and the symbolic and mysterious on the other?

Programme 2 - Catholicism: The Unpredictable Rise of Rome

2.1*     On balance, was Constantine's adoption of Christianity good or bad?

2.2       Whenever there is a conflict between Jesus and growth, the Christian church opts for growth.

2.3       How different would Christianity be had Arianism triumphed?

2.4*     Contrast the humility of Jesus and an authoritarian and wealthy church exacting obedience.

2.5       If Peter was not the Bishop of Rome, where does that leave apostolic Succession?

2.6*     Although the 'tariff' system was over-simplistic, does this justify the decline of personal confession as a sacrament? And have we out-grown Purgatory?

2.7*     Is central control and doctrinal coherence always a bad thing?

2.8*     Is the Church for the pure or those trying to be pure?

2.9*     Re: Augustine:

a) How does the idea of evil as nothingness square with Auschwitz?

b) How can a creature created flawless turn to evil?

2.10    Discuss the relative merits of Augustine's predestination by Grace in the context of a messy and fallen world and Pelagius position on the holy life, leading to the "last monastery".

2.11    "The Western Church has remained notable for the presence within its clerical ranks of a great many who are interested in clear rules and tidy filing systems."

2.12    What do you think of the image at Auxerre of Christ on horseback? Were the Crusades the point at which Christianity strayed farthest from Jesus?

Programme 3 - Orthodoxy: from Empire to Empire

3.1*     What is orthodoxy and what is the secret of its endurance?

3.2*     How literally should we take the Commandment about graven images?

3.3*     Study the ways the Ten Commandments have been counted differently

3.4*     What difference does the Filioque make to our understanding of the Trinity?

3.5*     Do the Crusades represent the lowest point of collective Christian morality?

3.6*     Consider the pathology of the holy sadist exemplified by Ivan the Terrible.

3.7       The Orthodox Church in Russia replicated the errors of its predecessor in Byzantium.

3.8       How can the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches be in schism but not mutually heretical when they hold opposite views on human nature, respectively Augustinian Original Sin and humanity's purpose in aspiring to the divine?

3.9*     Is theocracy a staging post to establishing God's kingdom on earth?

3.10    In Russia, monasteries owned a quarter the fertile land.

Programme 4 - Reformation: The Individual before God

4.1*     What is so revolutionary about Luther's ideas?

4.2*     Is 2 Timothy 3.16 enough for Sola Scriptura?

4.3       In the light of Puritanism is it correct to represent the Reformation as the liberation of individualism?

4.4*     What effect does individual access to the Bible have on ecclesiological cohesion?

4.5*     Is Baptism, as the Anabaptists claimed, a human commitment to God or, as Catholics Claim, god's commitment in grace to humanity?

4.6*     Discuss the following:

a) Gerson: there are three stages to religious development: heroic primitivism; responsibility in power; decadence requiring;

b) B.B. Warfield: "The Reformation, inwardly considered, was the ultimate triumph of Augustine's doctrine of grace over Augustine's doctrine of the church";

c) W.H. Allen: "Church lands made stout Protestants";

d) J. Gonzalez: the conflict between scripture and tradition obscures a fundamental conflict about authority.

4.7       As Calvin believed in individualism, how could he burn Servetus?

4.8       Was Protestantism impaired by a lack of the feminine?

4.9       The Reformation of the individual was championed by the Magistracy.

4.10*   Were the Protestant and Catholic Reformations more similar to than different from each other?

4.11*   Anglicanism is a subtle reflective form of Christianity oscillating between the two poles of Catholic and Puritan?

4.12*   Missionary activity only succeeded when it was militarily supported.

4.13*   Slavery was a fatal flaw in Roman Catholic mission (see 3.5 above).

4.14    Christianity treats other faiths better than other denomination.

4.15    Roman Catholicism was stronger at the end of the 15th Century than the beginning.

Programme 5 - Protestantism: The Evangelical Explosion

5.1       By 1600 Lutheranism was as rigid as Roman Catholicism.

5.2*     Singing was the Reformation's secret weapon.

5.3       The spread of Evangelicalism was an accident sparked by American independence.

5.4*     Protestantism fared better without state backing than with it.

5.5       Moravianism was the purest Evangelical reform.

5.6       Wesley's Methodism combines Catholic piety with Protestant simplicity; and is Lutheran without predestination.

5.7*     Anglicanism failed the industrial revolution.

5.8*     Social justice is in the DNA of Evangelicalism.

5.9       Why did slaves adopt the religion of their masters?

5.10*   The campaign against slavery was a necessary precondition for the success of missionary Protestantism in Africa.

5.11    Only African led Christianity succeeded in Africa.

5.12*   The secret of Christianity is adaptability.

5.13*   The 'prosperity gospel' is "too far away" from the teaching of Jesus.

5.14*   "The Holy Spirit does not hide in the pages of a book; even when that book is the Bible".

Programme 6 - God in The Dock

6.1*     Doubt is fundamental to Christianity.

6.2*     Biblical historical research damaged literal Protestantism more than allegorical Catholicism.

6.3*     Astronomy and chronology respectively challenged doctrine and Scripture.

6.4       Spinoza was the 'father of the Enlightenment'.

6.5*     Humanism is a peculiarly Christian phenomenon.

6.6*     The apparent stability of deism and the 'divine watch-maker was fundamentally unstable because it was too rigid and narrow.

6.7*     The French Revolution damaged what it sought to secure.

6.8       The Victorian church exemplified the Christian shift from mystery to moralism.

6.9       The First World War destroyed Christianity's moral integrity.

6.10    Why did most Christian denominations side with Fascism against scientific socialism?

6.11    Consumer choice was critical to humanism.

6.12    Whereas Christianity privileges the spiritual over the physical, humanism does the opposite.

6.13    Biblical truth has survived scholarship ad scepticism.

6.14*   All the major damage to Christianity has been self inflicted.

6.15*   The biggest challenge to Christianity is sex, gender and sexuality.

KC IX/10