Book Review: 'A People's History of Christianity' by Diana Butler Bass

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A People's History of Christianity

By Diana Butler Bass. 353 pp. $25.99

"Western Christianity is suffering from a bad case of spiritual amnesia," Diana Butler Bass writes in her illuminating new history. The barb is aimed not at conservatives -- "those asserting certainty" -- but liberal Christians, assailed by "secular humanists and their self-assured religious cousins" and caught between "rejecting the past and bearing its weight." Bass's primary goal in this book is restoring what she calls "Great Command Christianity," a reference to the tale of the Good Samaritan and Jesus' subsequent admonition to "go and do likewise."

Bass explores the myriad ways in which that teaching has been interpreted and embodied. The result is sometimes subversive and often joyful: In Bass's telling, Jesus is a "religious revolutionary," who led a People's Crusade of "humility, hospitality, and love." Readers seeking a scholarly approach may want to look elsewhere; the writing here is deeply personal and airily structured. What emerges is a persuasive argument that the real traditions of the church are "faith, hope, and love entwined."

-- Matthew Shaer

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