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Adventures in Bookland: A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson

Bracing. Vigorous. Scathing. All words that come to mind having finished Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity. Although Johnson is a Catholic, there is certainly no special pleading in his sweeping overview of the world’s most transformative religion: this is Christianity, warts and all, and more warts than beauty spots. Johnson, being a believer, takes the claims of the religion’s founder seriously, and his teachings, and as a result his sweeping, beautifully written history generally finds that Christians have often signally failed to live up to their founder. Perhaps this is not so surprising – “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) is not exactly a low bar to set – but Johnson does set out, in painful detail, just how often we have fallen short. Still, this is a far better approach than covering these matters up – if Christianity is about anything, it is about the truth, and pursuing it,whithersoever it leads, whether that be to a Cross on Calvary or coming face to face with the evils and omissions of our co-religionists.

The book only runs up to 1975, however. Although Paul Johnson is now quite old, I would love to read his assessment of the last half century, where so much has changed. Overall, highly recommended.

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