There has been a rise in recent years for people to return to their roots; to understand the inner workings of who their ancestors were discover their heritage. In the author's spiritual walk with Christ and her own study of Christian history she kept having conversations with her friends that ended up with statements like "I don't have trouble with Jesus. It's all the stuff that happened after Jesus that makes me mad." (pg.1) It is this sense of discontentment and question that caused Diana Butler Bass to write A People's History Of Christianity.
I have also expressed some discouragement, along with many of my friends, over the state of the evangelical church in the present day. There are times when we just stand back with mouths agape and eyes wide thinking out loud "How did we get to here?" It's this very question that Bass hopes to answer through A People's History Of Christianity.
A People's History of Christianity divides Christian history into five time periods: The Way (Early Christianity, 100-500); The Cathedral (Medieval Christianity, 500-1450); The Word (Reformation Christianity, (1450-1650); The Quest (Modern Christianity, 1650-1945); and The River (Contemporary Christianity, 1945-Now) and traces the social history of Christianity through those five periods. Within these periods Bass tends to highlight persons and principles that served as catalysts for movements of Christianity.
During "The Way" (Early Christianity, 100-500) "people understood Christianity primarily as a way of life in the present, not as a doctrinal system esoteric belief, or promise of eternal salvation." (pg.27) Those centuries closest to the ascension of Christ were filled with people living out Jesus' call to "come and die" on a day-to-day basis in figurative and sometimes literal ways. It would appear that this "way of life" mindset is making resurgence among many Christ-followers in the present day.
"The Cathedral" age brought about with it the rise of higher devotion to Jesus and a distancing from the institutional church. Monasticism came to a rise and more and more people were seeking true community to follow Jesus rather than the institutional church, which had become nothing more than a tyrannical theocracy. "In an age when people claim to be "spiritual but not religious," it is fashionable to downplay institutions in favor of a direct experience of the divine." (Pg.90)
"The Word" refers to the period of time in which the Guttenberg Press printed the first Bible ever. With the Word being printed and passed around this put the Word of God into the hands of the people in their own language. It made the Bible common place for society.
"The Quest" or the period of Modernity was the time in which it seemed that many were searching for truth and believed they could find it. This is a large shift into postmodern thinking in which searching is more important than finding and truth is what you make of it.
"The River" is a name given to this time period that describes the fluidity of Christianity. In our contemporary era of postmodern though truth has become what we make it. Christianity flows up and down and can fit into whatever mold I pour it into. This is all done for the purpose of ideas like the "ecumenical movement" in which people of all races, genders, denomination, sexual orientation, or creed can gather together and worship the same God all at once. Let me say this. I think that sounds like a beautiful thing. I really do. However there when it comes to some issues of theology and doctrine and biblical truth I don't budge for the sake of loving everyone. The best way for me to love someone is to sometimes confront him or her, in a loving and compassionate manner, with the hard truth of a wrong path they are traveling.
Bass effectively traces this social history of Christianity by stringing together some of her own personal encounters with each section as she herself studied Christian History in college. Some of her college experience took place in conservative theological seminaries while her PhD comes from Duke University in North Carolina. This liberal influence in her PhD work seeps through here and there in her writing as it seems throughout the book that conservative outlook is frowned upon or seen as close minded while "emerging Christianity" and "spiritual progressives" those with a more liberal view seem to shine through a bit brighter.
Bass' end desire is for Christians to understand their roots. She wants those who claim to follow Christ to know how we got to here... wherever "here" ends up being in the next few years. She longs for the readers to see an importance in knowing history and then to go and make history. (Pg. 310) Bass tends to push the reader toward a thought process that ends up on the liberal, or spiritually progressive, end of the drawing board however she does a good job of trying to stay balanced in her communicating of the topic.