Review: The Shaping of Christianity: The History and Literature of Its Formative Centuries

The Shaping of Christianity: The History and Literature of Its Formative Centuries
The Shaping of Christianity: The History and Literature of Its Formative Centuries by Gerard Vallee

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book epitomizes the phrase “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The author himself is clearly out of his depth and lacks the requisite knowledge and experience to adequately discuss the topic which he has taken up and provides the reader with just enough to confuse and mislead him (or her).

Vallee seems to rely excessively upon secondary sources, and not very good ones at that. His use of primary sources is sparse at best and most of those few citations he does provide for us seem to have been lifted directly from the secondary sources he uses rather than taken up by himself from a personal, firsthand reading of the actual primary sources. As a result, Vallee’s treatment is generally shallow and distorted and overly reliant on a single position on certain contentious issues.

Happily, his treatments of most subjects and individuals he covers are so brief that he can’t do much damage to the mind of the uninformed reader. Most of the book reads like a badly-written, ill-informed encyclopedia entry; the rest reads like a badly-written, ill-informed undergraduate term paper. The entire book is badly-written and ill-informed.

In short, if you are looking for an introduction to the formative/Patristic period of Christianity, this is not the book you’re looking for.

View all my reviews

Review: The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy

The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy
The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy by Paul F. Bradshaw

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While Bradshaw offers very few definite answers for anything at all, he does offer us a very thorough introduction to the history of Christian worship. One does, I think, feel a bit overwhelmed reading this book as Bradshaw presents one viable theory only to counter it with another mutually contradictory but equally viable theory that displaces the previous again and again. Perhaps what he demonstrates, and what it may be his purpose to demonstrate, in doing this is that there is very little that can be definitely said about the specifics of the development of the liturgies of the Christian Church in their earliest forms.

Unfortunately, Bradshaw disregards his own advice at several points. Perhaps the most obvious example is in his expression of support for the theory that multiplicity becomes unity against the prior presupposition of the reverse. Bradshaw criticizes the prejudice of earlier scholars who, he says, relied upon the evolutionary theories of Darwin and others and saw complexity emerging from simplicity and multiplicity from unity. He then goes on to posit instead the very opposite: that we always begin with complexity and multiplicity which then becomes unity. He ignores, however, that this too has its philosophical origins, this time in Hegel and Marx rather than Darwin, and that to adopt such a theory also, in spite of his protests, attempts to force the historical datum into an ideological framework.

In spite of that and other minor quibbles I might raise, however, this book is, overall, a great introduction to the origins of early Christian worship and especially to the scholarship which has attempted to discover these origins over the last century and beyond. Bradshaw also does an excellent job of introducing the reader to the primary source material and giving a good overview of how these primary sources have been and are being handled by scholars. I recommend and endorse this book for anyone who is interested in the history of Christian liturgical practices.

View all my reviews