Quick Take: Jesus Wars by Philip Jenkins

Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years by Philip Jenkins is not an easy book.

In this fascinating account of the surprisingly violent fifth-century church, Philip Jenkins describes how political maneuvers by a handful of powerful characters shaped Christian doctrine. Were it not for these battles, today’s church could be teaching something very different about the nature of Jesus, and the papacy as we know it would never have come into existence. Jesus Wars reveals the profound implications of what amounts to an accident of history: that one faction of Roman emperors and militia-wielding bishops defeated another.

Despite Jenkins talents as a writer, is is a complex and difficult story to follow in many ways.

If you are unfamiliar with theology, early church history, and history in general I can imagine it would be intimidating. I have a MA in history and have read a lot of theology and it was tricky for me at times to follow.

In the end it is the story of how the church fought a bloody war over Christology, split apart, and settled on the so-called orthodox or Chalcedonian view only because the East broke off and died eventually (sort of).

For me, it was depressing. It is interesting to think about this side of the ancient church and how historical events played a role in what we came to think of as a basic tenet of Christian faith. But if you don’t have a deep interest in the topic, I am not sure I can recommend it.

FWIW, the fact that I am neither an non-believer nor someone with orthodox theology per se may play a role in my reaction to the book and its history.  Some with a commitment to traditional orthodoxy, and evangelical for example, may take offense at the idea that history and politics shaped the faith rather than God and capital T truth.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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