Great World Religions: Christianity

Course No. 6101
Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 6101
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Course Overview

As the world's largest religion, with more than two billion members, Christianity is "one of religion's great success stories," notes Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, himself a former Benedictine monk. But Christianity is more than large and popular—it is extremely complex and often highly contradictory.

Christianity's Central Creeds: Difficult to Fathom

Uniquely, Christianity asserts that its central figure, Jesus Christ, was not only a man but also God. The central elements of its creed—that there are three persons in one God, for example—are often difficult to accept or understand.

It emphasizes belief rather than law and ritual practice. And it is highly susceptible to paradox:

  • Bearing a message of peace and unity, it has often been a source of conflict and division.
  • Proclaiming a heavenly kingdom, it has often been deeply involved with mundane politics.
  • Rejecting worldly wisdom, it has claimed the intellectual allegiance of great minds.

These apparent contradictions arise from the complex character of Christianity's claims about God, the world, and above all, Jesus of Nazareth, whose death and resurrection form the heart of the good news proclaimed by this religious tradition.

"The lectures concentrate on the basics," says Professor Johnson. "They seek to provide a clear survey of the most important elements of this religious tradition and a framework for the student's further study."

Professor Johnson is the author of several hundred articles and reviews as well as 21 books, including The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (1996).

In his course, you will consider fundamental issues including:

  • Christianity's birth and expansion across the Mediterranean world
  • The development of its doctrine
  • Its transformation after Christianity became the imperial religion of Rome
  • Its many and deep connections to Western culture
  • Tensions within Christianity today.

Discover a Great World Religion

This course introduces Christianity as a world religion. The obvious first questions to ask are: "What is a religion?" and "What is a world religion?"

The word religion can be defined as "a way of life organized around experiences and convictions concerning ultimate power."

A world religion has experience and convictions that successfully organize a way of life beyond local, ethnic, or national boundaries.

By any measure, Christianity must be considered a world religion because:
  • It claims more adherents than any other religion and is the dominant tradition among many diverse populations.
  • It has 2,000 years of history, making it younger than Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but older than Islam.
  • It is complex both in its internal development and in its engagement with culture.
  • It is remarkably various in its manifestations, existing not only in three distinct groups (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant), but in thousands of specific styles.
  • Much of the world operates on a dating system that has as its central reference the birth of Jesus: B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (anno Domini, or, the year of our Lord).

Beginning as a sect of Judaism in an obscure province of the Roman Empire in the 1st century, it became the official religion of the empire by the 4th century and dominated the cultural life of Europe for much of its history.

Although Christianity's influence has declined in Europe and North America, it continues to expand worldwide. In the First World, Christian fundamentalism struggles with modernity. Yet, in the 21st century, Christianity is poised for a possible renaissance in developing nations, where millions of new followers are drawn to its central and powerful claim: the resurrection of Christ.

Manifestations of Christianity

Professor Johnson's synthetic approach provides first an overview of the Christian story, how it understands history from creation to new creation—and the relation of scripture to that history, and the Christian creed: what Christians believe about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the church.

He explains Christian practice as expressed, in turn, by the structure of the community and its sacraments, by the struggles of Christians to find a coherent and consistent moral teaching, and by various manifestations of Christianity's more radical edge in martyrs, monks, mendicants, missionaries, and mystics.

Professor Johnson's lectures also deal with internal and external conflicts:

  • The division of Christianity into three great families: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.
  • The centuries-long struggle to find an appropriate role within the political structures of society.
  • Christianity's past and present engagement with culture and the life of the mind, with particular emphasis on the impact of the Enlightenment.

Christianity's Distinct Character and Possibilities

By the end of this course, students will have a grasp of:

  • Christianity's distinctive character
  • Major turning points in its history
  • Its most important shared beliefs and practices
  • Its sharp internal divisions
  • Its struggles to adapt to changing circumstances
  • Christianity's continuing appeal to many of the world's peoples.

Harold McFarland, editor of Midwest Book Review, writes about this course: "If you want a good understanding of Christianity from a historical perspective—where it came from, where it is going, how its doctrines have come about and how they have changed, this is one of the best places to acquire that knowledge."

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Christianity among World Religions
    This first lecture introduces Christianity by locating it among other world religions and providing basic facts: its number of adherents, their geographical distribution, the variety of lifestyles they follow, and the length and complexity of its history. Christianity is compared to other major religious traditions with respect to its founder, form of community, sacred texts, doctrine, ritual, moral code, and mysticism. x
  • 2
    Birth and Expansion
    How did a small sect within 1st-century Judaism become a world religion? This lecture considers some of the components of an answer in Jesus of Nazareth and the earliest writings of the Christian movement. x
  • 3
    Second Century and Self-Definition
    This lecture traces the story of Christianity from the state of the small and persecuted communities at the beginning of the 2nd century to the emergence of a well-organized and well-defined church at the start of the 3rd century. x
  • 4
    The Christian Story
    Christianity is both deeply historical and mythical in its way of seeing the world. The Christian story provides a comprehensive narrative that extends from the creation of the world to the end of time. The basis of this narrative is found in Scripture, made up of the Old and New Testaments. x
  • 5
    What Christians Believe
    Belief, or doctrine, is more important to Christianity than to other religious traditions, such as Judaism or Islam, in part because of Christianity's origin as a sect within Judaism. This lecture sketches the origins and development of the creed, touches on its continuing controversial place in Christianity, then focuses on the central tenets of faith expressed by the 4th-century Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. x
  • 6
    The Church and Sacraments
    One of the results of Christianity becoming the imperial religion under Constantine in the 4th century is that its structures expanded to meet its new place in the world. The church grew from small local assemblies into a worldwide organization with a hierarchical structure, extensive material holdings, and substantial social obligations. x
  • 7
    Moral Teaching
    Every religious tradition demands of adherents a manner of living consonant with its understanding of the world. Unlike Judaism and Islam, however, Christianity has struggled to formulate a consistent moral code. This is partly due to its ambivalence concerning law and partly to its emphasis on internal transformation. Over time, elements from Scripture have been supplemented by other sources, such as Greek philosophy. x
  • 8
    The Radical Edge
    From the very beginning, the tension between conservative and radical tendencies can be seen in the ministry of Jesus, in the writings of Saint Paul, and in the Book of Revelation. As Christianity in both the East and West adapted itself to the structures of society, certain Christians maintained the radical edge in their manner of life: the martyrs, the monks, the missionaries, and the mystics. x
  • 9
    Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant
    Despite its ideal of unity, Christianity has always experienced divisions from within, some of which persist to this day. This lecture identifies the historical circumstances of the two greatest moments of division: the schism between Orthodox and Catholic in the 11th century and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. x
  • 10
    Christianity and Politics
    Christianity began as a minority intentional community that was socially marginalized and persecuted by imperial power. Over the centuries, it became closely associated with state power, and the shadow of the Constantinian era continues until today. The American, French, and Russian political revolutions ushered in the Post-Constantinian era, which poses fresh challenges to Christians. x
  • 11
    Christianity and Culture
    At its beginning, Christianity rejected philosophy and was regarded by the sophisticated as a form of superstition. This lecture describes how, through the centuries, Christianity shaped and was shaped by every development in culture. The secularization of culture that began with the Enlightenment has progressively severed culture from Christianity, and modernity increasingly challenges the rationality of Christianity itself. x
  • 12
    Tensions and Possibilities
    Christianity faces a number of challenges. Especially in the First World, Christians are deeply divided about how to respond to modernity, politics, and the intellectual life. A variety of religious impulses throughout the world indicate that, despite many premature obituaries, this ancient and complex religious tradition remains lively and, for many, life-giving. x

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Your professor

Luke Timothy Johnson

About Your Professor

Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Johnson earned a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Yale University, as well as an M.A. in Religious Studies from Indiana University, an M.Div. in Theology from Saint Meinrad School of Theology, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Notre Dame Seminary in...
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Great World Religions: Christianity is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 30.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthusiastic but Disinterested Presentation video download version . Unlike some reviewers, but in accordance with others, I did not find professor Johnson to be biased at all. Even given his background in the Catholic Church and even though he still appears to be a religious Christian, I did not find his lectures to be at all an "apologia" for Christianity. True enough he may not be as critical of the church as some would like, nor go as deeply into theology as others might wish, but I think that neither approach should be the expectation of this course. It is, in six hours a brief history of the religion. and a discussion of what Christians believe and how they came to those beliefs over the years and through many conflicts. Dr. Johnson also discusses the various versions of Christianity and how they came to be distinct. But, perhaps more importantly, he also focuses on the things that the various denominations have in common. He acknowledges problems that have occurred in the Church and then moves on. This course is not a critique of the Christian religion, but rather a presentation of what is is, or what it is expected to be. I especially liked his notion that Christianity sprang from a counter-culture movement and was therefore somewhat unsuited in being able to actually use its core in governance. I also found much to consider in the last three lectures, where he addresses the religion and politics and culture and especially the future. His expectation that the next pope might come from Africa or Asia was somewhat wrong, but that he came from Latin America was really in the spirit of his last lecture. He considers the many issues among the various sects and denominations in this last lecture, but is optimistic (and cites examples and reasons for his views) and is once again prescient as in only the last few weeks there is reason to believe that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church and Catholics and Anglicans are beginning a process of reconciliation. Recommended
Date published: 2016-02-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Verbose, critical, biased presentation I feel that this course gets seriously bogged down very early on, when the professor, a former Benedictine monk and Roman Catholic priest (married in 1974), goes into great detail about the books that did NOT make it into the New Testament, and pontificates on the various groups which had totally different views of Christianity than what eventually won out and became "orthodoxy". I would venture to say that most Christians today are not at all aware of the rejected writings or of the many "non-orthodox" sects of the 2nd century. Strange that after spending so much time on the early diversity of Christian belief, Dr Johnson does not, in later lectures, mention, for example, today's 7th Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Amish, or Mormons. Dr Johnson loves to use fairly obscure terms and to delve into minutiae, but this approach can easily become obfuscating in this kind of course which is, in effect, an introduction to Christianity, an explanation of how the religion came about and what it's about. This course should present the Christian religion as simply as possible... NOT go to pains to show the various divisions which existed and exist... NOT wallow in sometimes vague philosophical and intellectual considerations... NOT to be so verbose. For anyone not reasonably familiar with the beliefs of Christianity, the first few lectures must be inordinately confusing and potentially off-putting. How many Christians have heard of Nestorianism, Docetism, the Dialogue with Trypho, Cosmic Dualism, or the Letter of Diognetus? Btw, Dr Johnson's insistence on making a guttural sound for the "h" in Mohammed I find very irritating. I know that this lecturer is a personal favourite with many Great Courses reviewers, but to me he comes across as smug and pompous, exudes an air of superiority and even disdain. Lecture 6 proved amusing, as the professor explains the development of Christian church-building and the liturgy in what he calls "the imperial religion" (after Constantine). In lecture 7, he seems to miss the point that Jesus Christ came to start a NEW religion; he registers great surprise that Jesus did not keep and promote all the existing Jewish laws! Jesus was teaching something NEW! That is a very basic tenet of Christianity... Jesus introduced a NEW way of thinking, he did not come to confirm all the old Jewish laws and rules! Dr Johnson's love of big words comes to the fore again in this lecture when he speaks of an "antinomian" theme. I bet not one person in fifty has ever heard that word! And right after that comes the word heteronymous, which he applies to the law, as being "a norm outside of us". Hmmm. Then we're told that the ten commandments "had an enduring normative for us." Increasingly, Dr Johnson is a harsh critic of Christianity, becoming very emphatic in his delivery and stating that the New Testament is counter-cultural. The impression I had from all this was that Dr Johnson himself had some personal issues that were flavouring his talk, that he had an axe to grind. And on he goes to highlight contradictions in the New Testament. Now he's REALLY on his soapbox -- at this stage I became utterly disenchanted with the course, but I continued on to the end. Definitely NOT recommended.
Date published: 2014-07-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Competent, clear but nothing new I belong to a group of retired people who take great courses together. We have studied, art, history, music and now religion. This time around we decided to do ALL of the Worlds Great Religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. I am going to leave our overall rating for each course in each of the five reviews I am writing here. Our final order as it turned out is the same order in which we viewed the courses: Judaism (4 Stars), Christianity (3 Stars), Islam (3 Stars), Hinduism (1 Star), Buddhism (No Stars). Our group, 12 of us, are "church" people. A mix of Christian denominations quite knowledgeable of the history of the Christian Church, and steeped in the creed, code and cult of that faith. The course was a good review but for anyone with more than a passing knowledge/experience of Christianity Dr. Johnson will be just a comfortable companion as you refresh your memory.
Date published: 2014-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent introduction This 12-lecture course is a very efficient and effective overview of Christianity as a world religion. Prof. Johnson is energetic and articulate, and each lecture is very thoughtfully constructed. The course requires focused attention because Prof. Johnson covers a lot of material in each lecture and moves each lecture along at a brisk pace. The Teaching Company has an impressive inventory of religion courses in general and on Christianity in particular, and I think this course is a great place to start for an interested student. All in all, a very worthwhile course. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2013-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, Largely Historical, Summary [Audio] I bought this as a part of the "Great Religions" series. So far I've listend to the Islam part and this one, and this is much better than the one on Islam. Professor Johnson is very clear and easy to listen too. He presents an objective appraisal of the history of the rise of Christianity, Christian doctrine, and its place in the world today. As a non-religious person myself, I am intrigued as to why so many of the best and brightest throughout history have devoted so much time to theology - why there has been so much work attempting to justify something (to me) so implausible. This is not a theology course, so it doesn't really address THAT particular question (and doesn't claim to), but what it does get to cover in 12 lectures is clearly expressed. I expect much of the content would be new to many who are of the Christian faith, as well as those, like myself, raised in a Christian country but not observant. I notice that the TC does offer a theology course, but as it's taught by Prof. Cary, it puts me off, due to my experience in trying to follow his reasoning in the "Great Ideas" course. If only they had hired Prof. Johnson for the job!
Date published: 2013-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Recommended For Everyone What I really like about this course is that it covers a wide variety of subject matter. The first part of the course is what all Christians already know, that Jesus was The Son of God and rejected by Jews. To those who are not familiar with the faith it explains the differences between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The opening lectures also describe the expansion of Christianity, and when the Christian Creed's were written. The middle lectures talk about morality of Christians, but Professor Johnson is careful not to make these lectures sound like a church service. Lecture 9 talks about what the different branches of Christianity believe, but unfortunately he didn't have time to go into as much detail as I would have liked. This was only a 12 lecture course, and such a subject matter is worthy of 100's of lectures. Lectures 10 and 11 take more of a worldly theme and discuss the conflicts between politics and state, while the last lecture discusses the future of Christianity. Overall this is a course that presents Christianity in a fair light. It is informative, with a professor who is passionate about his subject matter, but not pushy. Some who find Professor Erhman too negative may find Professor Johnson to be more to their liking. Professor Johnson did everything he could based on the fact that he only had 12 lectures to work with, but he made me want to purchase more Christian courses from the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2013-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Johnson bets on resurrection DVD review. Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson's CHRISTIANITY is part of the "Great World Religions" set. In the North American context, this topic might seem old hat. Our ongoing culture wars about abortion and gay marriage whenever there is an election fill our media with references to Jesus. Love him or hate him, what more is there to say? Much more it turns out. Christianity is both a fragmented entity cobbled together from many sources over several millennia, and an extraordinarily self-conscious theological construction loudly proclaiming the unity, immutability, infallibility and divine origin of whatever compromise carried the day. It is both conservative and radical, elitist and popular, a social time bomb and a personal security blanket. This is not a course that debunks, though my tone might appear flippant. Pure objectivity in religion seems impossible. Our earliest religious feelings are bathed in the glow of childhood mentors we loved and respected. Not so for other faiths. When Christians think of their tradition, they think Sermon of the Mount, not the Inquisition or the Salem witch trials. So which is it? Do we understand Christianity when we focus only on its high points, or are the lows, especially the lows that follow directly from belief or institutional in-fighting also part of the story? Johnson belongs in the second camp, even though 12 lessons only give him enough space to focus on the consequences of beliefs, not the deeds of this or that Christian community. If Christianity is important to you, but religious history is a subject you have avoided so far, this course packs a few unexpected punches. • The biggest is probably the gap between Jesus the crucified troublemaker who led a little band of reform-minded Jews, and "Christ" the collective creation of tiny, Greek-speaking, gentile communities spread around the Eastern Mediterranean. This resurrected Lord was both historical figure and a mighty presence among the living. And yet his teachings were sufficiently vague that a host of origin stories and ethical values had to be imported from the Old Testament, from North-African Gnostics, and from Greco-Roman philosophy and law. • There never was a period when all was harmony among early Christians. Judging from Paul's letters, conflicts about teaching, money and authority were never-ending. How could it not be? The Jesus of the Gospels was a counter-cultural figure who spoke in riddles about what he was not. He was not a law-giver or a builder of institutions. So the early Christian leaders had to fill in the blanks while facing persecution. The result is constant reinvention with claims that the Son, the Father or the Holy Spirit had foretold and inspired this all along. • Johnson does an excellent job of showing how radical interpretations of Jesus' message were possible. For example, he taught for three years in a society filled with slaves and yet never once clearly stated that slavery as an institution was immoral. Some early Christians, believing the end was near, thought this irrelevant. Most took slavery for granted, part of "rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's". Others eventually came to see it as immoral. Of course, they assumed, Jesus must have thought so too. Johnson's point, I believe, is that Christianity as a living faith is a process, not the passive transmission of an originally pure doctrine. Unlike the early Christian communities making things up as they went, it is now a mighty tradition that is growing most quickly in the Third World. The old theological disputes that divided European Christians make no sense for many these new converts. Is this a new chapter? Or is Christianity as we know it doomed? Johnson bets on resurrection.
Date published: 2012-09-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Insightful and Valuable Overview Anyone growing up in "the West" will be familiar with much of Christianity even if they are not religous as the faith has impacted every aspect of western civilisation from intellectual history to culture. Nevertheless sometimes it is important to step back and get a birds eye view; a broad map of the terrain. This is what Professor Luke Timothy Johnson does very well in these pithy 12 lectures. I learnt quite a bit that was new- in particular about Gnosticism and its tensions with "orthodoxy" and some of the martyrs from the patristic period- and overral the course provides enough depth to tantalise and enough overview to get a grasp of the general narrative and principles of Chrsitianity. In particular lectures 10 and 11 (and the former in particular)are quite brilliant commentaries-in 30 minutes!- of how Christianity has profoundly affected and been part of the history and culture of Western civilisation. Furthermore the course allows one to select a few areas that can be pursued in more depth through the TTC. I have for example purchased courses on Christian Theology and also specifically on the new testament which, after this introductory course, i am keen to begin. Highly recommend this course to anyone.
Date published: 2012-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction audio version. Considering the limitations of a brief 12-lecture introduction, Prof. Johnson did a nice job. His selection of topics covered history, theology, and current topics. He was well-organized and lectured clearly. He provided a nice bibliography. He remained objective throughout the course. That being said, it was nice to see a man of faith giving this course. My only hesitancy in recommending this course is that TTC has so many courses on Christianity to choose from. However, if one is looking for a brief introductory course, this is an excellent choice.
Date published: 2012-04-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I thought I knew it already ... Having grown up in a strong Christian family, I didn't expect to gain much from this course other than the fact it was a part of the comparative course with the other four major religions. I quickly realized I was in for some serious study after only a few moments into Professor Johnson's first lecture. His delivery was professional, yet lively and enthusiastic, and it was obvious the Professor enjoyed the subject matter and sharing it with his students. This was not a Sunday Morning lecture on how to be a good Christian. Indeed some good Christians may find parts of Professor Johnson's discussion to be offensive to their own value system as to what makes a "good" Christian. He addresses the faith from several angles; history, basic beliefs, the enormous number of subdivisions of the one religion, the differing moral teaching, and who were the 'real' players in the beginning that made the religion grow to such boundaries as it enjoys today. I think there could have been more to the course, only because I wanted to hear and see more, but I must say, as with every other Great Course I have enjoyed thus far, I definitely got my money's worth. I would definitely recommend this course to anyone, especially another member of the Christian faith who may find they too will be surprised what they learn about their own religion.
Date published: 2011-09-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not all that I had hoped for Professor Johnson did a good job of explaining the beginnings of Christianity in his first four lectures, but I felt he was weak in lectures 5 through 8 in particular when he tried to explain "What Christians Believe" and the "Moral Teachings". He did not point out the positive diversity of thought as well as I would have liked, and I came away from the class wondering how I would have felt about Christianity if his lectures were my first exposure to the religion. I did in particular enjoy lecture 1(Christianity Among World Relgions) and lecture 9(Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant). I came away from the class feeling there is so much more that Christianity has to offer than what Professor Johnson delivered in his class.
Date published: 2011-06-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Challenging and intriguing In my opinion, the mark of a good teacher is one who can take subject matter you are already familiar with and expand your knowledge in a way that makes the material fresh and makes the student think about it in a new way. Dr. Johnson has an engaging lecture style and fast pace that doesn’t (often) lapse into unnecessary repetition. I especially appreciated that he didn’t shy away from controversial paradoxes or least flattering chapters in Christian history. Dr. Johnson did not proselytize or attempt to convert; he taught and presented information. He made clear distinctions between fact and opinion. The organization of material was excellent, and the course book is a good resource for further study. I thought this would be the least interesting of the series on Great Religions, but I was quickly drawn in and nearly overwhelmed with the amount of information the presenter managed to cram into 12 lectures. In my opinion, the weakest point in the lectures was the first half of the first lectures when it almost seemed that a cheerleading “aren’t we better than sliced bread” tone would be set, but that didn’t last more than a few minutes. I disagree with the charge that there is too much emphasis on the Catholic Church. Given the history of Christianity, one cannot help but focus on the Catholic Church if one wants to understand the history and politics of the church, both internal and external. I also believe that the scope of such an introductory course does not allow time to discuss every one of the hundreds of denominations. Better to discuss how such schisms come about and their origins and save the details for longer courses. I would like to see more lectures from this presenter.
Date published: 2010-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from GREAT WORLD RELIGIONS: CHRISTIANITY This is an excellent course, packed full of information and delivered in a most interesting and engaging style My only criticism is of the information NOT incuded. Admittedly, 12 lectures drastically liimits the time that can be devoted to such a huge topic. However, I would have liked some information on the historical development of the "Christmas Story": the tales of the wise men and the star in the east and the development of the theory of Christ's virgin conception. Also missing is a historical explanation for the Christian views on the devil, heaven and hell, which are quite different from ithe scant descriptions in the Hebrew Bible. I would also have liked more information on the Protestant Reformation and how the various branches of Protestantism developed. But perhaps that is another course!
Date published: 2010-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Balanced, not biased Thoroughly enjoyable presentation. Clear organization. Presents Christianity neither from the point of view of a Christian or an anti-Christian, but as if one knew little about Christianity. Presents the history of the development of Christianity, its practice today, and some difficulties with the development of the religion. I though I knew everything there was to know about Christianity, but there were insights and nuggets in information that were all new to me. Definitely worth my time.
Date published: 2009-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid, worthwhile course in a superb series Excellent organization and delivery so that we can better understand a paradoxical and highly complex religion. I will definitely listen to this course again (I got the audio version) -- as well as all the other courses in 'Great World Religions' series. Dr. Johnson packs a lot of information into 12 lectures, but it's all still manageable and held my interest. I especially liked the provocative lectures on the 'radical edge' and 'politics' -- after all, Dr. Johnson reminds us, 'the notion of a holy war (a crusade) is deeply ingrained in the Christian tradition.' This professor doesn't hold back, and should be commended for his relentless objectivity.
Date published: 2009-07-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but Too Short This was a good course, but too jam packed to be helpful. One would have to listen at least three times in order to take away everything this course discusses. While this is not horrible, it does leave the listener feeling left behind. Professor Johnson does a good job with the material, but I imagine he could have easily used 48 lectures, not 12. I would have loved more coverage of the different denominations of Christianity (probably worthy of a full course), or a variety of other topics. Overall, it was good, but not enough.
Date published: 2009-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fast and Furious I can add very little to what the positive reviewers have already said, except to say that I was not expecting such a jam-packed, historical treatment of this subject. As it was limited to just twelve lectures, I had anticipated a "lighter" approach to Christianity, not a rock'em sock'em information slugfest. I do not think the professor obsessed over Catholocism at all, as one reviewer claimed, but yes, he did leave out discussion of some of the newer variants-- while carefully noting the existence of hundreds of such sects. One criticism was that nobody was going to convert to Christianity from watching this course. Well, that seems to be correct, but then the purpose of the course is to educate, not convert. (Leave matters of conversion to the experts-- to the Inquisition or their modern day equivalents... .) One criticism: this course was not exactly enjoyable. The professor makes the listener work hard to keep up! This course belongs in the "history" category, as well as under "religion". Thank God it's over... and I pray there won't be a test.
Date published: 2009-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from scholarly, balanced, fearless As a 12 lecture introduction this course succeeds brilliantly, both in terms of history and the challenges posed to modern Christianity. Johnson is a professed "believer", but remains scholarly and objective throughout. I strongly disagree with a previous reviewer's criticism that the course focused overly on Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church is too central to the history of Christianity to not discuss it prominently. An introductory 12 lectures don't allow for more than cursory mention of Jehovah's Witness, Mormonism, or other contemporary Christian sects. There are other TTC courses dedicated to these. Johnson is a superb lecturer, energetic and organized, and obviously highly practiced at teaching Christianity at the introductory college level.
Date published: 2009-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Thorough I bought the Great Religions series in order to fill in the blanks in my own religious education, and after listening to Prof. Luke Timothy Johnson's lectures for Great World Religions: Christianity, I can hardly wait to dive into the next set! I appreciated the deep and thorough knowledge Dr. Johnson brings to his lectures, as well as his enthusiasm for the subject. But most of all what impressed me was the scholarship and dedication to integrity of the information from an empirical perspective. On the rare occasions when Prof. Johnson stated a personal opinion, it was clearly stated as such. Likewise, when facts were stated the source and/or background of the information was made plain, almost like verbal footnotes or source citations. Much to my relief, this was not a series of lectures about "the word of God". It was an enthusiastic and balanced overview of the history and make-up of Christianity as one among many world religions. In listening to these lectures I discovered many things that I already knew, and I learned much that I had never read or heard before. But the way Prof. Johnson presented his material gave me an overview of the structure of Christianity I had not previously grasped. That alone has helped me to understand certain issues and facets of Western history in a whole new way. Moreover, it was made clear that there is far more to discover about Christianity, and that a mere 12 lectures can do little but scratch the surface. I cannot recommend this series highly enough. I have already recommended it to several friends, some who are Christian and some who are not.
Date published: 2009-01-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed I listened to all of the Great religion CDs. This one is the most disappointing. I do not think any non-Christain would consider the study of Christianity after listening to this CD. Professor Johnson, after doing a good job of exploring the beginning of Christianity, quicklly devolved into a Roman Catholic based anthology with only passing reference to other Christain tenets. It was obvious that the Catholic Church quickly created large bureaucracies that had (and has) little to do with religion. More than half of the lectures examined this organization leaving no time for discussion of the diversity of the religion today. No mention is made of Jehovah Witness or Latter Day Saints, for example. The series itself is excellent. The Christainity portion needs to be redone.
Date published: 2008-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Johnson is Outstanding Having stumbled upon Professor Johnson through his outstanding course on The Greco Roman Moralists, I've made a point of purchasing all of Professor Johnson's lectures. This course certainly does not disappoint. Religious sceptics may be tempted to assume Johnson - a former Benedictine monk - is someone wh would allow his religious conviction to distort, perhaps even enfeeble, his intellectual analysis. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having watched the all the the Great world religions set, I feel that despite the excellence of each one of them, Johnson is unsurpassed - particularly in the way he is prepared to ruthlessly examine his subject for its contemporary implications.
Date published: 2008-12-28
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