The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation

Course No. 6610
Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course Overview

Christianity is the largest and most global religious tradition in history. For nearly 2,000 years, the Christian faith has remained at or near the center of Western moral debate and conceptions of human identity, just action, and ultimate meaning. It has both shaped history and responded to history, showing an extraordinary adaptability within greatly differing cultures. Its practice and influence appears in every land and every language, and one-third of humanity now affiliates in some way with Christianity.

How did this happen? How did a persecuted sect in 1st-century Palestine rise to command such a massive influence on human culture, imagination, and spirit? How did Christianity weather the first critical stages of its historical development and attain its fundamental and enduring cultural role?

Discovering the answers to these questions allows you to

  • understand one of the most significant and integral currents of history, and to correct misconceptions about Christianity’s past;
  • gain deep insight into the origins of Western societies, and to understand the relation of faith to politics, economics, and culture;
  • grasp how Christian institutions, theology, and liturgy originated and developed;
  • better comprehend the cultural present, where 7 out of 10 Americans hold Christian beliefs; and
  • deepen your appreciation of the majestic sweep of history that Christianity’s rise represents.

Speaking incisively to all of this and more, The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation tells the phenomenal story of Christianity’s first 1,500 years, in all its remarkable diversity and complex dimension.

In the company of popular Great Courses Professor Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory University, you follow the dramatic trajectory of Christianity from its beginnings as a “cult of Jesus” to its rise as a fervent religious movement; from its emergence as an unstoppable force within the Roman Empire to its critical role as an imperial religion; from its remarkable growth, amid divisive disputes and rivalries, to the ultimate schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism; and from its spread throughout the Western world to its flowering as a culture that shaped Europe for 800 years.

In 36 enthralling lectures, you meet the towering figures of Christian history, such as Paul of Tarsus, Augustine, the emperor Constantine, and Pope Gregory VII, as well as many other pivotal players—kings, popes, saints, monastic figures, scholars, and mystics. And you delve deeply into the rituals, doctrinal issues, and fascinating theological controversies that defined the faith.

The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation brings to life a truly epic story, giving you a multilayered knowledge of Christianity’s origins, rise, and civilization-shaping presence in our world.

The Forging of a Global Faith

Across the arc of the story, you reckon with the historical and theological milestones that formed Christianity, including these seminal moments:

  • The Jesus movement: Investigate the passionate claims of the first believers to an experience of ultimate, transforming power—and the means by which the movement exploded in the decades following Jesus’s death.
  • Critical challenges to the faith: Witness the early Christians’ implacable commitment to the new religion, creating strong institutional and ideological structures even as they answered persecution through martyrdom and “apologetic” literature.
  • Christianity and empire: Learn how the faith, once it was instated as the official religion by Rome, expanded geographically under imperial authority; how Christian culture developed through architecture, art, and ceremony; and how the religion became fatefully enmeshed in politics in the interface of patriarchs, popes, and emperors from Rome to Constantinople.
  • Great controversies of theology: Dig deeply into the Trinitarian and Christological controversies that divided Christians between the 4th and 7th centuries, centering on differing conceptions of the nature of Christ and fiercely contested in the famous Councils of Nicaea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.
  • The rupture between East and West: Grapple with the overlapping factors of cultural distance, misunderstandings, political rivalries, and doctrinal disputes that led to the final split between Orthodoxy and Catholicism in the 11th century.
  • The flowering of European Christendom: Experience the extraordinary richness of Christian culture in the Middle Ages, including the complex institution of monasticism, the glory of medieval cathedrals, the birth of universities, and the commanding presence of the papacy.

The Rich Diversity of Christian Experience

In charting the remarkable rise of Christianity, you uncover the specific social and cultural realities that drove the development of the faith.

Early in the course, you locate the birth of the religion—and the movement’s powerful appeal—not in the life of Jesus itself, but in the first Christians’ life-altering experience of the Resurrection. You see how early Christianity was not “one thing,” grasping its startling variety of expression through figures such as the preacher Thecla, who dressed as a man and baptized herself, and in the extreme ascetic practices and ideology of the Marcionist movement.

You investigate the origins and deep influence of monasticism, its specific practices and ways of life, and you see how monasticism became the dominant formal expression of medieval Catholicism.

You travel the geographic expanse of the Christian world, from Persia and Egypt to Byzantium, Rome, and the British Isles, and you glimpse the lives of ordinary Christians in all eras, from the first, embattled Christian communities in Palestine to the sophisticated Catholic culture of the Middle Ages.

Faith, Politics, and Civilization

In the course’s middle section, the formerly countercultural faith becomes the pillar of the world’s greatest military and political power. Here you grapple with the tensions and challenges of this new role, as the Roman Empire “converts” and pagan sacrifice is declared high treason.

You track the rivalries of patriarchal centers, as the cities of Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople vie for supremacy within the imperial faith. In Byzantium, you witness the increasing intermingling of faith and politics, as the bishop Ambrose of Milan demands public repentance of the brutal emperor Theodosius I, and the emperor Justinian intervenes between factions contesting the true nature of Christ.

In the “Carolingian Renaissance” of 9th-century Europe, you see how the emperor Charlemagne responded to papal patronage by sponsoring ecclesiastical reforms and supporting the Latin Mass. And you observe how the papacy—aided by royalty and monk-missionaries—became the central force in bringing the Christian message to all of Europe.

Extraordinary Treasures of Christian Culture

Throughout the course you observe the profoundly literary quality of this faith, taking note of the diverse Christian writings in Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian, the formulation of Christian orthodoxy in the works of Tertullian and Irenaeus,the philosophical treatises of Clement and Origen, and the scholastic theology of Abelard and Thomas Aquinas.

You study the long and colorful development of Christian liturgy in the traditions of ritual, architecture, and public works. You taste the splendor and sensuality of Eastern Orthodox worship, with its ornate vestments, incense, and processions. You learn how the medieval cathedral embodied allegorical symbolism in its form, with its vaulted nave (from navis, “ship”) shaped as an inverted “ship of salvation.” And you observe the role of Christian art in the long conflict in Byzantium over the veneration of religious icons.

Finally, you witness the flourishing of contemplative mysticism in the dark era of the Inquisition, and you uncover the misuses of doctrine and forms of corruption that roused the first courageous reformers, boldly anticipating the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

A Story for the Ages, Masterfully Told

In recounting the astonishing narrative of Christianity’s unfolding, Professor Johnson draws on his own background as a passionate participant in this tradition, both as a former Benedictine monk and as a world-class scholar. In his powerful and evocative words, this grand tapestry of history comes vibrantly alive as he takes you to the defining moments of Christianity’s past.

In The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation, you’ll look deeply into the nature and role of faith, the ethos of our civilization, and the core conceptions of identity and ethics that underlie the Western worldview. This is history in the most vivid and meaningful sense of the word: an inquiry into the past that opens a compelling awareness of our present—of our living origins, our ultimate horizons, our deeper selves.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    The Historical Study of Christianity
    Begin by contemplating the massive historical trajectory of Christianity, as well as contemporary ignorance of its past. Consider the value of historical study of Christianity for reassessing the past and charting a path to the future. Look also at the methods and role of the historian, and the sources and limitations of historical knowledge. x
  • 2
    The First Cultural Context—Greece and Rome
    Understanding the cultural contexts of early Christianity is fundamental for grasping its history. Investigate the culture of the Mediterranean world in which Christianity was born, the legacy of Alexander, and the features of Greek politics, religion, and philosophy. Also learn about the nature of Roman rule and imperial order in the region. x
  • 3
    The First Cultural Context—Judaism
    Judaism is the most important cultural context for early Christianity. Contemplate the circumstances of Jewish life in ancient Palestine as well as in the Diaspora. In particular, examine cultural and ideological factors that divided the Jews, the tensions they faced between assimilation and separation, and their resistance to Greek culture and Roman rule. x
  • 4
    The Jesus Movement and the Birth of Christianity
    Consider the resurrection as marking the birth of Christianity, as rooted in the claims of the first believers to an experience of ultimate power and transformation. Also assess the contradiction perceived by his contemporaries between Jesus as the source of divine life and the degrading manner of his death. x
  • 5
    Paul and Christianity’s First Expansion
    Christianity spread with amazing speed in the decades following Jesus’s death. Begin by observing how this expansion happened and the broad adaptations Christianity made in a relatively short period. Then investigate the role of Paul’s letters as a primary record of the convictions, culture, practices, and troubles of the early Christians. x
  • 6
    The Diversity of Early Christianity
    This lecture notes influences in early Christianity beyond the pivotal figures of Jesus and Paul. In particular, investigate the differences in conviction and perspective in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Compare the four Gospels’ distinct interpretations of Jesus’s role, as well as their convergence on the nature of his character. x
  • 7
    The Unpopular Cult—Persecution
    In tracing the Christian “age of persecution,” begin by examining the prior history of repression of both Jews and philosophers, and the problems posed by the Christians for the world around them. Study the evidence of early Christian persecution by the Jews, as well as the most significant persecutions by Rome. x
  • 8
    Forms of Witness—Martyrdom and Apologetic
    In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, martyrdom and apologetic literature responded powerfully to the persecution of Christians. Investigate the phenomenon of martyrdom as the perfect form of discipleship, in the actions of martyrs who exalted in their sacrifice. See how apologetic literature created a reasoned case for Christianity in the wider world. x
  • 9
    Extreme Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries
    Radical forms of Christianity continued the movement’s original diversity in even more dramatic ways. Trace early accounts of wonder-working, and Christian social behavior that upset traditional mores. Also learn about ecstatic experience and asceticism, and the dualistic rupture of matter and spirit in Marcionism and Gnosticism. x
  • 10
    The Shaping of Orthodoxy
    Here, identify the pivotal factors that secured the framework of Christianity, defining an orthodoxy based in tradition and reason. In particular, study the role of Irenaeus of Gaul in establishing the canonical scriptures, the rule of faith in one God, and the religious authority of the bishops. x
  • 11
    Institutional Development before Constantine
    Christianity’s growth, accompanied by its development of solid social structures, finally positioned it as an irresistible force. First, trace the movement’s broad geographic expansion and increase in numbers. Then learn about its hierarchical structure of clerical orders under the supreme authority of bishops, and regional spheres of influence within the religion. x
  • 12
    The Beginnings of Christian Philosophy
    Early Christian philosophy emphasized the religion as a way of moral transformation, and initiated a serious intellectual discourse with the wider world. In this lecture, grapple with Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, whose substantial writings and teachings gave birth to an authentically philosophical form of Christianity. x
  • 13
    Imperial Politics and Religion
    Christianity made a dramatic turn in the 4th century, becoming the established religion of the Roman Empire. Investigate the pivotal roles the emperors Diocletian and Constantine played in this; in particular, Diocletian’s political reforms, which refashioned imperial authority, and Constantine’s bold initiative to place imperial power behind the church. x
  • 14
    Constantine and the Established Church
    This lecture follows the complex process of the “conversion” of the empire to Christianity. Track the bold actions of Constantine in his patronage of the new faith, as well as the definitive imposition of Christianity under Theodosius I. Then, examine the benefits and stresses of the faith’s new role. x
  • 15
    The Extension of Christian Culture
    In the religion’s new context, see how substantial territories became Christian through conversion under imperial authority. Then explore the church’s expanding “liturgy” of public acts, incorporating architecture, art, ceremony, and pilgrimage, as well as the religious rituals of the sacraments and the celebration of the biblical past. x
  • 16
    Monasticism as Radical Christianity
    Monasticism exerted an enormous influence on Christianity from its inception. Trace its development in 3rd-century Egypt, and learn about the elements and principles of monastic life. Observe the appeal of this alternative culture that allowed Christians to express discipleship in a more radical, rigorous existence. x
  • 17
    The Emergence of Patriarchal Centers
    In the 4th and 5th centuries, prominent cities competed for authority within the imperial religion. Look first at the reasons for the early primacy of Rome, and Constantinople’s later emergence as Rome’s rival. Then study the rivalry of Antioch and Alexandria, and how they opposed each other in both intellectual and religious terms. x
  • 18
    Theological Crisis and Council—The Trinity
    Complex doctrinal disputes divided Christians in the 4th through the 6th centuries. Here, track the 4th-century controversy over the divinity of Jesus and the resulting Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, key events in establishing the orthodox view of the equality of the Father and Son, and the nature of the divine as Triune. x
  • 19
    Theological Crisis and Council—Christology
    The controversy concerning the Trinity raged through the 5th and 6th centuries, now focused on the nature of Christ, the God-Man. Follow in detail the bitter opposition of two convictions—Christ’s dual nature as both human and divine versus his singular divinity—leading to attempts to reach accord through imperial and papal intervention. x
  • 20
    The Distinctive Issues of the Latin West
    In grasping Christianity’s development in the Western empire, investigate two major controversies, Donatism and Pelagianism, rooted in questions of moral rigor and personal holiness. Then, grapple with three religious leaders who shaped Latin Christianity: Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and the monumental figure of Augustine of Hippo. x
  • 21
    Expansion beyond the Boundaries of Empire
    This lecture counters the tendency to think of Christianity as a European religion, charting its extensive geographical spread through the 6th century. Trace its Eastern expansion from Persia to Ethiopia, noting each region’s rich and diverse Christian literature. Witness its historic encounter with Germanic tribes and extension to the British Isles. x
  • 22
    The Court of Justinian and Byzantine Christianity
    Here, evaluate the extraordinary legacy of the emperor Justinian of Byzantium. Follow his conquests to restore the greatness of the empire, his economic and legal achievements and patronage of art. Also study his interventions in religious affairs and his role in the growing rift between the Chalcedonian (Western) and Monophysite (Eastern) churches. x
  • 23
    The Rise of Islam and the Threat of Iconoclasm
    In the 6th and 7th centuries, Byzantine Christianity faced both external and internal pressures. Track the dramatically rapid spread of Islam through military conquest and the threat it posed to the Byzantine Empire. Learn about the continuing theological controversy over Christ’s nature, and the century-long battle over painted representations of Jesus. x
  • 24
    Eastern Orthodoxy—Holy Tradition
    This lecture uncovers the remarkable cultural riches of the Orthodox tradition. First, see how a 9th-century Byzantine mission established Christianity in Russia and Ukraine. Then, delve into the compelling Orthodox rituals of worship, Orthodoxy’s deeply integral monastic tradition, and its distinct form of contemplative mysticism, known as “Hesychasm.” x
  • 25
    From Roman Empire to Holy Roman Empire
    Now follow the dramatic political events that marked the transition from imperial Christianity to medieval Christianity. Witness the rise of the Germanic people called the Franks, under a series of powerful rulers culminating in the pivotal figure of Charlemagne. Study the structure of a new form of society: feudalism. x
  • 26
    Benedictine Monasticism and Its Influence
    Benedictine monasticism played a foundational role in the shaping of medieval Christianity, and it continues to thrive today. Take a deep look at Benedict of Nursia’s Rule for Monks; its principles of obedience and humility and detailed prescriptions for monastic life, promoting monasteries as centers of both Christian discipleship and learning. x
  • 27
    Evangelization of Western Europe
    A spectrum of powerful figures fueled Christianity’s expansion in the West. Reckon with the contributions of the popes Damasus I, Leo I, and Gregory “the Great” in strengthening the papacy and Latin Christianity. Also study the seminal work of the missionaries Saint Willibrord and Saint Boniface, and the monk-scholars Bede and Alcuin. x
  • 28
    The Great Divorce between East and West
    In the 11th century, relations between Orthodoxy (East) and Catholicism (West) were severed, a schism that has remained for more than a thousand years. Here, explore the intricate and complex contributing factors, including cultural distance, centuries of political-ecclesiastical rivalries, and the doctrinal disputes and power plays leading to the split. x
  • 29
    Monastic Reform
    Investigate the appeal of monasticism in the medieval world and why this dominant institution in the Catholic West required constant renewal. Look at three famous medieval monastic houses and the key reforms each implemented in their quest for a more complete realization of the ideals of the Rule of Benedict. x
  • 30
    Cathedrals and Chapters
    The majestic cathedrals of European Christendom are a key to medieval Catholic life. Study the two archetypal cathedral styles, Romanesque and Gothic; their iconic architectural features; and their symbolic structure. Learn about the rituals of worship, cathedral “chapters” (staff), and the multiple social functions of these grand edifices. x
  • 31
    The Crusades
    The Crusades to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims represented deep ambiguities in Christian identity. Grasp the nature of these conquests as combined religious mission, popular movement, and political calculation. Then study the four most critical Crusades; their objectives, varied outcomes, and ultimate failure in both political and religious terms. x
  • 32
    Papal Revolution
    This lecture follows the ascending power of the papacy in Christian Europe. Assess the careers of two “super-popes,” Gregory the VII and Innocent III, as they aggressively consolidated papal authority in both religious and secular spheres. Learn about the Franciscan and Dominican orders, noting their role as instruments of papal policy. x
  • 33
    Universities and Theology
    Our contemporary universities have their origins in medieval universities that were entirely Christian. Trace the rise of universities in the West—their functions, curricula, and the development of scholastic theology with its methodology of dialectical reasoning. Assess the expression of Christian thought in the theology of Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus and in the poetry of Dante Alighieri. x
  • 34
    The Great Plague
    The 14th century saw a period of natural and human-caused disasters that negatively affected society and the church. Track the extreme hardships of the Black Death, prolonged wars, and the terrors of the Inquisition. See also how the same era produced a flourishing of Christian mysticism and the beginnings of humanist literature. x
  • 35
    Corruption and the Beginnings of Reform
    By the late medieval era, systemic dysfunction within Christianity led to efforts at structural reform. Grasp the critical issues the church faced in the practice of theology and liturgy, as well as in deepening political and moral corruption. Learn about the courageous early reformers, whose daring voices anticipated the Protestant Reformation. x
  • 36
    The Ever-Adapting Religion
    The course concludes with reflections on the numerous cultural adaptations Christianity has made on its path to becoming a “world religion.” Contemplate the challenges posed to the faith in its journey from the Reformation to the modern era, and the question of Christianity’s identity within all its cultural permutations. 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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Reviews

The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 41.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Luke timothy Johnson excels again with this course I really enjoy the perspectives on Christianity put forth by Luke Timothy Johnson. For anyone interested in the history of Christianity, I would recommend this course. It is very well presented and interesting.
Date published: 2019-02-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Extremely verbose, plodding, tedious course "History is better understood as a constructive activity in the present that is carried out by historians." That's a sample of Prof. Johnson's verbosity; he obviously enjoys expressing things in a complex, complicated, convoluted and s-l-o-w way; my grandmother would have said "long-winded". He uses MANY words to get a simple, basic idea across. His presentation is over-enunciated, plodding. I join the many other Great Courses reviewers in urging the return of the podium/lectern and paper notes (instead of a teleprompter). Dr. Johnson ambles around the set, hands and arms waving continually to emphasise his points, flipping his gaze as one camera takes over from another. "Great populations of over sixty million people with a thousand year tradition of religious observance, a tradition in fact shared even outside of the empire, do not swivel totally at a single emperor's desire." Hmmm... surely there's a less cumbersome way to express that thought? Or how about this: "The very term 'liturgy' derives from the Greek word for the public works such as sacrifices, festivals and processions that were sponsored by wealthy patrons in Greco-Roman civic religion as a way of enabling participation in divine benefits and constructing what was called the city of god and men." This sort of wordy prose is this man's speciality! Almost obfuscation. Sometimes I'm left perplexed, trying to figure out what he means... e.g. "Christianity had grown in its intellectual self-confidence, over the second and third centuries." His use of "ness" added to an adjective to form a noun is annoying... e.g. "aggressiveness" (AGGRESSION) and "attractiveness" (ATTRACTION). It surprises me that PhDs fall prey to this error; I have noted others doing it. Re the course contents, I found it increasingly difficult and tedious to stay with the lectures; it became a real unpleasant task instead of a pleasure. The 36 could and should have been condensed into 24. In many instances the detail was way beyond what was needed. Criticism of the Catholic church was absolutely minimal Dr. Johnson admits up-front his religious bias. He was a monk and priest but left the order, married a woman with children and went on to have a child with her. He comes across as confused about his Catholicism; he wants to pick'n'choose, alas. His belief that same-sex relations/marriages are acceptable and can in fact be holy, greatly disturbs me, for the bible, in both testaments, soundly and specifically condemns homosexuality. As a history course, this series has reasonable merit, but I cannot praise it highly. I find the lectures by Dr. Bart Ehrman to be of greater value, and easier to follow. Regrettably, I cannot recommend this series by Prof. Johnson.
Date published: 2019-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Covered so much that I heard about but didn't know My husband and I watched this and really enjoyed it. He has a Master's in Anglican Theology and found it very interesting too.
Date published: 2018-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Christianity It is a very excellent great and wonderful course!
Date published: 2018-12-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Bad but Can't Say Very Good Either Not a bad course even if I found myself drifting through most lectures. There's something about the Professor's presentation style that makes it difficult for me to stay engaged. It could be his speaking cadence. He pronounces every syllable of most words and at times slows down his delivery of a sentence to the point that it's hard to understand what he is accenting/emphasizing in a specific sentence. But his points and messages are still comprehendible. It just takes some getting used to. My personal favorites were lectures 14 (early history of the church after Constantine converted), 23 (spread of Islam), and 31 (the Crusades). Really good historical narrative that drew me in. I'm fairly familiar with the subject content in this course so I didn't feel like I learned too much new but if you are new to this time period and topic this course does have alot of information that will help you understand the first century or so of Christianity.
Date published: 2018-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable course. The lecturer is obviously devout but does not ignore the fact the some of the actions of the church are deeply troubling and contra to the views they claimed to hold. In all a good overview of the early & medieval church. I purchased the video version but I think the audio would be fine.
Date published: 2018-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy to listen to!! Fine lecture - explains it all. Different "look" at Christianity.
Date published: 2018-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Johnson articulates and is articulate! I have been a Great Courses customer for so long my first courses were on cassette. I rate Professor Johnson's course as outstanding. His lectures are carefully articulated (enunciation carefully done) and well-scripted. Professor Johnson carefully discusses the limits of an historical approach to Christianity's history and the limits of his own knowledge of the topics addressed before beginning the series--a positive. But he is perhaps too modest, since I my strong impression is that Professor Johnson is highly knowledgeable. He is also fair. I did not detect any obvious bias in his treatment of the various early "Christianities" and their proponents, nor any glossing-over of the less edifying episodes in Christianity's history (e.g., the Crusades) or the weaknesses that finally led to the Reformation. I would definitely consider any future courses from Professor Johnson and am delighted I decided to purchase this one.
Date published: 2018-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A pastor's comment I purchased this course and have started it during the Triduum and Octave of Easter. Having only gotten through a few of the lectures, i can't comment on the whole course, however, I wanted to comment in particular to his comments on the early setting of Christianity. Hearing it, especially during this unique and important period of the Church's calendar, I wish I'd heard it a few weeks ago, when I was writing homilies for this season. I've been an ordained Lutheran Pastor for 40+ years; I've written who knows how many sermons on the Triduum and Easter seasons. His material on the context of Christianity, both in Palestine and the diaspora, and his discussion of the reception and evaluation of Jesus that both Jews and Greeks would have made are offered in a manner that provides great food for thought. As we are trying to preach the crucifixion and resurrection, which is the heart of the Christian gospel, in a manner which is fresh and new for our people, there is good material here that I believe is useful for the preacher working with the familiar texts of the season. I want to thank Professor Johnson, and it is in my calendar to review NEXT year, early enough to incorporate into the preaching that is part of pastoral ministry.
Date published: 2018-04-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Clear, excellent language and examples Very satisfying to have a good survey of Christianity's history. Dr Johnson is easy to follow and a good lecturer.
Date published: 2018-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Many thanks to Dr. Johnson! This is a great course. I recommend it highly. Deep, thoughtful, balanced scientific approach and great delivery. Thank you very much Dr. Johnson and The Teaching Company!
Date published: 2018-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important Perspective of an Important Topic This course is recommended for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Christianity or of Western civilization. The student can expect to benefit from understanding the development of Christianity and its interaction with the development of the European political system. Oddly, while Christianity is certainly one of the most important influences in the development of European culture, Dr. Johnson does not explicitly show that development. The Great Courses has published a follow-on the continue the history from the Protestant Reformation to the present. This course takes an historical perspective of the development of Christianity from the events depicted in the New Testament up to the Enlightenment just before the Protestant Reformation. Topics include consolidation of Christian orthodoxy in the first three centuries of the Common Era, the dominance of Christianity in the Roman Empire starting with Constantine, the debate among the patriarchies of Antioch, Alexandria, and later Constantinople, dealing with “heresies” such as Donatism, Pelagianism, Aryanism, monophysitism, and Nestorianism, the “Great Divorce” between Rome and Constantinople, and monasticism. Oddly, he crams the Black Death, the Babylonian Captivity, and the Inquisition into just one lecture. To reiterate, Dr. Johnson tries to take a historical view; this is not a case for Christianity. That said, Dr. Johnson’s biases (which he clearly states up front) do show through. He is a former Benedictine monk and he is still a staunch Catholic. Thus, for example, when he speaks of the Crusades, he says that the Crusaders “liberated” Jerusalem and omits any mention of the massacre of Muslims and Jews there. He paints a generally positive picture of monasticism, particularly of Benedictine monasticism. He glides past the Babylonian Captivity, an important development in medieval papal history, in just a few sentences. He addresses what he calls structural corruption of the Roman Catholic church in the late middle ages but he omits the personal corruption of its leaders, a factor that created a cynicism among the people and that contributed to the Protestant Reformation. His perspective is one that deserves to be heard, but the student must be aware that it is not absolutely objective. Dr. Johnson is an internal advocate for Christianity and Dr. Bart Ehrman is an external critic of Christianity; each deserves to be heard. Dr. Johnson is easy to listen to but one must always keep in mind his biases. He has also taught The Teaching Company courses Mystical Tradition: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; Story of the Bible; Jesus and the Gospels; Great World Religions: Christianity; Practical Philosophy: The Greco-Roman Moralists; Early Christianity: The Experience of the Divine; and Apostle Paul. As a rule, I listen to as many of his courses and I can and I always benefit from them. I used the audio version of this course. It was completely adequate.
Date published: 2017-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great early overview Professor Johnson is probably the lecturer I like best on the Great Courses. His method of presentation, gestures, and expression helps make things enjoyable, enhances learning, and makes you want to continue with the lectures. You really get an impression the lesson are one-on-one, rather thana lecture hall approach. One element I especially appreciated was a presentation of his strengths and limitations relative to the course. Especially when discussing religious topics, the lecturers bias, history, and general thoughts are important. Prof. johnson lays those out in the first lecture. He uses those points toattempt to interject more objectivity. Going out of his way in some cases to bring out other views. Others have discussed the change in format, from using a podium to teleprompter. I like the podium best, adds to that personal touch, and better suited to make the presentation less formal. I label the teleprompter as "DCitis". Too formal and to DC centric, and makes things seem more artificial. Maybe both the Learning Company and myself are too close to the "Beltway" :). Saying that, Prof., Johnson does OK in the adaption to use of the teleprompter. The primarly distraction is that he seems to have to constantly be looking for the active camera. Distracts from that one-on-one perception. Again, overall outstanding.
Date published: 2017-06-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too pro-church Johnson acknowledges he's a believer, and officially lays out the need to examine his material according to the principles of academic history--but in the end this comes across as a pro-church polemic. As such, it was deeply disappointing, and at times even offensive, as he seems to slide into a tacit assumption that his audience sees the church (and often we're talking the Catholic Church) in the same positive light he does. Not trustworthy or, ultimately, very interesting. Plus, his delivery grates--too much over-intonation and over-enunciation. Skip it.
Date published: 2017-04-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A careful liberal history - a bit too careful As someone who was really hooked by Luke Johnson's great course on the Greco-Roman moralists some years ago I've always made a point of getting his courses. This course again demonstrates Professor Johnson's fine intelligence and comprehnsive knowledge and careful scholarship. I certainly learnt a great deal from it. Notwithstanding my praise however I no longer share Professor Johnson's progressive - and apologetic - perspective on the history of Christianity. unlike him I know longer feel the adapatability - which he sees as Christianity's greatest asset as being the virtue he accords it. Although I am not a Christian I find Professor Johnson's constant apolgising for Catholicism to be increasingly ahistorical. Put simply, Johnson gives us his well argued historical narrative and analysis but it is a quite standard liberal interpretation of history. Put simply, Johnson doesn't give any evidence of giving any consideration to revisionist history in any era. The crusades were not simply instances of Catholic fanaticism against a benign Islam but must be seen in the context of Islam's earlier wars into Europe (Johnson does discuss these wars briefly but makes no connection with the later crusades). Likewise medieval Christian anti-Semisitism was not simply the irrational psychosis Johnson would apparently have us believe it was, but in fact was severely provoked in the 11th century by Christian discovery about anti-Christian doctrines in the Talmud (Johnson makes no mention of these. This is in keeping with Johnson's more general view made more explicitly in his lecture series 'Story of the Bible' whereby he sees no real break between The Talmud and Torah but rather a simple continuity. Many others, including non-orthodox Jews, disagree). In similar vein, we learn about the provocations of the selling of Catholic indulgences which led Luther to his 95 theses, and the subsequent explosion of Protestantism but, perhaps most surprisingly, Johnson does not detail any of the subsequent fanaticism of these outgrowths splintered from the Catholic Church. Somewhow the whole thing has been the fault of the Catholic Church which is only put right with its capitulation to the progressivism of Vatican 2. I note quite a few people who are fans of Professor Johnson's earlier courses like me have despaired at the loss of the lectern and the resulting lack of naturalness in his presentation. For those courses where audio is sufficient I've been opting more and more for the audio rather than the video for the very reason that this is true of many of the lecturers. I'm glad to say that the audio was free of such annoying distraction.
Date published: 2017-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As usual, great lecture by L.T. Johnson Luke T. Johnson is my favorite lecturer. (I have taken a lot of other courses and really like most of the lecturers, but Johnson is the best.). His knowledge of his subject area is admirable. He brings a lot of insight and I can tell he has thoroughly studied all facets of the subject. I also admire his knowledge of a lot of the languages involved. I will continue to watch and enjoy any of Luke Johnson's courses offered by Great Courses. I think I have bought about 5 of his courses already.
Date published: 2016-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding and comprehensive! As a person of faith, and a student of history and religion as a societal force, it can be difficult to find a instructional perspective that respects both spirituality and intellectual and historical rigor. This course offers a calm balance of both, and a wealth of information and insight into perhaps the single most significant influence on Western civilization. It provides critical understanding for informed reflection on historical processes that continue to influence contemporary challenges and personal beliefs. It deepened my understanding of European and Christian history enormously, and brought coherence to the many other courses on these topics that I have enjoyed so much.
Date published: 2016-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complex Task that was handled well. There are several long reviews. I am making mine short. While his speaking style takes time to get use to, he does present a scholarly presentation in a very careful fashion. I was so happy, when compared to some other professors that go beyond being skeptics and border on ridicule, that he treated the subject with respect. Perhaps some who are not believers have a valid point, but I thought it was done very scholarly. He included references to people not even mentioned in other courses. It is a complex and difficult subject to cover and I thought he did an excellent job of it. I got the DVD but you could probably do okay with the CD. I would only add that he took on the Crusades, which is courageous in this day and age, but wish that he would have emphasized that the Caliph prior to the first crusade destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Date published: 2015-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very understandable within historical context Large cast of complicated characters. I am struck with how these historic conflicts still continue today! Have referenced some of the material for sermons.
Date published: 2014-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to This was my first course from Great Courses. It was dynamic. All I knew about the past history of Christianity was what I learned at school, which I thought to be quite comprehensive, however, I learned a lot. It is regrettable that people today do not seem interested in or value Christianity, I believe the time is coming when we should be concerned about it. I have now listened to this presentation five times and it gets better each time. As a Brit, at first I was perturbed by the mispronunciations but got used to the presenter and thoroughly enjoyed listening. Thank you so much. I am looking forward to purchasing more courses, however, as an 80 year old I am on a very limited budget and must wait for the cut price courses. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.
Date published: 2014-10-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Bring back the lectern; lose the teleprompter I concur with earlier comments regarding the change in the form of presentation. I have viewed many other courses by Luke Johnson with great pleasure and profit. His ease at the lectern, with his notes and his live audience, is palpable and serves his obvious expertise and enthusiasm. The new format, with him pacing back and forth on that Oriental rug, flicking anxious glances at the camera and the teleprompter, actually undermines his presentation. We see an ill-at-ease, over-precise person talking too loudly, and this prevents us from seeing him as the learned scholar and outstanding teacher whom we have come to know and to expect. It is probably too much to expect that this material would be presented again in the old format, and that is too bad.
Date published: 2014-10-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing To his credit, LTJ, confessed in the beginning of these "lectures" that he was, like most teachers, influenced by his background, i.e., a former Roman Catholic priest and Benedictine Monk. Well, in this presentation he lived up to the former rather well. I have three problems with this series. Two are academic and the third is style. Let me address the last first. I purchased the CDs because I like to listen to teachings on my commute in the mornings and evenings. I could hardly get through this series because it was so obvious he was not lecturing; rather reading a script word-by-word. It was not the LTJ I have listened to in lectures previously. Now for content: I find it interesting that in three quarters of Church history the professor mentioned half of the Christian population less than a dozen times and they were all one line statements. His patriarchal perspective completely avoided mentioning the women in our history, let lone honor them. If I were a woman, I'd be insulted by this...and rightfully so. The second area that was disappointing was the absence of any criticism of the Roman Catholic Church outside of the sale of indulgences that brought on the Protestant Reformation. Dr. Johnson, you are a much better teacher than this. I have studied your work and this is not representative of the work you have done in the past.
Date published: 2014-06-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Presentation Flawed I don't like the new lecture format. He's much more engaging in previous courses where he is lecturing to real people rather than reading from a teleprompter (like he is forced to do in this course). He's wooden and obviously uncomfortable with switching from camera to camera/teleprompter to teleprompter. It's 100% easier to listen to than watch him in this course. I don't understand why The Great Courses discontinued his "Early Christianity: The Experience of the Divine" - a MUCH better course and presentation.
Date published: 2014-05-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but flawed This was an interesting and informative class which was, unfortunately, flawed in an important way. Dr. Johnson has a rather formal style -- he always speaks in carefully prepared, complete sentences -- but he is engaging never the less, and held our attention throughout the course. (Well, maybe our minds wandered a bit on some of the more arcane theological points, but that's to be expected.) We both felt that we learned quite a bit. So what's the problem? Basically, we came to doubt that Dr. Johnson was really leveling with us regarding historical issues that reflect poorly on the church. The extent of this problem only became obvious to us at the end of the course, as we reached the period immediately preceding the reformation, about which we happen to know something. A course on Christianity which ends on the eve of the reformation should surely explore the issues which led to schism within the church, a century of bloody warfare, and an aggressive reform movement within the Catholic church itself. But Dr. Johnson does his best to minimize the underlying issues. He devotes one lecture (out of 36) to "corruption and the beginnings of reform," but the lecture starts with a recapitulation of all the good things accomplished by the medieval church, and finishes with a discussion of various heroic pre-reformation reformers, like Savonarola. And spends almost no time on the conditions they sought to reform! Dr. Johnson spends exactly 12 minutes of this 30 minute lecture on "corruption." Nine minutes of these twelve focus on various doctrinal issues -- what he views as excessive abstract scholasticism, excessive veneration of the virgin Mary, excessive veneration of the host, excessive focus on holy relics, and so forth. The only such issue that really classifies as "corruption" in our minds, (as opposed to a theological dispute) would be the sale of indulgences. Dr Johnson mentions these sales and says that they helped put Luther over the edge -- but that's it on indulgences, so if you already knew that much, you won't learn anything new. Then Dr Johnson proceeds to cover issues of worldly corruption in the pre-reformation church in exactly three minutes. He says that common-law marriages became frequent among the clergy, that the church got too involved in politics, that it sometimes fielded papal armies, and that it became excessively hierarchical, with too much wealth and power ending up at the top. And that's it -- no specifics, no examples, nothing but three or four generic sentences. The name "Medici" doesn't even come up. (To be fair, the professor mentions later that Savonarola criticized the Medicis -- so we end up knowing that they existed, but nothing about who they were or what they did to provoke Savonarola.) We weren't necessarily looking for him to wallow for hours in "worldly corruption," but certainly those issues need discussion and airing. Dr. Johnson left the impression that he is uncomfortable criticizing the church -- even over issues that have long been resolved -- and would do so only if he could offset every negative word with two or three positive ones. And we ended up wondering what he had omitted in the parts of Christian history that we don't know much about. Hence three stars. Too bad, as it was an otherwise interesting course.
Date published: 2014-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and interesting I really enjoyed the presentation and content. I almost felt present in each historical age that was covered. The interaction between culture, politics, and the lived reality of Christianity was very interesting to understand. Definitely a recommended course for those who are interested in the history of Christianity.
Date published: 2013-06-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Gallons and thimbles DVD review. History of religion must be a thankless discipline. Sceptics think of it as the record of people busily pressing buttons unconnected to anything. Believers, on the other hand, often assume that the common sense of their time is eternal and self-evident. Jesus may have dressed funny, but he must have shared today's values. It follows that personal salvation requires an acquaintance with scripture, not history. I am a sceptic in religious matters. I believe nevertheless that the spread and ultimate triumph of Christianity is an incredibly unlikely and rare historical phenomena. It is of enormous intrinsic interest. HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY is not Dr. Johnson's first TTC effort. His course on St. Paul was very good. He is both learned and a good communicator. However, this overview is more like a sprint. One feels throughout that he is trying to jam a gallon of water into a thimble — the topic is complex and enormous, the time available limited. The course is divided into three parts: 1. The first three hundred years when Christianity grows from nothing into Rome's official religion under Constantine. We get an excellent overview of Judean and Greco-Roman influences over the nascent Jesus movement. 2. Christianity between 350 and 1100. The western half of the Roman Empire collapses leaving the Catholic Church with a much freer hand than the Eastern Orthodox Church to shape European culture and politics. This was new territory as Jesus said very little about state morality and international affairs. At the same time, the Church plays a crucial role in the preservation and development of Western culture. 3. Between 1100 and 1500 the Catholic Church grapples with royal houses in France, England and Germany intent on controlling religious activities in their respective territories. Political infighting and money grubbing weakens the Papacy's moral authority, setting the stage for religious revolts, nurtured and protected by the royals. Johnson's main purpose is to show how Christianity shaped Eastern and Western Europe and how these two very different political environment in turn shaped it — theologically, culturally and institutionally. In my opinion, he is much more comfortable with the first third. The other two, despite his best efforts, sometimes felt like a flood of data — people and schools of thought "tagged" under various headings : mysticism, monasticism, theological clashes, key Popes, universities, architecture, political rivalries, etc. This field is so vast and so dependent on strong personalities that name-dropping cannot be avoided. CHRISTIANITY, in other words, is a very good overview if your goal is to get a sense of direction before spending more time on those aspects that interest you more particularly. If you go no further, you may be left confused and blame Johnson's scholarly bent for overwhelming you with information. Near the end, he pleads with us to never forget the millions of nameless Christians whose lives slip through the cracks of history because their passage is unworthy of record in elite circles. In the province of Quebec where I live, the Church was omnipresent when my grandparents were young. It is only a pale shadow now. Our biggest churches are more filled with tourists than believers. My sense of Johnson's "nameless Christians" at least over here is that the detailed theological distinctions he explains so carefully in this course had little impact on ordinary lives. Individual thinkers may be subtle, but when drummed into millions from the pulpit, theoretical ideas are "gutted". They become flags to rally around, symbols of group membership, expletives to curse outsiders with. Nothing subtle there. My grandfather was a doctor who survived WW I and always greeted the many priests and nuns in our family with an amused grin of disbelief. Years later, a weak heart robbed his life of all pleasure, and I could hear him pray every night to escape his fear of Hell. The Church got him young. Nothing subtle there. Good overview. Audio versions sufficient.
Date published: 2013-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from thoughtful and extensive overview I enjoyed this course because it provides a lot of detail about the development and evolution of Christianity. The course covers very well the origin of Christianity as a sect of Judaism and its rapid development into a totally new religion. Prof. Johnson eloquently and thoughtfully covers the many theological and doctrinal developments over the many centuries from 100AD to the Reformation. These ideas often turn on hair-splitting arguments, which are explained well. Prof. Johnson also covers well the key personalities and the broader social context. I did find Prof. Johnson's voice a bit offputting. Ten minutes into the first lecture I thought about returning the course; there's something about Johnson's voice that, to me, screamed "pompous". But I stuck with and and quickly saw that he knows what he is talking about and that this course is a good one.
Date published: 2013-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnum Opus Like fine wine, Professor Johnson improves with the years. I've done all his courses, and this is arguably the best -- his presentations are smooth and well-planned. His opening lecture is a model for all academia, and I commend it to every Professor, regardless of subject. He describes the subject matter, how the course was designed, and what was perforce, skirted or omitted. Professor Johnson is particularly adept in placing the subject matter in proper context.. He notes his area of academic specialty (very early Christianity in this case) and areas where he does not consider himself expert. Professor Johnson is up front about his biases, and how they might differ from others. As I said, arguably the best opening lecture ever. I thoroughly enjoyed this series and heartily give it two thumbs-up.
Date published: 2012-12-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing This is the only course I ever bought that I could not get through and this is my favorite subject and this is a Lutheran seminary professor and I'm a Lutheran pastor. First of all, he sounds like he's reading and his presentation is written to be read, not heard so it's hard to follow. Writers who want to lecture need to learn the difference. He has not. But I could tolerate that but he think he has to keep explaining constructs before he can get to the point. He did it so much in the first lecture that I skipped it thinking "well, let's get to the meat" Severally minutes into the second lecture where he was going on and on about students going to class as some sort of example I turned it off and I'm done. I want to hear his insights (if he has any) about the history, not all these explanations and examples. Very very disappointing. I have recommended better courses if that is your subject interest.
Date published: 2012-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Well Done, Basic Overview This is a well done, worthwhile course for what it is: A very basic, fast-moving overview and introduction to the first millennium and a half of the history of Christianity. Professor Johnson is articulate, organized, and very well spoken, a pleasure to listen to. (I only wish he spoke a bit less languidly.) I was impressed with the balance and fairness of the course, especially given his background as a professor of theology and a former Benedictine monk. And he is quite good at pointing out when the sources are helpful, and when much must remain speculative. The focus is squarely on religious history: the who, what, and when of the development of Christianity through its first 1500 years. Christian theology and belief, on the one hand, and the secular political context, on the other, are developed minimally, only to the extent necessary to make sense of the historical narrative of the religion itself. In fact, the brief theological discussions are so superficial that they may be more confusing than enlightening to those not already somewhat familiar with the issues involved. Likewise, at least a basic prior knowledge of the political history of late antiquity and the middle ages would be extremely helpful to understanding the place of the religious developments discussed. The visuals are quite good, and the Course Guidebook is excellent - far more complete than is typical. (TGC people - this is appreciated!) I do have a number of mostly minor quibbles: Professor Johnson's treatment of Alexander (lecture 2) makes the great man out to be an aspiring benefactor of humanity, whose "vision" was that "there would be no more 'Greek and barbarian' - everyone would enjoy the benefits of Greek civilization." The many whose civilizations were invaded and conquered by this power-hungry megalomaniac might beg to differ. The professor states that Aramaic is a dialect of Hebrew (lecture 3). Every source that I can find indicates that it is not; it is a separate although related language. In lecture 18, the language of the New Testament is said to be "religious rather than theological" and as a result to maintain "a rich ambiguity". It would be more straightforward to state that it is often irrational and contradictory. (This is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your point of view, but it must be honestly addressed.) Further - Peppin II, father of Charles Martel and great-grandfather of Charlemagne, described as a "Merovingian king" in lecture 25, was neither a Merovingian nor a king. And finally, Professor Johnson fails to note that the curriculum of the seven liberal arts, described in lecture 33 on universities and theology, and said to have a "textual basis" which was "entirely Christian", was actually developed in pagan ancient Greece. So - I have no hesitation in giving this course 5 stars as a very worthwhile introduction and overview. I do strongly recommend, however, that any who are interested in this subject also consider the many excellent Great Courses - especially but not limited to those by Bart Ehrman, Kenneth Harl, and Philip Daileader - which cover the religion and the history of this period in greater depth.
Date published: 2012-12-03
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