Who was Jesus? What was the world that he was born into like? Who were his parents and ancestors? What did he teach? Who were his first followers, and how did they multiply in number to become the largest religious following in today's world?
What did Jesus mean when he told his followers they would be able to move a mountain? What did Jesus teach as necessary for salvation? Do his teachings contrast with — or complement — those of his apostles? How did we receive the Bible, and what causes orthodox Christians to believe it contains and is, in written form, the Word of God?
In today's more multicultural world, answers to such questions are no longer universally known, and with the competition of constantly increasing entertainment, educational, and information media, the Bible stories are not as widely taught to children, even if more Bibles are in the stores and in homes than ever before. Contemporary surveys of high-school-age and college-age young people have shown deep and widespread biblical illiteracy.
This book introduces Jesus from a slightly more distant perspective than that of the Bible by sharing some of the findings of Bible scholars, historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists on his life and times, his following in the church, and his impact on the world in the two millennia since his birth. The intention is to make this an easily accessible survey of Jesus, his life, his teachings, his historical impact, and more.
Chapters will give detailed accounts of the church in the first generation after Jesus ministered on earth, how persecution against Christians began and spread from Israel to the whole Roman Empire, how many of the martyrs died, and how they are considered the “seed of the church.” Also looked at are the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine and his influence on the church; and the church's influence on the emperor and, through him, on the succeeding emperors and the Roman Empire as a whole.
The Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, the Crusades, the Renaissance, the Age of Exploration, the Enlightenment, and the rise of modern democracies … all are surveyed in terms of their relationships with the story of Jesus, his life, and his world influence, and made easily accessible in this overview.
How is the church faring in today's generation? How big is the church in the United States, and in the world at large? How does it compare with other religions in size and the devotion of its followers? Has the Christian era peaked and started its decline, or is it poised for further growth in the world in generations to come? Who are the Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Modernists, and Evangelicals, and how do they relate to each other? How does the church fare alongside secular humanism in Europe, America, and the rest of the world?
Also included in this survey will be consideration of the Jesus of the future, as the Bible makes many references to the climax of history, the end of the world, the apocalypse, and the Second Coming of Jesus. What does the Bible say on these controversial topics, and what do the different churches say about those biblical teachings?
Throughout this work, references to “the traditional teaching” or “the tradition of the church” refer to the consensus of the united church before the great schism between Rome and Constantinople in 1054 and, especially, the defining documents and canons of the seven ecumenical councils that culminated in A.D. 787. References here to “the apostolic churches” mean those churches of the first millennium after Christ that claimed that all their bishops had been consecrated in an unbroken line of succession from the original apostles of the church. And consistent with this approach, though there are many theories among modern biblical scholars about the identity of the writers of the New Testament, especially Matthew and Luke, the references in this book refer to the author of Luke as “Luke,” the author of Matthew as “Matthew,” and so on, in the interest of simplification and clarity.