The Actual Question:
I expect that, like myself, you have just watched Diarmaid MacCulloch's 'A History of Christianity' series on BBC TV. What was your honest view of it? I felt that, after a strong start, it came down firmly on the side of Liberal Christianity, and it was woefully politically-correct toward other religions. Towards the end there was an assumption - it seemed to me - that the only value of religion was in making people live happier lives and in being nice to other people. MacCulloch seemed to hold no sort of idea of Christianity as coming from an omnipotent God. No wonder that he seemed to wander around like a depressed man who had lost his faith and purpose in life!
UK Apologetics Reply:
In my opinion, your criticism is absolutely fair and correct! Yes, I watched it and I too was intially quite impressed, but I'm afraid that that impression faded as the presenter's biases became clearer. Damian Thompson, in The Telegraph Online (November 3rd, 2009), recently said this of the liberal assumptions at work in the series:
"...Warning bells sounded, for me, when he [McCulloch] wheeled out his first expert, veteran multiculturalist Martin Palmer, whom the BBC had apparently flown to China to explain to MacCulloch how peaceful this [early] "disappeared" Christianity had been. He made the lost Christians sound as respectful of other faiths as a 'Thought for the Day' presenter, though there was no real evidence to back this up."
"The problem is that Palmer's liberalism dovetails all too comfortably with MacCulloch's own world-view, which is indignantly critical of what he regards as male-dominated, triumphalist Western Christianity - especially of the Roman Catholic variety..."
Thompson's suspicions are justified. How typical of the anti-religious BBC that they would so carefully 'hand pick' a commited church liberal in giving us such a long-awaited and much-overdue television history of Christianity. All in all, it did not take too long to discover that the series presenter is very anti-Roman Catholic. Many Protestants will not mind that, but - as the series progresses - more of the presenter's sympathies start to emerge; it seems that the Oxford professor has a marked dislike for western Christianity (whether Roman Catholic or Protestant evangelical), and tends to favour the more eastern form - and yet the professor finally emerges as a supporter of (very western!) Liberal Christianity. Church of England member MacCulloch apparently now describes himself not as a Christian (presumably he had once been one), but as 'a friend of Christianity.' But his unreasonable sympathies toward Liberal Christianity only truly burst forth in their full splendour in the sixth, 'God in the Dock,' episode in the series. Here MacCulloch falls back on all the old hackneyed arguments about western Christianity supporting, and therefore largely to blame for, two world wars. He appears to be clear (in his own mind, at least) that it was Christianity which sent British and Germans to war against each other in 1914. What nonsense! It was nations which did that, Mr MacCulloch - not the Christian Faith! Shouldn't a church historian be a little more careful in how he handles the facts? In this Oxford theologian/historian's hands, Christianity becomes something which happily collaborated with both Hitler and Mussolini - such nonsense! What of the incredible heroism of countless pastors, priests and nuns who - between them - selflessly protected probably thousands of Jews? What of the pastors who chose to rot in prisons rather than serve within a tyranny? He even seems to make Christianity at least partly to blame for the Nazi concentration camps. This sort of nonsense is not only really unpalatable, but it can only be upheld by a most selective usage of the evidence. One really tires of hearing such biased nonsense coming from Church of England liberals who have (apparently) long since departed from the Faith - how much longer will we have to suffer them?
It is true though, that the series started quite promisingly, even with certain suggestions that the Oxford Professor of Theology was somewhat sympathetic to an evangelical view of Scripture and of the Church. All the more disappointing, therefore, that the earlier promise gets so completely demolished in the final programme of the series. Of the earlier episodes, 'Protestantism - The Evangelical Explosion' was certainly interesting and generally handled well with the presenter surely correct to draw attention to the errors of the prosperity teaching among certain charismatics - yet how incredible that an Oxford D.D. would include the larger cults and sects, such as the Latter Day Saints, among the forces of 'evangelicalism.'
So the series was certainly not all bad, and the first several programmes were handled quite fairly by the professor but the series finale (which, I must admit, I switched off in annoyance about 10 minutes before the end) was a great let-down. This will be shown and re-shown by the BBC because of their love of dishing up endless repeats. If you get a future chance, watch the series by all means but beware of the gathering liberal bias as it reaches it's predictable conclusion. Then - at the last - be prepared to be offended by the presenter's unwarranted assertion that western Christianity is a collaborating Faith which is at least partly responsible for the holocaust. One may just note that if it were Islam which suffered such a verbal assault at MacColloch's hands, the BBC Television Centre in London would be surrounded by thousands of angry muslim protesters within hours.
Did this man really describe himself as a 'friend' of Christianity?
Robin A. Brace, December 18th 2009.