Monday, March 22, 2010

DVD Review: A History of Christianity

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Sent to me for review by TBB Media, A History of Christianity is a 6-part DVD series produced by the BBC.  The program's host is Diarmid MacCulloch, Oxford scholar and lifelong student of Christian history.  I watched Disc 1, which details the earliest years of Christianity, beginning with Paul's taking the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome.

Diarmid is certainly well-educated, and his knowledge of Christian history seems to be quite vast.  And while he has his book knowledge, he seems to be genuinely excited about the subject he's discussing.  He presents the first years of Christianity in a factual way, in a manner that's enthusiastic but doesn't belie his own personal beliefs.  For all we know Diarmid could be a Buddhist, such is his presentation of the facts.  He seems excited, but not showing a certain bias either way.

As a Christian, I found this production to be very interesting.  It really gives a glimpse at the breadth and scope of my faith's evolution and constancy over time.  This faith is shown in all it's glory and with it's warts as well.  Despite all the challenges we've had over the centuries, Christians have survived and flourished, even in the most unlikely places.

This program would be excellent for academics, but I think it would also be helpful to many laypersons to see that Christianity is not a "Western" or "American religion".  True, western society and America have added their flavor to many beliefs and traditions, but at it's core, it all goes back to Jesus and the disciples.  And they weren't from Chicago, Illinois.  They were from the Middle East.

As the BBC frequently does, the program has high production values and excellent cinematography.  In the disc that I viewed, there were no extra graphics, dramatizations or the like.  Only shots of things you would see today were shown.  Facts, simply facts.  No speculation, just showing the viewer what is out there for anyone to discover today.

The next 5 discs have the following themes:
  • Program 2: Catholicism: The Unpredictable Rise of Rome
  • Program 3: Orthodoxy: From Empire to Empire
  • Program 4: Reformation: The Individual Before God
  • Program 5: Protestantism: The Evangelical Explosion
  • Program 6: God in Dock
I think my only quibble with the production is for the lack of more than one set of subtitles.  Spanish is available, but I enjoy my English subtitles and find that I usually learn more by having them on.  They would also prove to be useful for the hearing impaired.  And those of other languages would probably appreciate their texts as well-- maybe add French?

Overall, a big thumbs up to the BBC, and I hope to have the opportunity to view the remaining programs in this series.


  1. Sounds interesting! This looks like a beautiful set!

  2. Sounds good! I agree with you about the subtitles. For me, it seems that I absorb more information if it is written in front of me (probably why I like books so much!). That's really weird that these DVDs wouldn't include English subtitles. English is the biggest language in the US, not Spanish.

  3. Kelsey:

    I know-- strange on that English omission.

    I got hooked on subtitles a few years ago while watching DVDs with my parents. They were constantly asking (even though they aren't hard of hearing), "Who is that?! What did he say? What's happening?", even during the simplest plots and dialogue. I found that when they had subtitles, they paid closer attention to what was going on.

    In my case, I enjoyed picking up little tidbits of information I wouldn't otherwise have noticed. There have been many times where aside comments or noises were mentioned by the subtitles that I wouldn't have caught on my own, and they affect the story. I've managed to get so used to these things, I miss them when I go to a movie theater!


  4. This sounds really interesting--I'll have to see if we can rent it through Netflix or something.

    Can you use the closed-captioning control on your television to see the captions since there isn't an English subtitle option?

  5. Katy:

    I'm pretty sure I tried the TV captioning option, but I'll have to go back and make sure. Good tip!


  6. The programs are closed captioned in english.

  7. Yes, the verdict is in-- I checked on my TV. I you put your TV on closed captioning, it shows up. Thanks to Katy and Katrina for enlightening me.




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