Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years Written by Phillip Jenkins.
Review by Chris Easton December 2010
What prompted me to pick up this book was the author’s previous book titled The Next Christendom. I became a fan of Jenkins on first read years ago and have been emboldened seeing his prophetic words come to fruition in our own denomination with the election of our first non U.S. General Superintendent. His bias in this work is very subtle, writing as if he is clearly trying to withhold his particular view on many controversial issues.
To read this work it would be helpful to have taken at least a survey of Church History. I personally struggled at times having to recall chronological and theological issues from the church's inception to the Reformation. My struggle was alleviated by Jenkins’ thorough appendix. He titles the appendix “Main Figures in the Story”. The book is worth buying for this section alone! The story is including every significant figure from the Patristic period to the 7th century. It is a concise section but very informative.
The struggle to get into this work was worth the time. It helped me to appreciate freedom of thought and reestablished the importance of dogma in our current debates about what a follower of Jesus looks like. One thing in particular Jenkins’ did that challenged me was bring up the fact that the church always rallied with great fervor to support their cause whether they were for or against a particular interpretation of Jesus. (i.e. his two natures, whether simultaneously he was God and Human and when did he become God exactly???)
Jenkins’ points out the church has always been divided on issues regarding doctrine. The whole belief that we were a great-undivided church until Luther’s Reformation is a myth. In fact this book will show how the church continually fought over issues; like was Mary the Mother of God, did God really die, God and Caesar, the two natures debate, Chalcedon, and many others. The church was so divided that it killed to prove its allegiance to the side of its choosing. The church had its authority figures force communion down people’s throats. The church murdered bishops in baptisteries. The church starved entire cities all of this over “right belief in Jesus Christ”.
Jenkins lists in detail what has happened in church history surprisingly without condemning it…For he believes if the “right belief” would have not had the military or emperor support, the same may have happened to winning side. A major theme of this describes and encourages thought about how different we may believe in God if it weren’t for the military strength of a few men and women with strong theological opinions.
One of the key points I really take to heart is near the end. Jenkins masterfully shows how the church state became so concerned over right belief in Jesus that it fought wars, spent resources, and neglected military stability. The church merged with the state failed to react to a new empire threats to cities like Constantinople (who eventually fell and continues to this day to be ruled by Muslims). The Jesus war had a devastating effect on the history of the world. Thriving economies are pushed into the Dark/Middle Ages. All are concerned that if right belief is not held, famine, disease, and earthquakes like the one that nearly destroyed and contributed to Constantinople’s fall to the Islamic empire would continue.
The striking thing is the Christians who didn’t want to believe God suffered in Jesus Christ’s death actually began supporting the Islamic regimes that began surrounding the cities. Islam embraced the heresy that Jesus isn’t fully God. For God in their view cannot die!
Jenkins gets you thinking! He will help you to see how the belief we have in simple issues like the doctrine of Trinity will change everything about your life. Fortunately we live in a time where we can embrace new thoughts on issues. Jenkins reminds us that there are no new thoughts in theology. We simply are bringing up issues that the church thought was dealt with hundreds of years ago!