On this same trip to the bookstore, I also came across Philip Jenkins newest book, The Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years, a rather interesting if not uneven telling of the history of the early church. It pretty much begins following the council of Nicea and continues for the next 500 years or so. The focus of the book is on the struggle to define who Jesus is (was). Was Jesus a man-bearing God, or a God-bearing man?
The book was fascinating, but at times got lost in minutia. Overall, I enjoyed the way that Jenkins' laid out the struggle of the early church to define orthodoxy. His writes with the style of education, which makes the book less accessible to an average audience.
Having read Richard Rubenstein's work: When God Was Born, a number of years ago, I found his treatise of the years leading up Nicea as more engaging. Jenkins' argues that Nicea (identifying Jesus with God) was the easy part --- the challenge was preventing Jesus from becoming entirely God. That is the subject of the book --- what kind of man was Jesus and what kind of God was he.
We live in such as different time from the one that Jenkins' writes about. We live with a multiplicity of understanding of who Jesus is (was) and have no fear that the inquisitor will be coming to knock at the door in the middle of the night. Jenkins' concludes the book by suggesting: "A religion that is not constantly spawning alternatives and heresies has ceased to thing and has achieved only the peace of the grave."
I can rest easily knowing that I am doing my part to helping people see some of the alternatives than those proclaimed at Chalcedon and the following councils!