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A lively look at Christianity's past, present, and future

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Marty, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and author of more than 50 books on religion, covers the adoption of creeds, church schisms, and colonial expansions, but does so in something akin to a pastor's voice. He acknowledges that the book, written without footnotes, may sacrifice depth for breadth. Yet its casual tone underscores the idea that the lives of Christianity's founders are as important as timelines in understanding the religion's history.

Marty draws on his deep historical knowledge, and the quirky details he inserts paint a lively picture of Christianity's spread. French monk Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was "such a charismatic recruiter for the order that parents, it was said, not wanting to lose their sons to monasteries, hid them when Bernard came calling."

Founders all wrestled with adapting Christianity to local contexts. Sometimes adaptations were swift – Constantine swiped "Sun-Day" from the pagans – but others required a lengthy acculturation process. The Catholic Matteo Ricci, who arrived in Macau in 1582, "dressed like a Buddhist monk and spent 20 years becoming a Mandarin scholar before he even mentioned Jesus."

Christians everywhere pondered how Jesus and his teachings should be presented, the effort forever linking them to Christians elsewhere, Marty maintains.

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