Bullies and Saints

An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History

by John Dickson

On Sale: 2021-05-11

Book Summary

John Dickson gives an honest account of the mixed history of Christianity, the evil and the good. He concedes the Christians’ complicity for centuries of bullying but also shows the myriad ways the beautiful teaching of Christ has enriched our world and the lives of countless individuals.

About the Book

Is the world better off without Christianity?

Combining narrative with keen critique of contemporary debates, author and historian John Dickson gives an honest account of 2,000 years of Christian history that helps us understand what Christianity is and what it's meant to be.

To say that the Christian Church has an "image problem" doesn't quite capture it. From the Crusades and the Inquisition to the racism and abuse present in today's Church--both in Catholic and Protestant traditions--the institution that Christ established on earth has a lot to answer for. But the Church has also had moments throughout history when it has been in tune with Jesus' teachings--from the rise of charity to the invention of hospitals.

For defenders of the faith, it's important to be able to recognize the good and bad in the church's history and be inspired to live aligned with Christ. For skeptics, this book is a thought-provoking introduction to the idea that Christianity is, despite all, an essential foundation of our civilization.

Bullies and Saints will take you on a big-picture journey from the Sermon on the Mount to the modern church:

  • Giving contextual accounts of infamous chapters of Christian history, such as the Crusades, and acknowledging their darkness.
  • Outlining the great movements of the faith and defending its heroes and saints, some of whom are not commonly recognized.
  • Examining the Church beside the teachings and life of Jesus and how it has succeeded in its mission to imitate Christ.



'Bullies and Saints is a commendably honest work that goes beyond simple apologetics: one that is all the more subtle in its effect for being often very apologetic.'

'Bullies and Saints is an impressively even-handed account of Christianity's history, offering a subtle account of its paradoxes and ironies. It readily acknowledges Christians' role in many of the worst parts of the human story, while also detailing Christians' extraordinary collective good and Christianity's distinctive contributions. The book showcases Dr. Dickson's talent for deeply insightful scholarship that is engaging, accessible, and thoroughly enjoyable to read.'

'Bullies and Saints is no simple apologia for the Christian church, or for Christianity as such. John Dickson offers a thoroughly frank account of Christian history, confronting some of the ugliest episodes in that story. But at the same time, he highlights and disproves the countless distortions and falsehoods that sceptics have so often levied against the faith. Such an honest accounting reinforces the view that Christianity is an essential foundation of our civilization. Dickson has written a very necessary book, which at the same time makes for enlightening and rewarding reading.'

'I don't know another book like this--an honest guide through the labyrinth of two thousand years of both violence and virtue in the name of Christianity. Dickson, a qualified historian, explains the complexities of the past with disturbing evenhandedness. The dirty washing of Christian history is laid out here for all to see, but we're also invited to consider beautiful actions, often by those unknown. I highly recommend this book, not just for its factual content and fair analysis, but also as a window for understanding the world today.'

'I don't often hear people question these days whether or not Christianity is true. I hear them ask whether or not it's good. And that's the challenge John Dickson accepts in Bullies and Saints. His honest look does not dismiss the horrible evil committed in the name of Christ, then and now. And that's why you can trust this book. When we can be honest about the past, we can be discerning about the present. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, this book will test what you thought you knew and open your eyes to what might be possible.'

'In this deeply personally motivated book, John Dickson challenges his readers to face up to the long history of violence and retribution carried out by those who bear the name of Christ and his church, yet also offers a plea for the equally long history of self-giving for the sake of others. Rather like a long-distance guided railway journey, he visits key moments and individuals in the history of the western church, drawing on recent scholarship and on the writers of the time, refusing to let his audience dwell only on the beauty spots but clearly hoping that it is their example that will provide hope and inspiration for the future. While this may give sceptics from outside the church pause, it will best have served its purpose if it enables those within to come to a better understanding of the dark side of their own heritage and of the shadows it casts even over the present and to move forward in humility.'

'John Dickson has little problem acknowledging the 'log' in Christianity's eye. As an insider to the Christian tradition and as a trained historian, he articulates with a clarity beyond many popular critics just how much of an image problem the Christian Church has--there is hypocrisy in every century. And yet he also knows that Christianity has contributed uniquely to history, and its hospitals, schools, reformers, and advocates for human dignity have often managed to open the most jaundiced eye. Whether you believe we would be better off without Christianity or whether you have found it profoundly life-giving, Bullies and Saints is an invitation to look again at the Christian church's performance and to see if we cannot glimpse something of the founder's own loving character and concern for human well-being.'

'John Dickson is a scrupulous historian, a fair-minded judge, and a wonderful storyteller. Bullies and Saints is an invaluable, thoughtful, and at times rightly provoking consideration of the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, in the long Christian story. In prose that is supple and easy, it captures the inevitable complexity and cross-grained contexts of all human endeavours, even divine human endeavours. And it understands profoundly that professing Christianity does not cure you of the human condition, with all its perplexing possibilities, all its heroism and terror, its majesty and its degradation. And yet there is a light that shines.'

'John Dickson would not know, until reading this, that his previous work has been as critical as the works of C. S. Lewis, Benedict XVI, and others to saving my adult Catholic faith. In his latest book he offers an engaging, honest, and personal account of why Christianity is good, without for a moment diminishing the manifest failures of some Christians to live up to the demands of their faith. I do not agree with everything John says, but I cannot recommend Bullies and Saints highly enough. You should buy it, read it, and ponder.'

'The blunt outrage of a serious historian keeps John Dickson wondering. How have the saints got it so wrong, so often? The tell-tale breakthrough for me came in the middle chapters of this book. Two generations on from Constantine we have the engaged reactions of four young men, close intellectual peers in a single decade. One, Julian, runs the Roman empire and means to get rid of the Christian revolution. The others are bishops or the like in backblocks Cappadocia. All four agree on the flashpoint. The government itself must act, not for the strong, but for the weak and therefore the so-called undeserving, however irrational that seems. John Dickson need not have worried so much. In the long run the revolutionary commands of Jesus have been profoundly built into our secular policy, in spite of church hypocrisy. Indeed, our zeal to expose such hypocrisy is itself a legacy of Jesus's teaching about the kingdom.'

'The old question, 'Is Christianity true?' has been replaced by the new one, 'Is Christianity good?' In this well-paced and eminently readable survey, Dickson sincerely grapples with the checkered moral history of the church. He takes Christian harm seriously, considering everything from the crusades to the child sex abuse scandal. Simultaneously, Dickson draws us into those unprecedented aspects of the church--its commitment to the powerless, for instance--that ought to awaken our curiosity. In the end, he defends the faith best, whether addressing its shame or its glory, by simply telling the truth.'

'The problem of suffering and evil is one of the hardest problems that faces any worldview. Yet Christians face an even harder problem--to account for the horrors inflicted in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught the highest ethic ever seen and repudiated the use of violence to defend him and his message. When we think of the so-called Crusades and Holy Wars in the Middle Ages, must we agree with the late Christopher Hitchens that 'religion poisons everything,' or are there any redeeming features? Are there any saints among the bullies? Ancient historian John Dickson is eminently qualified to help us dig into the facts. He convincingly demonstrates that 'sacred violence' is not traceable to the first three centuries of the Christian era. With refreshing honesty, he opens our eyes to the fascinating divergent developments in succeeding centuries that led, on the one hand, to bullies, brutality and oppression and, on the other hand, to saints, charity, hospitals, and human rights. 'Bullies are common--saints are not.' If you wish to know the how and the why, as you should, then there is nothing for it but to buy and read Dickson's book and judge for yourself. It is superbly well-informed historical analysis at its best. I unhesitatingly recommend it as essential reading for anyone wishing to engage with the hard questions arising from the evils of Christendom. Get it and share it!'

'This challenging work from a well-qualified historian tackles one of the current issues facing the Christian church. Critics say Christianity (and often all religions) have done more harm than good. Dr. Dickson is not afraid to face this and to acknowledge in a confronting fashion the failings of the church over the centuries to live up to Christ's teaching. Nevertheless, his measured approach, argued (as a historian must) from the fine details of the documents of history, ends on a message of hope. This is a book for believers, doubters, sceptics, and downright enemies of the church to weigh up.'

'This is a measured and masterful retelling of two thousand years of Christian history. Whatever your current beliefs, I recommend you grab a copy and let Dickson introduce you to the saints and bullies who have shaped our world. I learned from every page and now have a better understanding of infamous affairs like the Crusades and the Inquisition, as well as more knowledge of a thousand unsung heroes of the faith. Read it and weep, smile, question, cogitate, and sing.'

'This is an important book. My father was a deeply religious man and in public life. Around him were copious efforts to throw a Christian cloak over a multitude of political judgements driven by secular ambitions and directions--often deeply harmful. He used to say that the task for a Christian in public life, or anywhere, is to act in a manner that would not deny others an experience of the cross. This book by John Dickson has taught me exactly what he meant. It is a book of the ages for this age. The worst efforts by many have obscured or distorted the message, using it for power, greed, lust, prejudice, and ignorance. Their historical and contemporary efforts have destroyed the access to faith for many. But throughout the centuries, and now, others have shone a light on Jesus's message of love, charity, kindness, selflessness and salvation--values and behaviours which are timeless. Decency is open to everyone of whatever faith or none. However, the fundamental belief of Christians that we are all made in God's image is a deep grounding. Why this is so is here in these pages.'

'This is that rare thing--a book that speaks equally to Christians and sceptics. Combining gripping historical narrative with a keen critique of contemporary debates, Dickson makes one of the most honest, challenging, and compelling cases for Christianity you will ever read.'

'This lively account of the history of the church brings bullies and saints across two thousand years to life. It challenges equally the glib assertions of those who would whitewash the evil in Christian history and those who would expunge its good. Erudite and immensely readable, it is a must for both the defenders and detractors of the faith.'

'This timely and courageous book openly engages with both the 'bullies' and the 'saints' of Christian history. Dickson grapples with the most horrific atrocities committed in the name of Christianity. Yet he does this not to whitewash them but rather to acknowledge them and to offer the kind of Christian self-critique Jesus demanded. In doing so, Dickson holds the church up to the standards of its founder--Jesus Christ. He offers a fruitful conceptual tool for understanding the ways in which, historically, Christians have--and have not--followed the teachings of Jesus. This is the metaphor of the 'beautiful tune,' which, as Dickson points out, the church has at times performed well, and at times performed poorly. But the melody, Dickson reveals, was never completely drowned out. This illuminating metaphor enables Dickson to reveal some of the historical outworkings of Jesus's teachings that are now the cornerstone of human rights, care for the sick and marginalised, and mass education. Dickson is not only a great historian but also--and this is uncommon among scholars--a great storyteller with the ability to communicate history beautifully and accessibly. This is what makes his writing so refreshing. He is humble, down-to-earth, and engaging. Christians and non-believers alike will find Bullies and Saints a compelling read.'

Product Details

  • Imprint: Zondervan
  • On Sale: 2021-05-11
  • Pages: 352
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication Date: 2021-05-11
  • Trim Size: 161.000mm x 237.000mm x 33.000mm
  • Weight: 498.000gr
  • Category 1 : RELIGION / Christianity / Saints & Sainthood
  • Category 2 : HISTORY / Ancient / Rome
  • Category 3 : RELIGION / Christianity / History
  • Category 4 : RELIGION / History
  • Category 5 : RELIGION / Christian Church / History