In a stroke of genius, Robert Wilken presents how the Romans viewed Christianity through the works of five major critics from the first four centuries. He presents the reader with an honest presentation and reconstruction of their various criticisms against the Christian movement. Throughout his book, Wilken paints the Roman view towards Christianity in a light which it has not often been seen. For example, he goes into great detail in explaining how religion and civil life were incredibly inter-related in the Roman world. He argues that on this basis much criticism of early Christianity developed. In effect, the Christian movement was formed by the criticism. Wilken follows through in addressing the issue he notices in Christian education.
“We have a distorted view of the history of early Christianity… The student of Christianity, who does know the sources and the unique problems of early Christian history, is usually familiar with the pagan sources only at second-hand and has inflated the Christian part of the canvas beyond all reasonable proportion. The historian of Christianity has given the impression that the rest of the canvas i simply background for the closeup – relegating the general history of the times to an introductory chapter of vague generalities” (p. xviii).
In other words, the student of Christianity is dishonest with the entire presentation of early Christianity. Thus, Wilken sets out to change this fact. Throughout the entire book, he maintains a respectful posture towards the pagan authors by painting their arguments in the midst of their lives and culture. With this, he never engages in discussion with the early Christian critics because that is not the purpose of his book. His purpose is to paint the world view of Romans and how early Christians fit into it. He accomplishes the task he sets out to do with great success.
Although this is not the easiest read, it is by no means a difficult read. That said, I would highly advise this book to any serious student of Christianity, whether in school or out of school. It will present you with challenging facts about early Christianity that will hopefully unsettle you enough that you may study more to settle for a firmer foundation. Along the same lines, understanding these early Christian critics is very relevant to the modern Christian. Many of the arguments arising in the first 4 centuries are surprisingly similar to issues we face in the modern era.
In conclusion, I highly recommend this book to any person who is honestly seeking to understand the culture in which Christianity was formed.