ReligionBookfilter: History of Protestant Christianity for a Lapsed Catholic?
August 20, 2008 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a book that explains the taxonomy of Christian churches and sects!

Although I am an atheist I was brought up Catholic, so I have a good grasp of some finer points of religious belief and practice in the Church of Rome. However, I now realise that in the anglosaxon world, "Christian" means mostly "Protestant of some description or other", at least in the most statistical sense. So I would like to read up on the history and differences of the various Protestant Christian sects.

I more or less understand what the Anglican Church is about, and can rattle on a string of names of other churches: Episcopalian, Lutheran, Calvinist, Hanseatic, Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian, Evangelical... I also understand the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Jehova's Witnesses and even the Salvation Army espouse and practice some brand of Christianity or other.

But in general those words they are just names. Like the station names in a subway map of a city I have never visited, they have some evoking power, but I am completely ignorant of where they take one to. And I don't feel like church hopping just now. Thus...

I am looking for a reference, a book I can read. Just one, preferably with a good bibliography so I can delve deeper if I feel like it. It would be written in a respectful but not too pious tone. I am not looking for flippant exposé, but rather factual data: the book should explain which church is for and against what (gay sex, priest sex, woman priests, liquor, whatever), both in terms of dogma and of social custom.
posted by kandinski to Religion & Philosophy (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Maybe this? (I haven't read it). Handbook of Denominations in the US.
posted by null terminated at 7:47 PM on August 20, 2008

Protestantism in America, by Randall Balmer and Laura Winner
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:47 PM on August 20, 2008

Best answer: It's no book until you print it out, but I've found Wikipedia's Christianity series pretty in depth. Just start clicking topics of interest on the sidebar on the left, editors do a pretty slick job of researching and publishing the points you're looking for.
posted by Science! at 7:48 PM on August 20, 2008

Best answer: Wikipedia's articles on Christian denominations are pretty good, but no bibliography. There is a handy subway map as well.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:51 PM on August 20, 2008

Also of interest is The Routledge Historical Atlas of Religion in America.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:51 PM on August 20, 2008

Or the ARDA if you want to dig up more info about more demographic/location info on religion on top of beliefs.
posted by Science! at 8:03 PM on August 20, 2008

Beliefnet has many interesting articles that compare and contrast different denominations. Here is an example.
posted by jeanmari at 8:09 PM on August 20, 2008

Perhaps a good book on Church history would be of help. Most of the different denominations are organic offshoots of those that came before...
posted by konolia at 8:23 PM on August 20, 2008

It's a bit difficult to struggle through (German translations into English often are) but "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" really is worth reading. It deals primarily with the more strict Protestant sects, such as the Puritans and the Calvinists, and shows why and how they so strongly affected the political and economic development of northern Europe and North America.

It's in the public domain, and online here.
posted by Class Goat at 9:18 PM on August 20, 2008

Best answer: Well, I would note that Anglicans aren't Protestant.
posted by Carillon at 11:15 PM on August 20, 2008

Seconding Mead's Handbook linked in the first comment. Though it doesn't delve much in things like attitudes toward gay marriage. It does provide a pretty encyclopedic overview of American denominations, and as the subtitle of my edition notes, "their history, doctrines, organizations, present status."
posted by Toekneesan at 4:32 AM on August 21, 2008

Best answer: I don't have a book, but instead I have a web site, to supplement things -- you may want to check out The Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance. I've known about that site for years -- it is the most exhaustive and non-partial site on religion I've seen. They cover the history of the different faiths in the world -- and for Christianity, they get into the different denominations as well -- and also give a basic-facts overview of "here's what they believe". They also tackle different moral and ethical issues as well, from the perspective of "here's what group X thinks about this topic, and here's what group Y thinks."

Again, not a book, but something you may find intriguing. You could also check out their references as well, they may have a good recommendation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:43 AM on August 21, 2008

Best answer: Not exactly what you ask for, but perhaps useful as a supplement is Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology, which presents the different sides on the issues that denominations have used to divide themselves, since (I think, though perhaps it is changing lately) the different groups may be more likely to differentiate themselves on the basis of these doctrines rather than their stance on gay people or liquor. Useful for understanding what it means if the book you wind up buying refers to positions on transubstantiation, the foreknowledge of God, predestination, etc. I don't know where you draw the line on "too pious," so I will just note that it's written by evangelicals for an academic audience.
posted by ramenopres at 9:08 AM on August 21, 2008

Best answer: It's a little more on the applied side--i.e., how to act at a wedding of x faith--but I really like How to Be a Perfect Stranger for it's simple, matter of fact descriptions of different religious organizations and their practices for an outsider. It's not restricted to Christianity, so if you want to understand the different sects of Judaism or Buddhism, they're in there, too.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:36 AM on August 21, 2008

A good book on American Church history, which the Handbook on Denoms can act as a good supplement to, is Pilgrims in their Own Land by Martin Marty.
posted by MasonDixon at 1:06 AM on August 23, 2008

I read Christian Confessions: A Historical Introduction by Ted Campbell a few years ago and I found it very well done.

He's a Methodist but any sort of bias is negligible as it's an in depth look that just lays out the history and development of beliefs. Every sect gets fair and well-rounded coverage.
posted by Outis at 6:16 AM on August 27, 2008

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