Bookwi.se has also reviewed the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo which is occasionally incorrectly linked to the book Silence by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Originally much of the content of this book was developed for Gifford Lectures. I don’t know if the organizational problems of the book can be blamed on that, because there are many books that were originally based on lectures that are very good.
It isn’t that Silence: A Christian History is bad. There are many fascinating parts of the books. The problem is that much of it is only marginally connected to Silence.
This book includes everything from discussions of Gnostic heresies to the silence of Jesus before Pilate to silent monks to the silence of those hiding their faith to the silence of those that do not reveal sin like clergy child abuse or slavery or shameful acts.
I appreciate MacCullouch’s perspective because he is a good historian that writes from outside of Christianity but with an insider’s respect. From the beginning of the book he talks about growing up as a gay male in the Christian environment of the UK (and the silence of being hidden). His take on gnosticism and other heresies are valuable because he is not trying to prove an orthodox faith because he is not an orthodox Christian.
My disappointment in Silence A Christian History is exacerbated because I thought his book Christianity: The First 3000 Years was so well done. It is not that I don’t think you should skip book, but that if you do read it, you should be aware that it is more like unrelated essays riffing off the idea of silence than a unified theory of how silence has been a part of Christian history.
The final chapter tries to pull it all together suggesting that silence can be protection, it can be sinful or oppressive, it can be holy and contemplative. But by this point the mix of what silence is and is not is so jumbled it is too little, too late to create any real understanding.
Silence: A Christian History might have been better as unrelated essays, but as it is, I would probably skip it.
A PDF copy of the book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for purposes of review. The PDF did not convert well to kindle and I purchased the audiobook.