He was born at Lenton in Nottinghamshire, the son of a mill owner. He was educated at Lincoln College, Oxford, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1857. In 1872 he became chancellor of the diocese of Manchester, a post he retained until 1893. In the meantime, he held numerous appointments, notably the professorships of history (from 1854 to 1856) and of political economy (from 1855 to 1866) at Owens College, Manchester. He always took an active interest in this college, of which he was one of the governors; in 1893 he gave the Christie library building designed by Alfred Waterhouse, and in 1897 be devoted £50,000 of the funds at his disposal as a trustee of Sir Joseph Whitworth's estate for the building of Whitworth Hall, which completed the front quadrangle of the college.
Christie was an enthusiastic book collector, and bequeathed to Owens College his library of about 75,000 volumes, rich in a very complete set of the books printed by Etienne Dolet, a wonderful series of Aldine Press publications, and of volumes printed by Sebastian Gryphius. His Étienne Dolet, the Martyr of the Renaissance (1880), is the most exhaustive work on the subject. He died at Ribsden.