Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘church history’

5.5.  This post is dedicated to the Sermon Writer’s Block.

5.  I really liked Michael Bird’s (relatively) short post on how the Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Christus Victor models of atonement work together. 

4.  His biting sarcasm is largely what makes Carl Trueman so popular, but it also makes it easy to miss some of his better stuff.  In an article titled “The Price of Everything,” Trueman suggests that “cynicism, along with its close cousin pessimism, are among two of the greatest contributions that historians can make to the life of the church.” 

3.  Some of you have heard about Harold Camping and his predictions that the end of the world is coming in October of this year (and the rapture is only weeks away!).  W. Robert Godfrey of Westminster Seminary California has written an intriguing, if not sad, series on “Harold Camping and the End of the World”.  It’s worth reading through it, as it’s both insightful and instructive, from someone who has known Camping for a long time.  Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.  Update: I somehow missed Part 5.  Sorry.

2.  Earlier this morning Justin Taylor posted a really helpful chart called “Differences between Jesus and the Levitical High Priests,” based on Hebrews 7 and 9.  Don’t think I won’t be stealing this for future use.

1.  The aforementioned Carl Trueman has created a bit of a stir, particularly with the “New Calvinist” crowd, recently with some posts regarding American mega-conferences and the celebrity culture of American evangelicalism.  As I said earlier, I think his sarcasm (not to mention his vast use of over-generalization, which granted is a feature of satire but can be counter-productive) can obscure his point.  Never fear, the ever reasonable Tim Challies steps in to help a bit (with links to Trueman’s posts, if you’re interested).  It’s a good read, and a great topic to consider more deeply.  I’d like to think we can learn a thing or two here.

Read Full Post »

There has been quite an uproar over a recent post written by Bill Streger called, “Uncool People Need Jesus Too.”  Streger is involved with the Acts 29 Network and is responsible for assessing applicants for church planting.  In this post, he notes that every church plant vision sounds the same and targets the same group of people.  I’ll let him tell it:

Not only is the language the same, but so is the target group. It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.

Seriously, this is literally the only group I see proposals for. I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelsitic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.

He has since written another post in attempt to clarify his statements, as he has apparently offended some of those involved with Acts 29.  I personally don’t think he needs to apologize for anything, as I thought he articulated a legitimate problem, but I don’t run in his circles, and thus I have no reason for offense. 

I thought of two things as I read his post.  First, I recalled Mack Ave Community Church in Detroit, a church I have previously mentioned.  Here is a church plant led by young and relatively “cool” men, who have opted to head straight into a more destitute community rather than a more upwardly mobile community. 

Second, I found myself ruminating on Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity.  While it’s been a long time since I’ve looked at Stark’s book, I remember part of the reason he accounts for the rise of Christianity in the hostile culture of the Roman Empire is the willingness of Christians to stick it out during difficult times.  For instance, when a plague would hit a city, many would flee in hopes to protect themselves.  Some Christians, however, would often stay and help their neighbors who were in need.  In essence, when the going got tough, the Christians stayed put.  Because of this, there were opportunities for the faith to be shared, in word and in deed, and the church grew.

I can’t help but wonder if Streger is hitting on this issue.  There has always been a temptation for churches to focus on those who are most like them.  Since most pastors tend to be reasonably well-educated, middle class folks, they naturally gravitate toward that demographic.  I want to be very clear: I’m not throwing stones at Acts 29.  I know very little about them, and most of what I know comes from listening to the occasional Matt Chandler or Mark Driscoll sermon.  In fact, I find myself looking at my own church and church planting organization and see some of the same temptations at work.  Streger is talking just as much about me and my circle as he is about his own.

The question is, who is going to walk through life with the man who just lost his job at Ford?  Who is going to follow the example of the early Christians and help their sick neighbor while everyone else has fled to a bigger, better city?  Can we envision the rapid growth of the church through helping the most desperate in addition to targeting the next wave of “movers and shakers” in our country?  For the health of the church and for the sake of those in need, someone has to go.

Read Full Post »

Some of you might read the title of this post and have two questions: who is John Huss and when did he die (and why didn’t I read about it on CNN)?  To answer the first question, John Huss (or Jan Hus, to be more accurate) was a 15th century Bohemian priest who was highly critical of the excesses in the Catholic Church at that time.  Yesterday (July 6) was the 594th anniversary of his death.

Huss is often overlooked by most Christians today, which is to our detriment.  The fact is that most Christians know about the Protestant Reformation; they know the names of Martin Luther and John Calvin.  While the Reformation is generally seen as “starting” when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the chapel in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517 (an event I celebrate), the truth is that Luther was not the first to stand against the excesses and doctrinal errors of the Catholic Church (he was, I suppose, the most successful).  Before Luther, there was John Wycliffe, John Huss and William Tyndale.

Huss himself was less theological than some of these other men.  His greatest concern was for the purity of the church, especially her leadership, which he saw lacking in his day.  He protested the exploitation he saw in the indulgence sales; he opposed the Catholic Church declaring war on another group of Christians and he stood against a ban that only allowed preaching in approved church buildings.

When I read about Huss, I’m amazed at his courage.  I’m not entirely sure we understand how courageous it is to stand against corrupted authority, who possess something close to total power.  We think someone is courageous when they write an op-ed calling out our President on some matter.  That’s not courageous- it’s built into our system of government.  Calling George Bush an evil warmongerer or Barak Obama an immoral liberal is hardly courageous.  We have thousands of bloggers in this country who spout off all sorts of rhetoric against our country’s leadership and have no fear of retribution (in fact, one could argue that it takes more courage to defend American politicians, but that’s not our concern now).

Huss, and the other Reformers, had to face the possibility of retribution.  They knew that they would have their possessions taken from them, so they held to them loosely.  They knew their churches would be endangered, so they continued to preach the Word and encourage them to stand firm.  They knew their lives could be taken from them, so they did not waste time in preaching the truth.

Huss, after multiple excommunications and threats, ultimately was brought before the Council of Constance and called to recant.  He refused, though claiming he would recant if someone could show him where he had been wrong.  He wasn’t being stubborn, he was simply calling out immorality when he saw it and calling for repentance.  His priestly tonsure was shaved off and a paper crown of demons was placed on his head as he was lead past a pile of burning books- the very ones he had written that got him into this situation.  Finally, he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.  Huss once said “Fire does not consume truth.”  When he uttered those words, did he know he would be burned at the stake?

We can take away any number of lessons from all this, but specifically I’m impressed by the courage of Huss.  He stood against the most powerful force of his day because he saw that the Church was not living like the people of God.  Sexual immorality, simony (buying a clerical appointment0,  exploiting the poor- these were practiced by the clergy!  Huss noted the irony that the immoral clergy walked about freely, while those (like him) who stood against those practices were thrown in jail.  What had the Church become?

It takes courage to stand against such things, especially when you’re confronting those of your own ilk (in this case, other priests and church leadership).  The easy road would be to turn a blind eye to sin in the church, the even easier road would be to partake in those sins, too.  But Huss refused, claiming that if he did not oppose these practices, he would be just as guilty as if he participated in them.  We have in John Huss a model of willingness to fight for the purity of the Church.

Read Full Post »

In recent weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of the Apostolic Fathers and other early church writers for a paper.  The more time I spend with them, the more I realize that they were a whole lot smarter than I originally thought and far better theologians than many give them credit for.

One of those eye-opening moments for me was reading Justin Martyr on the resurrection of the dead.  There were many who mocked the Christian belief that God would raise all people in bodily form.  One of the mocking claims was that if a person died blind or lame, they would be raised blind or lame.  Here is Justin’s counter (emphasis added):

Well, they say, if then the flesh rise, it must rise the same as it fails; so that if it die with one eye, it must be raised one-eyed; if lame, lame; if defective in any part of the body, in this part the man must rise deficient.  How truly blinded are they in the eyes of their hearts!  For they have not seen on the earth blind men seeing again, and the lame walking by His word.  All things which the Savior did, He did in the first place that what was spoken concerning Him in the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘that the blind should receive sight, and the deaf hear,’ and so on; but also to induce the belief that in the resurrection the flesh shall rise entire.  For if on earth He healed the sickness of the flesh, and made the body whole, much more will He do this in the resurrection, so that the flesh shall rise perfect and entire.  In this manner, then, shall those dreaded difficulties of theirs be healed.

While the language is somewhat difficult to sort, it’s easy to see Justin’s point: Jesus’ healings point to the day when God will raise the body in perfect form, in other words, the resurrection is the final and ultimate healing.

This stuck out to me largely because I originally had thought that this was a fairly unique insight belonging to Jurgenn Moltmann, “But in the framework of hope for the coming of God and his kingdom, Jesus’ healings become inextinguishable reminders of this future” (In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope p.65).  It’s fascinating to me to see the same observation made 1800 years apart, and makes me wonder if others have seen this and I just didn’t know it. It also leads me to think that there is more to Jesus’ ministry on earth, the resurrection and the Kingdom of God than I currently think.

Read Full Post »

One of my favorite stories from studying church history involves Basil the Great, the 4th century bishop of Caesarea and one of the Cappadocians Fathers.  Basil is also considered the father of Eastern monasticism, who lived in relative poverty (especially given his lofty position) in order to help the poor.

Basil was also a widely respected bishop who held to the orthodox Nicene position regarding the deity of Christ, which put him in conflict with the emperor, Valens, who was an Arian.  Valens decided to take a trip to Caesarea and sent an officer ahead of him to keep Basil in check.  Basil, however, proved to be more than he bargained for.  Justo Gonzalez tells of their face off (p185):

Finally, in a heated encounter, the praetorian prefect lost his patience and threatened Basil with confiscating his goods, with exile, torture, and even death.  Basil responded, ‘All that I have that you can confiscate are these rags and a few books.  Nor can you exile me, for wherever you send me, I shall be God’s guest.  As to tortures you should know that my body is already dead in Christ.  And death would be a great boon to me, leading me sooner to God.’  Taken aback, the prefect said that no one had ever spoken to him thus.  Basil answered, ‘Perhaps that is because you have never met a true bishop.’

I suppose there are any number of points we can take away from this exchange, but there are two I’d like to focus on.  First, there is a freedom that Basil experienced which accompanied his lack of possessions.  That doesn’t mean he had none (he mentions clothing and books specifically); it means he did not allow himself to grow attached to them.  There is a connection between the paucity of possessions and the lack of unnecessary attachments.

The second point is closely related to the first.  Because Basil did not hold possessions tightly, they had no power over him and thus that power could not be exploited.  Many throughout the years of Christianity have succumbed to the power that comes with the things this world offers.  When losing our possessions is a real possibility, we begin to think about how much we love those things and how we’ll miss them.  We can be exploited.  Because Basil held power over his possessions, he was able to look the emperor (the most powerful man of his time, supposedly) in the eye (figuratively) and refuse to compromise.  He could not be exploited because there was nothing he held to exploit.

Here’s the point: there was nothing that could be taken from Basil nor anything that could be promised him that was going to cause him to falter from God’s plan.

I can’t help but wonder what things hold power over us?  Are we finding inordinate satisfaction in things that have no eternal significance?  Are we dependent on temporary treasures?  What attachments do we have that can be exploited, causing us to compromise on those things God has called us to?

Read Full Post »

Coming off the reposting of my review of Thomas Oden’s book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, I was thinking about some of the implications studying early African Christianity would have for modern missions.  As one who works for a missions organization and helps train future missionaries, I’m constantly looking to draw out practical application from studying the Bible, theology, church history, etc.

In my review of the book, I note that Oden points out how studying the early African church can benefit the modern, growing African church.  African church leaders can learn from how their ancestors handled church disputes, draw encouragement from the example of African martyrs, and so on.  Keeping in mind that most of the world places high priority on (1) their ancestors and (2) ancient wisdom (unlike many of us, who think newer is better), this is an important point that we can help pass along as the African church grows.

There’s another area where we can apply this insights to missions.  I’m reminded of a story that the late J Christy Wilson told about sharing the gospel with a Turkish med student who was in the hospital.  Wilson, who was a missionary to Muslims in Iran and Afghanistan before he went on to Gordon-Conwell to teach missions, was able to bridge the cultural gap with this Turkish man by pointing out the important role Turkey had in the early church.  Paul was born in Turkey.  The Apostle John lived in Ephesus, which is in modern day Turkey.  Many of the important churches, including the 7 churches of Revelation, were in Turkey.  What this did was enable this man to see that Christianity is not a white man’s religion or an import from the West.  It’s roots, it’s foundation, are non-Western.

Applying this same idea to African Christianity is actually quite easy.  Some of the greatest church fathers and theologians were Africans.  Augustine was a Berber born in present day Algeria.  Whether you always agree with him or not, Augustine is the most influential extra-biblical theologian in church history.  He was African.  Now, some may point out that he wrote in Latin and think this is an argument against what I’m presenting, as if writing in Latin somehow made him less of a Berber.  I’d simply point out that if Augustine wanted to write for a wide audience, he had no choice but to write in Latin (or Greek, I suppose).  He could have written in his native Berber tongue, but then his writings wouldn’t have travelled very far.

Let’s think about the Trinity for a second.  I’ve had Christians tell me that this is a Western academic construction, one that we need not import onto people from other cultures who may be turned off but such theology (or think of it as Tritheism).  I find it interesting that the man who coined the term “Trinity” was Tertullian, who was from Carthage (in modern day Tunisia).  The greatest early church defender of orthodox trinitarian theology was Athanasius, who was from Egypt (and referred to by his opponents as “The Little Black Dwarf”, for those who insist on Christianity being a white religion).

From a missiological point of view, any genuine connection you can make with a native culture is important.  Showing a Berber how Christianity was built in part because of Berber Christians can help remove the foreigness of the religion and its colonial connections.  It’s nice because you don’t have to contrive it, you’re simply pointing out historical fact.  Remember: many of these cultures pride themselves in ancient customs and traditions passed along from their ancestors.  Reminding them (or showing them for the first time) that many of their ancestors were passionate followers of Jesus Christ and helped build His church is part of them reclaiming their heritage in Christ.

Read Full Post »

Note: this book review originally appeared on my old blog on 8/13/08.

Thanks to Adrianna of IVP for a review copy of this book.

It is still a prevalent but hopefully decreasingly common (thanks to the efforts of scholars such as Phillip Jenkins) view that Christianity is a “Western” (American or European) religion. Whereas Jenkins spends most of The Next Christendom showing that Christianity is growing most in Latin America, Africa and Asia, Thomas Oden’s new book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, helps show the long history of Christianity within Africa, arriving long before both Islam and the camel. But Oden’s goal isn’t simply to show that Christianity has existed, or even thrived, for centuries in some places within Africa. Such a thesis isn’t remarkable for those who have even a superficial knowledge of church history.

Instead, Oden sets out to show that “Africa played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture” (p9). Historians have been getting it wrong for some time by claiming that the greatest achievements in the early church were from Europe, especially Rome. Oden argues: “Well-meaning European and American historians have a tilted perception of the relation of African and European intellectual history in the third and fourth centuries, and thus at the apex of African influence” (p31).

“This is what the book is about: to state the African seedbed hypothesis in a measured way and begin to sort out the facts that support it” (p31). In doing so, Oden hopes to swing the pendulum back to appreciating Africa’s vital role in shaping Christianity as we know it.

In “Part One: The African Seedbed of Western Christianity” (chapters 1-5) Oden lays out the foundation of the rest of the book. Topics covered include the need to recover ancient texts and excavate ancient Christian sites in Africa (chapter one) and “Seven Ways Africa Shaped the Christian Mind” (chapter 2). He also argues for his definition of “African”, rejecting the idea that skin color should be the determining factor, but rather “if a text was written in Africa it will be treated as African” (p69). The same goes for the theologians/monastics/bishops he surveys. If they were from Africa (whether North African or Sub-Saharan), he counts them as African.

Oden wants his reader to understand that he is not trying to overstate his case, or to discount non-African contributions to the formation of Christianity. His desire is “ecumenical” (which he’ll admit is a bad word in some circles). His desire is to include Africa and Africans into the conversation, allowing their voice to be heard, not create an insular spirit among African believers. “If Africans were saying that they want their sources to come from Africa alone and not from anywhere else, then that would be deficient in the catholic spirit. But this is not the direction of African expectations. They seek a fair hearing for valid arguments based on evidence” (p93).

I’ll admit that this section of the book became a bit repetitive at points. Barely a page goes by without the reader being reminded that Christianity has long existed in Africa, that Africans were dealing with theological and pastoral issues before Europeans made them famous and so on. All valid points, to be sure, and indeed this is the very thesis of the book; but the repetition could have been avoided and trimmed this section a bit more.

In “Part Two: African Orthodox Recovery”, Oden points out why the retrieval of early African Christianity is important. “It is precisely from the ancient African sources that global Christianity can relearn that the church guided by the Spirit is never irretrievably fallen away from the truth” (p103). Rediscovering early African Christianity can also be instructive for the various forms of emerging African Christians. “They now have the benefit of learning about conflict resolution from their ancient African mentors. From that history they learn that not every difference of opinion is demonic and not every union is of God” (p107). As African Christianity grows, “The brilliant instruction and guidance of early African Christian texts and witnesses stand ready to nourish this regrounding” (p109).

For example, Oden notes that many of the early martyrs in the church were Africans, such as Perpetua and Felicitas in Carthage (modern day Tunisia). These African martyrs helped propel the church throughout the world. Also, the early African martyrs can prove inspirational to modern African Christian suffering persecution. “The meaning of the struggle of the early African martyrs begs to be understood in modern Africa” (p120).

Oden ends this section of the book with a biographical note of his growing interest in African Christianity, as well as an impassioned plea for others, particularly Africans, to pick up his vision of voicing the strength of early African Christianity. He confesses he’d love to do more, but admits his life “may be shortened by congestive heart disease” (p141, though we pray this is not true). He actually has helped set up a consortium called the Center for Early African Christianity (website: earlyafricanchristianity.com), to help facilitate this study.

Herein lies the true goal of the book, to spur on the next generation of African scholars to take up the challenge of studying early African Christianity. Oden makes many assertions throughout this book, but admittedly offers only a small amount of evidence to support his claims. What he does offer is provocative and enough to admit that he is probably correct. But much more needs to be done. For instance, it is one thing to show that African church leaders dealt with a certain issue a century before the Europeans did, it’s another thing to show the European church leaders relied on the Africans in forming their decisions. This book is a challenge, a shot across the bow of young historians. If Oden is correct, that Africa did in fact play a more decisive role in the formation of Christianity than just about everyone realizes, then the Church will profit from the investigation he calls for.

This is a tremendous book and is worthy of being read by anyone who enjoys church history, or even African history. Thomas Oden has served the Church over the last few decades by editing the Ancient Christian Commentary Series (through IVP) and reminding us of the necessity of remembering our roots in the early church. This book continues his service to us all, may his vision be realized soon.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »