Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Top 10 reasons to read Christian History

These are the types of blogs you post when you have the flu.........copy and paste. From Christian History Magazine.

Top Ten Reasons to Read Christian HistoryWar's reports deluge us every hour. Why should we read the "old news" of Christian history?by Chris Armstrong
In a time of war, everything seems to hinge on The Now. But more than ever, it is really a time when we must be in touch with our history—especially, our sacred history.
But why?
These are our "Top ten reasons to read Christian history."
No, this is not a plug for our magazine. You can read Christian history in many other places: Biographies. Histories of Western Civilization (e.g. Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence). Novels (e.g. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin). You can even "read" Christian history on the walls of museums, like the Art Institute of Chicago.
And this, in fact, is …
Reason #1
Because Christian history is everywhere in our culture. No matter what your religious background (or lack thereof), you just can't understand the modern, Western world—including its wars—unless you know your Christian history!
I was interviewing for an academic position at a small midwestern college, and the committee asked me this: How would you convince our undergraduates to take a course in Christian history? I answered: I would suggest they look around them. So many aspects of American culture come from Christian sources:
Biblical expressions embedded in our language. Christian ethical positions—though dimly remembered and now honored most often in the breach. Assumptions about who human beings are and what we're doing on this planet—although again, fragmented and unmoored from the theology that once anchored them. Musical styles—even rock'n'roll owes much to slave spirituals and gospel "shouts."
There's more. Holidays—Easter, Christmas, even Halloween may all include "pagan" elements, but their frame of reference was always thoroughly Christian. Oh, and let's not forget St. Patrick's Day! Art—stroll through almost any Western art exhibit and just try to avoid Christian references, explicit and implicit. Science—I won't repeat the list of "Christian fathers of the scientific revolution"—see the archive of articles from our issue 76, online. …
If you live in America, or anywhere in the West, your whole environment is soaked in "leftover Christianity."
Reason #2
Because it liberates you from the tyranny of the present—and of the recent past. The ever-quotable C. S. Lewis put it like this:
"I don't think we need fear that the study of a day and period, however prolonged, however sympathetic, need be an indulgence in nostalgia or an enslavement to the past. In the individual life as the psychologists have taught us, it's not the remembered past, it's the forgotten past that enslaves us. And I think that's true of society. … I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians. It is the unhistorical who are usually without knowing it enslaved to a very recent past." (From a radio adaptation of Lewis's inaugural lecture as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature given at Cambridge on Nov. 29, 1954; see issue 7: C. S. Lewis.)
During wartime, Lewis sharpened the point. He compared the reader of history to the man who has lived in many places. This man "is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age." ("Learning in War-Time," in The Weight of Glory.)
Reason #3
Because life is too short to learn by experience. To echo Lewis's words that we've just heard, "the scholar has lived in many times." What a rich way to grow in wisdom! Though experience can be the best teacher for some things, for others it does not take us far at all.
Job's friend, Bildad the Shuhite, had it right (for once): "Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you? Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?" (Job 8:8-10).
Reason #4
Because whatever question is on your mind, someone smarter than you has already seen it clearer, thought about it longer, and expressed it better. Why reinvent the wheel? Also falling under this heading: There are no new heresies—only old ones in new clothes. And again, they've all been answered with more wisdom and erudition than we'll ever be able to muster.
Reason #5
Because the deeper our roots, the higher we grow. Believers are all part of a "Dead Christians Society." We have far more brothers and sisters in the faith who are no longer around than we do contemporary saints. Lets get to know them. And while we slog it out on earth as members of the Church Militant, the Church Triumphant is pulling for us from heaven.
What a shame to lose a sense of the communion of saints—the "cloud of witnesses" urging us to go on. The heroism, tears, toil, and triumphs of "Dead Christians" can inspire the living.
"Exhibit A" is surely the Martyrs. Blaise Pascal put it like this: "The example of the deaths of Christian martyrs move us, for they are our members, having a common bond with them, so that their devotion inspires us not only by their example, but because we should have the same [qualities]."
Reason #6
Because reading Christian history is a great way to meet fascinating people and hear dramatic, colorful stories. History is all about people. Memorable people. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once put it, "There is properly no history, only biography." And Thomas Carlyle added, "Biography is the most universally pleasant and profitable of all reading." Those Victorians had it right—and nothing sizzles like the stories of the saints!
Reason #7
Because reading Christian history helps root out prejudice and foster sympathy and humility. It's so easy to think "The Church 'R' Us." It ain't. Most Christian believers look—and have looked, in past centuries—very different than we do. They've had different questions, different assumptions, different "lifestyles," different approaches to the Christian life, different strategies for evangelism, teaching, preaching, sacramental life, social action. …
From the little we may have heard about some of those differences, we've probably already put some of our brothers and sisters in a box marked: "Weird." But in the words of historian Jacques Barzun, reading history "tempers absolute partisanship by showing how few monsters of error there have been." The more we read about other Christians, the more we get to walk in their shoes and gain respect for their approaches to the faith.
That's a good thing, because the church today is a body with a wide (and sometimes wild!) variety of members. Knowing more about the past, we gain insight into the practices and problems of other Christians in the present. We may become less critical of others—and even more aware of our own shortcomings and limited perspectives.
Reason #8
Because reading Christian history shows us how we got where we are today. Where did all those denominations come from? How did the distinctive beliefs and practices of my own church develop? What's the big deal over Calvinism and Arminianism?
Reason #9
Because … well, if #8 depresses you by reminding you of the disunity and dysfunction of the church, then consider this reason, too: We need to read Christian history to remind us of our mission. Although we live in "the world" (Augustine called it the City of Man), we are "citizens of another place" (the City of God). We have a mission strange to many of those around us, a mandate to be "in this world but not of it."
We all are members of local church bodies (or, as my friend Allan Poole likes to say, "outposts of the Kingdom"). Wherever we worship, when we step out of the church doors we still need to "be the church"—salt, light, Different. A powerful way to prepare ourselves for that mission is to read how Christians of the past have sowed the Gospel into their cultures.
Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler puts it like this. The church, through studying its history, "looks inside herself," into her own "nature and mission." When she does this, "she is less likely to take her cues from the business community, the corporation, or the market place" (see Reason #2).
Reason #10
Like the wine at the Cana wedding feast, the best reason has been saved for last: We should read Christian history because Christianity is a historical religion, based on a historical person and the words of two "Testaments" full of historical accounts.
Nineteenth-century liberal theologians liked to talk about the "essence of Christianity"—usually little more than "the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man"—that needed to be extricated from the centuries of errant doctrines and practices of a church that never seemed to get it right. (The problem with this approach, as a wit once observed, is that those nineteenth-century liberals, when they read Christian history, looked down the well of 19 centuries and saw their own faces at the bottom.) But there is no "essence" that is not clothed in history. Christianity is all about the Incarnation of God's second person as a first-century Jew from Nazareth.
And naturally, then, the New Testament is no philosophical book of abstract teachings. It is a narrative of a life, a sacrifice, a resurrection—played out on the stage of history. And the Book of Acts and the Letters, following the model of the Old Testament's "historic" books, just picks up the story from Easter. When you read Christian history, you're paging through the 29th chapter of Acts.
* * *
So next time you're tempted to tune in for the 200th update on the war in Iraq, think about a few of these reasons, or fill in your own. Then start reading Christian history—or should I say, biography? The "cloud of witnesses" awaits.


Book of the day A History of Christianity, 2 Volumes by Kenneth S. Latourette

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The story behind the story

It's commonplace for us to only know a few things about people from the past. We know legends, good things and bad things about a great many historical figures. Others, we only know them by what they wrote. For those who are extremely famous figures from the past, we may only know them by what people say about them many years after the fact.
We know J.R.R. Tolkein by his Lord of the Rings stories and that's about it.
We know George Washington by stories of the U.S. struggle for Independence, the chopping of the cherry tree (which probably never happened) and so on.
But what about those stodgy, dead theologians we know of, but know so little of?
What about that guy Augustine from so long ago?
What about Aquinas?
What about Calvin, Luther, Beza, Wesley, Edwards and so on and so on?
What do we know about these guys?
The majority of Christians only know what they're heard from someone else, and a few Christians have read notable quotes, or maybe a book or two, but that's about it.
What happens?
Well, when we rely on information from someone else, this person from the past becomes a figure to us and we really don't understand them just as if someone only told three stories about our lives and we expected them to really "know" us.
Is there a remedy?
Well, for folks as contraversial as Calvin or Luther, I reccomend reading what they actually said. I actually reccomend that if you want to "understand" any figure really. This does two things, one, it opens a window to what the individual actually said, in their life, in their context; and two, by reading someone's own writings we see there is a human side to the painting in the museums. There is a human who actually lived, who thought these things they penned down for folks to read.
That's the story behind the story. Doctrines, theological systems, philosophies, movements and so on, are led or developed by human beings, and we should remember that, and maybe once in a while we should actually read what they said. It can make that stodgy theologian look like a sincere person who was committed to Scripture and believed their studies were an act of worship performed for Almighty God.

Book of the day, Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Don't get too cocky

Sometimes, I think we are tempted to believe our church, denomination, or movement is THE ONLY ONE which is pure and theologically right enough to really be in the business of God's apostolic work here on earth.
When we reach this mindset, and I have been there, we begin to narrow our focus on what we are doing in our small context as opposed to what God is doing throughout His whole church.
Now, that is not to say doing God's work is important because it is, but to look at ourselves as if we're God's last hope for reaching every tribe and tongue is a disservice to God because he uses all types of movements and denominations to reach people with the Gospel. Now, I am not saying that all theological systems are equal, because they are not, however, I am saying that it does not fit with what we see in Scripture when we look at our movement or church as the only hope for the world.
You see, it's not about us, it's about the Gospel. It's about God taking miserable human beings and putting them in His service to reach the world with the Gospel. We should take purity of doctrine seriously, but not take ourselves so seriously. I think when we do that, we see ourselves as a part of the Body, as opposed to seeing ourselves as THE part of the Body and everyone else as lesser than we may be. God does amazing things through ALL of His Church, and that is a beautiful miracle of which should lead us to awe.

Book of the day Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification edited by Donald Alexander.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Ignorance is not bliss

In interacting with various people from conservative type evangelical churches, I have found that our Christian culture does not focus on the Old Testament enough. In fact, I have talked to people who believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation, but if you practice Judiaism today, you're in too.
So many things are misconstrued and read into, or plain ignored, and it's sad really because the Old Testament is a beautifully constructed book full of many theological truths that all Christians can benefit from. It seems that we have relegated the OT to the Sunday School classroom and people only know the basic stories of Creation, Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, David, Esther, Daniel, Jonah and a few others. Some people know a few Psalms and some Proverbs, or maybe a tale of a prophet or two, but no one "minor", and that's about it.
What does this do?
Well, for one it creates a Christian who does not appreciate the whole of God's revelation.
It also puts the Church further and further away from the context the OT was written in and it also puts the Church further and further away from the idea of Covenant and leads us to more individualistic interpretations.
It puts us further away from the proper way to understand prophesy.
It leads us open to liberal theology and source critics who seek to undermine the authority of the OT.
It puts us futher away from understanding the New Testament because we must realize that the NT was written in light of the OT and when the OT is ignored, we miss out.
It also can lead us to the "Old Testament God"-"New Testament God" paradox, which is unorthodox and not the way God reveals Himself in Holy Scripture.

We need to get back into the OT and study it with ferver because it is the Word of God and must be respected, not relegated to the back of our studies.

It's time to get the OT out of the Sunday School Room and into the Sanctuary.

Book of the day, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction by Gleason L Archer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Celebrity Christians

Is a celebrity Christian a good thing? By celebrity Chrisitan I mean someone who is more than influencial in just what they say, but they are imitated in more ways than just their Christian walk, and they are celebrated for more than just being a Christian.
I'm talking about a Christian who has a following, like say an artist, theologian, writer, speaker or pastor.
It's like this, I enjoy the band Third Day and I discinctly remember when they started to become popular among our Christian subculture, and the lead singer in the band, Mac Powell, happened to have bleached blonde hair. Soon, Christian kids who liked 3D started attending concerts with bleached hair to imitate him.
Or another example would be this, we begin to listen to a preacher, maybe David Jeremiah, or R.C. Sproul on the radio, and we learn and benefit from them very much, but we become so attracted to something about them that we obsess over them and clamour to own all their books, CDs, DVDs, go hear them speak and so on and so on.
I chose the examples I chose because they are all people whom I enjoy, appreciate, like and have no axe to grind with so my ideas would not seem venomous or polemic.
I think though, that too often we start to appreciate someone's service for God and to us so much, and take our appreciation beyond their use of the gifts God gave them. We take it to the point where we are more interested in them than God's use of them. I think that we need to temper ourselves to a point where we follow St. Paul's admonition and be followers of someone as "they are followers of Christ", remembering that everyone within the body of Christ has something to offer. We all have unique gifts which can contribute and are able to be used to touch lives that no one else will be used to touch.
It's not about us, it's not about our celebrities, it's about Christ.

Book of the day, The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Fall prey to culture

In the enormously popular song by Bowling For Soup entitled 1985 (caution language), the listener encounters a woman who's unsatisfied with her typical suburban life and longs for the days of 1985 where she had a dream of living a life as an 80s icon or something of that sort.

The tune is catchy for pop-punk and the lyrics, no doubt, cause many people to laugh at how silly teens were in the mid80s, but what this song does is penetrate the underlying theme of all pop culture, or just culture in general. What does culture to do? Well, it says, you're not going to be happy unless you're like us. The object of 1985. Debbie, is like this, her husband is a CPA, but she is stuck in a suburban, Prozac filtered, monogomous life with no glamour or fame. She longs for the hey days of Bruce Springsteen and Madonna, no Nirvana and being able to fulfill her dreams of sexual escapades with 80s rock stars and living the life of an actress with fame and money.
But life didn't turn out like that and Debbie just stayed normal, but left her dreams in 1985. Instead of being satisfied with the life she created with her husband and two kids, she longs for the life that the culture of her youth told her was good. Culture does that to us all doesn't it? It tells us that we're not really valuable, or able to make a "real" contribution to society unless we have wealth, celebrity, noterity, fame, and all that goes with being a star. But the problem with that is that the stars of our culture fade away and become has beens at some time or another. Think of the people who were so popular in the 1980s and you will find that most of the people who were "it", are laughable nowadays because of their mullet and spandex wearing days. Some of those celebs survived and evolved and are still popular today, but they are the exception, rather than the rule.
What about us though? What is our culture telling us to be like now? When we gaze over the landscape of today, we still see celebrity touted as the defining achievment in one's life. People clamour to be a part of American Idol or Survivor so they will be able to be on the cover of a magazine, land a lucritive prize, and gain the worship of the minions of television viewers obsessed with MTV, celebrity magazines and internet websites. We are told that if you don't dress like a star, then you have no style.
All of these images, messages, and motives flash before our eyes through television shows, advertisments and so on and so on. And we sit in our homes and wonder if we are important, if we have something to contribute to society.
Fortunately, we can be important without celebrity. We can contribute without having a famous last name. How can this happen? It can happen when our lives are changed by the Gospel. When our lives are changed, our perspectives change, and we realize that we are unique people who have been created in the image of God and have something to offer our culture: change. We take the Gospel out to people and give them a message which teaches that even a nobody from middle America, the jungles of Asia, or the slums of Europe can live an impacting life with purpose, change, and true love characterized by a relationship with the one who Created the universe. True happiness doesn't take celebrity, fame, or money, it takes the Gospel.

Book of the day, A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Breaking it down

We live in a society which is defined by demographics.
I am a white male, in the 25-34 demographic, married, no kids, household income $25000-$50000, rent, etc, etc, etc, etc.....
As someone who has worked in and studied the science of marketing, I have a great appreciation for a person or organization that is able to locate a target market/audience for a message/product and being able to create a message that clicks with that group.

What does that have to do with Church?
For me, it seems the trend over the past 20-30 years or so is to break down the local church into a group of demographics so there is something for everybody. Youth group, empty nesters, children's church, unmarried 20somethings, married 20somethings, college age, and so on and so on. These can be very good things, create avenues for people within the local body to find people "like them" so they are able to connect and click with people they are more likely to share common interests with.
What's so bad about this?
Sometimes we can take this too far and end up compartmentalizing our churches in such a way that we lose that beautiful New Testament concept of fellowship within the whole body. Churches need to keep a balance and realize that keeping one age group from another can end up creating a litney of churches within one church.
If fellowship and community are what we seek to foster, let's look at compartmentalization with trepidation and caution.

Book of the day The Church by Edmund Clowney.




Thursday, January 06, 2005

Disaster

People ask the question, "where is God when I am hurting" and one way that Christians can show God's comfort to people who are hurting is by helping. Right now in Asia, we all know that a Tsunami has killed thousands and thousands of people. There are many organizations which are reaching out help where help is needed and to share time and money where needed.
Christians must be the first to reach out. There are many missionaries which are already there and many Christian organizations, denominations and churches are taking the opportunity to share Christ's love and help the needy.

If you are wishing to donate money to help in the relief effort, make sure you take caution in where you send your money because many times good money can get in the wrong hands and, no doubt, there will be many bad, bad folks who will use the generosity of the world to benefit their hunger for power and pocketbook. One thing I can suggest is this. Try and give through an organization that is accountable and reputible. If you do not have an organization to donate through, I would suggest Mission To The World, which is the missional branch of the Presbyterian Church in America. MTW is a good organization which plants Bible believing churches all over the world and reaches out to areas of the world which need help. You can donate through their online form here or go directly to their website to call them, or print out a hard copy form.
Whatever you do, please pray that the Church can make an impact and reach out with compassion.

Book of the day, How Long Oh Lord, Reflections On Evil and Suffering by D.A. Carson.

Monday, January 03, 2005

A new year

So yesterday in church the sermon was Philippians 3:12-14. I am sure many people heard a sermon from this passage because it is an applicable passage for a new year. One thing struck me from main point 1 which I do not believe that I will ever forget. Dr. Benton was expounding upon this little phrase, "Forgetting what is behind". Most of the time when we see that phrase we think of only the bad things in life. You know things we all want to forget, but it doesn't say that, it says, forgetting what is behind, meaning all things. Now, we understand that this is not a literal forgetting since we cannot literally forget all of our past, so we would take this to mean something to the effect of not dwelling on the past. If you take that to mean both good and bad, we can see that holding on to our "good" past experiences can keep us from "straining to what is ahead".
Why? When we are so entangled in the good things we have done in the past. In our good experiences in the past, we can live a life where we just dwell on the past, just as easily as those who dwell on the bad things from the past.
Think of it this way. We all have known that guy or girl who is still enamored in the so-called glory days of high school accomplishments. We laughed at them in college when all they talked about was how good they played basketball or football, but didn't seem to live in the present.
The thing is, most of us do the same thing, but it's not sports, but maybe that nostalgia we hold on to from the "good old days" when things were "better", or, for me, it's dwelling on all the fun places I hung out at in Oklahoma before I moved to St. Louis. I still hold on to that and what I have discovered is that holding on to the good has kept me from pressing on to more good in the future as I endevor to live out my Christian walk.
What about you?

Book of the day The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

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