“Greek Life” @ Cary Christian School – Training the Next Generation of Reformers

[Some All Saints Day (and late “Reformation Day”) musings, tying together my dual roles as a high school Biblical Greek teacher and a student of church history.]

Martin Luther did not mean to start the Reformation. In 1517, Luther, a teacher of theology in Germany, posted some items for an academic discussion on the church door in Wittenberg (really a community bulletin board back then).  At this point in his career, he had no intention to break away from the Roman Catholic church—as a “doctor” of theology Luther had the right, and the obligation, to express concerns about the church. Luther was attacking the practices of some extreme “indulgence preachers” who were basically selling get-out-of-Purgatory-free cards (indulgences). Luther had no idea how far up the chain of authority this corruption went. In fact, Pope Leo X gave his official blessing to this indulgence fund-raiser in order to finance his massive building project at St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in Christendom. Continue reading

Clement of Alexandria’s Aesthetic Theology

Clement Alex

I just found out about the group Read the Fathers, and jumped right in.  We’re reading Clement of Alexandria’s Exhortation to the Heathen, and Clement’s extended musical metaphors soar!  Some excerpts from ch. 1:

“Behold the might of the new song!  It has made men out of stones, men out of beasts.  Those, moreover, that were as dead, not being partakers of the true life, have come to life again, simply by becoming listeners to this song.  It also composed the universe into melodious order, tuned the discord of the elements to harmonious arrangement, so that the whole world might become harmony.”

“And He who is of David, and yet before him, the Word of God, despising the lyre and harp, which are but lifeless instruments, and having tuned by the Holy Spirit the universe, and especially man,–who, composed of body of soul, is a universe in miniature,–makes melody to God on this instrument of many tones; and to this instrument–I mean man–he sings accordant:  ‘For thou art my harp, and pipe, and temple.’–a harp for harmony–a pipe by reason of the Spirit–a temple by reason of the word; so that the first may sound, the second breathe, the third contain the Lord.”

“A beautiful breathing instrument of music the Lord made man, after His own image.  And He Himself also, surely, who is the supramundane Wisdom, the celestial Word, is the all-harmonious, melodious, holy instrument of God.  What, then, does this instrument–the Word of God, the Lord, the New Song–desire?”

“The instrument of God loves mankind.”

“Well, inasmuch as the Word was from the first, He was and is the divine source of all things; but inasmuch as He has now assumed the name Christ, consecrated of old, and worthy of power, he has been called by me the New Song.”

“This is the New Song, the manifestation of the Word that was in the beginning, and before the beginning … The Word, who was in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher; that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends.”

Those Manly, Racy Puritans!

Authors like Anne Douglas (The Feminization of American Culture) and Leon Podles (The Church Impotent:  The Feminization of Christianity) have documented what might be called the “feminization of the church.”  More recent offerings like Why Men Hate Going to Church bring statistical data and anecdotal evidence that men just don’t seem to like, or fit in, at most  churches.  While I think these authors all make good points, I was recently struck at how “feminine” certain Puritan theologians were.  For many in my conservative Reformed circles, the Puritans are the standard against which we measure our own orthodoxy and our spiritual fervor.  Many Puritans are revered for their “manly” courage and heroic gospel deeds.  I don’t want to belittle any of that–I simply want suggest that some of the these “manly” Puritans spoke, wrote, and preached in quite “feminine” terms.

Continue reading “Those Manly, Racy Puritans!”

Getting the Reformation Wrong

Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some MisunderstandingsGetting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings by James R. Payton Jr. My rating: 4 of 5 stars James Payton has produced what promises to be a remarkable book. I haven’t gotten very far, but he is already cutting the legs out from under many standard Reformed evangelical lecture quotables. I don’t know if this book will make many friends for Dr. Payton in the world of conservative Reformdom (or conservative anything-dom), but it deserves a careful reading by all those are serious about the study of history. (On a personal note, Dr. Payton is a careful scholar, as well as a kind one. When I was doing my M.A. research, he was kind enough to send me a copy of his doctoral dissertation, which related to my topic. He also helped me with a short bibliography on a topic I was pursuing at Trinity Theology College.)  Here are some of the golden nuggets I’ve found in the book so far:

Renaissance Humanism It is a truism in discussions of Christian “world-view thinking” to say that the Renaissance was a move towards a man-centered worldview, in other words, humanism. Dr. Payton shows that we have totally mis-read the “h-word” in regard to the Renaissance: “But during the Renaissance umanista carried no philosophic implications. Rather, it had pedgagogical ones: a ‘humanist’ was someone who taught the ‘humanities’–the liberal arts. These Renaissance figures focused not on some perceived or alleged philosophical differences from their scholastic opponents, but on the pedagogical difference from them. Where scholastics concentrated on logic, dialectic and metaphysics, Renaissance humanists focused on grammar, poetry, rhetoric and history. Rather than ensconcing themselves in the ‘professional’ schools at the universities (law, medicine and theology), the Renaissance figures emphasized the importance of preparatory or undergraduate education in its own right. Their purpose was to prepare their students to become capable and functioning members of society–not as specialists in law, medicine or theology, but as well-rounded individuals who could serve the needs of the burgeoning society in Italy. Burckhardt’s [first real historian of the Italian Renaissance] readers had committed an egregious category mistake: they had misappropriated the understanding of ‘humanism’ of their own day, with all its philosophical and humanity-centered implications, to interpret the ‘humanism’ of the Renaissance, a movement that had no such philosophical emphasis or implications,” (61-62).

“Renaissance figures produced a great deal of devotional literature, careful textual studies of the New Testament and treatises on various doctrinal topics. Rather than dismiss these as holdovers from a superstitious upbringing, scholars have come to recognize them as evidence of the Renaissance figures’ ongoing Christian commitment” (64).

View all my reviews

Breaking The Da Vinci Code – Review

Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everyone's Asking (Walker Large Print) Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everyone’s Asking by Darrell L. Bock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Bock’s little book is an able response to The Da Vinci Code. I think studying The Da Vinci Code is valuable simply because it enables us to discuss what really happened. Too many Christians simply have no clue where the Bible came from. We need to have a response ready for when we talk to folks who have read the book or think it’s true just because Tom Hanks said it.

View all my reviews >>

Review – Judas & the Gospel of Jesus

Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity? Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity? by N.T. Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a fantastic little book. I just read it for the second time. Wright manages to explain early Gnosticism, how the Gospel of Judas can’t possibly be an accurate portrayal of anything Jesus actually taught, debunk the debunkers of the historical Jesus, and show how Gnosticism is still very much present in American Christianity. All in 150 pgs.!

What I most enjoy about Wright is ability to simplify tons of material and relate the ancient world to our own. Additionally, while he criticizes other scholars pretty sharply, he always does it in a respectful fashion.

You may not agree with Wright’s entire theological project, but he has led the way in a winsome, scholarly, and still critical engagement with “radical” scholars who attempt to undermine the canonical/historical Jesus.

View all my reviews >>

Well, at least he stopped branding faces …

People tend to lament the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine to Christianity.  Yes, he wasn’t perfect.  Yes, he probably chose Christianity to unify his empire.  But, it wasn’t all bad. 

John Meyendorff highlights the mixed-bag nature of the Christianization of the Roman Empire: “If the Roman  state, now Christian-inspired, hardly modified its philosophy of marriage, it did begin to integrate some principles of Christian family ethics.  Thus help was provided to parents unable to feed their children and tempted to abandon them.  The sale of children to slavery and their use for prostitution was severely punished.  Laws prohibiting celibacy, which was encouraged by the Church, were abolished.  Homosexuals were to be burnt at the stake.  Earlier, Constantine had condemned pederasts to gladiator’s fights, but soon decided to abolish such fights altogether, after also forbidding mutilation, by fire-branding, of a criminal’s face because ‘it bears the similitude of God'” (Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions, 10-11). 

So, in the midst of what most would consider barbaric punishments, we have laws against child-abuse, and a thoroughly Christian reason for not branding criminals on their faces! 

I love Meyendorff–although he is Eastern Orthodox, he is truly objective.  He doesn’t shy away from the messy (or objectionable) details of church history, and nor does he over-emphasize the virtues of the early church.