Happy Columbus Day?

The wonderful thing about studying historical theology is that we can sometimes lose ourselves in the past and forget about the constant stream of superficial tripe that dominates the media. But, we often find the past impinges on the present in countless ways. Today marks “Columbus Day,” and I have no desire to delve into the political furor that surrounds it. I’d rather just quote a contemporary source. Martin Bucer (1491-1551) labored as a pastor in Strasbourg, trying to “reform,” or re-shape, the church according to his understanding of what the Bible taught.

Bucer

Bucer, like most of the other Protestant reformers, had a deep appreciation for church history and the church fathers, and so he also found inspiration for his activism through his encounter with the past. Bucer also labored strenuously to bring factions within the Christian world together. He wrote Concerning the True Care of Souls (Von der waren Seelsorge) in 1538, to encourage the city authorities in Strasbourg to take seriously their role in promoting moral purity and holiness in their churches, and in their city.

Part of Bucer’s agenda, of course, was to demonstrate the short-comings of the Roman church, which had previously held sway in Strasbourg and throughout medieval Europe. Seeing God at work in historical events was part of the sixteenth-century mindset, on all sides. Harsh criticism across religious lines was also the norm (the relative constancy of human nature is another fact we learn from the study of history!). So, Bucer routinely condemns the Roman church for their lack of true spiritual concern and for their preoccupation with worldly wealth and political power. We do not have to completely agree with Bucer’s diagnosis in order to appreciate his point of view. On this “Columbus Day,” his critique of colonial conquest (by countries which were still faithful to Roman church–primarily Spain) are particularly interesting. Bucer writes:

Continue reading “Happy Columbus Day?”

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“From Modernity to Auschwitz”

Thus begins Joe Keysor’s provoking article in the March/April 2012 issue of Touchstone magazine.  (Yes, I’m behind in my Touchstone reading …)  Although this article is sadly not available on-line at the Touchstone web-site, it worth buying the entire issue just for this article.

Keysor subtitles his article, “The Secular and Anti-Christian Origins of the Holocaust.”  What follows is a  convincing case that Hitler was more influenced by Enlightenment philosophers than by orthodox Christianity.  Why probe the pre-history of Nazism?  Because some historians persist in maintaining the opposite–that Christianity prepared German soil for the flourishing of Nazi ideology.  Keysor writes:  “In his lengthy book The Holocaust in Historical Context, Steven Katz of Boston University links biblical Christianity to the crimes of the Nazis.”

Continue reading ““From Modernity to Auschwitz””

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).

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The Church Fathers Knew the Bible!

The Fathers quoted Scripture constantly.  Bruce Metzger notes: “so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.”[1]

We might criticize some of the father for this or that doctrinal oddity, but we should respect their deep knowledge, and reverance for, the Scriptures. 


[1] Meztger, The Text of the New Testament, 3rd ed., 86, qtd. in Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, 106.