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Faith & Religion

Looking back, looking forward – historical connections for the faith

Over at Jesus Creed » Wheaton and Roman Catholic Professors Scott McKnight has some good points about the departure of philosophy lecturer Joshua Hochschild from Wheaton after his “conversion” to Roman Catholicism. (Wall Street Journal article here.)

McKnight wrote an interesting paper “From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals Become Roman Catholic” for JETS a while back tracking what he sees as four main reasons for evangelicals moving into the Roman Catholic community of faith. You can find it here: Scott McKnight, “From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals Become Roman Catholic”, JETS 45/4 (September 2002), 451-472. (http://www.etsjets.org/jets/journal/45/45-3/45-3-PP451-472_JETS.pdf)

In a way some of this relates to what Jo was writing about here (JoBloggs: being historical). The lack of connection for many evangelicals to a sense of being part of a historical movement of God means that movements with a sense of history (Roman Catholic, Orthodox and to some extend Anglican traditions) become appealing when you feel the need to be part of something older and larger. In spite of theological differences.

It may be the evangelical pragmatism that keeps the eyes firmly on the present or next month, or eschatological focii of the “End Times” for others but there’s a historical disjunction. So a list of important historical events/figures for evangelicals might be:

  • Jesus on earth
  • Acts 2 church + Paul
  • Augustine (maybe)
  • Reformation (Calvin especially. Luther’s too earthy for some and too Catholic for others)
  • Wesley (maybe)
  • “End Times”

(Yes, I know I left a lot out in the last 150 years or so – Pentecostal, Holiness and Charismatic movements, for example).

Individuals may pick up on particular “evangelical” figures (e.g. a preacher or missionary) and some might see their history tied to a parachurch movement or local church. But there’s an awful lot of gaps there – Patristics, Old Testament possibly, monastic and mendicant orders, an understanding of Christendom and its effects, revivals in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, and social reform movements to name a few.

The renewed interest in spiritual formation for some evangelicals then poses something of a problem/shock for some then. Because spiritual disciplines are rooted in a historical context and bring some of that missing history to light. Which then means than pre-existing boundaries between traditions get challenged. For some I know this means that they get upset that this history was “hidden” from them by their churches (though the leadership there might be in the dark too). It also has an effect on a general ignorance about how the canon of the Bible was decided (and why the Protestant tradition excludes some content included by other traditions).

In my opinion an understanding of history is critical. Not only does it allow us to see people of God faithfully serving Christ and “getting it right”, but it also alerts us to the messes we created in the past and the mistakes we made intentionally and unintentionally in the name of Jesus. And we can also see the grace of God in spite of our own ambition, intolerance, cluelessness and compromise with the culture of the day.

Which brings us back to Jo’s questions. How do we connect the history of the Church with the lives of those in the Church today in relevant and engaging ways?

3 Comments

  1. Tim

    We did a series “Saint of the Day” of short (2 min max) slots done by a different “volunteer” each week:
    some were great historical figures, inc. Carey, MLK (well we are Baptists;)
    some were from the RC calendar, and many of these were bizzare enough to be funny
    some were current congregation members (interviewed by another about the intersection of their faith and life)

    Great way to involve everyone, enough funny ones to keep the kids interested, and everyone learns some history too!

  2. I really like your description of why history matters to the church. Not as propaganda, but as a challenge and an encouragement. A challenge because we see the failures of the church (the blindness to gospel principles that seem to be SO OBVIOUS to us!!) and an encouragement because God is faithful nonetheless.

  3. Years before I went off and studied theology full-time a housegroup we were involved with all enrolled for a distance course in church history. We read the text, did the work book and every second week had the tutor come to discuss things with us. The one thing that stuck in my mind after that was:

    Everyone thinks their own Christianity (faith and practice) is the norm, and everyone else (including others in your own church) are somewhat deviant from that norm. Oh, and also that we might be wrong – no matter how well-intentioned or “true” we think we are to the Gospel.

    I try to bear that in mind and hopefully it works its way out as some sort of humility, or at least less arrogance.

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