MHT: Medieval and Reformation History

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on the appropriate approach to and method for historical theology.

Erasmus

Erasmus

In the medieval period, conceptions of the changelessness of the Church solidified through the works of Bernard of Clairvaux, the Venerable Bede, Dante, and Otto of Freising.[6] Rome—which was generally not thought of as “fallen” until Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire—was increasingly identified as the seat of the elect of history. Such a view was radically challenged by the Protestant Reformers and their heirs, who increasingly advocated a narrative in which, far from being changeless, Roman Christianity had fallen into corruption and was in serious need of restoration to the pristine faith of the ancient Church. This perspective is especially evident in a work like Edward Johnson’s The Wonderworking Providence of Sion’s Savior in New England (1654), wherein the Church of New England was called to recapitulate the true and atemporal nature of ancient Christianity by encouraging a return to the separation of Church and State.[7] In the post-Reformation years, Catholics and Protestants alike proclaimed a form of Semper Eadem, best summarized in the words of fifth century Father Vincent of Lerins, that the truth of the Church is “what all men have at all times and everywhere believed must be regarded as true.”[8] Continue reading

MHT: Pre-Modern Historical Consciousness

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on the appropriate approach to and method for historical theology.

Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine

While labels are always problematic in some sense, for the sake of this analysis perspectives on history are designated as broadly pre-Modern, Modern, or Postmodern.[2] Admittedly, this schema privileges somewhat the Modern narrative of superiority over the pre-Modern and employs conceptions of Modernity as the fulcrum point for our engagement with the rise of historical consciousness.[3] However, the application of these labels is meant neither to reify these categories nor to affirm the Modernist narrative. Instead, these terms are employed as terminological tools intended to assist in highlighting the different emphases of the broad movements of historians throughout time. Continue reading

Method and Historical Theology: Introduction

ed5c933f4486e1962ecf9a902280b8f4Long attentive to its past, Western civilization often fails to address questions concerning how to appropriately and accurately understand history. This is especially true in the realm of Church history and theology, where faith has often found itself cast as the reason for not engaging the inconvenient events of the past. Over the month or so, I will be running a series which reflects on important tenets of historical methodology and their value for the study of Christianity. These reflections arose not only at the end of a doctoral course devoted to reading and thinking about what historical methodology is, but also came about within the wider context of a mind which attempts to take seriously the truth claims of Christian orthodoxy, the Modern climate of historical inquiry, and the Postmodern critique of monolithic perspectives. The approach offered here, then, is one of historical theology, where history and theology[1] are read together. Continue reading

Book Review: How We Got the New Testament (Porter)

How We Got the New Testament (Porter)The question “How did we get the New Testament?” continues to underlie many contemporary theological issues, for rarely do we discuss the social concerns of our day without recourse to the words of Jesus, the Biblical narrative, or history of Christianity. Understanding the history of the New Testament, then, may not only demonstrate the integrity of the New Testament but may also include ramifications for how to understand the entire Bible-worldview more holistically and accurately. Whether you are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Mainline Protestant, or Evangelical, understanding how the New Testament came into being perseveres as an important foundation for Christian faith today. In this vein, Stanley E. Porter has written How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, Translation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. 222pgs.), a guide to how the Christian New Testament came into existence and how understanding this process can enliven contemporary expressions of Christianity. Continue reading

Reflections on Mary: Historically Informed Theology

One of the perils of being a graduate student is constant busyness. For me, this busyness often distracts me from writing about subjects which are interesting and important but which are (unfortunately) beyond my ability to find time to address. One such subject is the Blessed Virgin Mary. In my searching for answers, Mary has often “come up” as something of a stumbling block for any progress I might make towards Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Below is the launch of my series reflecting on Mary, stemming primarily from an article written by my good friend Ben Cabe.[1] Today’s post reflects on why Christians (especially Protestant Christians) ought to seriously think about Mary and her role in Christian faith.

Icon of MaryReflecting on Mary can be “dangerous”, especially if you are a Protestant who wants to claim Protestant “Orthodoxy.” Sure, we sing about Mary at Christmas, feel her pain on Good Friday, and maybe even read a little about her in the gospels in-between. But for most American Protestants, to have almost any other interaction with Mary is borderline Catholic. So we don’t talk about Mary, don’t engage Mary, and don’t think about Mary. Life is simply easier that way.

But this is historically and theologically problematic. Continue reading

Book Review: Encountering the New Testament (Elwell and Yarbrough)

PrintFirst impressions matter. Whether at a job interview, social function, or classroom, the initial picture people paint tends to color all subsequent interactions with that person. To a large degree, this is true of non-personal interactions as well, with institutions, places, and subject matter. And while a bad first impression can be overcome (often through much hard work), nothing sets the stage for future success in any relationship like getting off on the right foot. When it comes to education, this is one of the reasons why introductory level courses are so foundational for future learning.

To help set the stage for a successful introduction to the Christian New Testament comes the third edition of Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough’s Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). This textbook is designed to facilitate an understanding of the theology and history of the New Testament that enables students to undertake an honest and informed reading of the New Testament text for themselves. Continue reading

Early Christianity, Method, and the Body

Ancient Jesus Image

Earliest Extant Image of Jesus (here as Good Shepherd)

The academic study of the ancient world remains a field full of exciting realms of consideration. This remains especially true for historians of the early Jesus Movement and Christian Church, where numerous fields of study are in need of critical exploration, including conceptions of the human body and sexuality within early Christianity. As a means to further study of this period, in recent decades scholars have turned to consideration of the ways in which the body and human sexuality were conceived by early Christians. In this article, I employ the works of Bernadette Brooten, Peter Brown, and Dale Martin to offer insights into areas of critical needs in this field. As these and numerous other scholars have pointed out, the need for clear, critical, and contextualized definitions and an approach devoid of assumed chronological superiority are necessary considerations for future study of the body and sexuality in the ancient world. Here I argue that key to critically thinking about conceptions of body and sexuality in early Christianity are answering questions concerning the role the historical-critical method and the place of ethics in such a study. Continue reading

Stride Toward Freedom

“To deprive man of freedom is to relegate him to the status of a thing, rather than elevate him to the status of a person.”

MLKDr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands apart in American History as a figure of seminal importance. His contributions to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s were virtually unparalleled, his leadership the vision for many Americans, and his tragic murder the cause for great mourning. While most Americans are familiar with some of Dr. King’s civil rights actions, many are equally unfamiliar with his theological convictions that brought him to the point of leadership in that movement. In this article, we examine some of King’s theological and philosophical perspectives as found in Stride Toward Freedom, his account of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, its influences, actions, and the resulting changes. When writing about Dr. King’s works, one must resist the temptation to simply compile a list of quotes on the various topics covered in his writings. Here we will briefly touch on three subject that run throughout Stride Toward Freedom, namely his concerns with the Active Church, Non-Violence, and his interaction with ideals and sources. Through our engagement with these subjects it becomes clear that for King the ideal of human freedom was such that it should be engaged from numerous perspectives. Continue reading

Reflections on Beginning Anew (Semester)

Happy New Year hd wallpaper 2015For as far back as I can remember, the New Year has been something forth looking forward too. In the lull that follows the festivities and joy of Christmas (seeing old friends, eating too much good food, sharing gifts with family), having something to look forward to helps quite the spirit. “New” is invigorating – the past is behind us, our errors may be forgotten, and the future stands bright before us. This isn’t to suggest that everything new is necessarily good; history and experience indicate otherwise, and we would be wise to heed those lessons. Instead, the New Year and its accompanying newness offer us an opportunity to better our world, those around us, and ourselves. There is something cathartic about ringing in the New Year that propels us into the winter (at least for a while).  Continue reading