Archives For church history

Teaching Church History to Your Children

Greg Strand – February 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Jeff Robinson lists 7 Reasons to Teach Our Children Church History.

  1. Because they must know that Christianity is a historical faith.
  2. Because we want them to avoid chronological snobbery.
  3. Because they must know that the Bible is worth dying for.
  4. Because they must know that theology is important. .
  5. Because they must see that we are part of Christ’s church through the ages.
  6. Because we want them to know that even great men are deeply flawed.
  7. Because it encourages them to obey the ninth commandment.

It is vital that we teach and instruct our children the Bible. I also affirm that it is important that we teach our children God’s marvelous works through church history. But in order for us to teach our children, we first need to know this history so that we can teach it. For many, it might be a case of learning as you are leading/teaching. Wonderful. Don’t let that dissuade you for doing it.

One of the resources we used that we all appreciated was the The One Year Book of Christian History: A Daily Glimpse Into God’s Powerful Work by E. Michael and Sharon O. Rusten. Each day’s reading consists of a person or event with a brief concluding section with reflection questions and a biblical text. The title of this devotional explains the scope; the subtitle emphasizes its focus. This work was a wonderful family devotional companion.

There are many other excellent resources we used. Robinson also lists some of those resources he is presently using with his children in his post.

What have you used?

The Bible, Doctrine and Church History

Greg Strand – March 26, 2014 1 Comment

Knowing the Bible and biblical truth is essential for the Christian. Ensuring and maintaining “sound doctrine” is one of the major responsibilities of elders of local churches (1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Tit.1:9, 13: 2:1, 2, 8). Furthermore, it is also important for the health of God’s people to know the history of the Christian church, to learn from the preceding cloud of witnesses (Heb. 11), knowing that history is recorded for our “instruction” resulting in hope (cf. Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11)

I was reminded of this as I read the recent report of “China’s Deadly Lightning”:

A Chinese cult known for physical violence and coercion is prompting Chinese pastors to upgrade theological instruction in their congregations and help government officials understand the difference between orthodox Christianity and cult-like offshoots.

The group began in the 1990s by a woman the group believes is the “second incarnation of Christ.” They teach that one “must leave behind their families and property . . . they brainwash, kidnap, and murder to grow their following.”

The response of pastors is to teach the Bible, doctrine and church history.

Lay Christians can have trouble telling the difference, too. In response, pastors told ct they are building up theological resistance in their churches by adding lessons on church history and doctrine to their Bible teaching. As a result, the cult is less successful at recruiting church members than it was a decade ago, though it still has strong followings in rural China, said an anonymous source who leads a large Chinese house church network.

Because of the perennial challenge of doctrinal error and historical amnesia, it is vital for pastors and leaders of churches to build up “theological resistance in their churches by adding lessons on church history and doctrine to their Bible teaching.” Let me encourage you to do this proactively rather than reactively, because if it is reactive, damage has already occurred among the people of God.

How are you equipping God’s people in sound doctrine? What are you doing proactively to address this?


Church History

Greg Strand – September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

A second volume of a new work on church history has recently been published completing the two-volume set. This set is one of the best treatments of church history now available. It should prove to be a standard for many years.

Everett Ferguson, Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2005), wrote the first volume. John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III, Church History, Volume 2: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), have co-authored the second.

Volume Two is described as follows:

A companion to Everett Ferguson’s Church History: Volume One, which covered the history of Christianity from the Early Church through the Patristic Period and Middle Ages, this story picks up just prior to the Protestant Reformation and extends to the present day. The combined academic expertise of authors James and Woodbridge, their engaging writing style, and their broad ecumenical approach will secure the place of Church History, Volume Two in many undergraduate programs, Bible colleges, and seminary classrooms.

When asked about Volume One written by Ferguson, Woodbridge notes two strengths:

First, it is genuinely comprehensive in coverage – much more than many other texts. Second, Dr. Ferguson’s expertise is poured into the text. Dr. Ferguson is one of the best Patristic scholars in the United States. The context of his volume reflect first-rate scholarship. . . . I believe Church History, Volume One is one of the best texts available in the English language.

When Volume Two was released, Woodbridge and James were interviewed about this new textbook. One of the questions addressed the uniqueness of this book over against other church history texts that cover the same period. In reply, Woodbridge notes four key traits (which I summarize in their main points).

First, Dr. James and I included various interpretations of different topics.

Second, Dr. James and I placed a premium upon writing clearly and in an interesting manner.

Third, Dr. James and I emphasized the relationship that exists between social, economic and political factors and the history of the Christian churches and doctrine. Readers should gain a good understanding of the historical contexts in which doctrine and church life has developed. At the same time, our study does not squeeze the divine out of causative factors that impacted the history of the Christian churches.

Fourth, Dr. James and I included the treatment of many subjects that are not covered in other texts.

James’ response includes the following distinguishing features not found in other evangelical writings.

First . . . to provide an honest engagement with the facts of history as best we can determine whether those facts comport with personal convictions or not.

Second, this volume endeavors to provide a global perspective.

Third, we intend this volume to be contemporary and relevant to the church today.

Fourth, we have not avoided the controversial issues of the past or the present.

Fifth, we are keenly aware that church history like all history, is culturally conditioned.

Sixth, we have written this volume with a special sensitivity to the evangelical world, which is our primary audience.

Finally, we have embraced a broad ecumenical stance; that is to say, we have endeavored to be respectful of all Christian traditions and indeed, to give a thoughtful and faithful treatment to other religions.

One of the significant differences is that most church history books are written by a single author and are limited to that author’s expertise. These two volumes expand this by including three authors that include a broader spectrum of expertise. The interviewer notes that this two-volume work

brings deep seated academic expertise to virtually the entire range of church history – Ferguson on early church and middle ages, James on late medieval and reformation, Woodbridge on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and both James and Woodbridge on contemporary American and global Christianity. Furthermore, all three authors are not just historians who understand the social and political dynamics, but practicing theologians as well who understand the power of religious ideas.

Woodbridge states that this book is designed to be used “as a textbook in colleges, Bible schools, and seminaries throughout the world.” But he also is hopeful, prayerful, that this book will also be included in every church. He writes,

It is an amazingly up-to-date, almost encyclopedic resource for the study of the history of the Christian churches. If its reputation grows, I would think that pastors will want to purchase it and recommend it to members of their congregations as a resource and an inspiring read concerning God’s amazing grace to humankind.

When asked about the importance of church history for students, pastors and all Christians, Woodbridge gives an extended response summarized in this way:

Not to know church history is to lapse into a kind of cultural amnesia. Moreover, we rob ourselves of a rich source of guidance and inspiration to help us live more informed and fruitful lives in our won day. Church history, stuffy and irrelevant? By no means!

The contents of the book:

  1. European Christianity in an Age of Adversity, Renaissance and Discover ( 1300 – 1500)
  2. The Renaissance and the Christian Faith
  3. Luther’s Reformation: A Conscience Unbound
  4. The Swiss Reformations: The Maturation of International Calvinism (16th Century)
  5. Radicals and Rome: Responses to the Magisterial Reformation (16th Century)
  6. Reformations in England: The Politics of Reform (16th Century)
  7. Refining the Reformation: Theological Currents in the Seventeenth Century
  8. Christianity in an Age of Fear, Crisis and Exploration (17th Century)
  9. Christianity and the Question of Authority (17th Century)
  10. Christianity under Duress: The Age of Lights (1680 – 1789)
  11. Christianity in the Age of Lights (1): The British Isles (1680 – 1789)
  12. Christianity in the Age of Lights (2): The Kingdom of France (1680 – 1789)
  13. Christianity in the Age of Lights (3): The Continent of Europe (1680 – 1789)
  14. Christianity in an Age of Revolutions (1770 – 1848)
  15. Adjusting to Modernization and Secularism: The Rise of Protestant Liberalism (1799 – 1919)
  16. Nineteenth-Century Christianity in the British Isles: Renewal, Missions and the Crisis of Faith
  17. The Christian Churches on the European Continent (1814 – 1914)
  18. Global Christianity: A Re-Centered Faith (20th and 21st Centuries)
  19. Modern Theological Trajectories: Spiraling into the Third Millennium (20th and 21st Centuries)
  20. Catholicism and Orthodoxy: Collision to Collegiality (20th and 21st Centuries)
  21. Contemporary American Evangelicalism: Permutations and Progressions (20th and 21st Centuries)
  22. Christianity and Islam: The Challenge of the Future (21st Century)

I give a strong recommendation to this book. I would recommend that all pastors purchase both volumes and read them. I would also encourage them to purchase a set for the church library. These works are not only informational, they are also edifying as you learn of the providence of God worked out in history in the midst of a fallen world.

I have great respect for Dr. Woodbridge, as a scholar, a fellow churchman and a friend. Everything I read that he has written results in being encouraged, edified and challenged to live more committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, for God’s glory and the good of His people. Reading this book is more of the same!

The History of Christianity

Greg Strand – March 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Robert Louis Wilken, professor of the history of Christianity emeritus at the University of Virginia, is a great historian who has written some excellent works focusing specifically on the early church. He now turns his attention to a larger, more comprehensive task, that of an overview of church history: The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (New Haven: Yale, 2012). These sorts of works have to be selective, which is generally a strength and a weakness. In spite of this, good works like this, though hard to come by, are necessary. This is one of those “good works” that is actually a great work!

Peter J. Leithart, who serves on the pastoral staff of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho, and senior fellow of theology and literature at New Saint Andrews College, recently reviewed Wilken’s book.

Leithart begins this way:

Historical surveys are typically marred by predictable blemishes. Some so generalize that the personalities and specific contours of historical life get smoothed over. Others are too particular, veering dangerously toward the genre of “list.”

Robert Wilken’s new book is remarkably free of these stains. Only at one or two points does he slip into listing, and he never overgeneralizes. By the end of the book we have not only read about Origen and Constantine, Nicea and Ambrose and Augustine, the spread of Islam and Justinian, Pope Nicholas and Boris the Khan of the Bulgars and Charlemagne. We have met them, taken tours of their buildings, frequently heard them in their own voices.

A few of the “distinctive contributions” Wilken makes, as emphasized by Leithart, are the following:

  • Christianity is not just about doctrine, though it is certainly not less, but that it is doctrine that is transformative, Christianity consists of a “culture-forming religion.”
  • The Roman Empire had been greatly influenced by Christianity even before Constantines’s conversion, and this was unique and unusual from what had occurred prior in history. Thereafter, kings were often the first to undergo a religious conversion which led to the expansion of the Church in Europe. In much writing of history today, there is an anti-Constantine sentiment. Wilken has a different take on this, which is refreshing in what has become for too many a given.
  • The role of Christian art and the influential public role it played is profound, particularly as it influenced the culture in distinctively Christian ways.
  • The expanse and influence of Christianity is global. Wilkin has moved beyond the provincial to make this work global, and he has done so adeptly.
  • Interacting with Islam makes this a contemporary work. But it also makes it a historical work, as Christianity and Islam is a major story in the second half of the first century of the Christian church, implications with which we still live today.

Here is Leithart’s conclusion:

The First Thousand Years is a substantial historical study, but Wilken assumes little prior knowledge. He includes the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and other documents familiar to most Christians. This makes this nearly blemishless book an ideal gift for a non-Christian, especially one whose view of the church is infected by the notion that “religion poisons everything.”

I would add that this is also a very good book for a Christian to read, either one who needs a refresher on the first thousand years of the Church, or one who needs to learn the history of Christianity for the first time.

Our next year’s EFCA Theology Conference, January 22-24, 2014, will address the theme “Christian Faithfulness in a Changing Culture”. It will be hosted by Christ Community Church in Leawood, KS.

We live in a postmodern, post-Christian day, which we have known for some time. For most this statement has been made intellectually. With the moral and cultural sea-changes, and the speed with which they are happening, parallel with a moral tsunami, many are for the first time beginning to feel and experience palpably some of the implications of what we have for many years only known abstractly or experienced vicariously.

These shifts require a different way of thinking, engaging, and speaking, without compromising the Word of God or Christian faithfulness.

We hope to include various topics addressed from a biblical, theological, historical and pastoral perspective:

  • Church History: we are today more like the early church than we have been since the days Constantine made Christianity legal in 313.
  • Church: what it means for the church to be missional, in the sense that its primary nature is missional, by virtue of its very being (1 Pet. 2:9-10).
  • Bible: there are significant questions pertaining to the inerrancy of the Bible, and to hermeneutics, both critical issues for us who affirm the ultimate authority of the Word of God.
  • Kingdom: this is a significant debate with numerous questions about what the kingdom means and how it is ushered in and its relation to the church, and how Christians ought to engage in culture and what Christians can expect of culture, among many other related matters.
  • Culture: though Christian fumes remain, and though we were never a Christian nation, we were a nation that was strongly influenced by Christian principles, but that has and continues to change drastically and rapidly, and the “intolerance of tolerance” is one of the key marks of this culture. During these changes, the twin temptations are to move in an accommodationist (liberal) or a separatist direction.
  • Contextual Theology: this is driving a lot of theologizing that is being done today, which often results in the culture being the lens through which the biblical text is interpreted rather than the other way around, which leads to biblical revisionism and liberal theology.
  • Religious Freedom:  this is narrowing more and more, and the focus is on freedom of worship and freedom from religion, not freedom of religion, and this has profound implications on Christians living in the world but not being of the world.
  • Persecution: Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world, and though it includes death in some Islamic countries, it also refers to other kinds and forms of persecution. But rather than engage in a victim mentality, which Evangelicals are prone to do, we must know that this is the precise manner and context in which the gospel transforms, seasons with salt, illumines with light, etc.

In sum, we need to figure out how to live the Christian life with faithfulness in a post-Christian day.

I have considered doing a pre-conference on Trinitarian Theology. This is an important issue for Evangelicals to know and understand, as there are many changes taking place in Trinitarian theology, and not all are good!