As an enthusiastic jazz fan and an appreciator of business entrepreneurship, I enjoy watching folks make it up as they go along. Nothing affirms my sense of human beings as “co-creators” with God (a favored term of that great co-creator, J R R Tolkien) more than listening to the swooping, soaring melodic lines of a skilled jazz musician. Nothing hits me more powerfully with the great practical power of creative thinking than seeing an entrepreneur take the germ of an idea and spin it out into products, services, jobs that turn raw materials into something of value to the world.
But as a historian, I am reminded that when true jazz musicians hear an improviser who has not studied the traditions handed down through generations of jazz men and women . . . they shake their heads and turn away. And when veteran businesspeople see a young wannabe rushing out to potential consumers without proper understanding of their needs, or building financial castles without grounding in economic knowledge and financial principles . . . they wince, knowing the inevitable failure that will follow.
So why can’t the American church learn this lesson? Why do we keep rushing to and fro launching all our creative ministries, church growth strategies, and grand “missional” plans, unequipped with even a basic acquaintance of those giants whose shoulders we are standing on? What is it that, unlike any other craft or business on earth, leads us to think that we can ignore history and still succeed? Why do we think we can bypass 2,000 years of wise thinking (and lessons learned the hard way) about the Gospel, about what it is to Be The Church, and bring our fevered plans about how to “Do Church” to fruitful reality?
OK, flame off. As you were. I’m going to go think about New Years Resolutions . . . AND the Great Cloud of Witnesses.
And by the way: R.I.P. Dave Brubeck–one of the greats. And long live Keith Jarrett (pictured above), a living legend and influencer of a whole new generation of skilled, creative players.
Image by Barking Tigs via Flickr
Mark Galli, I love you as a brother in Christ. As managing editor in the flagship evangelical Protestant publication, Christianity Today, you have presented an impassioned and powerful case for why evangelical Protestants tempted to cross the Tiber and join with the Roman Catholic Church should think twice . . . and then remain in the evangelical fold. While I balk at some of your historical characterizations, I affirm your central point.
A word on those historical characterizations. Mark assert confidently: “Huge segments of the church were bound to the chains of works righteousness before the Holy Spirit ignited the Reformation.”
Really? “Huge segments”? While at Duke University (fountain of all wisdom, funded by tobacco money . . . and surprisingly loyal, in at least many parts of the Divinity School, to the Great Tradition), I learned different from David Steinmetz, the (Protestant) historian of the Reformation at Duke . . . unless, David, I interpreted your lectures wrongly:
Shout out to my all-time favorite female apologist (that is, a person who is female and a Christian apologist)–Dorothy L. Sayers. A neat article today by a smart young fellow I once met at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton, named Cole Matson. Cole presents one of Sayers’s most powerful ideas: the spiritual as well as intellectual integrity of the artist/writer/dramatist:
For Sayers, the artist is a person who is called to a contemplative vocation, and who delights in sharing the fruits of that contemplation with others through the creation of artworks. Artistic creation is a necessary part of the vocation; a contemplative who is not also a craftsman is not an artist. But contrary to Lewis’ focus on an artwork’s potential value for edification, Sayers focuses on the artist’s inner delight in making as the raison d’être of artistic creation. ‘The only rule I can find,’ Sayers writes, ‘is to write what you feel impelled to write, and let God do what He likes with the stuff’.
[SAYERS:] Do you think that love of creation is sufficient reason to justify making art? Or do you think an artist must also consider whether or not his art will edify? If you are an artist, how do you keep yourself open to hear the words or images you may be given?
You can read the whole article here.
Coppo di Marcovaldo, Hell (ca 1225 - 1274, Mosaic, Baptistry, Florence)
Folks, here’s a sneak preview of some work I did for the forthcoming Christian History magazine Handbook to Christian Thought on Hell. It’s not edited yet, but the guide, which will survey Christian thought on hell from the earliest church to the 21st century, will include something like what follows. If you are interested in getting the entire guide, which will be in a half-size (roughly 5 x 8.5) magazine format complete with timeline and illustrations, go to www.christianhistorymagazine.org and get on the mailing list.
The Middle Ages
The medieval period (roughly 500 – 1500 AD) saw a shift in emphasis from the early church’s focus on the biblical “Last Things”—the Second Coming of Christ, general resurrection, and final judgment—to a new concentration on the afterlives of individuals. Until the 400s AD and even beyond (as in the thought of Gregory the Great (540 – 604)), the “Parousia” (second coming and all its associated events) was still expected imminently, and so those who died in the intervening generations could be thought of as simply sleeping or awaiting the resurrection. There simply wasn’t much written during this early period about the immediate fate of those who died before Jesus returned.
However as the Second Coming came to seem, potentially, more remote, the question of the reward of the saved and the punishment of the damned heated up, and the doctrine of the immediate judgment of each soul at death came into more prominence. The Book of Revelation in particular, which tremendously influenced medieval culture, began to be pressed into service to imagine the shape of people’s fate after death. As we will see, this emphasis on the afterlife and its support from the Book of Revelation resulted in a lavishly visual and grotesque new genre of imaginative literature: the vision of the otherworldly journey, of which Dante’s Divine Comedy was the pinnacle. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Patron Saints for Postmoderns
Tagged Bede, Book of Revelation, Christian History magazine, Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, hell, Middle Ages, Rob Bell, Second Coming of Christ, Thomas Aquinas
Boston College, with its Old World architecture
Folks, what’s the Boston Colloquy in Historical Theology? Why, it’s a group based at Boston College with a unique mission to rehabilitate historical theology as a discipline in service of the church. As it says on their website, ” The Boston Colloquy in Historical Theology (BCHT) is a professional organization of scholars devoted to the study of early and medieval Christian theology. Organized by Khaled Anatolios, Stephen F. Brown, and Boyd Taylor Coolman in the Theology Department at Boston College, the BCHT annually brings together scholars from these disciplines to foster conversation, stimulate thought, and promote scholarship.”
This summer’s meeting of the Colloquy looks to be an interesting one–see the list of papers below. Continue reading
As most of you know, I’m once again involved in one of the best magazines out there: Christian History. Under recessionary pressures in 2008, the magazine, which had been published since 1989 by Christianity Today International, ceased publication. Now it has been picked up again by its founding organization, the Christian History Institute (CHI), out of Pennsylvania. I worked with CHI to put together a special “re-inaugural” issue on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
That magazine has now been printed, and you can see the whole thing in its glory as a pdf “flip-book” here: http://www.christianhistorymagazine.org/. At that page you can also order your own printed copy, and most important, you can add your voice of support. Within the next 30 days, CHI will be deciding whether or not to continue the magazine as a print publication. The final decision will be based on responses from folks like you to the survey located on the website above under the sentence “Be a part of Christian History! Please take our brief survey.” Or you can just click here.
If you love this magazine and agree with me that it is an important resource for the church, then please act now!
Ken Curtis and friends, onsite in Israel for a recent film
I first heard of Dr. A. Kenneth (Ken) Curtis back in the late 1980s, when I was still a fresh-faced, young adult convert within the charismatic movement. That was when I discovered the wonderful magazine Christian History, which Ken had started publishing in 1982 with assistance from the talented Dr. Mark Fackler, then a professor in Wheaton College’s graduate program in communications. Christian History showed me the true depth of our spiritual heritage as Christians—water in the parched land of evangelicalism’s historical amnesia. By the late 80s I had CH in one hand and graduate school catalogues in the other, and by the mid 90s the love for church history that I first discovered in Ken’s magazine took me first to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and then to Duke University to study in that field.
Despite the tremendous early success of Christian History, Ken’s primary business had never been magazine publishing. Continue reading
A couple of years back, when I was in the thick of writing Patron Saints for Postmoderns, I started doodling with anagrams for my “saints’” names. This is what I came up with:
Margery Kempe = “Kerygma per me”
That’s a Greek/Latin hybrid, meaning, “the Gospel proclamation for me.” So much of what Margery did was in response to her deeply personal sense of what the Gospel proclamation meant–for her and for all people.
H/t to friend and former student Matt Crutchmer for this:
I have had occasion to appreciate Westminster Seminary’s Carl Trueman before (to be precise: here and here). Now I find myself nodding in appreciation as I read Trueman’s side of a thoughtful conversation with a Roman Catholic, Bryan Cross.
Though this appears on the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals–a group that gives me the willies–I find Trueman’s even-handed discussion of the links between the two great confessions a breath of fresh air, if a bit too focused on the importance to the church of confessional theology for my taste. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Patron Saints for Postmoderns, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Carl Trueman, Catholic Church, church history, Council of Trent, Francis J. Beckwith, Martin Bucer, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, the Reformation