Why does the world need this book?


I’m writing Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, like Patron Saints for Postmoderns, primarily because it’s a book I’ve always wanted to read, but no one has written it for me. Gee, if you want something done around here, you’ve gotta do it yourself!

Here’s what I told prospective publishers in my proposal:

Many Protestants are still hampered in their faith and practice by a “black hole historiography,” which assumes that the church apostatized from true Christianity sometime around Constantine and was only finally recovered by the Reformers.[1] Though recent work by writers such as Thomas Oden, Christopher Hall, Robert Webber, and D. H. Williams has been rehabilitating the first six centuries of the church, the medieval period has been left in the black hole—its riches inaccessible to modern Protestants.

Granted folks such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, and James Houston have tried to open up the spiritual resources of the medieval period for Protestants—however, the appropriation has been limited to individual practice, and has been marked by an oddly untheological, consumerist tone (pick one “spiritual discipline” from column A, one from column B, and enjoy them in the privacy of your home; I wrote about this in “The Rise, Frustration, and Revival of Evangelical Spiritual Ressourcement,” Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care [Volume 2; Issue 1; Spring 2009]). The usable legacy of medieval Christianity goes far beyond these sorts of isolated disciplines. Also, these spiritual writers (Foster, Willard, et al.) are neither historians nor theologians. This leaves a gap to be filled in appropriating our past.

I believe that the medieval church (I will deal in this book only with the Western Church) is the next frontier in evangelical ressourcement. It certainly contains its share of “land mines” to identify and skirt. But I believe the medieval church will prove an important armory—as C. S. Lewis and his friends strongly believed—in the church’s present struggle against parts of modern and post-modern culture that contradict the gospel, oppress Christians, and seduce even the church itself.

If I had to draw a picture of my “central audience member,” she (or he) would be an educated evangelical aware of the difficulties modernity throws up in the way of Christian faith and life, and open to reconnecting with tradition. However, I view my audience as not limited to evangelical Protestants, but broadly encompassing all Protestants and welcoming in fellow-travelling Catholics and Orthodox.


[1] The Protestant espousal of “black hole historiography” is particularly incongruous and unnecessary when we understand that Luther and Calvin were themselves deeply medieval in many ways: their favorite theologians included Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux, and they drew deeply on medieval mysticism, the medieval concern for theological truth, and much else of that period.

One response to “Why does the world need this book?

  1. Pingback: A Baptist Pietist University Gets Medieval | The Pietist Schoolman

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