Church History

This tag is associated with 18 posts

Book Review: “Introduction to World Christian History” by Derek Cooper

iwch-cooperDerek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History provides a look at the development of Christianity across the world. It is a broad introduction to Christianity around the globe.

The book is formatted both by space and time. That is, sections on each general area (i.e. Asia) are traced for a specific time period (i.e. First through Seventh Centuries). Thus, readers looking to have a reference to work from need not look much farther than this book. Other readers, who may simply be interested in the broad development of world Christianity will not be disappointed either. Cooper does an excellent job showing the ebb and flow of Christianity’s spread across vast regions of time and place. Individual stories of prominent Christians are told in historical context to highlight specific periods or ideas. These individual stories accompany a broader narrative that is delivered in a readable, engaging style.

What makes the book particularly excellent is the way it provides all levels of readers with more to explore. It is an introductory text, for sure, but the notes are excellent and the topics explored are so broad that even readers with serious knowledge of Christian history will find more to explore. It is such a vast topic that no one can grasp each area, and Cooper gives glimpses into history that entice, like stained glass windows, much study.

The only real downside here is unavoidable: with so much material covered, it is impossible to get a complete picture of any one topic. Readers must go beyond this introduction. But again, kudos to Cooper for making readers want to do so with such a rich narrative style.

Introduction to World Christian History is the kind of book that will broaden readers minds in a number of ways. From those merely interested in a specific region to those who want to know just how we got to where we are, the book has broad appeal. Cooper’s style makes it extremely accessible for any level of reader, with plenty to tantalize more advanced readers as well. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Fantastic overview covering large swathes of time and space
+Provides readers with broader understanding of Christianity
+Written in an interesting, readable style

The Bad

-Extremely brief on many interesting points

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Earliest Christologies” by James L. Papandrea

tec-papandreaJames L. Papandrea’s The Earliest Christologies is an introduction to examination of five views of who Christ was in the earliest church. Papandrea examines views of Christ as angel, prophet, phantom, cosmic mind, and Word/Logos.

The strongest point of the book is that it provides a reasoned, non-sensationalist accounting of the diversity of Christological positions in the early church. Too often, authors try to play up great conflict in the early church and what became orthodoxy as merely whatever view happened to have the most powerful adherents. None of that exists in The Earliest Christologies, which instead gives an overview of each position and shows that orthodoxy was superior in key ways.

Readers will get a broad overview of each of the five positions examined, along with multiple directions they could take further study, should they desire. It’s a solid introductory text.

Two primary difficulties face the book, and they are interlinked. The book is quite short, and so is necessarily brief on multiple important points, offering little by way of analysis. Papandrea notes throughout that the looks at Christology provided herein are “neater, cleaner, and more well-defined than they would have been in ‘real life'” (105). This brevity isn’t necessarily a major drawback, as it is intended as a work that introduces readers to the various positions on Christology in the earliest church, but it may leave some readers wanting more.

Well-written and stuffed with information, The Earliest Christologies provides a much-needed introduction to historical views of Christ. Although its brevity may limit its usefulness to introductory reading, such a work is necessary and it comes recommended. It would serve as an excellent text for a class on Christology or a high-level Bible study group.

The Good

+Provides a reasoned voice in examining early Christology
+Wealth of information in an accessible format

The Bad

-Extremely brief on multiple points
-Little by way of analysis

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Wesley and the Anglicans” by Ryan Nicholas Danker

wa-dankerWesley and the Anglicans by Ryan Nicholas Danker is an historical project about the developing split between John Wesley and the Methodists on the one hand and the Anglicans and Evangelicals on the other. Danker’s work offers a mixture of data and correction, exploring the topic in a way that brings new insights.

Danker does an excellent job interweaving different disciplines into his approach to the issues at hand. Instead of taking a purely theological approach to the reasons Wesley and the Anglicans split, he argues forcefully that sociological and political issues were just as–if not more–important to the division than the theological reasons. Indeed, theologically there was an Evangelical movement with Anglicanism (Danker uses Evangelical to refer to those within the Anglican church and evangelical to refer to those either immediately or ultimately outside of it). There were plenty of theological sympathies to be had for Wesley’s movement within the Anglican communion, but John Wesley (and Charles Wesley, his brother) ultimately pushed against the political and sociological hierarchy too hard to maintain unity.

Indeed, for Wesley, his commitment to aspects of the Anglican Church made the pushback from Evangelicals (and others) within the church more surprising to him. These ideas are developed through a number of case studies. For example, because of Wesley’s commitment to evangelism, he continued to encourage lay preaching. When confronted about how this may lead to laity taking over the Sacraments and the like, Wesley was (to sum up Danker’s argument) surprised; after all, he was not encouraging these lay preachers to make their own church buildings or orders of hierarchy–how could this therefore be seen as a challenge to the Anglican Church? Wesley’s own intriguing mixture of old and new made it difficult both for him to understand why he was being criticized so harshly and for those within the Anglican Church to see why he was being so divisive.

Political pressures were also brought to bear on the topic, and much of this was due to hierarchy within the church and concerns over how Wesley’s teaching might lead to a collapse of this hierarchy and unity of belief. Thus, laws were passed which began to make lay preaching more and more difficult, for small groups were suddenly considered rivals to official church business by law. Further pressure came from the laity, which began to push back and wonder why they couldn’t do things like administer the Sacraments. All of this came to a head over the course of several meetings of the Methodists, and ultimately led to the split with the Anglican Church we see today.

Danker does an admirable job uniting so many divergent threads into one continuous stream, but he does so in a way that sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. Perhaps the main downside of the book is that it reads very dryly. It doesn’t so much bring life to the historical persons and events as it does describe them. This does an adequate job of presenting the ideas and important topics, but it makes it less exciting to read than some other historic works. It conveys information, but doesn’t necessarily awaken a love of the topic in the reader.

Wesley and the Anglicans is an interesting read about a vital point in church history. Danker also demonstrates that church history ought to incorporate broader studies into its approach than just theology or history. It isn’t the most exciting history book, but it presents readers with a great deal of information on a topic of interest.

The Good

+Sheds light on an important time in church history
+Multi-disciplinary approach that incorporates sociology and politics into theology
+Full of information

The Bad

-Dryly presented

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Ryan Nicholas Danker, Wesley and the Anglicans (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 3/18/16- women in church history, video games, and more!

postHere we have another round of posts for your reading, friends. Topics range from parenting gamers to Augustine, from women in church history to talking about abortion. As always, let me know what you think, and be sure to let the authors of the individual posts know as well!

Christian Thinkers 101: A Crash Course on St. Augustine– We need to be aware of thinkers from the past for a number of reasons: so we don’t repeat mistakes made in the past, so that we don’t have to re-learn what was learned before, so we can have our biases challenged across time, and many more. Here’s a post that helps us do just that by introducing, concisely, the thought of Augustine, one of the greatest luminaries of all time.

A Parent’s Guide to Living with Gamers– Some parents may express concern about their kids playing video games. Here are some helpful thoughts from a Christian perspective for parents of gamers.

Women in Church History: Footnoted and Forgotten?– Too often, women’s voices are ignored. Here is a post highlighting some women throughout church history. Be sure to also check out a series of women in church history at a different blog that starts with early church history and the Desert Mothers.

Apologia Raido and the Defamation of Tony Lauinger: A Call for an Apology– There are different schools of thought regarding the pro-life movement, and this post is revealing as to how these schools of thought differ radically on method of engagement in law and in person.

Really Recommended Posts 3/20/15- Blood Moons, Jupiter Ascending, and more!

postWhat’s this!? Weather that is above freezing? I cracked my windows last week when it hit 33 degrees Fahrenheit  because I was warm. Then it hit 65! SCORCHING! I think maybe I’ve adapted to life in Minnesota. Anyway, I also took the time out of this beautiful week to provide you, my dear readers, with what I hope will be some most edifying material. Here we have posts on Blood Moons, women’s church history, creationism, Jupiter Ascending, and (!) a great apologetics resource.

Jupiter Ascending– A worldview-minded look at the flick “Jupiter Ascending.” Largely blasted by critics, the film is an attempt at a science fiction fairy tale. What does this “fairy tale” about the future teach us?

Trillions of Stone Artifacts: A Young Earth Anthropology Paradox– Are there more human artifacts than there should be, if we grant young earth creationist assumptions about the age of the Earth? Check out this post for an interesting challenge to this paradigm from the perspective of anthropology.

Blood Moons: An End-Times Sign?– Should we view the fact that there are Four Blood Moons happening as a sign of the end-times? Here’s an examination of the claim that we should.

Women’s History Month: The Early Church– Here are some women in the early church who had profound impacts on the faith.

Apologetics 315– Here’s a site to follow if you don’t already. It features interviews with top apologists, book reviews, resource links, and more! It is one of the first sites I ever followed and it still pays dividends.

On the Alleged Atheism of Early Christians

apologetics-romanIt is interesting to note that modern atheists of the internet-infidel variety share much with Pagan counterparts in the first few centuries after Christ. “How can this be?” one might ask. Well, the charge of atheism against Christians is shared both by the common internet-infidel comment that “We’re all atheists, I [the atheist] just take it one god further” and Pagans in the Roman Empire. Oddly, some atheists have gone so far as to suggest that the Pagan accusation is somehow evidence for their position.

The early Christians, it is true, were accused of being atheists. However, to suggest that this is somehow synonymous with contemporary usage of the term “atheist” is ahistorical and anachronistic. Frances Young notes several facets of the charge of atheism leveled against Christians:

What the charge [of atheism leveled against Christians] really amounted to was an expression of dismay and distaste over the fact that people were abandoning conventional ritual practices… The charge of atheism against Christians focused on their refusal after conversion to continue to participate in traditional religious customs… Religion, embedded in the ethnic cultures, was a matter not of belief but of loyalty. (99, 101, cited below)

The charge against Christians, then, was that they were abandoning the ways of the Romans. They were outsiders, outcasts, and, by extension, atheists. By refusing to worship the gods of Rome, they became targets. The fact that the Christians did this conscientiously–they intentionally abandoned the gods–led to the charge of atheism. It was a charge related not to belief in deity, but rather to rejection of shared societal practice, with a culturally charged impetus for making it.

In fact, others who yet believed in the gods were also charged with atheism. The Epicureans were accused of atheism, despite believing that the gods existed:

It is significant that these ‘atheists’ [Epicureans] did not question the existence of the gods. Rather, they liberated people from religion by suggesting that the blessed immortals were not the slightest bit interested in what goes on among human beings… (ibid, 100)

Thus, when modern atheists continue to perpetuate the claim that “we’re all atheists,” and then move on to argue that Christians should agree with them because, after all, Christians were considered ‘atheists’ by the Romans, it is difficult to take them seriously. The Pagan charge was made for cultural reasons, and is tied up in the notion of rejection of the societal norms of the time. It was also made even against those who acknowledged those gods existence. This last point is very important, because one attempted rebuttal I have seen from the modern atheist is that “You are an atheist to other religions.” Well, according to ancient Pagans, you could even be an atheist to your own religion! Of course, the point is that Christians are not atheists, but theists.

The word “atheism” was used back then as a damning charge of societal blasphemy–rejecting the ethnic practices of your own society in pursuit of another’s. Now, modern atheists attempt to forcibly include others in atheism with this kind of pithy phrase. The historical charge is interesting, but clearly entirely different from the modern one. Either charge, however, is inaccurate. Christians, by definition, are not atheists–theists cannot be atheists. The ancient cultural charge is of interest for its historical implications, but it is hardly evidence for the modern use of the charge of atheism against Christians.

I suspect that this post won’t silence many who will continue to persist in saying Christians are atheists. At that point, I suggest to others the following: the people who persist in this mislabeling should be written off as being just as irrelevant as the ancient Pagans with whom they share at least this part of their worldview.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

On the statement that “We are all atheists”– I evaluate the claim that atheists make which say that “we are all atheists.” I evaluate it from a philosophical point of view here.

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I have written on how we may discover these enormous resources historical apologists have left behind for us. Take and read!

Source

Frances Young, “Greek Apologists of the Second Century” in Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Constantine’s Faith and the Myth of “Constantine’s Takeover”

Constantine-1There is a narrative within some branches of Christianity (and some… “offshoots”) regarding church history. It is a narrative in which Constantine is seen as the great evil (whether intentionally or not) which corrupted Christianity. The narrative basically goes like this: Constantine rose to power, then everything went wrong in Christianity. He made Christianity the state religion, which introduced scores of nominal Christians into the church. He made service in the church a well-paying position, which corrupted the office of the ministry. He himself was probably not even a Christian!

So the story goes. Is it accurate?

From Narrative to History

The question of Constantine is one of history. Too often, people have subjected Constantine to psychoanalysis, analyzing an ancient historical figure’s mental state to determine his motives. Historical study may indeed speculate about such things, but to suggest, as some do, that one may uncover some nefarious ancient plot to take over Christianity and lead it into heresy is to engage in writing historical fiction. So what may we actually learn from the historical accounts? Peter Leithart’s work, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom directly addresses this question to pursue the “real” Constantine.

Leithart notes that it seems clear that Constantine actually paid much deference to Christianity (Leithart, 93; 121ff; 128-129; 326-328, etc., cite below). He was keen to prevent major divisions within the Church which could have resulted, for example, from the Arian controversy. Hence, he called a council at Nicaea which would define Christian orthodoxy for centuries to come. Constantine himself likely favored the view of Arius, but when the Nicene Council ultimately came against Arianism, Constantine submitted to the defining of orthodoxy.

Constantine’s life appears to be one not of a plot to take Christianity over for political gain, but rather as a life lived struggling with newfound faith and attempting to integrate that faith into public policy. Alister McGrath notes that Constantine’s faith led him to legalize Christianity and sanction it, with some interesting and perhaps unforeseen side-effects:

The new imperial status of Christianity meant that its unity and polity were now matters of significance to the state. (McGrath, 139, cited below)

The much-discussed question of why, if Constatine’s faith were genuine, he would have waited until his deathbed to get baptized is easily answered by his belief that he should wait until the last possible moment to gain the purifying from sins which baptism would provide (Leithart, 299-300).

Frankly, the more one reads about Constantine, the more difficult it becomes to imagine him as someone whose faith was not genuine. Like any Christian, he had his faults–he was a sinner-saint–but he also worked through his position to try to spread and unite Christianity. Leithart notes that many of Constantine’s laws were “more often Christian in effect than in intent” (304). What he means by this is that many laws he made spring from a Christian worldview, though not being explicitly Christian themselves. For example, he outlawed gladiator shows–hardly something which can be said to be explicitly Christian–and this demonstrated Constantine’s genuine concern for human life and the “image of God” in humanity which was noted in yet another law he made (303-304).

In another work, a collection of essays on  Apologetics in the Roman EmpireMark Edwards, having traced various lines of thought in Oration to the Saints (and arguing that it was a work by Constantine), notes:

[The work] reveals an emperor who was able to give more substance to his faith than many clerics, and an apologist whose breadth of view and fertile innovations make it possible to mark him with the more eminent theologians of his age (275).

It’s time to set aside the notion that Constantine was somehow “faking it.”

dc-leithartConstantine’s Takeover?

The “narrative” of Constantine has, unfortunately, often dipped into the notion that he was indeed a Pagan who overthrew traditional Christianity and condemned Christianity to political power-plays for centuries after his death. This notion simply does not line up with historical reality. Although Constantine’s enriching of the church’s coffers did lead to church positions becoming a political gain, it also provided a counter-balance to Imperial authority (Leithart, 304).

Moreover, Leithart argues that the notion that Constantine himself brought about so many wrongs to the church is historically fictitious: “[T]here was a brief, ambiguous ‘Constantinian moment’ in the early fourth century, and there have been many tragic ‘Constantinian moments’ since. There was no permanent, epochal ‘Constantinian shift'” (287). Indeed, the notion of church and state was something found seeded in Augustine’s writings (286) and although Constantine did bring about some monumental changes, the effects they had could only take place over vast amounts of time. It would be impossible to argue that the Catholic Church of the Medieval Period was directly the same or even the exact result of Constantine’s policy.

Finally, Constantine’s policies and actions “Baptized Rome” (Leithart, 301ff). He built churches, empowered bishops, called for unity, and deferred to church teaching. His laws, as noted above, were rooted in a genuinely Christian worldview and sprung from faith.


Conclusion: Defending Constantine

Was Constantine a perfect human? Obviously not. But was Constantine a Pagan who dramatically undermined Christianity; was he a usurper of the Church’s authority who did incalculable damage to Christianity? It does not seem so. Whatever your views on the matters, one must contend with strong historical evidence for the genuineness of Constantine’s faith.  His policies indeed may have (and at points certainly did) damage the church, but was that his intent? Again, psychoanalysis of ancient figures is dubious, but the actions Constantine took were those of someone with genuine concern for the stability of Christianity. Most telling, perhaps, were his actions that were not explicitly stamped with Christianity but reflective of his background beliefs: by seeking to end violence, help alleviate poverty, and the like, he demonstrated his faith.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

Peter Leithart, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom

Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Reformation Review: A look at the origins of the European Reformations

The Reformation [I am going to use the term “Reformation” to refer to the European Reformations and the Roman Catholic counter-Reformation] is a period of extreme importance for those who seek to understand Christian theology. Many of the debates that are happening now can trace their roots to this period of history.

One of the most important aspects to understanding the Reformation–and, by extension, much of the development of theology after the Reformation–involves looking into the origins of the movements. How is it that the Reformation started? What brought about the notion that it was necessary to reform the Church?

In his Reformation Thought: An IntroductionAlister McGrath notes a number of aspects that are important for understanding Reformation thought. First, and perhaps most importantly, one must not limit reflection on the origins of the Reformation to any one cause. There were a diversity of social and theological causes which spurred the Reformation.

Social Factors in the Reformation

The organization of cities was one factor that led to the success of the reformation. McGrath notes that individual cities during this period had come to regard itself as a kind of individual state. However, due to the failures of many of these cities to provide for their citizens and their growth over time, there were calls for a broader and representative government (McGrath, 16, cited below).

Cities had become centers of power and experienced “remarkable growth” due to the various agrarian crises and plagues that had taken place in earlier years (Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 24ff, cited below).

Furthermore, the control of the city council over the general practices and laws of the cities often led to a “symbiotic relationship” between a reformer and the city council. “The reformer, by presenting a coherent vision of the Christian gospel and its implications for the religious, social, and political structures and practices of a city, was able to prevent a potentially revolutionary situation from degenerating into chaos” (McGrath, 19).

Some reformers were very tied to the social aspects of the reformation. For these reformers, “the Reformation involved the identification of ‘citizen’ with ‘Christian’… Thus Zwingli laid great emphasis upon the need to reform and redeem a community, whereas Luther tended to concentrate upon the need to reform and redeem the individual” (McGrath, 20).

Doctrinal and Moral Concerns and the Reformation

One of the primary concerns of the reformers was that the Church could “best be reformed and renewed by returning to the beliefs and practices of the early church” (McGrath, 20). The reformers observed many problems with the Church of their time and felt  that it was important to return to the “golden age” of Christianity, which they interpreted largely as the patristic period.

There had been a growth in popular religion which was largely disconnected from that of the Church. “Folk religion” focused upon the “needs of rural communities–such as haymaking and harvesting” (McGrath, 24). A lack of confidence in the pope and the clerical system contributed to the need for reform. Furthermore, the laity was becoming more educated, which led to a problem for the Church. Due to the Roman Catholic church’s system at the time in which positions of authority would be given often to the highest bidder, there were many in the Church who never visited their parishes or had little interest in or understanding of that which they were supposed to preach. The educated laity became increasingly aware of the many errors even parish preachers would make in their renditions of the Latin in the Mass (some of these priests had merely memorized the service without understanding it themselves!) (24ff).

Furthermore, throughout the Scholastic era, the Church had tolerated a kind of doctrinal pluralism. The Church recognized the need for allowing the academics to debate various issues, but this led to a serious question: “[W]hich of these schools of thought [theological schools of thought like Thomism or Scotists] was right?” (McGrath, 28). Yet the Church had suffered from a kind of schizophrenia about centralized authority. Was the authority in the Church found in Councils or in the Pope (Lindberg, 44ff)? Questions like these led to the need for reform. The reformers focused on who had the right to decide doctrine and the need for God’s word in the vernacular of the populace.

Two Primary Movers

There were two primary focuses for the individual reformers: the moral sphere and the doctrinal sphere. While it is necessary to avoid drawing a false either-or dichotomy between these, it is equally important to note that the various reformers focused largely one way or the other. Broadly speaking, several reformers in the Wittenburg/Swiss tradition focused upon the need to reform the very teachings and doctrines of the church, while those in the humanist (not to be confused with modern notions of humanism as atheism, but rather as a system of thought and practice) tradition focused upon the need to reform the moral practice of the church.

Again, neither of these should be seen as exclusive of the other. Moral reform often involved doctrinal reform and vice versa. What must be emphasized, however, is that the reformers differed at points on whether it was more important to have right belief or right practice. Surely both thought both were necessary, but the question was how to integrate these into the Church and furthermore which should come first as important. Such differing emphases can be observed, for example, in the doctrine of Scripture. The humanistic reformers tended to see the Bible as a guide for morals, while the Wittenberg and Swiss reformers tended to see it as a “record of God’s gracious promises of salvation to those who believed” (see discussion in McGrath, 55-57).

More to Come! 

Thus, the stage was set for reform of the church. Societal and doctrinal pressures were in place that would lead to the need for reflection on the spheres of belief and practice. The debates that raged through the reformation continue to rage today.

Throughout October and into the next few months (and perhaps beyond, depending on the feedback/readership I get here), I will be exploring various aspects of the Reformation. I will look at some important thinkers of the Reformation period and will also focus on some modern theology which can trace its roots back to the reformation. Why October [and beyond]? Well, Reformation Day is October 31st! Be ready to learn with me, and please ask questions and leave some comments!

Alister McGrath’s book was a gift from an anonymous donor. I was blown away when I saw it show up at my door and I have to say Thank you so much for being such a blessing! Whoever you are, you made my day. Well, more than just one day actually. This series of posts is a direct result of your donation. Thank you!

Links

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era: Reformation Review– I investigate the notion of “sola scriptura” and its different applications in interpreting Scripture. I particularly emphasize the problem of doctrinal unity and the various ways church bodies have dealt with these difficulties from the Reformation into today.

Sources

Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

SDG.

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