Results tagged “History” from Reformation21 Blog

I've been preparing a talk on Luther and education for a conference this summer, and so have been reviewing Luther's 1524 "To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany, That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools." In examining this work, I've been especially struck by Luther's plea for a stronger dose of history in the curriculum of Germany's schools. "Among the chief books [needed for the education of German youth]," the reformer writes, "[are] chronicles and histories, in whatever language they may be had; for they are of wondrous value for understanding and controlling the course of this world, and especially for noting the wonderful works of God."

Luther particularly notes the need for national history in the school curriculum, and laments the lack of reliable German histories extant for that purpose. "How many fine tales and maxims we should have today of things that took place and were current in German lands, not one of which is known to us, simply because there was no one to write them down, and no one to preserve the books had they been written." Luther compared Germany rather unfavorably to ancient peoples in this regard, noting that "the Greeks and Romans and even the Hebrews recorded their history so accurately and diligently that if but a woman or a child did or said anything unusual, all the world must read and know it."

As intimated above, Luther viewed a knowledge and understanding of history as fodder for praise. God is sovereign over human history. Knowledge of history, then, equals knowledge of God's past doings. But Luther also demonstrated rather profound insight into a truth that philosophers of history have only recently made much noise about: the truth that history -- or more specifically, national history -- plays a crucial role in shaping national identity, and so too national mores. Indeed, history owns at least as much, if not more, power to shape national identity as shared language, ethnicity, and/or rituals. Luther, in other words, intuitively grasped the reality that--as Carter Lindberg puts it--"history is the thread of community identity" in much the same way that "memory is the thread of personal identity."

Most of us, I suspect, have known someone who has lost his or her memory (whether suddenly or gradually), and so have witnessed the loss of personal identity that follows from the dissolution of one's own story in life. Uncharacteristic (and sometimes rather unethical) behavior often follows from such a loss of memory and identity. But, as Luther keenly observes, communities that lose the thread of their identity -- i.e., their (hi)story -- are equally prone to unethical behaviors that communities with a stronger sense of their own narrative might resist. In Luther's words: "That [namely, a lack of national German histories] is why nothing is known... about us Germans, and we must be content to have all the world call us German beasts, who know only how to war, gorge, and guzzle." Warring, gorging, and guzzling, it seems, are the obvious activities of a story-less people.

Such insight into the connection between history, national identity, and public mores is, as noted, rather profound for a person writing in 1524. It sets Luther well ahead of the pack of popular historians in our day who typically discover nothing in history but material to mine for moral examples -- the historians who, for instance, seem bent on commodifying the Reformation this year as thoroughly as the constituencies who support them have commodified the Gospel in the rather dire course of American evangelicalism.

Of course, most things Luther thought and said are rather profound. In any case, Luther's grasp of the connection between history and public mores deserves recognition in any account of the role he played as educational reformer. This seems a fitting year to give him that recognition.

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In case you missed it last week, ChristwardCollective.org contributor David Murray gives us 5 Reasons to Study Old Testament History. 

5 REASONS TO STUDY OLD TESTAMENT HISTORY
by David Murray

Shakespeare wrote that each person's history is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." The Christian view of personal and world history is quite a contrast; we believe God ordained it, organizes it, and moves it towards a meaningful, definite, and certain purpose.

Many Christians, however, entertain a negative view of Old Testament History; of its usefulness and even of its accuracy. It is often regarded as "far away" and "distant" chronologically, geographically, socially, and theologically. "What can it do for me?" and "Why study it?" are common questions. Here are five reasons to study it and benefit from it:

1. OT History is True History
Israel's neighbors expressed their beliefs through fantastic, elaborate, "out-of-this-world" myths. In contrast, Old Testament narratives about Israel describe real events in real time involving real people and a real God. The reality of Israel's faith rested on the reality of Israel's history.
Similarly, if we lose or give up the truthfulness of the Biblical record, we lose and give up the Truth. We also lose our Christian faith because it is founded not on detached philosophical speculations but on God's acts in human history.

Approaching Old Testament narratives with unshakeable confidence in their accuracy and truthfulness will build up unshakeable faith.

2. OT History is Selective History
No matter how much they deny it, every historian has an agenda. Though often unspoken, that agenda can often be deduced by analyzing his selection, arrangement, and editing of events. Old Testament writers also had an agenda that guided the selection, arrangement, and editing of their accounts. The only difference, and it's a major difference, is that their selectivity was divinely inspired and, therefore, in no ways diminishes their truthfulness.

Therefore, when reading Old Testament history, ask yourself why the author selected these events and that particular angle on them. It will get you much closer to the message he intended to convey to his original audience.

3. OT History is Relevant History
Old Testament preaching often faces the charge of seeming irrelevance. There are vast differences between the world of the Old Testament and the modern world. However, this "relevance gap" cannot be bridged by forgetting Old Testament history. Attempting this may make the sermon relevant but it makes the Scriptures irrelevant.

Rather, a right understanding of Old Testament history enables us to understand the original message to the original audience at the original time and place; and that having done this, the bridge to the present message is far easier and safer to construct.

4. OT History is Purposeful History
Many history books simply relate the what, when, where, and how of each event. Not many attempt to answer the "Why?" question, and those that do usually prove laughably unreliable.
In contrast, biblical history has a clear purpose: it is a progressive revelation of the mind and heart of God for the benefit of needy sinners. God is the subject and the hero of the Bible. Therefore, when we read an Old Testament narrative, we ask three questions:
What does this story reveal about God?
How is this intended to help needy sinners?
What role does this story play in the larger and longer biblical story?

The last question will help prevent us reading the chapters as disconnected dots and unrelated atoms.

5. OT History is Redemptive History
The Old Testament is redemptive history. God actively directs human history for the purpose of redeeming sinners to Himself. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Old Testament to record what would graciously reveal that redemptive purpose, and even the Redeemer Himself (Luke 24:27). The Biblical history, then, is not just facts to teach us theology. These historical facts serve to bring in God's elect. What greater motive do we need to study it than that these Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15).

Text Link:
http://www.alliancenet.org/christward/5-reasons-to-study-old-testament-history#.V2BRFFfZanc
Ressourcement: retrieving our past for present faithfulness
--true history in The Letter to Diognetus

Imperial Rome, especially in the first two hundred years of its existence, was "obsessed with time" and its place in the flow of history.[1] This obsession with time was linked to a deep reverence for the past and a conviction that if something was true it was old. What was new must perforce be false.[2] The Roman world also housed a deeply violent, hate-filled culture, from its bloody gladiatorial shows in the arena to its regular use of crucifixion and child exposure to solve socio-political problems on the macro and micro levels. Yet, it was in this world, which took history ever so seriously but was starved for love, that the Christian Faith providentially first made its appearance. To be sure, Christian monotheism stood out in a world of polytheism--the Roman universe was a place filled with deities, from the Olympian gods to various lesser deities that inhabited the very hearths and doors of Roman homes and the glades and streams of their countryside--but so then did Judaism. What made Christianity differ even from Judaism in this world of Roman hegemony was its insistence on the path of love--"violence is not an attribute of God" is the way one early Christian put it [3] --and that this love was primarily manifest in the life and death of the historical personage Jesus of Nazareth. The confession that Jesus was crucified under the Roman procurator of Judaea Pontius Pilate consequently turns out to be of deep significance when it comes to the profoundly historical nature of Christianity.[4] Christianity thus answered two very important questions posed by its surrounding culture: "What is our place in history?" and "Where is love to be found? In this first essay in this series on early Christian ressourcement, we look at the Letter to Diognetus' answer to the first question. Our next essay will examine the reply to the second question. 

The Letter to Diognetus: an introduction

Without a doubt, one of the best of the various early Christian attempts to respond to such questions raised by Imperial Roman culture is The Letter to Diognetus. Transmitted to the modern world via a sole manuscript discovered in a fish-shop in Constantinople by the Italian Renaissance scholar Thomas d'Arezzo in 1436, the identity of its author is unknown.[5]  From the Greek text of this tract, though, it is clear that the author had had a superb education in the Greek language.[6] As to who is Diognetus, this is also not known with any degree of certainty. The letter should probably be dated to the last quarter of the second century.[7] 

However, what is very clear is why the letter was written. It seeks to provide answers to three general questions about the Christian Faith, two of which, regarding history and love, have already been alluded to: why has Christianity only recently appeared in the world and why do Christians love one another the way they do? The third question is more general: who is the God in whom Christians so believe that they patently reject the pagan gods, are very evidently not Jewish and are not at all afraid of dying for their faith in this God?[8]

True history

The classic Roman view of history that justified Roman imperialism had been expressed by the poet Virgil (70-19BC) in The Aeneid, his epic retelling of the story of Troy. Regarding the Romans, "that toga-clad people" who were "the masters of all in existence," Virgil had Jupiter, the king of the gods, state:

For these I set no limits, world or time,
But make the gift of empire without end[9]

Over against this explanation of the meaning of history, Christianity offered the reality of what took place in the incarnate Son of God during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate in Judaea. The writer of the letter to Diognetus introduced this remarkable fact by first noting that the Christian concept of God is not the product of human thought or mere philosophical reflection. 
As I said before, it is not an earthly discovery that has been passed on to them [i.e. Christians]. That which they think it worthwhile to guard so carefully is not a result of mortal thinking, nor is what has been entrusted to them a stewardship of merely human mysteries. On the contrary, the Almighty himself, the Creator of the universe and the invisible God, has from heaven planted the Truth, even the holy and incomprehensible Word, among men and fixed it firmly in their hearts [10]
Christian truth is rooted in God's revelation of himself through the incarnation of his Son in space and time. God has not, the author wrote, 
sent to humanity some servant, angel or ruler... Rather, [he has sent] the very Designer and Maker of the universe, by whom he made the heavens and confined the seas within their bounds; ...from whom the sun is assigned the limits of its daily course and whom the moon obeys when he bids her to shine by night, and whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon. He is the One by whom all things have been set in order, determined, and placed in subjection--both the heavens and things in the heavens, the earth and things on the earth, the sea and the things in the sea, fire, air, abyss, the things in the heights and those in the depths and the realm between. Such was the One God sent to them. ...In gentleness and meekness he sent him, as a King sending his son who is a king. He sent him as God, he sent him as [man] to men, he sent him as Saviour [11]
Christianity, then, is ultimately not a human attempt to find God; rather, it is founded on God's revelation of himself, and that in a person, his Son. Although the name of Jesus is not mentioned in this passage or even in the treatise as a whole,[12] there is no doubt that this is the person of whom the author here writes so eloquently. The Son clearly does not belong to the order of creation. The Son's dominion over the entirety of nature, and by implication his deity, is trumpeted forth. Who is this One whom God has sent to reveal himself? Well, he is "a Son." He is sent by God "as God." As L.B. Radford has commented: "He is God so truly that His coming can be described as the coming of God."[13] And he is "the Savior": our salvation is grounded in the historicity of the Incarnation and the purpose of that historical reality--the death of Christ for sinners.


The importance of the Old Testament

This discussion of the way in which God has revealed himself now opens the way for the author to provide an answer to the query about the antiquity of Christianity. As has been noted, it was axiomatic in Graeco-Roman antiquity that what was true was old and what was new was questionable and probably false. This raised an obvious problem for those seeking to convince men and women of the truth claims of Christianity, for Christianity took its rise from the appearance of Christ. The standard approach among second-century Christian apologists like Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) or Theophilus of Antioch (fl. 170-190) was to refer to the history of salvation in the Old Testament that finds its fulfillment in Christian faith or engage in a typological exegesis of the Old Testament, which was then seen to foreshadow the coming of Christianity. In the light of these approaches, Christianity had a much better claim to antiquity than either Greek or Roman thought, neither of which were over a millennium old.

The Letter to Diognetus, however, takes neither of these approaches. This is probably due to the fact that earlier, in the sections dealing with Judaism, the author had taken a hard line against Judaism and accused it of engaging in worthless ritual.[14] There, the impression is given that Judaism was of no value at all, not even as a forerunner of Christianity. Thus, the author is forced to argue that God's design of sending his Son to redeem humanity was divulged at first to none but the Son. He waited until men and women had shown by their "unbridled passions,... pleasures and lusts" that they were both "unworthy of life" and  "incapable of entering into the kingdom of God by their own power." Then, at the opportune time, God sent forth his Son.[15]

As this argument stands, without any hint of the Old Testament period of preparation and the history prior to the Incarnation, it is an inadequate response to the query about Christianity's antiquity. A pagan respondent could easily ask for proof of these claims and, in the terms in which they have been given, none would be forthcoming. Although it is very evident that the author is not a Gnostic--he is completely committed to the importance of history--this seeming disinterest in the Old Testament was characteristic of the various Gnostic systems on the second-century religious landscape. This is an important reminder to us of the enormous value of the revelation of the Old Testament.

Michael A.G. Haykin is the Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has written widely on the Ancient Church and eighteenth-century Dissent

Notes:

 [1] Anthony Grafton, "Dating history: The Renaissance and the reformation of chronology", Daedalus 132 (2003): 82.

[2] Stephen Benko, Pagan Rome and the Early Christians (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984), 21-22; Wolfram Kinzig, "The Idea of Progress in the Early Church until the Age of Constantine" in Elizabeth A. Livingstone, ed., Studia Patristica (Louvain: Peeters Press, 1993), 24:123-125.

[3] Letter to Diognetus 7.4.

[4] See Giorgio Agamben, Pilate and Jesus, trans. Adam Kotsko (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015).

[5] For the history of the manuscript, see Henri Irénée Marrou, A Diognète (Sources chrétiennes, no. 33; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1951), 5-10.

[6] For some speculation as to the identity of Diognetus, see the discussion of Avery Dulles, A History of Apologetics (New York: Corpus Instrumentorum/Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971), 28-29. Recently Charles E. Hill has argued for Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155/156) as the author. See his From the Lost Teaching of Polycarp: Identifying Irenaeus' Apostolic Presbyter and the Author of Ad Diognetum (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006). 

[7] For this dating, see Robert M. Grant, Greek Apologists of the Second Century (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1988), 178-179; Theofried Baumeister, "Zur Datierung der Schrift an Diognet", Vigiliae Christianae, 42 (1988): 105-111.

[8] Letter to Diognetus 1.

[9] The Aeneid 1, lines 281, 374-375.

[10] Letter to Diognetus 7.1-2. 

[11] Letter to Diognetus 7.2, 4.

[12] On this fact, see Marrou, A Diognète, 185-187.

[13] The Epistle to Diognetus (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1908), 39. 

[14] Letter to Diognetus 3-4.

[15] Letter to Diognetus 8.9-9.2.


"The Excellent Benjamin Keach"

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Excellent Benjamin Keach (Walker) 2a.jpgWould you allow me to draw your attention to a book? It is my father's work, and concerns a man that you may not know, a seventeenth century Baptist called Benjamin Keach. Keach was one of the movers and shakers of the century, a prominent London Baptist who faced fierce persecution but also saw sweet blessings. He was a pastor of the church which can be traced to the one meeting today at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Might I also say that it is not just a tale for Baptists or historians, though both would find it delightful. His example as a man who wrestled toward truth, stood fast in accordance with his convictions, was prepared to suffer for the cause of Christ, and served the Lord and his people faithfully and fruitfully, makes him a worthy study for any Christian, perhaps especially any pastor.

This is a revised second edition of what is now the standard work on the life of this Baptist pastor and preacher, taking account of research conducted since the original publication. It is up at the publisher's website, and it is available in hardback (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk) and paperback (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk) and now has the virtue of an index, making it more useful to scholars. I strongly recommend it.

Learn how the Quakertown Regional Conference on Reformed Theology came into existence from Rev. Ron Kohl, pastor of the Grace Bible Fellowship Church of Quakertown and host of the conference. This year's theme is Precious Doctrines and the conference will be held on Friday and Saturday November 15th & 16th 2013. The speakers are Phil Ryken, Voddie Baucham, and Michael Haykin.

View the Youtube video here!

Review: "Pillars of Grace"

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A Long Line of Godly Men (Volume 2, AD100 - 1564): Pillars of Grace
Steven J. Lawson
Reformation Trust, 2011, 543pp., hardback, $28.00
ISBN 978-1-56769-211-2

Volume One (Foundations) in this series concentrated on the doctrines of sovereign grace as displayed through the entirety of the Bible. This volume (Pillars) picks up the threads in the days of the (post-)apostolic church and traces it forward into the sixteenth century. The aim and approach are simple: to demonstrate the continuity of the teaching of the doctrines of grace through the history of the church. To this end, our author is deliberately selective, identifying a series of figures who - despite some particular aberrations at certain points - nevertheless upheld gospel truth in some form and to some degree. Different figures receive differing degrees of concentration and emphasis, and their weaknesses and errors are not overlooked, but the point is to show the light shining, and shining increasingly brightly as we march toward the Reformation. Each figure is put in context, then we are given a brief biography, an outline of key writings, a review of theology, a concluding assessment, and a page of study questions. In reading, it stands out that the theme of double predestination (specifically, reprobation) receives sufficient attention (given that it is not often addressed in works of this kind) as to almost feel like an emphasis. Taking into account how easy it is to mishandle the issue, this is worth noting. Written with warmth and pastoral insight, all-in-all this is a fascinating volume dealing with a profitable theme in stimulating fashion: here Ignatius, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Ambrose, Isidore, Gottschalk, Bradwardine, Hus, Tyndale and Calvin - with others - rub shoulders, each more or less preaching the wonders of redeeming grace. In considering that theme through the ages of the church, this is a grand resource.