Sunday, 23 February 2020

Christian History: Evangelism's Nemesis?

A while ago my son, a church history major, recommended an outstanding book: Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Diarmaid MacCulloch. I'm glad he did.

At 1184 pages, it is a behemoth of a book. The actual text itself, however, is a mere 1016 pages, with the other 168 pages being notes and indexes. I can see this book being a solid reference for all things church history related for years to come. Having said that, and as much as I enjoyed it, I found myself thinking that it may not be right for everyone. Specifically, I would not recommend this book, or others like it, to someone struggling with their faith or considering Christianity's claims for the first time. Why?

As I waded through the book, I was reminded again and again of what an often ugly history we Christians have. Some of the things the church has done, in the name of Christianity, are absolutely revolting! Someone once said, "Until 'Christian' once again means someone who acts like Christ, maybe we should stop using the word." Maybe we should. Taken like that, perhaps the title is a little misleading; unfortunately I don't recall reading much in those thousand pages that was Christ-like.

Sure, we could play judge and jury and say that those people in the pages of the history text were not really Christians, conveniently forgetting what Jesus said in Matthew 7:1 concerning not judging. Maybe they were and maybe they were not; ultimately not our business. They were, however, living their lives and faith under the guise of the church and the Christian umbrella. I don't for a moment think that those early Christians deliberately set out to be un-Christlike. However, actions do speak louder than words, and based upon their actions, many of them appeared to believe that it was perfectly okay to commit the atrocities they did in the name of Christ and to justify their often twisted theologies and those being taught them by the Church. Never mind just the gory events like the Christian Crusaders attacking Islam; why else would one Christian burn another Christian at the stake? Over theology? Even reformer John Calvin justified such inhumane burning in the name of his religion.

If I am honest with myself, in truth, maybe I'm no better. After all, did Jesus not equate an angry spirit as being akin to committing murder? (Matthew 5: 21-22). God have mercy!

The main reason that I would not recommend a Christian history text to the non-Chrisitian, or one wresting with their faith, is because of the personal struggle that I imagine would likely ensue. Why would the non-believer want what the church is selling when they see the piles of junk in our family trees? Why would they even consider Christianity's claims for their own life after reading her history? Think about it. It doesn't exactly yell out the love of Jesus or John 3:16. Even I struggled with parts of our faith's historical past! Fact is, it's not pretty.

Does church history and apologetics clash? Where apologetics is used an an evangelistic tool, I cannot help but think that it does. It's not exactly an evangelism proof text. If all I ever were to read was church history, I cannot help but wonder if I would even be a Christian today. Odds are not good. If I had one negative from this book's subject matter, that would probably be it. Still, it needn't end there; Christian history can, and must be, be learned from. However that is a subject for another post.

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years is an incredible book that likely won't be surpassed any time soon. MacCulloch does an excellent job in tackling a massive subject that has a history of adherents around the world. I do highly recommend it for church history buffs. If you were only to read one Christian history book, you couldn't do better than this one.

I also came away thinking that it would be fascinating to take one of Diarmaid MacCulloch's classes at Oxford University. Perhaps I'll have to add that to my bucket list one day. In the mean time, I'm looking forward to delving into another of his books that just arrived this week: Silence: A Christian History.

Peace and Blessings, friends. God is good.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

I Don't Need to Have My Clothes Stolen … Again

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1)

I read an interesting little story recently, alleged to be a 19th century legend, presumably based on the 1896 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme entitled, Truth Coming Out of Her Well. I thought it had a profound lesson in it, just as relevant for today as when it was first told, and thus worth sharing.

According to this legend, it is said that Truth and Lie met one day. Lie said to Truth, “It’s a marvelous day today!” Truth looked up at the sky and sighed, for the day really was quite beautiful. They spent a lot of time together that day.

As they talked and wandered about, they happened to find themselves beside a well. “The water is very nice,” Lie said to Truth. “Let’s take a bath together.” Truth, still a little suspicious of her new friend, reluctantly tests the water. It was indeed very nice.

Truth and Lie undressed and started bathing together. Suddenly Lie climbs out of the water, puts on Truth’s clothes, and promptly runs away. Truth, now furious, jumps out of the water, and runs here and there trying desperately to find Lie to get her clothes back. The world, seeing Truth naked, turned its gaze away from Truth with contempt and rage.

Humiliated, poor Truth returns to the well, climbs back in to hide her shame, and disappears forever. Meanwhile, Lie travels the World, dressed as Truth, and satisfying the needs and desires of society. The world, it would seem, has no more desire to see the naked Truth.

Truth Coming Out of Her Well

It's hard not to see a lesson in that story.

In fact, there could be a plethora of applications and lessons in Truth Coming Out of Her Well. The first thought that came to my mind, however, is the preoccupation and obsession that many Christians [Truth] seem to have with politics [Lie]. One need not look far to see that. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Matthew 6:24)

We don't need to test the waters; take my word for it. You cannot serve both God [Truth] and money [Lie]. In my way of thinking, money and politics are often two sides of the same coin.

If there is one thing that will quickly unravel my personal peace it is a discussion involving politics. Yes, I've been caught up in the cesspool of political discussions more often than I care to admit, and every time I did, I could almost feel my blood pressure begin to rise. Certainly my peace was robbed just as much as when Truth had her clothes stolen by Lie.

Personally I prefer to counter this problem by spending more time in my Quiet Place. Instead of following Lie, I'd rather spend time with the quiet naked Truth of Jesus, something the world strangely seems to have no desire to see. Lie (be it politics or something else) will continue to run around in the stolen clothes of Truth if we let it get too close.

Lately I have been trying very hard not to let Lie get too close by spending more time with Truth. I don't need to have my clothes stolen … again.

Peace and Blessings, friends. God is good.

"Be still, and know that I am God."
(Psalm 46:10)

Serpent in the garden photo source: Flickr Creative Commons
'Truth Coming Out of Her Well' source: Jean-Léon Gérôme; Wikipedia

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Hope in Trouble and Sorrow

Another new decade! Wow! How did that happen? It doesn't seem like that long ago that we celebrated the last new decade. Perhaps such sentiments are a sign of getting older. As the psalmist said,

"The length of our days is seventy years - or eighty, if we have the strength, yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away." (Psalm 90:10)

Seventy years? Now that I'm north of sixty years of age, I'm strangely aware of the fact that I'm rapidly running out of decades. Will I see 2030? Never mind another new decade, how about even just another new year? Will we see the next new year? Will we see 2021?

Maybe it's a good thing that none of us know the length of our days. A person could go crazy dwelling on their own mortality.

This morning I awakened once again, aware that the calendar had changed to a new year and a new decade, and grateful to be alive to see it. Despite some of the trouble and sorrow of past years, including the death of our firstborn son, there was also good in those years. In the past few years, after yet another time of trouble and sorrow, God has been pleased to bring some miraculous healing to our family. And, as if that were not enough of a blessing in its own right, He added two beautiful grandchildren to finish off that season of healing.

"He has put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God." (Psalm 40:3)

So here's to the New Year. Whatever it holds, we don't know, which is probably for the best. Having said that, what I do know is Him who holds it, and I can rest in that. Whatever the number of my years is destined to be, seventy years - or eighty, I have confidence that God is still in complete control. If He sovereignly chooses to still add one more New Year's celebration to my life, or thirty, I will praise Him and I will thank Him.

My prayer for all of us, here at the start of this new year and new decade, is peace. No matter what the trouble and sorrow may be, may there also be peace. May He put a new song in [your] mouth, and a hymn of praise to our God deep within your soul. Peace and Blessings, friends; God is good.

"The losses and crosses are a better means to grow in grace
than when everything is according to our liking."
(John Wesley)