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.

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