Exploring Church History

Reflections on History and Theology

Teaching History

Periodically, I teach a course that requires a quick introduction to the task of history. It is usually just a brief initiation to how history is done.
Past semesters I used this video.

The distinction between the past and history is often new to students and this video does a great job making this point. In addition, we get to talk about interpretation and others ideas such as causation.

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The Potential of Boredom

Kierkegaard once wrote that boredom is the root of all evil. No doubt, this proclamation alludes to the biblical proverb that warns of idles hands. The ominous coupling of boredom and idleness is epitomized in the ancient vice of acedia.

However, this longstanding perception of boredom may be a terrible misunderstanding. Once thought an ill, boredom is in fact the cure we need for the modern world. You can hardly find a moment in this rapid-paced society, or space for our attention within the gauntlet of continuous things to keep us busy. In spite of this, boredom is experiencing a renaissance.

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William D. Dennison on Karl Marx

What could Karl Marx have to do with reformed thought? That is what William D. Dennison addresses in his contribution to P & R Publishing’s Great Thinkers series. Adding to the existing volumes on Aquinas and Derrida, Dennison’s study of Marx examines the issue of history.

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Jane Dawson’s John Knox

Jane Dawson, "John Knox"Of the sixteenth-century Reformers, John Knox (1514/1515–1572) is known as a fiery soul. Though he called John Calvin’s Geneva “the most perfect school of Christ,” he and Calvin were quite different in terms of dispositions, gifts, and callings. Despite a number of differences, they saw themselves as colaborers in the Reformation, and while Calvin is the better known Reformer, largely owing to his voluminous writings, Knox nonetheless made his own lasting impact on the Reformation as it developed in Scotland and England and beyond.

Jane Dawson offers a critical biography of Knox in her book simply titled John Knox (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015). A professor of Reformation history at the University of Edinburgh, Dawson aims to dispel the notion of Knox as “the dour Scottish Reformer” and reveal, partly through the use of some more recently discovered sources, “the many different shades within Knox’s character that make this complex man such a fascinating subject” (4). Dawson also seeks not only to give a “fresh and more nuanced account of Knox’s life” but also to illuminate readers on the Reformation in Scotland, England, and parts of Europe as it intersected with his journeys. What follows are some key themes and insights from Dawson’s book about Knox.

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Christopher Watkin on Jacques Derrida

I still remember the toils of one particular graduate seminar where the class worked through Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology. I would not say that these memories where of joy, as the readings where always difficult and frustration was the common mood among everyone. However, the time was fruitful and the lessons on deconstructive criticism will not be forgotten.

Jump many years forward, I looked forward to reading Christopher Watkin’s Jacques Derrida (P&R Publishing 2018; source: publisher), in the Great Thinkers series from P&R Publishing (see here for a review of K. Scott Oliphint’s Thomas Aquinas). Fortunately, Watkin does not write like Derrida. Understanding Derrida is no easy feat. When reading Derrida, you might even question if he understands himself. Having stated these difficulties, it makes Watkin’s work that much more impressive.

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“Jonathan Edwards and Scripture” Book Notice

Jonathan Edwards and Scripture Book CoverOver the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of working with Doug Sweeney in putting together a new multicontributor volume on Edwards and the Bible, and I’m pleased to say that the book is now available. The volume is titled Jonathan Edwards and Scripture: Biblical Exegesis in British North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), and it includes contributions from a number of Edwards scholars who have helped further the conversation on this important topic.

The book builds on the work that Sweeney, especially, has done over many years in the form of lectures, articles, and books, culminating in his Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford University Press, 2015)—see my review of it here. It also furthers some of my research on Edwards, particularly in my book Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms (Oxford University Press, 2014).

To give you a taste of this new volume, here’s an excerpt from my introduction to the book:

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K. Scott Oliphint and Thomas Aquinas | Book Notice

For those interested in a reformed perspective on some of the most significant voices of history, such as Thomas Aquinas, a new series from P&R Publishing may be of some interest. Each volume reexamines a single scholar from a distinct reformed theology. The volumes are narrow in focus, resulting in shorter treatments with particular focus on reformed themes.

P&R describes the series:

Great Thinkers: Critical Studies of Minds That Shape Us is an academically, biblically, and theologically informed series that explores the leading ideas of seminal thinkers who have shaped the modern world. Writing from a Reformed perspective, the series’ authors identify the most influential cultural features of each great thinker and the most apologetically effective ways to address them.

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Augustine on Teaching and Salvation History

Augustine - Instructing Beginners in Faith CoverWe rightly remember Augustine as a renowned theologian and intellectual genius. He bequeathed to us a corpus that has shaped the foundations of the Western church. Works like The City of God and On the Trinity underscore his brilliance, and of course, his best-known work, Confessions, has resonated with readers in their personal experience for centuries.

It is also important to recall that this same Augustine was not an ivory-tower theologian or isolated writer disconnected from the day-to-day life of the people in Hippo. He was indeed a churchman, a priest who devoted years of his life to serving those under his care. And Augustine’s Instructing Beginners in the Faith (or De catechizandis rudibus) gives us a picture of this Augustine, a man who cared deeply about people coming to faith and doing the work of instruction that God might use to help bring them to that point. I want to highlight three aspects of the book here: the person of Augustine, his instruction in the art of teaching, and his emphasis on salvation history.

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Thomas Kidd’s “American Colonial History”: A Review

Thomas Kidd, "American Colonial History"When thinking of the colonial period in American history, many commonly known stories and people likely come to mind, from Jamestown and the Pilgrims to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay and the wars with the Indians to the Great Awakening and the colonial resistance to British rule. Yet the American colonial period is rich with all kinds of stories that often fail to get much attention: the West, the backcountry, slaves, women. Thomas Kidd’s American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faith (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016) treats readers to a full smorgasbord of early American historical fare, retelling the commonly known stories (with rich details and some corrections) and also enriching our understanding of the colonial period with narratives of the lesser known but equally important people from the time.

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Jill Lepore, King Philip’s War, and the Art of History

Jill Lepore - The Name of WarTwenty years ago, Jill Lepore wrote a book on King Philip’s War that received the prestigious Bancroft Prize: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (Vintage Books, 1998). In her volume, Lepore treats this little-remembered but pivotal war in colonial America from the angle of language. The book still has value today, speaking as it does to both the acts and the annals of war, to both the perpetration of war and the perpetuation of its memory. At the same time, it also raises some questions about historical methodology that warrant consideration.

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Benjamin Franklin’s “Autobiography,” George Whitefield, and Early American Religion

"Portrait of Benjamin Franklin," by Joseph Duplessis, ca. 1785 (public domain), National Portrait Gallery, Washington

“Portrait of Benjamin Franklin,” by Joseph Duplessis, ca. 1785 (public domain), National Portrait Gallery, Washington

One engaging way to get a taste of eighteenth-century America is to read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. (You can buy countless editions on Amazon, or you can read it online for free at the Project Gutenberg website.) The Bostonian-turned-Philadelphia-printer is a classic story of a young working-class man who makes something of himself through hard work and industry.

In the Autobiography, one can discover much about British colonial America, from the dynamics of the economy and the dependence of the colonies on Great Britain to the politics of colonial life and the ongoing threat and reality of war in America. Franklin’s life touched on all kinds of issues in his day, making this primary source a valuable read. As one would expect, it also wades into questions of religion.

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John Chrysostom on Love and Marriage

As Valentine’s Day rolls around, advice on love can be found not only in the seasonal aisle of the grocery store but also in the writings of the ancient past. One notable pastor from early Christianity to treat the topic of love and marriage is John Chrysostom (ca. 347–409), the “golden mouth” preacher of Asia Minor. Chrysostom’s best preaching on marriage is captured in his On Marriage and Family Life (St. Vladimir’s Press, 1986), from the Popular Patristics Series (see also my discussion of Irenaeus’s On the Apostolic Preaching from the same series). This volume by Chrysostom includes six of his sermons on the topic of marriage—aimed toward both those seeking marriage and those already married.

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Introducing “Reading Christian Theology in the Protestant Tradition”

Reading Christian Theology in the Protestant TraditionI was deeply privileged to contribute to a hefty book on historical theology that has just released: Reading Christian Theology in the Protestant Tradition. This volume, edited by Kelly Kapic and Hans Madueme, both professors at Covenant College, aims to introduce readers to some of the key figures and works in the history of theology.

To give you a sense of the work’s purpose, Kelly Kapic says this:

We know that most people don’t have the time to read thousands and thousands of pages, and yet a student of Protestant theology must become familiar with key authors and their works. Without such study they simply cannot begin to understand the dynamics of this tradition—or, more accurately, traditions. Therefore, in this volume we have chosen fifty-eight works that represent a reasonable set of selections from the past 2,000 years. (5)

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Irenaeus on Biblical Interpretation

Irenaeus - On the Apostolic PreachingHow did the early Christians interpret the Bible? Should their mode of biblical interpretation say anything to us about how to interpret Scripture today? We have much to learn from studying the history of biblical interpretation, a field that speaks to both the unity and diversity of exegesis among Christians. One of the earliest discussions of biblical interpretation that we have comes from Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 140–ca. 200), in On the Apostolic Preaching, also known as The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching.

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Book Notice | Between Wittenberg and Geneva: A Study of Lutheran and Reformed Theology

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation saw a plethora of works which commemorated the birth of Protestantism. Naturally, many of these works address in some way Martin Luther and the posting of the 95 Theses. As the catalyst, Luther’s action set in motion a reform that developed not only a break from the Roman Catholic Church but numerous Protestant branches.

Making sense of these various Protestant traditions is no small matter. For example, when looking at two of the largest traditions that came out of the Reformation, Lutheran and Reformed, on which theological issues do they find commonality and how are their differences significant? If you have ever struggled with these types of issues, Between Wittenberg and Geneva: Lutheran and Reformed Theology (Baker Academic 2017; source: publisher) may be the book for you.

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