Exploring Church History

Reflections on History and Theology

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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 Biblical Accommodation Debate in Germany is Now Available

I’m pleased to announce that The Biblical Accommodation Debate in Germany: Interpretation and the Enlightenment (Palgrave Macmillan: 2017), has been published.

Here is the back cover:



This book redresses a misunderstanding in the history of biblical interpretation. Hoon J. Lee provides the first study of the biblical accommodation debate of the Enlightenment. The heavily contested doctrine spurred numerous biblical scholars, theologians, and philosophers to debate the nature of divine revelation communicated through human words. As biblical accommodation was coupled with historical criticism, the participants in this literary debate fought over the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Bible.

Examining the wide range of writing on the doctrine of accommodation, Lee surveys the Dutch discussion of accommodation that leads up to the German debate. In doing so, he provides the historical development of Augustinian and Socinian accommodation.

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Saint Macrina: A Portrait of Female Piety in the Early Church

Fourth-century Christianity is perhaps best remembered for the Trinitarian controversies that flared with the rise of Arius early on and continued until the Council of Constantinople in 381. In the East, some of the key figures involved in that controversy were the Cappadocian Fathers—Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa. Lesser known is the life of Saint Macrina (ca. 327–379), the eldest sister of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, yet her faith influenced her brothers in profound ways. And her brother Gregory memorialized her in an account of her life, The Life of Saint Macrina, which offers readers today a portrait of female piety in the early church.

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Confessions Read by Philosophers: A Review of Augustine’s Confessions, Philosophy in Autobiography

Augustine's ConfessionsIt is hard to imagine a single text more influential than the Confessions. Of course there is the Bible or the Declaration of Independence, but, Confessions rivals any text apart from divine revelation or nation forming documents.

Contributing to the allure of the Confessions is the autobiographical nature of the work. Not entirely an autobiography, the first half recounts Augustine’s life. Secondly, there is a diversity of disciplines which are attracted to the Confessions. One only has to look at Rousseau’s Confessions to witness these two factors.

These elements are also present in Augustine’s Confessions: Philosophy in Autobiography (Oxford, 2014; source: publisher). The perspective of these philosophers provides a welcome contribution to the study of Augustine’s Confessions.

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Biographies on Augustine

Peter Brown, Augustine of HippoAnticipating a review of Augustine’s Confessions: Philosophy in Autobiography, I thought I would spend a moment talking about two biographies. The dominate biography has been Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo (1967). Deservingly so, Brown’s work remains as one of the leading sources for the life of Augustine and a great entry point to Augustinian scholarship. While Augustine of Hippo still holds much value, one can also profit much from Serge Lancel’s biography St. Augustine (1999).[1]  By no means is Brown’s biography obsolete, but rather, Lancel’s biography is quite adept at being a suitable alternative to Brown.

Serge Lancel, St. AugustineAn immediate advantage of Lancel’s St. Augustine over Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo is the availability of resources. Neither Brown nor Bonner were able to profit from the Divjak letters. The 1975 discovery, by Johannes Divak, of 29 letters  which 27 were previously unknown adds to our understanding of Augustine as a person, especially from 419-428. Whereas previous portrayals could tend to show a rigid and hardened polemicist, the Divak Letters reveals a more personal and caring Augustine.

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Douglas H. Shantz, An Introduction to German Pietism

shantz comp rev.inddThough a bit under the radar Pietism studies has been going through major revisions in recent years. The persistent depiction of Pietism as an anti-intellectual movement continues. However, F. Ernest Stoeffler is no longer the lone voice of dissent. Pietism has been put in a new light which shows the movement’s theological and intellectual originals and subsequent influences. This reversal in Pietism studies can be found in works such as Carter Lindberg’s The Pietist Theologians, The Pietist Impulse in Christianity, edited by Christian T. Collins Winn and et al, and most recently in Roger Olson’s Reclaiming Pietism.

An important work in this revision is Douglas H. Shantz’s An Introduction to German Pietism (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 2013; source: publisher). I will speak to the merits of the work below, but suffice it to say, Shantz’s volume is welcomed study that addresses a vast amount of information without compromising its careful attention to detail.

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Metacritique: Hamann on Kant’s Three Purisms

As Hamann arranged for the publication  of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781) with his publisher Johann Friedrich Hartknoch, it was his hope that Kant’s reading of Hume would lead Kant to the same conclusions as Hamann. In 1780, Hamann had begun a translation of Hume’s Dialogues and Natural History of Religion (1779), but due to a rival translation he gave up the project. Despite never completing the translation, Kant requested it in its partial form while writing his first Critique. However, to Hamann’s disappointment the Critique was not what he had expected.

After specifically requesting the proofs to be sent separately from Kant’s package, to avoid awkwardness, Hamann immediately read and reviewed the work.[1] He finished his review on the first of July, several weeks before receiving a copy directly from Kant. Despite completing his review Hamann never published it on account of their friendship and Kant’s financial generosity towards his son’s education.

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Bonhoeffer and Charles Marsh

Religion and Politics has an interesting interview with Charles Marsh.

Charles Marsh is author of Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Here is my review of Strange Glory.

I found this biography on Bonhoeffer insightful. Marsh does well to show the development of Bonhoeffer’s theology, especially how Bonhoeffer’s time in America contributed to a shift in his theology.

However, Marsh’s description of Bonhoeffer’s friendship with Eberhard is troubling. Marsh pushes the relationship towards a romantic nature. I just do not see that in the letters of Bonhoeffer and Eberhard.

Strange Glory adds to the already existing biographies of Bonhoeffer, and some readings may prefer it over the others. Bethge’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography is still the standard, but Ferdinand Schlingensiepen’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945 is also a good one.

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Bonhoeffer, Technology, and Ethics

Dietrich BonhoefferOver at The New AtlantisAlan Jacobs posted a piece on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Technopoly. He takes Bonhoeffer’s message in “After Ten Years” (Letters and Papers from Prison, 3-17) and applies it to our current predicament with the dominance of technology. Rather then burying our heads in the sand, Bonhoeffer calls us to take responsibility and action. Drawing from Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich BonhoefferJacobs suggests that Bonhoeffer’s “After Ten Years” should be read as an address to all society and not just a private letter.

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A Trek Through Time

We’re two historians and graduates of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School who are interested in Christianity, theology, and history. We embrace an evangelical identity and value scholarly endeavors to deepen our understanding of the world in which we live.

In this blog, we hope to reflect aloud on the Christian past to help others think clearly about those who have preceded us and how they have shaped our world today. We believe that engaging the past offers beneficial perspective for the present and the future.

We invite you to join us in exploring church history.

~ David P. Barshinger and Hoon J. Lee

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