Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Augustine’s views concerning God’s providential rule over all of history:

[Augustine believed that] ‘there is nothing that is not subject to the administration of divine providence.’  It appears in his earliest works, and later he devoted much thought to the problem of God’s continuing activity in everything that happens at any time.  The vilest and least significant of things as well as the destinies of nations; the crimes of men no less than their finest achievements are in the hands of the Lord of history.  In them all he is at work, though his purposes remain inscrutable.

– R. A. Markus, Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St Augustine (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 11.

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Wily and villainous, seeing that her older sisters have plainly been identified as heresies, the Arian heresy employs the language speech of Scripture, as did her father the devil. … Persuaded by you, I believed it necessary to to tear apart the breastplate [Job 41:13] of this foul heresy and to point out the foul smell of her folly, so that those who are distant from her might flee her, and those deceived by her might repent, and with the eyes of their heart opened might discern that, just as darkness is not light, falsehood is not truth, the Arian heresy is not good.

– Athanasius, “Orations Against the Arians,” 1.1, as quoted in The Trinitarian Controversyed. and trans. by William G. Rusch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), p. 63

To Jerusalem offers some helpful reflections on the infamous “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”:

  1. Karen King has dubbed the fragment a portion of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” Where this may sound logical (considering the content of the fragment), it is rather presumptuous. There is no evidence that the fragment is a portion of a larger, complete text—or ever that the text from which it came was intended to be read as a Gospel (as was the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas.
  1. Even if the fragment is verified as dating to the fourth century A.D., it should not be considered a reliable source of historical information about Jesus. King herself has commented on this saying that she never considered the text to speak of the historical Jesus. It is part of a larger body of texts that come out of the Coptic Gnostic tradition that developed its own doctrine concerning the life and teaching of Jesus. The Gnostic writings have never been considered historical, canonical, or biblical. It is these writings that provided the foundation for the fictional story The Da Vinci Code.

Be sure to read the whole post.

The Liberty of a Runaway

Posted: August 31, 2012 in augustine, books, history, sin

Your mercy faithfully hovered over me from afar. In what iniquities was I wasting myself! I pursued a sacrilegious quest for knowledge, which led me, a deserter from you, down to faithless depths and fraudulent service of devils. The sacrifices I offered them were my evil acts. And in all this I experienced your chastisement. During the celebration of your solemn rites within the walls of your Church, I even dared to lust after a girl and to start an affair that would procure the fruit of death. So you beat me with heavy punishments, but not the equivalent of my guilt; O my God, my great mercy, my refuge (Ps. 58:18, 143:2) from the terrible dangers in which I was wandering. My stiff neck took me further and further away from you. I loved my own ways, not yours. The liberty I loved was merely that of a runaway.*

* Runaway slaves in antiquity were rigorously pursued. Churches provided temporary asylum in cases where inhuman maltreatment was the cause of flight. But to take in a runaway was possible only for the rich and powerful. The liberty enjoyed, therefore, was that of an escaped prisoner, hunted by authorities.

– Saint Augustine, Confessions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 37-38 [III. iii (5)]

This review was originally posted at The Gospel Coalition.

Solomon Stoddard, the 17th century New England pastor and grandfather of Jonathan Edwards, has received a bad rap.

At least that’s what David Paul McDowell argues in his new book, Beyond the Half-Way Covenant: Solomon Stoddard’s Understanding of the Lord’s Supper as a Converting Ordinance. Known primarily (and often exclusively) in relation to Edwards, Stoddard has suffered from a lack of scholarly research on his ministry and theology, especially in relation to his views concerning the Lord’s Supper.

This short volume explores the ins and outs of Stoddard’s peculiar views regarding church membership, regeneration, and the sacrament of communion, suggesting that Stoddard has been misrepresented and misunderstood—both in the writings of his contemporaries and in modern scholarship. More specifically, McDowell, senior pastor of Community Fellowship Church in West Chicago, Illinois, argues that Stoddard’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper as a “converting ordinance” must be interpreted in light of his historical context, highlighting the evangelistic foundations of his move “beyond” the Half-Way Covenant and examining his lasting effect on the entire Connecticut Valley. Stoddard understood communion as a powerful preparatory work that was often, though not necessarily, used by God for the conversion of sinners.

Parsing Puritanism

The book is divided into four chapters, each logically building on the one before. In the first chapter, McDowell answers the question, “What did it mean to be a Puritan?” by tracing the origins of the Puritan movement within Anglicanism and sketching the general contours of New England Congregationalism in the early 17th century. This chapter provides a helpful introductory lesson for those less familiar with the foundational convictions of Puritan theology and practice, and is absolutely crucial for understanding the rest of the book.

In chapter two, McDowell examines the Half-Way Covenant, the controversial “innovation” designed to deal with the increasing number of second-generation colonists who, although unable to point to a definitive experience of saving grace, nonetheless desired that their children be baptized. Supporters of the covenant argued that a profession of faith, accompanied by a morally upright life, was sufficient for limited church membership that allowed for access to the baptismal font (though not to the Lord’s Table). This new approach to membership stood in stark contrast to the traditional Puritan ideal of a “pure” church composed only of truly regenerate believers.

McDowell does a fine job summarizing the many theological, ecclesiastical, and political factors related to this hotly debated issue, laying the groundwork for understanding Stoddard’s bold move “beyond” the limitations of the original Half-Way Covenant. Furthermore, the author’s emphasis on the pastoral motivations behind the covenant’s ratification helps to correctly frame the issue in its historical context and sheds valuable light on both sides of the debate.

In the third chapter, McDowell turns to Northampton, Massachusetts, the town where Stoddard ministered for more than 50 years. In tracing its history, the author highlights the town’s steady drift toward a full embrace of the Half-Way Covenant, paving the way for Stoddard’s decision to open up access to the Lord’s Table to all professing Christians. Again, this chapter highlights important historical issues critical to a well-rounded understanding of Stoddardism.

Going Beyond

The fourth chapter contains the real substance of the book, diving deeply into the evolution and final form of Stoddard’s views on church membership and the Lord’s Supper. Moving beyond the position of other New England Congregationalists who supported the Half-Way Covenant, Stoddard argued that all professing Christians, regardless of whether or not they could testify to an experience of saving grace, should be allowed to participate in both sacraments, not just baptism.

The author’s treatment of this complex yet fascinating debate effectively highlights just how divisive this issue was in Stoddard’s day and sheds valuable light on a historical controversy that deserves more nuance than it often receives. McDowell convincingly demonstrates that Stoddard’s views arose both from strong Calvinistic convictions regarding the necessity of God’s free grace and evangelistic passion to “prepare” the unregenerate for conversion. For Stoddard, this preparation included partaking of the Lord’s Supper, which had the potential to be “a converting ordinance” when sovereignly used by God (58). This was the book’s strongest chapter, clearly demonstrating the author’s expertise related to the many factors that contributed to the shape of Stoddard’s theology and ministry.

McDowell closes the book with a look at Stoddard’s controversial legacy. Differing opinions among historians have resulted in a lack of clarity regarding the lasting effect of Stoddard’s ministry. Drawing extensively on many primary and secondary sources, McDowell explores Stoddard’s important influence throughout Massachusetts and the Connecticut River Valley, giving special attention on Stoddard’s famous grandson, Jonathan Edwards.

Pastoral Significance

Beyond the Half-Way Covenant is based on McDowell’s doctoral dissertation and therefore relatively academic in tone and detail. McDowell assumes his readers are fairly familiar with the important figures and issues associated with New England Puritanism. The many citations and extended quotations clearly demonstrate extensive research that went into the writing of the book. At times, however, lengthy quotations could probably have been paraphrased to help with the book’s flow. Additionally, the author at points repeats himself, rehearsing information already covered in earlier sections. Sometimes this repetition is helpful, but in other instances the book may have benefited from a more tightly organized structure accompanied by subheadings within each chapter.

The effect of the book could also have been bolstered by more reflection on the ecclesial and pastoral significance of Stoddard’s views for today. Although the foreword briefly mentions some pastoral implications of Stoddard’s ministry, this topic is not fully fleshed out and often overshadowed by the book’s intricate historical and theological explorations. A separate chapter dedicated to delving into the implications of Stoddard’s theology and practice for today, especially in light of the fragmentation continuing to plague modern evangelicalism, would have been a fascinating and much-appreciated addition.

Beyond the Half-Way Covenant is an important contribution to ongoing discussions related to New England Puritanism. Those interested in Edwards should consider this book required reading. However, in addition to providing valuable insights related to Stoddard’s famous grandson, this book is important because it offers modern Christians an example of how evangelistic zeal shapes theology and practice. Although most evangelicals will disagree with Stoddard at certain points, he nonetheless provides a model of passionate pastoral care and rigorous theological reflection that can, and indeed must, be imitated today—for God’s glory and the good of his church.

Some Evangelicals have a good grasp of the history of evangelical theology.  Unforunately, the majority is sadly deficient in historical knowledge.  Their theology tends to be ahistorical.  They lack a sense of the course of theological history which is their heritage.  They believe what they are taught here-and-now and have no awareness of the there-and-before.  To hold evangelical faith without a minimal knowledge of its history is theologically unhealthy if not precarious.  Without question, a number of fundamentalists and evangelicals have deserted the camp because, lacking any real historical knowledge of their heritage, they did not see their heritage in its proper light nor did they have an appropriate vantage point from which to assess the alternative view to which they capitulated.

– Bernard Ramm, The Evangelical Heritage: A Study in Historical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 14

The end of Cain’s history, and so the end of all history, is Christ on the cross, the murdered Son of God.  That is the last desperate assault on the gate of paradise.  And under the whirling sword, under the cross, the human race dies.  But Christ lives.  The trunk of the cross becomes the wood of life, and now in the midst of the world, on the accursed ground itself, life is raised up anew. …

What a strange paradise is this hill of Golgotha, this cross, this blood, this broken body.  What a strange tree of life, this trunk on which the very God had to suffer and die.  Yet it is the very kingdom of life and of the resurrection, which by grace God grants us again.  It is the gate of imperishable hope now opened, the gate of waiting and of patience.  The tree of life, the cross of Christ, the center of God’s world that is fallen but upheld and preserved – that is what the end of the story about paradise is for us.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 146.