Tag Archives: Christianity

The Love of God

With that which we call the love of God, we love God entirely well; we cleave to God as the only, chief, and eternal goodness; in him we do delight ourselves and are well pleased; and frame ourselves to his will and pleasure, having evermore a regard and desire of him that we love.  — Heinrich Bullinger

The ‘Defense’ of Johannes Oecolampadius

‘Defense’ literature was exceedingly common in the early years of the Reformation, as the Reformers had to ‘defend’ their departure from the corrupt Church of Rome while maintaining their adherence to historic Christianity.  Indeed, most ‘Apologetic’ literature (which is what the term meant in the time) was a demonstration that the Reformers hadn’t departed at all from the truth, Rome had.

Johannes Oecolampadius’ contribution to the genre is an example of both the clarity of his thought and the ease with which he presents those thoughts.  you can download the entire book here (in PDF, in, of course, Latin).

For other of Oecolampadius’ works see the right nav panel under ‘Reformation Texts’.

Academia Needs More Professors Endowed With the Spirit of Melanchthon

mel30Towards the end of his life, on the 29th of October, 1556 Philip wrote to John Gigas

Truly I can affirm in my conscience that, since God has called me to this labor of teaching, I have taken great care to search for simple explanations and to avoid those labyrinths in which others show off their talent.

May his tribe increase.

What is the Gospel?

The gospel is a good and a sweet word, and an assured testimony of God’s grace to us-ward, exhibited in Christ unto all believers. Or else: The gospel is the most evident sentence of the eternal God, brought down from heaven, absolving all believers from all their sins, and that too freely, for Christ his sake, with a promise of eternal life. — Heinrich Bullinger

#ICYMI – Did You Know Karl Barth Smoked A Cigar in Church?

HIN-Cartoon-KirchenkniggeOur friends at Ref.ch have directed us to a really fantastic essay today about church conduct.  You must read it.  It begins-

Der Theologe Karl Barth soll sich einst in der Kirche eine Zigarre angesteckt haben, um zu zeigen, dass es für Reformierte keine sakralen Räume gibt. Da Sie vermutlich nicht Karl Barth heissen, haben wir bei Pfarrerinnen und Pfarrern nachgefragt, was passend oder unpassend erscheint.

Proper conduct from A-Z.  Read it.  Read it now.  I love it- and I love this one especially:

Die Predigt soll unter die Haut gehen. Dazu brauchen Sie nicht in Badehose oder Bikini erscheinen! Zeigen Sie nicht zu viel Haut. Begrüssen Sie Ihre Sitznachbarn. Ein nettes Lächeln öffnet den Himmel!

And, Joel Watts, YOU need to pay attention to THIS ONE!

Checken Sie während des Gottesdienstes nicht Ihre Mails und SMS! Heisst es nicht, ich bin der Herr, dein Gott, der dich herausführt aus der Knechtschaft des Handys?

There’s a time and place for everything- and that’s true for what one does in Church too.  And what one SHOULDN’T do there!

Huldrych, Let Me Tell You About a Christmas Sermon I Just Heard!

Shortly after Christmas in 1526 Johannes Comander wrote Huldrych Zwingli a letter. In it, he briefly describes a sermon he heard on Christmas:

Dem amman von Flymbs hab ich din empfälch geschriben; aber mir ist noch kein antwort worden. Der apt hatt uff den Wienachttag geprediget, Johannes sy der überträffelichest under den euangelisten, von der jungfrowschafft wägen; damit hab er verdient, dz er allerhöchest von der gottheit hab können schriben, und sy im von gott ingesprochen. Aber Petrus hab wol ouch Mathei am 16. [Matth. 16. 16] dem herren uff sin frag geantwurtet: du bist Christus, der sun des lebendigen gottes; er hab aber geredt ex exteriore coniectura, computacione: er hab’s ab usswendigen dingen genommen, dz er in sach vor im ston, das er inn hat sehen uff dem moer wandlen, und anderen wunderzeichen. Also hat er nit uss insprechen gottes, wie Johannes, inn genempt ein sun gottes.

Read the rest if you’re so inclined. I continue to find it fascinating that Zwingli was the go to guy when theological questions came up. He clearly enjoyed quite a reputation.

The Truth About Liberalism and Fundamentalism

  • Fundamentalism says: “God must fit in my box”, and then creates a god in its own image.
  • Liberalism says: “God must fit in my box”, and then creates a god in its own image, after its own likeness.
  • Christianity teaches: “God is God and doesn’t have to do anything” because God isn’t accountable to you- you are accountable to God.

Fundamentalism and Liberalism are both creators of idols and therefore neither are Christian. And they both prefer the idol they create in their own malarkey festooned fertilized minds to the God who actually is, simply because that God, the real God, is beyond their control.

‘What is Emergent Christianity?’ Ok, I’ll Cut to the Chase

I was asked, in connection with a previous post, how I would define ’emergent Christianity’.  Here it is-

Emergent Christianity is a movement within (yet not exactly of) Christianity which – whilst jettisoning Scripture as the font of faith and practice- replaces it with a Madison Avenue-esque marketing scheme designed to attract adherents of its ‘form’ (though it is authentically malformed) of belief.  It is a movement rooted in secularism which strives to appeal to those whose Christianity is shallow enough and theologically ignorant enough to adopt its anti-clericalism and anti-denominationalism.

Consequently, though it ‘appears’ to be Christian it is as far from historic Christianity as the sun is from Pluto.

Anthony LeDonne and Jesus Online

Anthony announces

In this course we will examine some of the different “Jesuses” who have emerged through the ages, including several interpretations of Jesus in historical studies, and several interpretations of Jesus from art and literature. This course will weave together three primary threads: 1) the Jesus of history; 2) ancient representations of Jesus; and 3) the various modern Jesuses who embody various symbols, ideologies, collective memories, and cultural identities. Through lecture and discussion, we will examine diverse portraits of Jesus in history, literature, art, song, and film throughout history.This class will run from early June to mid-July. It will be hosted and accredited by the oldest university in California: University of the Pacific. You do not need to be admitted to the university as a full-time student to take this class.  If you’re interested and would like to learn more, email me at aledonne at pacific dot edu.

Go to the first link for more.

“Jesus: Rise to Power” – An Interview with the Writer and Presenter, Dr. Michael C. Scott

Michael, if I may, first let me thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about National Geographic’s upcoming Jesus: Rise To Power set to air on March 28 here in the United States.

JW: First, would you mind telling readers a bit about yourself (aside from being Assistant Professor in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick).

ac_studies_picMS: I did my undergraduate + graduate work at Cambridge University UK and was also the Moses Finley Fellow in Ancient History at Darwin College, Cambridge before coming to Warwick. I work on different aspects of Greek and Roman culture, particularly religion. I believe strongly that it is an important facet of academia for academics to spend part of their time communicating their ideas and research to as wide as audiences as possible.

JW: What drew you to a television special on the Historical Jesus?

MS: This is not so much a series on the Historical Jesus – I am not a biblical scholar. I am a Classicist. In these programmes, I am interested in how Christianity develops in the 1st – 4th centuries AD within the Roman world. Romans were normally pretty good at absorbing other religions and cultures that they met. The interesting question is how and why this did not happen with Christianity. Indeed, how did the opposite happen: Christianity taking over the Roman empire?

JW: Why is it titled ‘Jesus: Rise to Power’?

MS: It fits the visual difference in the representation of Jesus from the time of his crucifixion – when he is suffering the ultimate punishment metered out by the Romans – to the way he is represented in images of the 4th century AD and later: in the style of a Roman emperor. He has – in his visual representation within the Roman world – risen to power.

JW: Aside from serving as Presenter for the show, do you interview biblical scholars, historians, and archaeologists in the course of the program?

MS: I am the writer and presenter of the show – I always work very closely with the production team on the scripts to ensure accuracy and good argument. I wont ever accept a script constructed for me! Likewise, it would be mad not to consult and talk to a wide range of scholars on all aspects of this programme, to name but a few who contributed: Prof John Curran, Prof Shaye Cohen, Prof Judith Lieu, Prof Elaine Pagels, Prof Dirk Obbink, Dr Helen Bond, Dr Boaz Zissu.

JW: That’s a fantastic cast of scholars.  I would even say, stellar.  How do you see this special? As an examination of the Historical Jesus or as an examination of the ‘wake’ (in the sense of a ship which has passed) left after the appearance of the historical Jesus?

MS: The focus is on the ways in which, and the reasons why, Christianity developed as a religion within the Roman empire from the 1st – 4th centuries AD. The key questions are what enabled its development and why did it spread? How, in under 400 years, did it become the official religion of the Roman empire?

JW: Many such specials end up doing something of a disservice to the subject since oftentimes the views of the experts are edited in such a way that their views are distorted. In this special, are the experts allowed to have their say in the final version?

MS: I would not work on a programme that tried to misrepresent scholars’ view, or indeed my own.

JW:  I can’t tell you how important that is to myself as a student of the Bible.  There are so many television specials which really don’t seem to care whether or not scholars and their scholarship are fairly displayed.  As a historian history clearly matters to you. Is this presentation historically ‘faithful’?

MS: Every fact in a Nat Geo production has to be supported by a range of primary and secondary evidence. Nat Geo has an entire team which checks that we have done our homework.

JW: What do you think viewers will learn about Jesus’ rise to power that will surprise them most?

MS: I think what is most interesting is first the very varied Roman response to Christianity (it was not all Christians and Lions all the time), and second the clear evolution of Christian belief and practice during those first centuries (e.g. the Gospels we know today were not brought together as a canon until the 2nd century AD).

JW: How do you think this special is different from the numerous specials which air around Easter and Christmas?

MS: What I hope it offers is a story about an incredibly important time in human history that – whether Christian or not – viewers can find interesting, engaging and thought-provoking.

JW: Do you have plans to do further work in the subject of early Christianity for television? And if so, along what lines or about which topics?

MS: I am – and always will be – a Classicist. I was interested in this programme because it offered a chance to look at the issue from the perspective of the Roman world. I will continue to make programmes about the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, including later this year for the BBC in the UK.

Thank you again, sir, for your time, and your responses.  The program, “Jesus: Rise to Power” airs on the NatGeo channel here in the States on March 28th from 8-11 PM Eastern Time.  And check out Dr. Scott’s website here.

There Aren’t 10 Reasons Kids Leave the Church, There’s Only One

They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us. (1 Jo 2:19 CSB). In response to this post which would have us believe that there are 10 top reasons kids (and one would presume adults as well) leave the Church.

But again, there’s only one reason. To be sure, there are excuses. But there’s only one reason and that reason is glaringly and profoundly simple: kids (and adults) leave the Church because at some level they were never really part in the first place. Whatever straw man they may wish to set up and whatever excuse they develop, theologically speaking, such are simply attempts to evade personal responsibility and its fruit in authentic commitment.

When a generation is raised on pizza parties and events and games and outings and trips and that’s the entire extent of their exposure to discipleship it isn’t discipleship to which they are exposed. It’s self-involvement. When young and old are treated as though they were the center of the Church and the purpose of the church and the reason for the existence of the church it is only natural that they leave as soon as something else attracts their self interested attention.

When the Church forthrightly declares that God is Lord and we, his people, are his servants, then disciples can be made; and the truth is, Jesus tells the Church to make disciples, not members or attenders.

But the real question is, what does the Church lose when it loses ‘members’ who contribute neither life, time, effort, nor love to and for ministry and instead simply only always and ever wish to be ‘ministered to’? Truth is, not much.

Let them go. When they mature they’ll return. If not, they were never really members of the body of Christ and no amount of reconstructive surgery can make them into something they aren’t any more than a leopard can change its spots.

Candida Moss: The Myth of Persecution

The publisher has sent along this note (preparatory to sending the book) :

9780062104526It’s widely accepted that the history of Christianity is steeped in martyrdom. Jesus died on the cross. Most of his Apostles met gory and untimely ends. Many of his early followers were relentlessly and gruesomely persecuted for their beliefs.

But what if this history is false? What if many of these stories were systematically exaggerated, forged, and fabricated?

In The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (Hardcover; March 2013), Candida Moss, a leading scholar of Christian history and Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, argues that the widely heralded “Age of Martyrs” is pure fiction. Examining the true history of religious persecution—from its origins to its ongoing idealization in Christian culture—she finds that the early church both inflated and outright invented stories of martyrdom as a means to fight heresy, inspire the faithful, and fund individual churches.

According to Moss, the rhetoric of persecution endures today, especially in the language of the religious and political right. It is taught in Sunday school classes, celebrated in sermons, and employed by church leaders and media pundits alike, who insist that Christians face an ongoing campaign of discrimination from a hostile, secular world. Christians continue to use this tradition to compel their fellow “soldiers” to fight the ongoing war against their faith—rhetoric seen today in Mitt Romney’s accusation of Barack Obama of waging a “war on religion,” and Rick Santorum claiming the gay community “had one out on a jihad” against him.

candida_mossThis notion of Christian victimhood has been carefully honed and fostered to silence dissent and galvanize new generations of culture warriors to take action, and its dangerous legacy has legitimized centuries of aggression, prejudice, and even violence.  In The Myth of Persecution, Moss dismantles this perception of Christian martyrdom, urging the faithful to abandon a conspirital “us versus them mindset,” and to embrace instead the moral instruction and spiritual guidance that these stories of martyrdom can provide.

Very, very much looking forward to reading it.

Fun Facts From Church History: Luther’s Candid Thoughts on the Papacy

English: woodcut of the pope selling indulgenc...

On 6 February 1539 Luther shared these thoughts with his dinner-companions:

“These arrogant and unlearned papists can’t govern the church because they write nothing, they read nothing, but, firmly saddled in the pride of possession, they cry out that the decrees of the fathers are not to be questioned and decisions made are not to be disputed, otherwise one would have to dance to the tune of every little brother.

For this reason the pope, possessed by demons, defends his tryranny with the canon ‘Si papa.’ This canon states dearly: If the pope should lead the whole world into the control of hell, he is nevertheless not to be contradicted. It’s a terrible thing that on account of the authority of this man we must lose our souls, which Christ redeemed with his precious blood.

Christ says, ‘I will not cast out anybody who comes to me’ [John 6:37]. On the other hand, the pope says, ‘As I will it, so I command it; you must perish rather than resist me.’ Therefore the pope, whom our princes adore, is full of devils. He must be exterminated by the Word and by prayer.”

And there you have it.  Don’t hold back, Martin.  Tell us what you think.

Isn’t the Church Obliged to Give Money to Anyone Who Asks?

richbeggarSometimes folk have the notion that the Church is a dispenser of welfare to the wider society and that the sole function of the Church is to collect material goods from its members and give them to whomsoever wishes them. But this notion is exceedingly peculiar and is in fact not according to the New Testament where, believe it or not, actual rules are laid out concerning the distribution of charity.

First, from 1 Timothy 5-

Χήρας τίμα τὰς ὄντως χήρας. 4 εἰ δέ τις χήρα τέκνα ἢ ἔκγονα ἔχει, μανθανέτωσαν πρῶτον τὸν ἴδιον οἶκον εὐσεβεῖν καὶ ἀμοιβὰς ἀποδιδόναι τοῖς προγόνοις· τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν ἀπόδεκτον ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ. 5 ἡ δὲ ὄντως χήρα καὶ μεμονωμένη ἤλπικεν ἐπὶ θεὸν καὶ προσμένει ταῖς δεήσεσιν καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας, 6 ἡ δὲ σπαταλῶσα ζῶσα τέθνηκεν. 7 καὶ ταῦτα παράγγελλε, ἵνα ἀνεπίλημπτοι ὦσιν. 8 εἰ δέ τις τῶν ἰδίων καὶ μάλιστα οἰκείων οὐ προνοεῖ, τὴν πίστιν ἤρνηται καὶ ἔστιν ἀπίστου χείρων. 9 Χήρα καταλεγέσθω μὴ ἔλαττον ἐτῶν ἑξήκοντα γεγονυῖα, ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή, 10 ἐν ἔργοις καλοῖς μαρτυρουμένη, εἰ ἐτεκνοτρόφησεν, εἰ ἐξενοδόχησεν, εἰ ἁγίων πόδας ἔνιψεν, εἰ θλιβομένοις ἐπήρκεσεν, εἰ παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ ἐπηκολούθησεν. 11 νεωτέρας δὲ χήρας παραιτοῦ· ὅταν γὰρ καταστρηνιάσωσιν τοῦ Χριστοῦ, γαμεῖν θέλουσιν 12 ἔχουσαι κρίμα ὅτι τὴν πρώτην πίστιν ἠθέτησαν· 13 ἅμα δὲ καὶ ἀργαὶ μανθάνουσιν περιερχόμεναι τὰς οἰκίας, οὐ μόνον δὲ ἀργαὶ ἀλλὰ καὶ φλύαροι καὶ περίεργοι, λαλοῦσαι τὰ μὴ δέοντα. 14 βούλομαι οὖν νεωτέρας γαμεῖν, τεκνογονεῖν, οἰκοδεσποτεῖν, μηδεμίαν ἀφορμὴν διδόναι τῷ ἀντικειμένῳ λοιδορίας χάριν· 15 ἤδη γάρ τινες ἐξετράπησαν ὀπίσω τοῦ Σατανᾶ. 16 εἴ τις πιστὴ ἔχει χήρας, ἐπαρκείτω αὐταῖς καὶ μὴ βαρείσθω ἡ ἐκκλησία, ἵνα ταῖς ὄντως χήραις ἐπαρκέσῃ. (1 Timothy 5:3-16).

Here the guidelines are quite clear- widows are deserving of help and support from the Church if:

1- they are Christians
2- they are elderly
3- they have no family
4- they are – in essence – alone except for the Church

That’s pretty specific, isn’t it. but doesn’t the Church owe it to just anyone who asks to give them money any time it’s asked for? Again, the New Testament is pretty clear about this:

καὶ γὰρ ὅτε ἦμεν πρὸς ὑμᾶς, τοῦτο παρηγγέλλομεν ὑμῖν, ὅτι εἴ τις οὐ θέλει ἐργάζεσθαι μηδὲ ἐσθιέτω. 11 ἀκούομεν γάρ τινας περιπατοῦντας ἐν ὑμῖν ἀτάκτως μηδὲν ἐργαζομένους ἀλλὰ περιεργαζομένους· 12 τοῖς δὲ τοιούτοις παραγγέλλομεν καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ, ἵνα μετὰ ἡσυχίας ἐργαζόμενοι τὸν ἑαυτῶν ἄρτον ἐσθίωσιν. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).

That’s pretty clear too. If people aren’t willing to work, Paul says, let them starve. Nothing motivates work like hunger and the belief that the Church owes it to the world to feed the lazy and indolent is simply unscriptural.

But does all this mean the Church should turn its back on the needy? Certainly not. But it does mean that the Church should set boundaries and limits to the distribution of its resources so that those AUTHENTICALLY in need are those who are helped and those who can, and should, provide for themselves and their families are made to do so.

The rub, of course, is to determine who TRULY is in need. And, further, what NEED itself is. For instance, needs include food and clothing and shelter. Needs do not include air conditioning or cell phones or Nike tennis shoes. Yet many act as though if they spend their money on cigarettes and beer the Church should buy food for their children. This is, to be blunt, both shortsighted and selfish of them and if the Church does in fact provide the gap created by such acts of selfishness it finds itself enabling the very kind of behavior it should abhor.

Help the needy. That’s the Christian ethic. What Christians, and Churches have to do is to define ‘help’ and ‘needy’ in terms of Scripture and not in terms of culture.

The Truth About Atheism

Atheists don’t disbelieve in God; they disbelieve in a distorted image of God either concocted in their own minds or foisted upon them by the theologically illiterate and incompetent.

No one who meets another can disbelieve in the existence of the other and no one who encounters, or rather is encountered by the Living God can deny his existence any more than they can deny their own.

That’s the truth about atheism. It may be an inconvenient truth or an ignored truth or even a denied truth, but it is in fact THE truth.

The Beginnings of Christianity and the Parting of the Ways

Ekkehard Stegemann has published a  very fine essay titled Did Something Go Wrong in the Beginning? both in ASE 29/1 (2012) 7-19 (which just appeared) and in the volume previously mentioned (which I’m reviewing) titled Der Römerbrief: Brennpunkte der Rezeption.

Did something go wrong in the beginning – and, we must add, since when, and just why? It is obviously an apocalyptic myth or a messianic dream that inspired Paul and Jesus, as it did other witnesses after Paul. Krister Stendahl’s honorable search, however, for an alternative to or a disarmament of the shameful anti-Jewish self-definitions of Christianity will in the end – I believe – not really reach its goal if restricts itself only to a better and more insightful interpretation of Paul and the New Testament. Paul’s apocalyptic framework is not repeatable. What went wrong, I think, is that the necessary shift from an apocalyptic self-definition through dramatizing the present as the end of time to a post-eschatological self-definition, which acknowledges the ongoing process of the old theatre of the world, armed itself with the weapon of superiority-claims and blamed the Jews. Although we must protect Paul from interpretations which legitimate racism and supremacy, we have to admit that we are responsible for our mental and political attitude, and therefore cannot hide or creep away from the teaching of contempt only by appealing to a better understanding of Paul. But, of course, a better understanding helps.

Joel and others interested n the subject of early Christianity ought to read it.

Paul and Jesus, by James Tabor

James was nice enough to have his publisher send along a review copy, for which I thank him very much.

Using the oldest Christian documents that we have—the letters of Paul—as well as other early Christian sources, historian and scholar James Tabor reconstructs the origins of Christianity. Tabor reveals that the familiar figures of James, Peter, and Paul sometimes disagreed fiercely over everything from the meaning of Jesus’ message to the question of whether converts must first become Jews. Tabor shows how Paul separated himself from Peter and James to introduce his own version of Christianity, which would continue to develop independently of the message that Jesus, James, and Peter preached.

My review is here.

So, Why Exactly DID Christianity Split off From Judaism?

Lawrence Schiffman discusses the subject in an essay here.

The split between Judaism and Christianity did not come about simply or quickly. It was a complex process which took some one hundred years, starting from the crucifixion, and which had different causes and effects depending on whether it is looked at from the point of view of Judaism or Christianity. Further, the question of legal status as seen through Roman eyes also had some relationship to the issue.

And then the rest (from a publication of 1991 which is nevertheless still interesting).

A New Volume From TVZ: Paulus und die Anfänge der Kirche

Nach Jesu gewaltsamem Tod musste sich seine Jüngerschaft neu formieren und ihre Botschaft in Auseinandersetzung mit diesem Tod und im Licht der Auferweckungsbotschaft formulieren. Das Neue Testament belegt die unterschiedlichen Positionen dieser spannungsreichen Entwicklung. Briefe, Apostelgeschichte und Offenbarung zeigen, wie sich die ersten Gemeinden mit ihrer Botschaft ihren Platz im Gefüge der antiken Welt gesucht haben. 

In diesem Band werden neutestamentliche Schriften in ihrem zeitgeschichtlichen Kontext interpretiert. Die Anfänge der Jerusalemer «Urgemeinde» werden dabei ebenso gewürdigt wie das Leben und Wirken des Völkerapostels Paulus, die Hauptthemen paulinischer Theologie ebenso wie ihre Nachgeschichte in neutestamentlicher und nachneutestamentlicher Zeit.

More here at the TVZ website.  It’s for you folk interested in the early church, and Paul.

It’s Bultmann’s Birthday

Rudolf Karl Bultmann, the most important New Testament theologian of the 20th and the 21st centuries was born on this day in 1884.  Don’t believe 99% of what you read ABOUT him written by the angry fundamentalists.  Read HIM and you’ll learn something.  In fact, you’ll learn a lot, much of which has never been superseded in academic biblical studies.