Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The year was 1819. We remember American Missionary Pliny Fisk. The reading is from Leslie Newbigin's “Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture.”

It is the 3rd of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1819.

The era of Napoleon was finally over. The Revolutionary Wars at the end of the 1700s and the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s devastated Europe. An alliance of European powers united to put little Nappy down and establish a system to avoid a tyrant like him ever to arise again.

The Congress of Vienna, which followed the war, was 200 European states meeting to discuss a balance of power with clear national boundaries and alliances. Some 300 old states of the Holy Roman Empire were consolidated into 39 States in the new Europe. Those empires on the border of Europe also had an interest in that area that once constituted the Roman Empire. The two major empires were the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The new Europe would face-off with Russia during the Crimean War later in the century. The situation with the Ottomans was complicated.

The new “concert of Europe” would tread lightly with the Ottoman empire because of the fragile peace that many Christian minorities had in the Holy Land. The Ottoman Empire would likely treat their European neighbors with deference to not upset a possible ally against the Russian Empire. Part of this agreement allowed Christian congregations, missionaries, and courts in places from Asia Minor to the Levant.

Now jump to the newly formed United States in 1819. The Era of Good Feelings was underway! It was a time of isolationism and relative peace. This allowed for American infrastructure growth, the first great wave of American arts and literature, and our favorite American pastime: interdenominational squabbling.

The “new lights” and the “old lights” were essentially the 19th-century theological millennials against the 19th-century theological boomers. The issues were many and often complex, but the general attitude among the Old Lighters was that the New Lighters were overly novel, under-educated, and ill-fit to serve in their institutions. The response of the New-Lighters was to find new fields for ministry. This is what led to the first generation of American missionaries. The impact and aftermath of the missionary movement is not an infrequent topic on the show.

For many Americans, the Holy Land was foreign and mysterious. There were no ambassadors or foreign reporters based in the Middle East. Nonetheless, a fascination with the Middle East makes sense as some that thought their American experiment was based on Christianity explicitly. But they couldn’t pick the Holy land out on a map, let alone tell you why it mattered. Then, the growth of a new kind of “End Times” theology began to emphasize an interpretation of the Book of Revelation that required converting the Jewish people explicitly living in the Holy Land.

Combine this new “Eschatology,” the New Light theologians looking for new mission fields, and the peace in Europe and truce with the Ottoman Empire. This would lead to the creation of the Palestine Mission of the American Board of Foreign nations. On this, on the 3rd of November in 1819 that the man as remarkable as his name. Pliny Fisk set sail with a team on the first-ever American mission trip to the Near East.

Fisk visited the seven churches from the book of Revelation in Asia Minor and studied Greek in Smyrna. Already fluent in at least five other languages, he picked up local fluency almost everywhere he went. In 1821 he made it to Jerusalem, where the politics of the moment made things difficult. There were many Christian churches in the region, but none affiliated with one another. There were Syrian Orthodox and Latin Catholics and Maronites and others, and they tended not to get along.

The one thing they could agree on was that they didn’t need any disruption from this American Evangelical. They called him a “Bible Man.” Undeterred, Fisk decided to spend most of his time working on what would be a very early English-Arabic dictionary. Fisk and his crew were often caught up with issues, not concerning the Muslim population, but the Christian community. Fisk traveled amongst Protestants in Palestine, and the Levant was in Beirut in 1825 when he died of fever. Pliny Fisk set sail with the first group of American Missionaries to the Holy Land on this, the 3rd of November, in 1819.

The reading for today comes from theologian Leslie Newbigin. This is from his “Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture.”

“The resurrection is the revelation to chosen witnesses of the fact that Jesus who died on the cross is indeed king — conqueror of death and sin, Lord and Savior of all. The resurrection is not the reversal of a defeat but the proclamation of a victory. The King reigns from the tree. The reign of God has indeed come upon us, and its sign is not a golden throne but a wooden cross.”

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose light is neither too old nor too young, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.

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