Monday, November 22, 2021

Today on the Almanac, we go to the mailbag to answer a question about a great “what if”? In Church History.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 22nd of November, 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

A happy Mailbag Monday to you- first, let me clean up a few things that I always remind myself to say on the show but then never do… first:

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Mailbag question for today comes from Wayne in Rochester, NY [edited for space and clarity] “What would have happened if Luther was killed [by the Emperor]? Would the Reformation have looked the same? And what about other important events in Church history?”

Yes! There is a book series called “What If?” A collection of essays edited by Robert Cowley. The description for this book reads: “There’s no surer way to feel the danger or the good fortune of our collective past than to contemplate those moments when the World’s future hung in the balance.” And in the second set of essays, historian Geoffrey Parker asks what would have happened if Luther was burnt at stake in 1521?

The answer: reform and schism would still take place, but it would look differently.

I think the utility of this “counterfactual history” helps us to separate the “substance” and “accidents” of what we believe. Take, for instance: would Christianity exist if it were not for Constantine? Of course! But would it look like Roman and then Western European?

We mentioned in a recent mailbag about the size and scope of the church that the center of gravity is no longer in Western Europe or North America but in Africa and South America.

Can Christianity be Christianity without the trappings we are used to? Of course. What would it NEED? Answering this takes us out of the standard room of fundamental Christianity and into some particular spaces, but ask yourself. What is necessary?

The Gospel. The preaching of the Good News of Jesus- the promises of Jesus and the coming Kingdom. Imagine, hypothetically, that you wake up 1000 years in the future in an unknown land and you were told that you would be attending a Christian worship service. What would it need? What would be recognizable?

A similar fun exercise; Take your favorite figure in church history and imagine being their chaperone to your Sunday worship service. What would you feel you might need to explain?

Imagine telling Bach, “Ah, yes… we beam the words to the songs up onto the wall so everyone can see them… and that’s called amplification. We can get you some earplugs”.

Now- Wayne… please pardon me because this question has led me to a movie idea. Think Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure, except the main characters aren’t high school kids who need to ace a history project, but two lazy seminarians who have to pass their church history project to get their M.Divs…. Ooh boy… maybe Chalamet and Tom Holland? They go back to get Augustine played by Ian McKellen…Alfred Molina plays Aquinas. Ricky Gervais as Luther….

History records our collective progress, adaptation, struggle, etc.… In this season of thanksgiving, we can thank God for those things that have led us towards a greater understanding of the world, its Maker, and our Savior. And we can say, “it doesn’t have to be like this.” History, church history, in particular, has led me to that conclusion.

Thanks for your question, Wayne, and especially for sparking the movie idea. Go ahead and send your questions- Before the end of the year, we will empty it with as many questions as we can.

The last word for today comes from the Gospel of Matthew- in a day of questioning, “What If?” This is a good word:

He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. 18 I tell you that you are Peter.[b] And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. 19 I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ.

The Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of November 2021 was brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by the Bill to my Ted; he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man already casting this new movie… Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and 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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