*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 28th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Rebecca in Santa Fe is a long-time listener who used to listen to my old show, Virtue in the Wasteland, and listens to the show I produce with Debi Winrich, the Soul of Christianity. Rebecca wrote:
“on those shows, you sometimes do a ‘what did we learn’ at the end of a show. After doing this show for a few years: what have you learned?”
Rebecca, I love this question and it sent me on a long walk with my little notepad so I could reflect on what I have learned after about 930 episodes. So- I have come up with the top 5 things I’ve learned- perhaps you’ve learned these things too.
5. The question of dealing with adversity and diversity.
In graduate school, one of my classes in Medieval history dealt specifically with the church and I remember my professor saying that the way the Medieval church existed in the west as a unified entity was its ability to deal with diversity, without adversity.
Christianity is a creedal faith- that is, it involves declarative statements that apply to us existentially. So we have creeds, and then we affirm them by repeating them and saying “I believe…”. So it’s not a free-for-all, “you do you” situation. At the same time, it is impossible to not see extreme diversity in the church. Much of it has to do with context. How can we allow ourselves to be comfortable with the idea that “other people do it differently” and not get scared? How do we do this and maintain the faith passed down to us? I think this is a fundamental question for church history.
4. I’m in the minority and the majority
I’m a tiny, tiny speck in the grand scheme of things. You’ve heard me talk like this before because it is the thing that continually slaps me in the face. The majority of Christians who have lived and died experienced their faith in ways foreign to me. To piggyback off of number 5 I have to accept that diversity- obviously in light of the Gospel- and realize that the chances that “I alone” am doing it right need to be banished. At the same time- by embracing Jesus via the Bible and by confessing the Apostle’s Creed and saying the Lord’s Prayer I am doing what the majority of Christians across space and time have done. And that’s comforting.
3. It’s more than comparative dogmatics.
There is a place for people to compare the theological systems of different denominations and sects. Sometimes it is done for the sake of “proving your team is right”. And I think that has, well… less utility. And while there are theologians who have drawn out theology into systematic theologies we cannot expect that everyone understands them and then lives strictly according to what the system teaches. It’s part of the complexity of history, humanity, and faith. I am not saying it doesn’t matter. Theology matters! Take yourself- how much does what you believe matter? I bet a lot. How much is tied to a certain reading of the text and your own context? Some of it. And how complicated are your own life, faith, and thought? And we should treat those in the past as at least complicated as us.
2. Church history isn’t just my job or hobby, but an important part of my faith
I once heard a professor break down competing ways of thinking into Mythology, Theology, and Philosophy (maybe I have a former student listening who took my MTP course). According to this prof, mythology is making sense of the world by telling stories. Philosophy makes sense of the world by internalizing and thinking. And theology makes sense of the world with historical events. Ours is a historical faith with historical claims (so is Judaism and Islam btw). Thinking historically about the faith isn’t optional- it is a faith bound up in history
1. The gates of Hell really can’t prevail against the church
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone snicker, “well, the Crusades!” Or “the witch trials!” As if they have somehow discredited my faith. I don’t take the corruption of the church to be a sign that none of its true, but rather that it is true that we are corrupt and in need of the incorruptible. Showing sinners to someone who believes very much in sin and sinners isn’t the gotcha you might think it is. And it is just as Jesus promised- the church has and will remain.
Thanks, Rebecca, one more mailbag tomorrow and then back to our regularly scheduled show.
The last word for today comes from 1 Peter:
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who is not from New Mexico but has more turquoise bolo ties than he has children, he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man for whom New Mexico and mobile meth labs will always be intertwined, 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.