Category Archives: Patron Saints for Postmoderns

People we should know who are part of our faith heritage

Medieval images and doctrines of hell

Dante's heavens and hells symbolised the astra...

Coppo di Marcovaldo, Hell (ca 1225 - 1274, Mosaic, Baptistry, Florence)

Folks, here’s a sneak preview of some work I did for the forthcoming Christian History magazine Handbook to Christian Thought on Hell. It’s not edited yet, but the guide, which will survey Christian thought on hell from the earliest church to the 21st century, will include something like what follows. If you are interested in getting the entire guide, which will be in a half-size  (roughly 5 x 8.5) magazine format complete with timeline and illustrations, go to and get on the mailing list.

The Middle Ages

The medieval period (roughly 500 – 1500 AD) saw a shift in emphasis from the early church’s focus on the biblical “Last Things”—the Second Coming of Christ, general resurrection, and final judgment—to a new concentration on the afterlives of individuals. Until the 400s AD and even beyond (as in the thought of Gregory the Great (540 – 604)), the “Parousia” (second coming and all its associated events) was still expected imminently, and so those who died in the intervening generations could be thought of as simply sleeping or awaiting the resurrection. There simply wasn’t much written during this early period about the immediate fate of those who died before Jesus returned.

However as the Second Coming came to seem, potentially, more remote, the question of the reward of the saved and the punishment of the damned heated up, and the doctrine of the immediate judgment of each soul at death came into more prominence. The Book of Revelation in particular, which tremendously influenced medieval culture, began to be pressed into service to imagine the shape of people’s fate after death. As we will see, this emphasis on the afterlife and its support from the Book of Revelation resulted in a lavishly visual and grotesque new genre of imaginative literature: the vision of the otherworldly journey, of which Dante’s Divine Comedy was the pinnacle. Continue reading

Summer 2011 confab of (early and medieval) historical theology wonks

Boston College: The Old World's enduring influ...

Boston College, with its Old World architecture

Folks, what’s the Boston Colloquy in Historical Theology? Why, it’s a group based at Boston College with a unique mission to rehabilitate historical theology as a discipline in service of the church. As it says on their website, ” The Boston Colloquy in Historical Theology (BCHT) is a professional organization of scholars devoted to the study of early and medieval Christian theology. Organized by Khaled Anatolios, Stephen F. Brown, and Boyd Taylor Coolman in the Theology Department at Boston College, the BCHT annually brings together scholars from these disciplines to foster conversation, stimulate thought, and promote scholarship.”

This summer’s meeting of the Colloquy looks to be an interesting one–see the list of papers below. Continue reading

Your voice counts on the future of Christian History magazine

As most of you know, I’m once again involved in one of the best magazines out there: Christian History. Under recessionary pressures in 2008, the magazine, which had been published since 1989 by Christianity Today International, ceased publication. Now it has been picked up again by its founding organization, the Christian History Institute (CHI), out of Pennsylvania. I worked with CHI to put together a special “re-inaugural” issue on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

That magazine has now been printed, and you can see the whole thing in its glory as a pdf “flip-book” here: At that page you can also order your own printed copy, and most important, you can add your voice of support. Within the next 30 days, CHI will be deciding whether or not to continue the magazine as a print publication. The final decision will be based on responses from folks like you to the survey located on the website above under the sentence “Be a part of Christian History! Please take our brief survey.” Or you can just click here.

If you love this magazine and agree with me that it is an important resource for the church, then please act now!

Thank you, Ken Curtis: A pioneer in the popular communication of Christian history passes

Ken Curtis and friends, onsite in Israel for a recent film

I first heard of Dr. A. Kenneth (Ken) Curtis back in the late 1980s, when I was still a fresh-faced, young adult convert within the charismatic movement. That was when I discovered the wonderful magazine Christian History, which Ken had started publishing in 1982 with assistance from the talented Dr. Mark Fackler, then a professor in Wheaton College’s graduate program in communications. Christian History showed me the true depth of our spiritual heritage as Christians—water in the parched land of evangelicalism’s historical amnesia. By the late 80s I had CH in one hand and graduate school catalogues in the other, and by the mid 90s the love for church history that I first discovered in Ken’s magazine took me first to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and then to Duke University to study in that field.

Despite the tremendous early success of Christian History, Ken’s primary business had never been magazine publishing. Continue reading

Anagrams of the Saints

Wordle: Patron Saints for PostmodernsA couple of years back, when I was in the thick of writing Patron Saints for Postmoderns, I started doodling with anagrams for my “saints'” names. This is what I came up with:

Margery Kempe = “Kerygma per me”

That’s a Greek/Latin hybrid, meaning, “the Gospel proclamation for me.” So much of what Margery did was in response to her deeply personal sense of what the Gospel proclamation meant–for her and for all people.

Continue reading

Protestants need a positive reason not to be Catholic: Reflections from Carl Trueman

H/t to friend and former student Matt Crutchmer for this:

I have had occasion to appreciate Westminster Seminary’s Carl Trueman before (to be precise: here and here). Now I find myself nodding in appreciation as I read Trueman’s side of a thoughtful conversation with a Roman Catholic, Bryan Cross.

Though this appears on the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals–a group that gives me the willies–I find Trueman’s even-handed discussion of the links between the two great confessions a breath of fresh air, if a bit too focused on the importance to the church of confessional theology for my taste. Continue reading

Poor, black, and female: Amanda Berry Smith preached holiness in the teeth of racism

What follows is this week’s talk in the series I am doing at Messiah Episcopal Church, St. Paul, MN, on people from my book Patron Saints for Postmoderns who model aspects of social justice:

In the first decades of the nineteenth century, Christian revival kindled on the American frontier, drawing new strength through camp meetings and circuit riders. By the mid-1800s, however, the Victorian era was in full swing, and evangelical churches founded in the white heat of frontier enthusiasm were building lavish faux-gothic facades and enjoying the refined preaching of educated, citified ministers.

In reaction, many Victorian Americans yearned to experience again the fiery devotion of their parents and grandparents. Continue reading

Hallowe’en, Reformation Day, and All Saints’ Day

All Saints Day, 1st November 1984 in the Beski...

All Saints Day, 1st November 1984 in the Beskiel Cemetery, Oswiecim, Poland.

I’m a bit late to the party, but here are several church-historical reflections on the little pile-up of holidays yesterday and today:

Hallowe’en (a Catholic reflection on why it is not Pagan and why we should celebrate it)

Reformation Day (a nifty Google Timeline of many mentions from many years)

All Saints’ Day (a lectionary meditation by an English/theology/Bible professor)

The Western scientist-missionary allowed entry to China’s Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci "Painted in 1610 by the Chin...

One of my all-time favorite gospel-translating saints is the 16th-century Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. By “gospel-translating,” I mean the apologetic and missionary move of entering a culture and finding the best points of connection to the gospel, thereby the better to present the gospel in a compelling way.

Here’s an excerpt from a sketch of Ricci that highlights this “translating” aspect of his ministry. Many thanks to Msgr. David Q. Liptak:

Father Ricci is especially significant because, as Pope Benedict explains, he represents in a missionary “a unique case of a felicitous synthesis between the proclamation of the Gospel and the Dialogue with the culture of the people to whom he brought it.” Moreover, he constitutes “an example of balance between doctrinal clarity and prudent pastoral action.”

Inculturation was his genius, therefore. Continue reading

Saints and Mary: What Lutherans and Roman Catholics agree on about them

If you’re wondering what Lutherans AND Roman Catholics can affirm about saints, here’s what the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dia­logue’s joint document, The One Medi­a­tor, the Saints, and Mary, has to say about it. Again, h/t to the folks at “Here I Walk.”

The document states some “church-uniting con­ver­gences” :

“1. We reit­er­ate the basic affir­ma­tion that ‘our entire hope of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and sal­va­tion rests on Christ Jesus and the gospel whereby the good news of God’s mer­ci­ful action in Christ is made known; we do not place our trust in any­thing other than God’s promise and sav­ing work in Christ.’ (§103)

“2. We now fur­ther assert together that Jesus Christ is the sole Medi­a­tor in God’s plan of sal­va­tion (I Tim. 2:5). Christ’s sav­ing work and role in God’s design thus deter­mine not only the con­tent of the gospel and its com­mu­ni­ca­tion but also all Chris­t­ian life, includ­ing our own and that of Mary and the saints who are now in heaven… Continue reading