Tag Archives: church history

Jazz, entrepreneurship, and tradition


Keith Jarrett

As an enthusiastic jazz fan and an appreciator of business entrepreneurship, I enjoy watching folks make it up as they go along. Nothing affirms my sense of human beings as “co-creators” with God (a favored term of that great co-creator, J R R Tolkien) more than listening to the swooping, soaring melodic lines of a skilled jazz musician. Nothing hits me more powerfully with the great practical power of creative thinking than seeing an entrepreneur take the germ of an idea and spin it out into products, services, jobs that turn raw materials into something of value to the world.

But as a historian, I am reminded that when true jazz musicians hear an improviser who has not studied the traditions handed down through generations of jazz men and women . . . they shake their heads and turn away. And when veteran businesspeople see a young wannabe rushing out to potential consumers without proper understanding of their needs, or building financial castles without grounding in economic knowledge and financial principles . . . they wince, knowing the inevitable failure that will follow.

So why can’t the American church learn this lesson? Why do we keep rushing to and fro launching all our creative ministries, church growth strategies, and grand “missional” plans, unequipped with even a basic acquaintance of those giants whose shoulders we are standing on? What is it that, unlike any other craft or business on earth, leads us to think that we can ignore history and still succeed? Why do we think we can bypass 2,000 years of wise thinking (and lessons learned the hard way) about the Gospel, about what it is to Be The Church, and bring our fevered plans about how to “Do Church” to fruitful reality?

OK, flame off. As you were. I’m going to go think about New Years Resolutions . . . AND the Great Cloud of Witnesses.

And by the way: R.I.P. Dave Brubeck–one of the greats. And long live Keith Jarrett (pictured above), a living legend and influencer of a whole new generation of skilled, creative players.

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

Top ten reasons to read Christian history


I wrote this a while back–before entering my position as Associate Professor of Church History at Bethel Seminary, St. Paul. At that time, the Iraq war was still new news rather than old news. But some news never gets old–that’s church history. And I decided to offer the best ten reasons I could think of to immerse ourselves in that news:

Top Ten Reasons to Read Christian History
War’s reports deluge us every hour. Why should we read the “old news” of Christian history?
by Chris Armstrong

In a time of war, everything seems to hinge on The Now. But more than ever, it is really a time when we must be in touch with our history—especially, our sacred history.

But why? Continue reading

Church history for newbies: a book that smooths the path


Good to find a book that can smooth the newbie’s path into the thickets and adventures of church history. This review was first posted a few months ago at www.christianhistory.net:

Can Seminary Students and History Get Along Together?
This book might help reconcile them.
Reviewed by Chris R. Armstrong

Gordon L. Heath, Doing Church History: A User-friendly Introduction to Researching the History of Christianity (Toronto, Ontario: Clements Publishing, 2008)

There are many reasons why professors read books in their field. Among these: to find textbooks for use with their students; to gain arguments, evidence, or illustrations for their lectures; even to enjoy a good book! I picked up Gordon L. Heath’s Doing Church History with all three of these goals in mind.

Heath, assistant professor of Christian history at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, aims this slim (103-page) paperback at seminary students. His brief chapters deal with the commonsense questions that come naturally to seminary students who have often never darkened the door of an undergraduate history course. “Why Bother?” “What about God as a Cause?” “What about Objectivity?”

Continue reading

Lived theology: How and why Christian history was added to Protestant seminaries’ curricula


The stories of other Christians are vitally important to our spiritual lives. That, in fact, is why the discipline of church history was added to Protestant seminaries’ curricula. But how and when did this happen? I got to share this story with Bethel Seminary’s trustees and the readers of Christianity Today online a few years back:

When Theology Comes Alive
Living theology: that’s what the 17th-century Pietists wanted to see. And so they invented church history.
Chris Armstrong

An earlier version of this essay was given by Dr. Chris Armstrong (associate professor of church history, Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, and senior editor, Christian History & Biography) as a talk to the trustees of Bethel University on May 5, 2005.

Dorothy Sayers, a 20th-century, Oxford-educated dramatist, novelist, and lay theologian, wrote to wake up her sleeping Anglican church. She saw people inside and outside of the churches of her day completely unaware of how radical and powerful the gospel really is. And so she wrote essays, stories, and dramas that made the gospel come alive for people. She had a phrase she liked to use when she encountered people who thought church doctrine—”dogma” as it is still sometimes called—was dull and irrelevant. She would say, “The dogma is the drama!”

I love that. The dogma is the drama. What Sayers was reminding us was that if we are falling asleep in church, it is because we have no idea what dynamite we are sitting on.

And as I always remind my students, a wonderful place to go to see what happens when the Gospel’s dynamite blows up in people’s lives is Christian history. I’ll put this idea in less violent form: Christian history is where theology comes to life. Continue reading