Tag Archives: Enlightenment

Medieval stupidity? Works-righteousness? Monastic uselessness? Getting beyond the caricatures

We all know medieval people were ignorant, gullible bumpkins who didn’t even understand the gospel message of grace, right? After all, they believed in a flat earth, salvation by works, and a monastic life completely shut off from culture and society. Uh . . . no.

Jonathan Edwards: The original “ancient-future” evangelical

Really. Jonathan Edwards was the original “ancient-future” evangelical. This was just one of the surprising things I discovered while working on the Christian History issue on this great theologian-pastor-revivalist:

[For a few reflections on what Edwards could still mean to the church today, see this post. For his claim to the title “father of evangelicalism,” see this one. On his ouster from his own church, this one.]

A Modern Puritan
Edwards bestowed the riches of Puritanism on a world shaped by the Enlightenment.
Chris Armstrong

“Modern Puritan.” That’s an oxymoron, right? Puritans, with their ultra-serious obsession with getting every detail of the Christian life just right, seem an anachronism in today’s free-and-easy America. In this world, religion has become, for many, an accessory—like the frontier town that supposedly distributed the advertisement for a new minister: “Wanted: A man who takes his religion like his drink—in moderation.” Continue reading

Educators and friends of children’s education, take note! Did you know the father of modern education was also an evangelical leader?

Feels like time for a couple of John Amos Comenius (Jan Komensky) posts today. It’s amazing that Protestants don’t know about this guy. He was quite literally the father of modern education. And he was the leader of a small pietistic church in the lineage of pre-Protestant reformer Jan Hus. He was all about heart religion . . . AND liberal education. First I’ll post my entry on Comenius for the forthcoming Zondervan Dictionary of Spirituality. Then a brief newsletter from my days at Christian History & Biography, which will give you a bit more of the flavor of the man.

Comenius, John Amos (1592 – 1670). Pietistic educational reformer. He is known today as “the father of modern education.” He was an educator, writer, ecumenist, and from 1632 to the end of his life, bishop of an old pietistic evangelical communion called the Unitas Fratrum or “Unity of the Brethren,” with roots among the followers of Jan Hus. He lived through the religious strife of the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), in which some members of his Brethren church (forebears of today’s Moravian Church) were slaughtered and the rest exiled from their homelands of Bohemia and Moravia. His allegory The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart, treasured as a jewel of Czech culture, tells of a young pilgrim traveling through the world, seeking truth. He discovers the sinfulness shot through every vocation (his portrayal of the academic world is particularly incisive) and every walk of life (evangelicals will squirm at his negative portrayal of family life). Near despair, the pilgrim finally discovers the “paradise” of heart-devotion to Jesus Christ in the company of the redeemed—portrayed as a small, ragged remnant. Comenius dedicated his life to ecumenical brotherhood and international peace. To those ends he pioneered a truly liberal mode of public schooling grounded in Baconian empiricism and biblical morality, aided by the innovation of illustrated textbooks, and accessible equally to boys and girls (a radical idea at the time). An Enlightenment man, Comenius worked throughout his life on a Christian “pansophy”—that is, an encyclopedic summary of all knowledge. His vision of an international “College of Light” helped inspire the founding of the British Royal Society.