Tag Archives: Jesus

The Virgin Mary and the greatest thing we can learn from medieval Christians


Madonna of humility by Fra Angelico, c. 1430.

Madonna of humility by Fra Angelico, c. 1430. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The final, trumpets-and-cymbals chapter of my Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis explores a theme that I think can most benefit modern Western Christians, if only we grasp it. This is the opening bit, which starts with a biblical figure who modern Protestants regard with some nervousness as a symbol of Roman Catholicism–the Virgin Mary:

I was working at Christianity Today in the early 2000s, as managing editor of Christian History magazine. After getting a few issues under my belt, I hesitantly offered the suggestion that we do an issue on “Mary in the Christian Imagination.” Though the idea met with more support than I had feared (at that distinctively evangelical Protestant magazine), my art director did hazard the prediction that we would lose readers if we did the topic. Imagine my surprise when in the end, not only didn’t we lose any readers (that we knew), but we actually won the Evangelical Press Association’s award that year for best single-topic issue. This told me we’d hit a nerve with our evangelical Protestant readers. Apparently, there’s “something about Mary,” even for the descendants of Protestant fundamentalists. Continue reading

From merciless Pagans to merciful Christians, by way of Agape


The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijna...

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670) shows the Good Samaritan tending the injured man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s the next bit of the “hospitals chapter” in Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. It follows from this bit on Lewis and this introductory bit.

So how did all of this translate into a Christian emphasis on bodily care? For the early and medieval churches were notable for healing. Yes, miraculous healing, on occasion. But also, and much more frequently, the sort of healing that comes from basic nursing care and the application of medical knowledge (however rudimentary during most of the period we’re studying).

The Pagans in the Roman world of Christianity’s birth had no such distinctive. They had “no religious impulse for charity that took the form of personal concern for those in distress.”[1] Indeed the Pagans taught neither compassion nor active mercy as virtues. To be merciful only helped the weak—those who were drags on society.

It is important that we “get” how radical this change was, from the Pagan to the Christian attitude toward illness and healing: “In the cramped, unsanitary warrens of the typical Roman city, under the miserable cycle of plagues and famines, the sick found no public institutions dedicated to their care and little in the way of sympathy or help.”[2] Continue reading

“Oh, yeah. Jesus did THAT too . . .” A story about mercy and the gospel


Jesus wept

Well, I’ve gotten a bit behind on posting – been busy writing the chapter of Getting Medieval with C S Lewis about medieval compassionate action – through the case study of a thoroughly medieval institution: the hospital. Did get the whole thing written, so I’ll be posting it bit by bit over the next few days.

I don’t think I have to start this chapter on how medievals pioneered the hospital by making a case that compassion, mercy, and healing are good things. I’m pretty sure people of every age and religion will agree on that one. Nor will I indicate some flaw in evangelical culture on this matter of compassionate ministry. The healthcare system, schools, social services departments, and NGOs are full of compassionate evangelicals, as well as compassionate non-evangelicals and compassionate non-Christians. But as I have researched the ancient and medieval development of that innovative institution in world history—the hospital—I have wondered more than once: do modern Christians really “get” the relationship of mercy and the Gospel the way medievals did?

So, allow me to open this case study in Christian compassion with a question . . .

How central is mercy to the Gospel?

We know the story. Mary the sister of Lazarus got to where Jesus was. She fell down at his feet, overcome with grief and just a bit of accusatory anger: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” He saw her crying. The others with her were also crying.

What was Jesus’ response? Continue reading

Charles Sheldon as example of how pastors could better understand the working life of their congregants


Kansas 150/150

Charles Sheldon's blockbuster novel. READ IT!

A book that is sorely needed in today’s Christian world is John Knapp’s How the Church Fails Businesspeople (Knapp is a professor and head of an ethics center at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama). He’s blogging on the concept, briefly, on his publisher’s website, and lo and behold, up pops one of my favorite classical, Christocentric liberals of the 19th century, Charles M. Sheldon. Yup. I dedicated a chapter to Mr. “What Would Jesus Do?” in my book Patron Saints for Postmoderns (yes, there’s a Kindle version, in case you get one of those hugely popular commerce devices this Christmas). Here’s Dr. Knapp’s take on Sheldon. Amen, John. May your book gain a wide audience:

Pastors who wish to better understand the weekday lives of their parishioners could learn a thing or two from the real-life example of a nineteenth-century minister named Charles Sheldon, best known for his classic novel titled In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? Continue reading

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins – an excellent review by a friend


Folks, I know this is considerably “late to the party,” but I just discovered my friend Edwin Woodruff Tait’s recent review of Rob Bell‘s controversial Love Wins, and I believe it’s worth pointing you all to. This is in part because the kerfuffle over Bell’s book has not yet entirely died down, as thoughtful evangelicals (and many polemicists) are still discussing (hurling vitriol at) the book and its author. [For an excellent historical “backgrounder” on the issues raised by Bell in his book, see the article by Christianity Today managing editor Mark Galli here.]

First, the review link, so you can look at it yourself, and then a few clips.

The review may be read here. (And may I add: Edwin, I’m proud to know you!)

Now a few clips (of course, several links of several logical chains are missing in what follows–if you are interested in the whole argument, you should go to the link above):

As I understand this broader argument, it works something like this:

1. Salvation is God’s redeeming and transforming work in the world, overcoming our sinfulness and restoring us to a right relationship with God, one another, and creation.

This seems like it shouldn’t be controversial to me, but certainly many evangelicals speak as if salvation was simply about having our sins forgiven and going to heaven. Continue reading

Controversies about Christ in the early church, part IV: The divine swallowing the human and the fourth council’s “four fences”


Cross of the Coptic Church, mistakenly called a “monophysite” church

This post follows from “Who do you say that I am: Controversies about Christ in the early church,” , and

So now we’re in the run-up to the fourth council: the council of Chalcedon. The major issue here was this: Eutyches was abbot of a large monastery. He was a strong supporter of Cyril, who had started to fight the Nestorians. This Eutyches was not going to compromise his position against Nestorius: he eliminated all possibility of a werewolf-Jesus by saying Christ had only one nature: his divine nature.

Remember the orthodox position: from the moment the 2nd person of the trinity became incarnate, this divine nature or person also possessed a human nature.

But how did Eutyches explain our salvation if Christ had only a divine and not a human nature? Continue reading

Controversies about Christ in the early church, part II: The hybrid Jesus and the Second Council


Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr, the Christian philosopher, about to say something profound about the Logos

This post follows from “Who do you say that I am: Controversies about Christ in the early church“:

[The following paragraph is adapted from an appendix to Philip Jenkins’s fascinating new book, Jesus Wars:How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years. I do think this subtitle is significantly misleading–these decisions were in fact made “ex corde ecclesia”–out of the heart of the church. But Jenkins tells a rollicking tale, and with scholarly care–a rare combination]

The emperor Theodosius I called the second ecumenical council of the church, called the First Council of Constantinople, in 381. This council met mainly to settle continuing debates concerning the Trinity. Arianism remained powerful long after the Council of Nicea, while some groups denied the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. The Council of Constantinople tried to resolve these issues, and it defined the role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity. Continue reading