Jerusalem, Dome of the Rock
Baptist theology professor Mark Farnham reflects on Scottish historian Andrew Walls’s work relating to the Incarnational mission of Christianity and how it has resulted in a different sort of expansion than that of Islam:
Nineteenth-century Christian missions exploded across the globe with the general expectation that the gospel would penetrate the whole world, and that the evangelism of the world would conceivably be completed within a century or so. That sense of optimism is not so prevalent today, probably in part because of the decline of Christianity in parts of the world that were at one time the fountainhead of Christian faith. A review of the past century reveals that regions in which Christianity had at one time taken root have not always remained Christian for long (think Europe). In contrast, Islam’s progress has tended to be more stable, rarely giving up territory once it has been claimed.
In his book, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (T&T Clark, 2002), Scottish historian Andrew Walls explains the difference between the expansions of the two major religions:
Islam can point to a steady geographical progression from its birthplace and from its earliest years. And over all these years it has hitherto not had many territorial losses to record. Whereas the Jerusalem of the apostles has fallen, the Mecca of the prophet remains inviolate. When it comes to sustaining congregations of the faithful, Christianity does not appear to possess the same resilience as Islam. Continue reading
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
Into her famous mid-20th century essay “The Dogma Is the Drama,” mystery writer, religious playwright, and Dante translator Dorothy L. Sayers inserts the following scathing and humorous assessment of what many unchurched people think the church believes. Sadly, this portrait may still not be far off. And as they were then, these sorts of mistakes are still largely the fault of the church itself.
Q.: What does the Church think of God the Father?
A.: He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfillment. He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferers by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favoritism. He . . . is always ready to pound on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the Law, or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary. Continue reading
A few years back the good people at www.christianhistory.net allowed me to do a brief series of “musings of a Christian history professor.” Thinking of my enjoyable chat yesterday over at the Twin Cities Emergent Cohort, I was reminded of this installment, which seemed to resonate with a lot of readers. If you’ve read my recent piece in CT on biography as spiritual discipline or “Top Ten Reasons To Read Christian History,” you’ll recognize some of the themes here:
Lately my days have been taken up with preparing a book and a course titled Patron Saints for Postmoderns. The project focuses on the lives of Antony of Egypt, Gregory the Great, Margery Kempe, Dante Alighieri, John Comenius, John Newton, Charles Simeon, Amanda Berry Smith, Charles M. Sheldon, and Dorothy L. Sayers.
So the question has haunted me: “Why should Christians today read biographies of ‘dead Christians’ from ages past?”
One particularly forceful answer has hit me from (what some evangelicals might consider) “left field”—the young movement of Emergent Christian thinkers and leaders. Continue reading