Book: Church History in Plain Language

I found myself with a lot of questions about how, why, when, who is who when it came to church history. As a someone who works and goes to a large church you can understand why I developed these questions. I’d often hear the wisdom of others share knowledge about different theologians but I wanted to study the development of the modern day church for myself.

When I was browsing the book store around Christmas time I came across, Church History in Plan Language by Bruce L. Shelley. I must admit I was drawn to the graphic design of the cover, but as I opened the book I discovered this was the book I was looking for. Each chapter was about a momental movement or new wave of thought that the church went through.

I was astonish to discover just how little I really knew about Christianity – and I went to bible college! Maybe I missed that class but chances are I wasn’t listening. History has always come off as boring, but I realized its all in who is telling the story.

Every chapter of the book I was on edge of what movement was going to happen next, What form of ideology was the next generation going to bring? What teacher was going to become the father of a new denomination? What scripture was going to be taken to extreme? And the horror of what group of people were going to be martyred next.. I began to connect A to B to C… and so on. It became clear that nothing is new under the sun. Culture come up with “new” outlooks on religion or life all the time, and I see the same ideas were developed in the fourth century, eight century or early twentieth century..

I do admit, I miss the book, I miss reading about this very subject. I ordered a few new books on the Pietists by Johann Arndt that took place in Germany.

The Pietists essence of faith is a personal experience of God’s grace in the believer’s heart.

“Any religion that becomes the religion of the majority and slowly turns into a social habit tends to grow humdrum and flat, regardless of its original glow of enthusiasm. So it proved in many areas of Lutheran Germany.” 

“Pietism was the fountain of all modern revivals. it set the experience of new life in Christ at the center of the Christian message and the Christian ministry. for this reason it is impossible to think of Evangelical Christianity today without the imprint of Pietism.” 

The way I think,  I’ve always taken it for granted, never conquering where I got it from. A great example:  I remember when I traveled for the first time, I saw how differently everyone thought. Going to church in a different country I learned a new color of faith. The Australian attitude was, “Why not try, and step out in faith, not sure if you heard from God? Well give it a go and see..” While most American’s mindset was, “I gotta hear from God 100% precent before I make a move.” …leaving most frozen, never attempting to do anything.

Last, I loved hearing what is taking place today in the global church – how God is moving in China, Africa, and South America. Learning how their culture has a direct impact on the way they learn about God. I love how different we all are, it shows how God can become very personal to a person.

The West typically reads the didactic and missionary letters of Paul as a key to reading the remainder of the bible. Some Africans take Leviticus to be central. They identify with of holiness and ritual  .Some Asian Christians concentrate upon Proverbs, where they find that God has interest in wisdom that they once sought in Confucian sources. Christians in the Global south seem to appropriate the Bible in a direct manner; they read with a sense of immediacy as though the Bible was written directly to them. Western readers, by contrast, observe a historical distance between the world as they see it and the world of the Bible. 

I see how influential the church has been to society, governments and communities around the world. I am encouraged that I am indeed a part of history. 

Book: The Cost of Discipleship

Last year I heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for the first time. I never thought in a million years this Pastor German theologian from the 1930’s who died as a Martyr who piloted against Hitler in WW2 would impact me as it has. But with a bio like that, how could his life not have an impact on the generations after him? After reading Bonhoeffer by by Eric Metaxas, I ordered his first book, The Cost of Discipleship.

When I first started reading it, I kept thinking about the journey Bonhoeffer was on and the culture he was talking to. But soon after the first few pages, I began to think of my journey, and the culture I live in. The questions he was addressing, I’ve asked, but his conclusions weren’t afraid of the answers.

“…only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ.”

“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son.”

Here I was reading the fundamentals of Christianity and yet it was so new to me. Why hasn’t anyone told me to read this book years ago? Now when I have conversations with my friends about living the Christian life, I find myself referring back to Bonhoeffer explanations on what living as a disciple really means.

Bonhoeffer writes these amazing chapters where he ask a question, and takes you on a journey looking for the answer. When he takes you to the conclusion, its like seeing the Scriptures in color for the first time. Simple concepts that I thought I knew. He goes in to depth.

The Sermon on the Mount,

Judging others – “If the disciples make judgements of their own, they set up standards of good and evil. But Jesus Christ is not a standard which I can apply to others. He is judge of myself, revealing my own virtues to me as something altogether evil..Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating.”

Loving your Enemies –

“…Men should defeat their enemies by loving them.”

“We must love not only in thought and word, but in deed, and there are opportunities of service in every circumstance of daily life.”

“His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus.”

“…not only to refrain from treating him a he treats us, but actively to engage in heart-felt love towards him”

The chapter of loving your enemies made me think of what Bonhoeffer was going through at the time. Being a Christian German in the early 1930’s. Crazy to know he lived this…and know that he died for this.

Reading The Cost of Discipleship help me see the world and myself in a new perspective. It also required me to look in the mirror and to realize just what the gospel was saying to me.

“It is only because he became like us that we can become like him…By being transformed into his image, we are enabled to model our lives on his.”

“His life on earth is not finished yet, for he continues to live in the lives of his followers.”

Above all else, what I learned most, when I die to my own will, He lives.