Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Church From Age to Age: A History from Galilee to Global Christianity ed. Edward A. Engelbrecht

I just finished reading/listening to The Church from Age to Age on my kindle and I'm very impressed with it. It's received some very well-deserved praise across the denominational spectrum. In 1040 pages it covers church history from the time following the period covered in the New Testament to the present day. There are lots of helpful maps and time lines. Most of the time the book relies on the best scholarship and doesn't have an ax to grind. This is the best book on church history that I have ever read. But I did notice a few problems with it that will hopefully be changed in future editions. The following are my random observations.

The book is divided up into seven major sections covering seven time periods. These were previously published as individual books. Because of this, there is repetition sometimes when going from one major section to the next which should probably have been edited out when this was turned into a single-volume. In Chapter 32 there is a reference to "this book" which actually refers to "this section" and not to the book as a whole.

Some of the material is dated. In chapter 19, Leo IX is said to have been the last German Pope which would come as a surprise to Pope Benedict the XVI. Pope Beneditc XVI is mentioned in the later chapters of the book.

When the book covers the Reformation period it tends to emphasize the newness of Luther's teaching and ignore the very catholic background of Luther's teaching as shown by Chemnitz.

The book seems to suggest that all Protestants have the same doctrine of the office of the ministry. Many Protestant denominations understand the pastor as basically just a teacher while Lutherans and others have a more sacramental understanding.

Chapter 8 says that December 25 was chosen as the date to celebrate Christmas in order to redeem a pagan holiday but there is good reason to believe that it was actually chosen based the belief that important died on their conception day and that December 25 was nine months after Jesus' conception/death.

The book presents us with the pretty typical story about the Great Awakening where supposedly church attendance was very low and then the Great Awakening came along and lots of people converted to Christianity and church attendance went way up. However, statistics from that period suggest that church attendance was actually very high just before the Great Awakening and in the years following the Great Awakening church attendance dropped dramatically. The Great Awakening was attended mostly by people who were already actively involved in their churches but became convinced by the Great Awakening that Christianity was all about having a dramatic emotional experience. Many stopped going to church because the emotional experiences did not continue.

The book refers to Rick Warren as one of the leaders in the emergent church movement. While Warren has been supporting of the emerging church movement, he is not a leader within that movement.

The book says that Roman Catholics only anoint the sick when they were in close proximity to death. However, more recently Roman Catholics have expanded the use to those who are undergoing a serious operation or are very sick.

In the introduction, the book claims to be giving us a history of the church without passing judgment and the book is strongest when it stays on this path and most of the time it does. But occasion, it will deviate from this path and provide insufficient evidence for the judgment it passes. It talks about Augustine's and Luther's preoccupation with sin or passes judgment on the dead faith of the Russian Orthodox.

But all in all, I still highly recommend the book.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Dweam Within a Dweam: The Historic Debate Between Marty D. Lutheran and Johnny B. Baptist

I haven't been spending much time on my blog because I'm writing a short book. The book is a fictional account of two guys who grow up in a moderate Lutheran church. After heading off to college and losing contact with each other, one becomes a confessional Lutheran and the other becomes a Baptist. After meeting up again, they decide to discuss and debate their differences. The book is intended to be humorous but also to show the real differences between Lutherans and Baptists. The arguments that they will use will be based on standard works written by theologians from their respective traditions. After I finish the book, I plan to publish it as a free download in pdf and in a Kindle edition. The following is from the prologue:

Marty D. Lutheran and Johnny B. Baptist grew up in Ablaze™ Lutheran Church and School in Portland, Maine. Johnny’s middle name was “Barfolomew.” Pastor Freddy Tubingen had convinced his congregation that the name “Bartholomew” was the result of a medieval corruption of the New Testament text by the Catholics and that the Apostle’s real name was “Barfolomew.” In honor of Pastor Freddy’s bold stand against the papacy, Mr. Baptist wanted to name his son “Barfolomew.” Mrs. Baptist convinced Mr. Baptist to use “Barfolomew” as a middle name. Somehow, Johnny’s classmates discovered Johnny’s middle name in small clusters. The next time they would see Johnny they would say, “Hey Barf!” or “Hey Barf! Do you barf a lot?” or something equally creative. Each child seemed to think that he was the first one to come with such a clever, cutting remark. And once was not enough, each classmate seemed to think it only got funnier the more times he said it. By the time Johnny entered the fifth grade he realized that this was not going away anytime soon and he started to save the remains of the soup that his father made that would gather in the sink—split peas and ham and whatever else. He would place the mixture in small plastic tubes. When someone would yell, “Hey Barf!” Johnny would joyfully exclaim, “Don’t mind if I do!” Then Johnny would start violently convulsing and spill the soup onto the ground.

Pretending to vomit did not make Johnny very popular, but it did catch the attention Marty. Marty was impressed with Johnny’s ability to think outside the box in response to such obvious and uncreative ridicule. On Reformation Day, Marty would walk around the block and nail lists of grievances to his neighbors’ doors. He was always careful not to complain about anything the neighbor might be sensitive about. He wrote things like, “You newspaper is not properly folded in the trash can,” or “Your shoes do not match the color of your carpet.” But the neighbors didn’t get the joke. Some even tried to argue with his criticisms. The next day, Ms. Jefferts Shori saw Marty and yelled, “MY SHOES DO MATCH MY CARPET! YOU’RE COLOR-BLIND!” Marty thought this was absolutely hilarious and looked forward to next year. Unfortunately, one of the neighbors called the police and neither the police nor Marty’s parents appreciated Marty’s humor. Marty’s mom said, “If you don’t have anything nice to put on people’s doors don’t put anything at all.” Marty thought that maybe next year he would nail up pieces of paper that said things like, “HAVE A NICE LIFE!” and “I HOPE YOU’RE PROUD OF YOURSELF!” but never followed through.

Anyhow, after Marty witnessed Johnny’s fake vomiting, he walked up to Johnny and said, “Well-played, you crazy son of a Baptist!” (S.O.B. would become Marty’s affectionate nickname for Johnny.) From that day forward, Marty and Johnny became good friends as a result of their communal participation in unusual humor. Marty and Johnny started sitting together at church and came to realize they were also united in their dislike of Pastor Freddy.

Pastor Freddy had an inflated view of his own hipness. Freddy was a middle-aged guy who liked to lead the congregational singing with an acoustic guitar and would try to impress the youth by talking about how much he liked D.C. Talk. Freddy didn’t get rid of the liturgy completely, but he replaced the “Agnus Dei” with “Lamb of God” by Twila Paris and almost every week Freddy would lead the congregation in singing “Power of Your Love,” and “Shout to the Lord.” Despite the fact that the church’s youth tended to leave the church when their parents stopped forcing them to attend, Pastor Freddy was convinced that his guitar and natural hipness would eventually attract youths from all over the nation. Elderly members of the congregation remembered the good old days before the name change. They used to be Revival™ Lutheran Church. They used to sing songs like “In the Garden” and “I Serve a Risen Savior.” The old folks were paying all the bills, so Pastor Freddy agreed to make the fifth Sunday of every month “Old People Sunday.” The elderly people wanted to sing these songs more often, but Pastor Freddy convinced them that singing them once a month would make them more special.

When Marty and Freddy were both sixteen years old, they convinced their parents that if they had to hear Pastor Freddy lead them in “Pass It On” one more time, Ablaze™ Lutheran Church was going to have a critical event. They would set pastor Freddy’s pony tail ablaze™ while everybody was singing (well, not everybody…just the baby boomers in the congregation), “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.” Out of fear of personal embarrassment, their parents allowed them to stop attending.

After graduating from high school, Johnny moved away to study medicine at the University of Mississipi to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. Marty went to the University of Southern Maine to study forensic astronomy. They planned to keep in contact with each other but neither was a big fan of writing just for the purpose of communicating the experiences of ordinary, daily life.