Thomas Aquinas – In Our Time

Thomas Aquinas was an extremely influential theologian and philosopher. His impact goes far beyond the Roman Catholic Church, and there are many Protestants that describe themselves as Thomists.

The BBC’s In Our Time provides a nice discussion of Thomas Aquinas that you might find interesting.

Did Martin Luther Reject Reason?

Martin LutherMartin Luther is quoted as saying, “Reason is the enemy of faith.” That is a difficult statement for those who believe that Christianity is a reasonable faith.

Like any historical inquiry, statements need to be examined in context. Roland Bainton puts Luther’s statement in perspective with this explanation:

Luther often railed at reason, and he has been portrayed in consequence as a complete irrationalist in religion. This is quite to mistake his meaning. Reason in the sense of logic he employed to the uttermost limits. At Worms and often elsewhere he asked to be instructed from Scripture and reason. In this sense reason meant logical deduction from known premises; and when Luther railed against the harlot reason, he meant something else. Common sense is perhaps a better translation. He had in mind the way in which man ordinarily behaves, feels, and thinks. It is not what God says that is a foreign tongue, but what God does that is utterly incomprehensible. (Here I Stand, pp. 172-73)

Free Church History Courses

Online CoursesThere are plenty of problems with the internet but it can still be a blessing. This is especially true for the consuming of informations. Courses are often recorded and posted online for people to listen to for free.

I have compiled some courses on church history that you might find helpful. I will add more as I come across them. Enjoy!

Did the Apostle Paul Reject Philosophy?

PhilosophyThe early church was born into a fertile garden of philosophy. Platonists, Epicureans, Stoics and Cynics were active far beyond the area that we think of today as Greece.

But what is the relationship between Christianity and philosophy? Specifically, did Paul, who was so influential in the development of Christian theology, reject philosophy? Some Christians think so.

Paul writes in one place: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, NIV)

This is not a criticism of all philosophy but “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” Such a criticism would be agreed upon by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Paul was not arguing that all philosophy is hollow and deceptive, but that which is, is dangerous.

Elsewhere we read:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Could Paul be saying here that the wisdom of the philosophers was meaningless and that he only proclaimed the gospel through signs and wonders?

The problem is that Paul uses philosophical arguments on a regular basis. For example, Paul attempts to demonstrate in 1 Corinthians 15 that there will be a final resurrection of the dead. He uses a basic logical argument:

  1. If there is no resurrection, then Jesus never rose from the dead.
  2. Jesus did rise from the dead.
  3. Therefore, there will be a resurrection of the dead.

We can debate as to whether we think Paul’s argument is convincing, but he was doing philosophy.

So what kind of philosophy was Paul critical of?

I suspect that Paul was critical of the same kind of philosophy that Socrates and Plato were critical of. I speak of Sophistry. What is Sophistry? In a helpful article in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy we find these concerns:

[T]hey were regarded as socially and morally subversive, especially by those of conservative views. Suspicion focused both on their naturalistic outlook, especially in its application to morality and theology, and on their teaching of techniques of argument, which could be seen as encouraging those who acquired them, especially the young, to subvert sound morality and hallowed tradition by clever cavilling. (p. 884)

The Sophists were known to be more interested in persuasion than truth. They argued not from a place of moral conviction but boasted of being able to convince a person of anything, true or not. It is likely something like this that Paul is arguing against in 1 Corinthians.

Paul lived and operated in a philosophical world and he used those tools as he deemed suitable.

3 Related Areas to Church History

ChurchStudy the history of the Christian church is a huge task. It includes two thousand years of history spanning the entire globe. One could spend their entire life studying the history of the church and only comprehend a fraction.

Having said that, there are some related areas of history that very much affect the history of Christianity. They may not belong fully to the area of church history but there is much overlap.

Here are three historical areas that I believe a student of church history should have some knowledge of:

  1. Roman Empire – The early church and the New Testament emerged within the context of the Roman Empire. But some knowledge of the Roman Empire, both in the west and the east, is important for understanding how the church developed. Whether the Romans were persecuting the Christians or being merged with the church, Rome left its stamp.
  2. Philosophy – Christianity has had a long and complicated relationship with philosophy. This includes the Greco-Roman philosophy that was around at the birth of the church but also ongoing philosophical development. Many later philosophers did their work either from within the church or in reaction to the church.
  3. Religion – Christianity is not the only religious game in town. Christianity appeared along side other religions. By the time of Jesus, three of the other major religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism) were already around. Christianity has also had a complicated relationship with Islam. Seeing how Christianity interacts with other religions throughout the centuries can be beneficial.

Recommended Resources:

Thoughts on the Legacy of the Reformation

ReformationAs you know, this years is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on the Wittenberg door. Whether one is Catholic, Protestant or non-religious, you cannot deny the impact of this event.

What is the lasting impact of the Reformation? I asked a number of historians what they thought and here are their responses.

I agree with Lindberg: “In one way or another…the legacies of the Reformations have affected every aspect of modern life and thought.” (Carter Lindberg, The Reformations, 357.) The good would be the reform of the church (both Protestant and Catholic), and positive developments in governance, science, liturgy, and literature. The bad would be the violent breakup of Christendom, and 500 years of internecine warfare between Christian communities.Gordon Heath, McMaster Divinity College

The legacy of the Reformation is the recovery, by part of Christendom, of the biblical, apostolic teaching on a variety of subjects, including justification by grace alone through faith alone, and the authority of Scripture, as God’s revealed word, over all human teachings and authorities. While the recovery of these teachings tragically resulted in opposition from the church authorities and therefore in new divisions in the church, such divisions should not be blamed on God’s truth or its recovery, but on our human fallenness.Kevin Flatt, Redeemer University College

The legacy of the Reformation essentially boils down to two important points: 1) the need for fidelity to Scripture’s authority; 2) a love for the gospel of faith alone apart from works. It’s both the meaning of the Reformation, and its continuing relevance.Ian Clary, Colardo Christian University

What about you? What do you see as the legacy of the Reformation?

Who Was Menno Simons?

Many people are vaguely aware of Mennonites but do not understand where they came from or what they believe. They may think of the Amish and a rejection of technology, but that is only one part of a larger groups called the Anabaptists.

An important figure and the man who has lent his name to the Mennonites is Menno Simons. Menno Simons may not be as well known as Calvin or Luther but he is still a powerful figure in church history. I encourage you to watch this short video and learn about this influential Christian.

The New Testament and the People of God – Review

New Testament and the People of GodOne of the most influential New Testament scholars today is N.T. Wright. While some find him controversial, it is difficult to argue against his intelligence and output of biblical and theological content.

One of his major projects is on Christian Origins and the Question of God. While I had read the second and third volumes in this series, I finally had the opportunity read the first, The New Testament and the People of God.

In some ways the title is misleading as only a small portion of the book is actually on the New Testament. Still, this is an important book as it lays all the historical framework for the volumes that follow.

Many readers want to just jump into the biblical text and discover the interpretation. But Wright asks us to pull back and reflect on the nature of history. How can we know things as history? Wright navigates through a number of theories and lands on critical realism. It is very helpful discussion that is stretching to those not familiar with the theoretical nature of history.

One of my favourite parts of the book is his presentation of Second Temple Judaism (see my episode on Second Temple Judaism). An important part of the third quest for the historical Jesus is to interpret him in his Jewish context. Students of the New Testament are fooling themselves if they think a good understanding of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) is enough. Much of Jewish thought of the first century was developed in the so-called intertestamental period.

Wright takes us through the tales of the Maccabees and summarizes much of the Jewish history given to us by Josephus. Wright presents the data from the appropriate sources and correctly warns us about the problems of using later rabbinic sources (e.g. Mishnah, Talmud) to reconstruct first century Jewish thought.

This book introduces an idea that is influential in the rest of Wright’s understanding of the New Testament. Wright believes that the Jews still considered themselves in exile, even after Cyrus the Great allowed them back in their homeland. The reason for this is that promises of renewal found in the Prophets had not appeared. Jews, such as the Qumran sect, looked forward to an eschatological fulfillment that end exile.

The volume concludes with an introduction to the New Testament. More than a quest for the historical Jesus, this section is a quest for the early church. That is not to say Wright is pessimistic about the historical Jesus, but this is important background. Later volumes delve much more into the historical Jesus.

Although this is a fairly thick book, I was able to read quite quickly. Wright has a readable style and is gifted at explaining complex ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and highly recommend it for anyone interested in the New Testament.

History Podcasts I Listen To

PodcastI don’t just record podcasts, I listen to them as well. Here are a list of history podcasts I listen to. This does not mean I agree with everything they say. But I don’t expect you to afgree with everything I say either.

Was Christianity a Mystery Religion?

IsisIt is very common to find claims that Christianity was a mystery religion, similar to the worship of Dionysus, Isis, Orpheus, etc.

I do not deny that there are some similarities.

Christianity emerged and grew at a time when mystery religions were popular throughout the Roman Empire. Mystery religions were seen as more vibrant than the more stale state religions. Joining a mystery religion was a personal decision and was not connected to what family or culture one belonged to. Mystery religions sometimes included a sense of personal salvation/benefit/fulfillment.

Despite these similarities, we need to look seriously at the differences.

The thing that tied the various mystery religions together is that there were secret beliefs or rituals that were only revealed to those initiated into the religion. To this day, many of the details of these mystery religions are still a secret. On the rare occasions when details were revealed, there was an angry backlash.

How does Christianity compare to this?

There were no secret Christian beliefs or rituals. Christian proclamation included telling people exactly what Christianity was about in a public context. If people were interested, there was no long process of initiation. The New Testament presents a model of proclamation, belief and immediate baptism.

What about the Lord’s Supper? This was something for Christians but it was not a secret. Early Christians wrote about it (Matthew, Mark, Luke, 1 Corinthians), something that mystery religions did not do.

But didn’t Paul use the word mystery in his writings? Doesn’t that make Christianity a mystery religion?

He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6)

Paul uses mystery in a very specific way. The mystery that Paul speaks of is the question of what God would do with the Gentiles. Paul announces that the mystery has been revealed in that God was saving both Jews and Gentiles in Jesus Christ. Mystery was important in that it was now revealed.

So mystery religions, as important as they are for understanding the culture in which Christianity began, is not a category in which Christianity should be included.

This post originally appeared here.