I have just listened to a very interesting course on the Early Middle Ages, taught by Paul Freedman at Yale University. It deals with some important church history, the rise of Islam and many other important events. You can download this course from iTunes here.
I am a big fan of Karl Barth and enjoy reading his writings. I came across two lectures by Charles MacKenzie from Reformed Theological Seminary, who knew Barth personally. I appreciated what he had to say, acknowledging the good Barth has done for the church, but not afraid to disagree. You can find the audio at iTunes University here.
“In a secondary sense we can, of course, explain the necessity of the rise of Christianity in the light of Judaistic development and the political, spiritual and moral circumstances of the Mediterranean world in the Imperial period. But in its reality we can never explain or deduce it from that source. Historically, we cannot seriously explain and deduce it except from the history of the covenant made with Israel. And we cannot do that with any strictness or discernment except when we explain and deduce it from the fulfillment of that covenant in the name of Jesus Christ, from the revelation as it is actually made and acknowledged and believed, and therefore on the presupposition of that name. That it pleased God at that time and place and in that way to reveal Himself in the name of Jesus Christ, is something which had its necessity in itself, and not in circumstances and conditions prior to that name.” – Karl Barth
I am a firm believer that Christians should have good handle on history, especially church history. You can find the audio of a course on Christianity Through the Reformation taught by Anthony Heideman at Front Range Community College on iTunes here.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been an inspiration to many Christians. You can find an interesting audio program that looks at his life and his impact here.
In my reading, I have encountered claims that the the great library at Alexandria was destroyed by Christians to prevent people from discovering the pagan origins of Christianity. There is a problem with this. You cannot just open up a history book and see this as a historical fact. In fact, we do not know when the library was destroyed. There are four options:
1. Julius Caesar’s Fire in The Alexandrian War, in 48 BC
2. The attack of Aurelian in the 3rd century AD;
3. The decree of Coptic Pope Theophilus in AD 391;
4. The Muslim conquest in 642 AD or thereafter.
The destruction that critics often point to is the third one from 391 AD. As far as I know this is only known to us from Edward Gibbon. We can also see that the library had already been destroyed twice by pagans. Before accepting conspiracy theories of suppression by the church, it is a good idea to do a little research.
I love this quote from the church father Irenaeus. Things have not changed at all in the centuries since he wrote this.
“Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in attractive dress, as as, by its outward form, to appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself.” (Against Heresies 1.2)
I just finished the writings of Justin Martyr. Justin is known as being on of the first apologists. I thought I would share a few thoughts about his work. First of all, as important as Justin is, it must be acknowledged that Justin had some theological issues. He did not see Jesus as co-eternal with the Father. He accepted Jesus as God and had a high Christology, but he say Jesus as a God begotten of the Father. I was disappointed in his reply to Trypho. While an interesting dialog between a Christian and a Jew, I did not fully agree with his interpretations of the Old Testament. His interactions with the Greeks were more interesting, as philosophy was Justin’s background. Unfortunately, Justin has given some critics quotes about parallels between Jesus and pagan gods/heroes. However, this must be taken in context. Justin attempted to make Christian theology understandable by illustrating it with examples from myth, while at the same time working out the differences of the Christian faith from mythology. One of the things that I appreciated is that Justin took the time to interact with Greeks on their own terms, using their texts. I also quite liked his work on the resurrection. Justin is far from perfect, but he is still an important figure in helping us to figure out the ways to explain our faith to a skeptical world.
The Barmen Declaration was a 1934 document, written by Karl Barth, “fortified by strong coffee and one or two Brazilian cigars,” as the Confessing Church broke away from the Nazi dominated church in Germany. This definition of the Church from section 8.17 is just as important for today it was back then.
“The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.”