History

9/11

Here we are 17 years after the most abhorrent act of terrorism perpetrated on the US in my lifetime. Like nearly anyone else on that day, I remember quite well what I was doing. I was living in New Orleans at the time, attending seminary. I was in my ethics class when someone popped into the room and informed us that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane and that classes were being dismissed. I gathered up my things, headed back to our apartment, and turned on the TV. All I remember from that point was sitting and watching in utter disbelief. What in the world was going on?

Growing up in the 80s, there was plenty going on in the world and in the US to be sure, but I was a kid and didn’t really have a sense of the world stage. I do remember rather vividly the Challenger explosion and that it made me rather sad. In fact, anytime I listen to Dire Straits’ “Why Worry,” I’m taken right back to the newscasts that show the shuttle’s final moments and it saddens me all over again.

Everything that happened after that—the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Gulf War, and much else—has found a place in my memory (though only the vaguest of details remain). However, nothing in my lifetime even comes close to what I saw on 9/11. I was more than 1,000 miles away in my apartment watching chaos beget chaos in NYC, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. I was safe in my apartment and yet this tragedy deeply affected me; however, I cannot even begin to think of how this horrible day must have affected the residents of NYC, the families of those who were killed, and the innumerable first responders, physicians, nurses, law enforcement, and others who threw themselves into the fray to save those who could be saved.

Every year on 9/11, I make it a point to think about that nightmare that became reality. I don’t do it because I enjoy tragedy, nor because I think that my doing so will have any effect on anything else. I do it so that I don’t forget. I know that might sound trite and silly, but there is danger is forgetting the past, or sanitizing it, or bundling it up in conspiracies. Forgetting or suppressing history makes one aloof and therefore vulnerable. Maybe not me individually, but us collectively. I don’t want to see the horrors of that day replayed, but neither do I want to forget.

May those who perished rest and may their families and friends find peace.

Books, Greco-Roman World, History, New Testament, Reviews

Book Review: The Romans and Their World

Review---The-Romans-and-Their-World
The Romans and Their World: A Short Introduction

by Brian Campbell

Yale University Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

So much can be and has been said about one of history’s most formidable entities. Thankfully, Brian Campbell has distilled some of the critical times and personas that comprise historical Rome into a relatively brief (248 pages) introductory text that not only provides a chronological accounting of the beginnings of Rome, nor merely a discussion of the powers that built, sustained, and ultimately destroyed her, but provides a glimpse into the lives of its people. This was perhaps my favorite element of the book. I enjoy reading purely historical texts for the sake of learning about people, places, and events of the past, but it’s the stories and accounts of the people that make it most interesting—after all, what is history without people? Campbell provides ample references to the primary sources, though some sections are more amply noted than others. There are also a number of diagrams (mostly related to military issues; some are geographical) interspersed and a handful of photographs that illustrate some aspect of Roman life and culture (these are black and white).

This has served as an immensely helpful text, not only for getting a bird’s-eye view of the Romans, but also as a quick reference guide. Many times I would reach for this volume while reading something else that made a reference to some aspect of ancient Rome so that I could read a little more about it. Campbell’s book is great for such use—it’s not a cumbersome encyclopedia, but neither is it a miniscule handbook. It finds a middle ground between these two and is a perfect reference for those who need a slightly more detailed account or description than provided in a few general sentences. Also, as a student of the NT and its contexts, I found this book to be quite informative about the various exploits of Rome that had immediate impact upon the world of the NT.

In sum, Campbell’s volume will be a great introductory text for readers who want a foray into the illustrious history of Rome—deep enough to inform yet succinct enough to be accessible.

Αυτω η δοξα

History

9/11

It’s hard to believe that fourteen years have passed since that horror descended upon New York City and the Pentagon. It is my generation’s JFK assassination and no matter how much time passes, it will remain indelibly impressed upon my memory. I remember where I was when we got the news and I spent most of the rest of that day in front of the today watching in disbelief. Fourteen years have passed and I can’t imagine that those who lost their loved ones and those who were in the midst of the carnage have even a slightly diminished recollection of that morning. It still defies sensibility that such atrocity could be perpetrated by people against other people, but this has been humanity’s way.

This is a stern reminder not of any inherent danger of religion nor of its practice, but of the incalculable destructive potential of fundamentalism of any sort, especially when it’s charged with a divine sanction. Once your mind is closed to the possibility that you could be wrong about an idea, you’ve begun the descent into fundamentalism. Once there, it’s not terribly far from the maniacal fanaticism that brought down the twin towers, gouged a hole into the side of the Pentagon, brought down the plane in a Pennsylvania field, and ultimately killed nearly 3,000 people.

As a religious person, a Christ follower specifically, it’s beyond disheartening when acts of violence are perpetrated in the name of religion (and certainly in the name of Christ). It’s beyond unfortunate the damage the attacks of 9/11 have caused the Muslim population in general. Muslims are no more terrorists as a whole than Christians are, or Buddhists, Hindus, etc. Extremists, however, are another issue–they don’t represent the populace. They represent a fringe of fanatics whose insular interpretations of texts and culture lead them only to one conclusion–see things their way or prepare to pay the price. This is NOT the way of Christ and anyone who teaches otherwise is a heretic and a liar–they bear false witness against God and Christ.

Let us, as Christ followers, be known by our love for one another and our love for others, no matter what holy book they live by, if they live by no holy book at all, the color of their skin, or what language they speak.

For all those who lost loved ones fourteen years ago today, may you find peace and comfort. For those who risked their lives to save others on that day (and every day), may God bless you with strength to continue in your service of others.

Αυτω η δοξα

Books, Culture, Doctrine & Theology, Fundamentalism, History, Reviews

Book Review: Toxic Spirituality

Toxic Spirituality: Four Enduring Temptations of Christian Faith by Eric Gritsch

Fortress | Amazon | CBD

Emeritus Professor of Church History at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary Eric Gritsch offers a “reality check” to the church at large concerning four strains of Christianity that have “weakened, indeed abused, the core of Christian tradition.”  Who are these four horsemen who have run roughshod over Christianity’s core and left it a trampled and disfigured mess?  Anti-Semitism, Fundamentalism, Triumphalism, and Moralism.  Gritsch takes on each rider (keeping with the theme) head on, mincing no words and pulling no punches.  The use of the word “toxic” in the title itself gives readers a glimpse of the book’s tone and readers will come away from this book with no doubt the author views these four “temptations” as having poisoned the well from which Christians throughout history have drunk.  At the outset, Gritsch acknowledges that there are other toxic expressions of Christianity that are dangerous (e.g. racism and sexism), but believes them to have their origins in “the cesspool of the four poisons that threaten historical Christianity” (6).

As stated above, Gritsch begins with the notion of anti-Semitism.  With each of these four, he begins with a historical analysis of the birth and development of each, which proves to be a great help, particularly for readers who are not so clear on the history through which the author moves. The author notes writes more of what he calls “anti-Judaism” than pure anti-Semitism, though obviously the former is inextricably bound to the latter. One thing that Gritsch does not do is white wash history–he lays it out in all its ugliness for inspection and interpretation. Gritsch tags such revered early churchmen as Chrysostom and Augustine for their role in at least creating an atmosphere of anti-Judaism and later leaders such as Luther do not escape criticism either. Gritsch also notes the role of supercessionism in the perpetuation of anti-Judaism in the middle ages and beyond. Nazi Germany and the Holocaust are perhaps obvious out-workings of anti-Judaism, but what may be somewhat surprising is the Catholic church’s rather unfortunate cooperation with the Nazis. Though their relationship was not indicative of full blown anti-Semitism, the mere reality of such a relationship is another chapter in the long history of misdeeds by the church. Of course, it wasn’t just the Catholic church that was tangled up in this dark era of European history, but the Protestants as well. The last part of the chapter Gritsch writes essentially that if the apostolic testimony about Christ had been heeded, anti-Judaism perhaps could have been far less prominent. He rightly notes that the NT contains plenty of polemics against particular aspects of first-century Judaism, but nothing that could be considered anti-Semitic (though I am sure plenty would disagree). Given his disavowal of supercessionism, Gritsch holds that the church hasn’t replaced Israel or in any way become the new Israel, but in some mysterious way Israel and the church are both of God’s people and will receive eschatological blessing.

The second chapter concerns fundamentalism and was easily the one I most looked forward to. However, I was quite surprised that Gritsch does not define fundamentalism quite the way I might. I fully expected the discussion to center on KJV-onlyism. What I got was discussion of various evangelicals, their organizations, and the role they played in American church life and politics. Gritsch defines fundamentalism as “an excessive adherence to the literal interpretation of the Bible”, which he says is also know as “bibliolatry” (45). This extreme stance on the bible gave rise to fundamentalism in general and numerous offshoots along various trajectories. Fundamentalism of the evangelical variety prided itself on its desire to separate from the “liberal” wing of Christianity. One aspect of this was what Gritsch calls the “crusade against Darwinism,” a conflict that has been rekindled of late. Any perceived threat to the fundamentals of Christianity, whether Darwin’s theory of evolution or liberal Christianity, was fuel for the fire and fundamentalism thus sought to be wholly separate.

As I mentioned, I was quite surprised that the author did not discuss KJV-onlyism, perhaps one of the best known (or infamous) strains of fundamentalism in modern American Christianity. In addition to the evangelical-political fundamentalism of the 20th century, Gritsch devotes several pages to the discussion of traditionalism, which in turn gave rise to the papacy and Roman Catholic fundamentalism. Let the fun begin! As with evangelicals in the previous section, Gritsch does not tread lightly in his overview of Roman Catholic traditionalism. In Protestant eyes, particularly those of more conservative evangelicals, Roman Catholics are frequently (and unfairly) eyed as suspicious because of the authority given to tradition. Gritsch lasers in on a couple of aspects of RC traditionalism that stemmed from the church’s struggle to define tradition and its role in church governance—the authority of Rome and Marian devotion. The fusing of scripture and tradition by Second Vatican Council as the “single sacred deposit of the Word of God which is entrusted to the church” provokes some Gritsch’s harsher criticism. He claims that Catholic traditionalist fundamentalism gave birth to an unholy Trinity: tradition, Scripture, and the magisterium. Whether evangelical or Catholic, fundamentalism is “an attempt to claim authority over a sacred tradition as an antidote for a society that has strayed from its cultural moorings.” It is “marked by a continual drive for security among anxious believers who feel destined to preserve a certain way of life and thought, grounded in a preferred culture” (77).

Chapter three concerns triumphalism, which Gritsch traces back to the “unholy alliance” of the state and the church initiated under the rule of Constantine and perpetuated by his successors.  Gritsch astutely notes “It is an irony of history that the first political benefactor of Christianity used the title ‘Prince of Peace’ for his ambitious climb to the autocracy” (89). Gritsch continues with an overview of Constantine’s successors and their own quasi-theocratic desires. This breed of Christianity, at least in part, was as oppressive and murderous as extremist sects of Islam are today. Gritsch also give attention to such theocrats as Thomas Müntzer and groups of like-minded folk such as the Anabaptists. The less-theocratic also are discussed, e.g., Calvin, Puritans, Montanists, monastics, Hutterites, etc. Gritsch may be criticized for going after low-hanging fruit in some sections of this chapter; however, the sins committed by Christians throughout history have been fairly well documented and there is little here that will surprise students of Christian history and Gritsch is right to point out some of the more significant people and movements that exemplify what he calls “triumphalism.”

The next chapter concerns moralism, which Gritsch does not so much define as he describes with examples throughout church history, as in the previous chapters. From the seven deadly sins of Pope Gregory I and Dante’s The Divine Comedy to various church councils, from the Enlightenment to the rise of Fundamentalism, moralism is apparently an effort to bring about moral unity among Christians, which ironically enough, tends to happen along denominational or other exclusionary lines.

Chapter five is a concluding section in which the author offers some measure of synthesis and analysis of these dreaded four horsemen whose rampant plodding through Church history have left not only real casualties in the paths they’ve trod, but a damaged witness to those who examine, however briefly, the history of the Church. Gritsch says “Anti-Semitism, Fundamentalism, Triumphalism, and Moralism embody sin in their direct, or indirect, rejection of Christian life as penultimate, and they fall victim to a realized eschatology—as if the hope for the ultimate, eternal life with God in Christ had already been fulfilled. This historical perversion is the most visible symptom of spiritual poisoning” (160).

This being my first read of Gritsch, I must say it was quite good work—astute, brutally honest, and fascinating. Though not without its faults (e.g., I don’t know that I’d quite say that evangelizing Jews is representative of anti-Judaism), Gritsch is spot-on in his analysis of these four elements of Christian history. While other aspects of Christian praxis have likewise morphed into damaging offshoots, Gritsch ably demonstrates the dangers of these four. A great read—plenty of food for thought and prayer here.

Αυτω η δοξα

History, Uncategorized

8 Years Later

9-11Several other bloggers have shared a few thoughts on today, the 8-year anniversary of one of the most horrific days in recent memory, perhaps in all of American history. I, probably like most everyone, remember where I was that day. I was in my 8:00 ethics class at New Orleans Seminary. When we got word, we sat stunned. I honestly don’t remember much between that moment and when I walked into our apartment and turned on the tv to watch the horror unfold. The images of passenger jets plowing into the Word Trade Center towers are forever etched burned into my memory.

I am only 32 years old and a number of tragedies have forged unforgettable

1a911 memories in my mind, the Challenger explosion and the Oklahoma City bombing, to name a couple. Though I don’t remember much of the days these events took place, I don’t know that I will ever forget 9/11/01. I hope we never do. May God pour out his mercy and grace on those who remember today as they day they lost their loved ones.

Where were you and what were you doing that day?

As an aside, I find it odd that Google hasn’t created one their characteristically clever graphics in memory of that day.

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Baptists, History

Rare Documents

The Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry has made available a handful of rare documents written by Baptists and those who opposed them. Some of these are a critique of Anabaptists written by Philipp Melanchthon circa 1528 and a sermon by Martin Luther from 1532. There are also negative critiques of Baptists by Eberhardus of Cologne in 1536, Robert Some in 1589, and Lucas Osiander the Younger in 1607. Most of the works in this collection were written in the 1640s.

There should be some interesting reading, so stop by and check it out! You know, because you have no other reading to do!

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason