As part of my Unschooled Master of Theology Program I completed James White’s History of the Christian Church lectures about a month back.
It was quite interesting, though also a little disappointing. So, let’s jump in and see what this course was all about…
What’s Covered in the Lectures?
This lecture series is quite broad, despite a glaring lack of more modern content. White starts from the very beginning with a background found in Judaism, then leaps headlong into a discussion on Gnosticism and Greek Philosophy. He spends several lectures discussing the Church Fathers, especially those who of the early Church, those who lived under Persecution, many who bore the title of Confessors, from which they were so named by the persecutions and suffering they had endured.
He discusses Monasticism in at least two lectures, though does not spend nearly as much time as I would have liked. He talks about Constantine, Origen, and Tertullian, the Council of Chalcedon, Augustine, Jerome, the Crusades, Thomas Aquinas, the Inquisition and also witches (or what was perceived to be).
A lengthy discussion was had in one lecture about Erasmus and his work on the New Testament in Greek as well as his demon mosquitoes that plagued him.
More time was spent with the Anabaptists, which I found quite surprising and a little wacky. In Baptist circles, these are addressed by a single sentence of “this is where we came from.” The only thing they might have in common is the insistence on adult baptism by confession. Other than that, they are a wholly separate kind of creature.
James rounds out the lectures with detailed discussions of Luther and then Calvin, but then, as stated above, he abruptly stops there at the Reformation.
What I Found Interesting
I did find it an interesting idea that Luther or Calvin would probably excommunicate any of us if we somehow managed to get back to their time. It just illustrates how utterly diverse faith in Christ truly is. Personally, I am becoming convinced that there is actually no justifiable orthodoxy in the Christian Religion. The History of the Church illustrates that each generation has its own varieties of belief and theology as those people who are living at that time grapple with issues of their day. Just like we with our Mormons and JWs and 7th Day Adventists and Baptists and Charismaniacs. Everyone thinks everyone else is simply heretical and people seem to go out of their way to find fault with one another.
Personally, I am very much drawn to my own expression of faith and practice, toward an eremitic kind of faith, to a solitary exploration of the mysteries of God. I think, at this point, it’s a pretty good bet I am not called to an evangelical lifestyle. That is truly a miserable existence.
I did find James’ reference to Confessors quite interesting. It was the term used to identify those who were persecuted and suffered for the faith yet were not ultimately killed for it. These individuals apparently held high standing in the early Church and seem to be almost a litmus test or a standard against which those who falter in their faith under persecution are measured.
Imagine what the local Church today in America would look like if we had a generation of Confessors in which we could look up to as the example?
What I Did Not Like
As I already stated, I did not like the fact that James has not updated his History of the Church since he first did it back in the 90’s. Even then, why stop at the Reformation? Why not discuss, even in broad strokes, the different kinds of Christian expression in the modern world today? Why not talk about the Christians who are being persecuted as we speak in China or in the Middle East? Why not talk about the different ways in which Christians worship or the diversity of theology they hold? Why not move through the New Age craze of the 80’s and 90’s and then on into the greater insanity of intersectionality and Woke Ideology? This is, after all, history in the making. In a 100 years, if there is a Church left standing in the United States, they will be discussing this as a sign post on the way to eternity. Or, does Church History stop at the Reformation since the Reformed (which James is a part) hitch their wagon to that one event as the only valid expression of Christianity in the modern world?
The other issue I have with the lectures is the lack of time spent on monasticism in general and the desert hermits in particular. For many generations, these monks and hermits carried the faith for all of us. When the masses were too busy with their programs and their cultural compromise, the hermits were separating themselves in an attempt to remain pure and undefiled by a Church that had lost its way (much in the say way our modern Church has done today).
I know, at last from my own personal experience, Evangelical Christianity in the West has nothing to do with the early Church Fathers or the Desert Fathers in Egypt. I’d heard about John the Baptist and maybe Origen in passing, but nothing was ever said to me in a Sunday School class or in a sermon about these individuals in the faith. Are we to assume, then, that the bulk of Church History is filled with only heretics and madmen, and only in the 1800’s did God see fit to resurrect the genuine faith in the Baptist demonination? Because, after all, Moses and Jesus, and Paul were all Baptists, right?
I personally think all theology is malformed. People might play at orthodoxy in their own particular denominational meetings, but when they go home at the end of the day, they believe what they believe. Just as the Messianic guy I knew several years ago, upon inquiring what he thought of a particular passage in Paul, he responded to me, “It has to mean xyz because otherwise I couldn’t believe the way I want to believe.”
That is the theology of the masses.
At the end of the day, I thought the lecture were quite interesting and informative. Then again, I’ve always liked listening to James and I’m a frequent listener to his debates and podcast. Would I recommend his lectures on Chruch History? Certainly. But not just his alone. Grab at least two or three from different traditions so you get a better feel for what actually happened and hopefully you’re good at reading between the lines.
Until my next review….
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Excerpt from Sacred the Circle:
There was a knock at the door.
Campbell got up from the chair and crossed the small distance so he could open it.
A young man stood in the doorway, probably in his early twenties.
Campbell could tell he looked a little disheveled.
He had deep rings around his eyes, as if he hadn’t been sleeping much, and he kept checking the hallway in both directions, as if half expecting someone to be stalking him.
“Hey,” Campbell said.
The kid was stumbling over his own words.
Campbell leaned out into the hallway, checking to make sure there was no one else listening.
This guy wasn’t the only one who was becoming paranoid.
There were two students hanging out at the foyer, near the stairs, but the rest of the floor was clear.
“I’m sorry,” the kid said. “Must be the wrong place. I’m mistaken.”
He started to leave.
“Wait,” Campbell said, putting a hand out. “Hold on a second.”
The kid paused.
“What’s your name?”
He fidgeted with his collar.
“I know it sounds crazy, but – ”
“You’re not crazy, Lloyd,” Campbell said, grinning.
“Did you – ? ”
The kid paused, as if unsure if he should continue.
He looked back toward the stairs, then at Campbell.
“Did you know I was coming?” he finally asked. “I mean, that’s not possible, but, were you expecting me?”
Campbell chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?” Lloyd asked.
“Well – ”
Campbell pushed the door open all the way so Lloyd could see inside his dorm room.
The entire room was full of them, students, non-students, ranging from what looked like eighteen to even a few middle-aged men, scattered about the room, sitting wherever they could find a comfortable spot.
Lloyd’s mouth dropped open.
“I wasn’t really expecting them, either,” Campbell said. “So, I hope you don’t hold it against me when I tell you, I had no idea you’d be showing up here. Do you care to join us, anyway?”
Buy my book Sacred the Circle to find out what these men are hearing from the supernatural realm. Will they answer the questions tugging at them? What are the visions saying? Who are the Multitude? Why are all these men being brought together? By whom? And why, above all else, are they being convicted….to pray?
Get your copy of Sacred the Circle today! Get the upcoming sequel, Sacred the Sent as well so the story never ends !
But, trust me when I say, you’ll be white knuckling this one with every turn of the page!