Thursday, February 19, 2009

Narrating Christianity

How do you narrate post-Jesus Christianity?

Coming from a fairly conserved reformed tradition, the narrative always looked like this:

"The church expanded around the Mediterranean basin, primarily in Asia Minor, Greece, and Egypt. Constantine represents the political climax of the conversion of the Empire, Nicaea its theological counterpart. Post-Chalcedon the church get's a little off-track, and the ascendancy of the Roman pope really sends things askew. Fast-forward to the Reformation, and here's the bible, isn't it great. Luther and Calvin are great guys. Oh, yeah, we tried to reform the English church, good on Cranmer and co. Fast-forward to 1788, isn't Sydney Evangelicalism great??"

Read Jenkin's fine book though, and he'll thoroughly de-stablise your eurocentricism. Tackle church history through any denominational angle, and again your perspective skews. Read through Roman Catholocism, and 500-1500 suddenly becomes a lot more important.

For most western christians, one of the defining questions you need to ask is: what to do with Christendom? I personally thank God we live post-Christendom (Here's one good reason. nevertheless, I'm committed to a strong doctrine of providence, and most of the great doctrinal contributions of the early church is the 4th century, the issues forced really by imperial intervention. Constantine was a great tragedy, but also the agent of great good, in the church.

Constantinian-ism, if such an entity exists, was a mistake though. Christendom was a grand social experiment which has thankfully failed, but it's legacy in a post-colonial age is far from over.

This week we finish up the book of Ruth at church. I'm convinced that chapter 4 firmly puts its date of composition to post-David's ascension. It could be, but need not be, later. But it's only the ascension of David as king that makes the story of Ruth and Boaz significant - God's purposes at work 3-4 generations ago suddenly become a lot clearer. They become a lot more clearer in Matthew 1, as we read the Ruth story with Christian eyes. It's a lot harder to work out how to read the story of Christendom, Constantine, and the church (but at least we know where it'll end up, Rev 20-22).

How do you narrate the story of Christianity?

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