First of three essays
Preface | I: Second Thoughts: Pilgrimage 1993-95 | II: All Scripture Is Inspired by God: Thoughts on the Old Testament Canon | III: Do not Add to His Words: Thoughts on the New Testament Canon
Copyright 1996, 2003 Joel Kalvesmaki
Since May 1993 I have been vigorously pursuing the faith of the Apostles as witnessed to by the early Church. This spiritual journey has led me, a strongly committed Protestant Evangelical, to seriously pursue conversion to either the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church.
In the past years I have spent hundreds of hours reading, studying, praying, and discussing theological, historical, and philosophical issues with a wide range of people. I have taken the time to read over 3000 pages of the translated writings of Christians who flourished between 70-240 CE. Septuagintal studies have also played a major role as I have applied myself to understand more thoroughly the canon of Scripture, the process by which it came to hold authority for believers, and the way it treats itself. Later in my journey I spent considerable time meditating on epistemological and philosophical issues that helped to clarify and confirm my spiritual direction. Many of the answers to my questions have spawned others, which I still pursue. Yet I realise I cannot return to the Evangelicalism I have grown to love and cherish.
In a brief story like this I cannot justify every move, every doctrine, every insight. No matter how skilled my pen, I cannot explain in its full peculiarity the terrain I have explored, particularly if the skeptic is certain I've been to the desert and indulged in a mirage. Maybe so. But how to know without personal investigation? Most critics are content with armchair analysis.
All I can do is explain a little, as well as possible, to speed fellow Christian pilgrims on their way to a more consistent and honest faith and to stimulate those who have never bothered to consider the issues to take them up. Pilgrims are often a misunderstood part of our churches, yet their numbers are thin enough to warrant recruiting.
Before some of the theological issues, however, something of my life is helpful.
I was born into a loving Evangelical home where my mother and father, a Presbyterian minister, faithfully raised our family. Compared to others, there was little outstanding or traumatic in my upbringing. I had my share of skinned knees, split heads and spankings. Like every good pastor's son, I slept through half the sermons and at other times egged my sister into laughter during the hymns. Only later, as I grew, I realized that such mischief is a luxury in a world of dysfunctional relationships. While friends in school spoke of the agony of broken homes, mine was wonderfully coherent.
When I was nine we moved from St. Louis to Salt Lake City, which was to be my home through high school. The most common association with Utah is, of course, Mormons (LDS), of whom I counted many my good friends. In elementary school my best friend was one of fourteen, the stereotypical burgeoning Mormon family. Only on the odd occasion do I remember religion becoming a conversation topic between us, but what was then unimportant was to later take on greater gravity.
My experience with the LDS was to serve as a constant touchstone. The Mormon Church is a daunting presence in the Intermountain West. With a membership of over seven million, their mission force exceeds 50,000, since a large number of their young men, before entering college, commit to tours of missionary service lasting 18 to 24 months, all funded by themselves and their family.
The LDS boast of the clean living of most members of their Church. Official Mormon teaching places great emphasis on family unity and patriotism. While their claim to low divorce and alcoholism rates is arguably flawed, they are at least as virtuous as any other given Christian church in America.
The picture is glossy and supremely Christian, until you look beyond appearances, into LDS theology. The differences are then difficult to ignore. Whatever godly image was set up by the Mormon Church quickly disappears as one explores the dark shadows of heresy. Of any group that claims to be Christian, Mormons are quite possibly the furthest removed from its historical doctrinal center. The Trinity is an aberration. God, once a man like us, is one of the many gods in the universe, like God himself, who now sires babies with his many wives to supply earth with human souls. We, by faithfully maintaining Mormon ceremonies and standards, can ourselves become gods.
In spite of this semi-fictional theology, the testimony many Mormons give is both personal and spiritual. The average active LDS will explain that at a certain age she read the Book of Mormon and sincerely prayed to know whether the Book of Mormon is true and Joseph Smith is a prophet. Many would attest to a powerful experience of a "burning in the bosom," which would be understood as the Spirit confirming that, yes, the Mormon Church is the True Church.
Later in life, as my commitment to Christ solidified, I argued with Mormons. After I presented evidence challenging their worldview, some of them retreated, saying, "Why are you trying to destroy my faith? That's all you anti-Mormons do is wreck other people's faith." This irked me. Had it never occurred to them that possibly their faith, based on nonsense, needed to be destroyed? Is our aim a secure faith, no matter what that faith may be? Or should we seek to test whatever faith we have and, if found false, change it? The Mormon way seemed a cowardly treatment of Truth.
I have sought to be faithful to both Christ and my Christian leaders. At an early age I invited Jesus into my heart and was baptised by my father to the approval of many. The intense desire to serve Christ fluctuated, but was truly a part of the whole of my life.
Inevitably, my faith mingled with my strong artistic temperament. In high school I waged a critique of life that was deeply coloured by depression, loneliness and the searing question, "Why?" which few seemed willing to answer, let alone confront. Even in church I only saw a nominal practice of what was taken to be true. "People who don't have Jesus in their hearts are going to hell. Forever. Want another cup of coffee?"
In this deep scepticism I spent a summer with a Youth With a Mission team that, by modelling the most radical of Christian virtues, helped to restore my trust in Christ, the Scriptures and the authentic reality of God in the life of the Church. Jesus' words spoke freshly to my heart as I realised that He was to be Lord of all or not at all. My pining for eternity was answered by my leaders' clarion call to full discipleship and devotion to God. While with the team I voraciously read apologetic books by men such as Josh McDowell and Walter Martin, all of whom seemed to answer some of the rawest problems I had with life, faith, and truth.
These early influences stirred into me an intense hunger for spiritual reality, balanced against a radical pessimism to truth claims. I wanted God, but without human error.
If people who are not born again are going to hell, there is no excuse for our lethargy. Sparked by this idea, I sought to be involved in pioneer Christian mission work. After leaving university early I joined Operation Mobilisation. I was centrally concerned about the Muslim world, which I saw as the greatest threat to Christianity. Doctrinally, I felt I had sufficiently learned about and dealt with Mormonism and a handful of other Christian sects. Islam, however, seemed "uncharted territory," possibly the most intricate and foreign of false religions. This led me to OM Turning Point, in London, England, a team that seeks to train Christians in evangelistic mission to Muslims in Europe and the Middle East. London has been my home from 1991 through 1995.
While I was searching for a good mission agency, my heart was caught by OM and its commitment to spiritual integrity, honesty and openness. The preaching of George Verwer spoke to me of a man and a mission that had a "hunger for reality" and sought a "revolution of love and balance." This too was my goal: to die a soft-hearted and wise man who had committed himself to Christ and had raced after godliness.
I knew what kind of person I did not want to be. I learned this most clearly while I was in OM, when I learned of the deceit of Mike Warnke.
One of the most loved Christian entertainers in Evangelical circles, Mike Warnke would hold free concerts across the country to preach the Gospel in the context of a comedy routine. Mike's reputation rested upon his dynamic and dramatic testimony. He had been a satanic high priest who, through a complex string of macabre events, finally found Jesus and was now born again. Evangelicals wholeheartedly loved him. His autobiography, The Satan Seller, was one of the best selling Christian books of the 1970's. Through his books and an active concert circuit he assumed a prominent seat in the Christian entertainment industry as both a spiritual role model and an authority on occultism.
In 1993, however, in a 20,000 word article, Cornerstone, the flagship magazine of the Jesus People, exposed Mike for what he was. The Cornerstone article demonstrated that Mike had never been a satanist. He had never done most of the things he claimed for himself. None of his friends knew anything of his sinister midnight forays during college. And rather than being the Christian model of virtue he sold himself as, Mike had been married and divorced four times. He was greatly mishandling donations and using his position for his own gain. Little of what Mike had claimed stood up to reality.
Most people, sometime in their life, have their heroes fall and they learn an important lesson common to all. Luminaries who fall from grace grant us a time of soul-searching, to reassess our faith and to re-establish it upon a much stronger foundation. I went through this process and, realizing this would not be my last hero to fall, I focused my faith more on Christ.
The reaction from the Christian public, however, was more difficult to comprehend. Devotion to Mike was so strong amongst Evangelicals that letters responding to Cornerstone, rather than thanking them for the perspective to see beyond the sham, sharply criticised the authors. "How dare you judge Mike!" "When you can save as many people as him, then maybe you can point fingers." "You are being very unloving and tearing down the body of Christ." These were typical responses.
"These are the reactions of Christians?" I thought. I struggled with this. Which was worse, Mike's deception or the Christian public's self-deception?
This was certainly not the kind of man I wanted to be. I did not want to be attached to a symbol that contradicted its underlying reality or to defend the image at the expense of the substance. I wanted to deal with life as it is. Maybe I don't see things very clearly, but I don't want this to excuse me for concocting my own reality.
In the heights of my faith there have been strong streaks of doubt and questioning. Is the Bible really the Word of God? Did Jesus really do the things claimed for him in the Gospels? Are we completely wrong? After all, we don't hesitate to declare everyone else wrong. Some Christians, in an effort to sustain their reputation in Church, simply show unflinching doubt. When confronted by a pained Christian conscience, they simply say, "Don't worry about it. God has a wonderful plan for your life! The answers will come later." Comfort. But, as with Job's helpers, there are often overtones of criticism. Pity that your faith is so weak. One day it may be as strong as my own.
Honest searchers, still committed to their churches, smile and carry on, finding what they can in the diet of books on offer. Some questioners, rebuffed by other believers, lose faith altogether. It is no secret, for example, that a sizeable number of secular humanists in America were once committed Southern Baptists.
This tension is also seen in our forms of church worship. Whether we realise it or not, our attitude and assumptions are lived out when we assemble. Sitting at a piano stool, leading worship, I have tried to understand what is going on. Although there is a great variety and style within Evangelical worship, whether it be Lutheran hymns or Charismatic choruses, common assumptions run throughout most of it.
In the worship of the hymn, our faith is found cerebral, celebrating the systematic theology of the Reformers in well measured stanzas, expressions that approach a reflection of the natural order of the world. The exposition of the Word of God as sung, regardless if comprehended, offers an assurance that we are squarely in the realm of Romans and thoroughly understand the mechanics of justification and sanctification.
In the worship of the chorus, the passion of our relationship with God is expressed in full rawness as we encounter the Divine. Through a liberation of the emotions we go beyond the veil?we and God, face to face and soul to soul.
And, of course, there are mixes of these two styles that criss-cross our churches. Many experiences in Evangelical worship go beyond these admitted stereotypes.
What undergirds both of these styles of worship is an assumption that we personally approach God and His Truth without veils. For the hymnodist, we sing the words of the Bible and its message, directly participating in the Word of God. For the Charismatic, we directly touch and feel the presence of God through a worship of heightened emotion. Both of these forms of worship are incredibly beautiful and creative. Yet the way we do it commonly assumes, not always, but most times, that we have gone beyond the barrier experienced by other less fortunate souls. Instead of the ritual and tradition of Catholics, we know God personally, via our precise hymnody or our pining emotions.
For those of us in an intense Evangelical community, to question whether our worship really is a direct connection to God or His Truth is to question the relation of the entire community to God. Righly so, for if an Israelite had dared challenge aspects of the liturgy surrounding the Temple, he too would have been seen as questioning the position of Israel as the people of God.
Our worshipful insistence that each of us has a personal relationship with God makes it difficult to admit we really don't know God on the level we claim. Most of us grope in the dark, yet are compelled to talk about a daily walk with God that is as familiar as that with our best friends. But if we are honest about the secrets in our hearts, many of us will admit that, for all our effort to know God, we have a closer and more personal relationship with each other. Yet we are part of a community who confess direct access to Truth. Anyone unable to affirm this public proclamation in their private life is not adequate.
This was not so plain to me when I first discovered the worldview of the early Christian Church. I was very much in the center of Evangelicalism, and I had the attitudes of self-referential self-assurance. So when I first met an OM brother who was studying to join the Eastern Orthodox Church, I didn't know how to react. He was a graduate of Wheaton, a very intelligent and passionate man who was seeking the heart of God just as sincerely as I was, yet looking into a body of Christians I knew were clearly heretical.
Incense? Good works for salvation? Icons? Prayers to Mary and the Saints? Kissing rings, fingers, and old bones? Eating Jesus Christ? This is just Catholicism without the Pope! Come on! No one in their right mind would go into that, not if they were truly born again, Not if they're from Wheaton!
My friend Chris and I talked late, making forays into well-travelled theological waters. This was my introduction to the world of the Eastern Church. It never occurred to me to consider that the churches planted by the Apostles in Antioch, Turkey, and Greece in the first century had never disappeared and were still around. This only served to uncover my ignorance of Church history, my attitude that somewhere in the middle ages genuine Christianity vanished into thin air, awaiting to be resuscitated by the prophets of the sixteenth century.
As we talked I discovered that Chris was not the only one making this move. In the last ten years there has been a very large move of Evangelical Americans who have, in the thousands, been received into the Antiochian Orthodox Church. The decisions of former Evangelical leaders Peter Gillquist and Franky Schaeffer were unfathomable to me at the time. All I knew was that this was a gauntlet thrown at my feet. This mass conversion from my mother bed of Evangelicalism represented a truth claim I needed to confront.
Arguments made in some Orthodox books Chris had given me made some good points, but I was still thoroughly confident that the claims were out of harmony with the Scriptures. I definitely wanted to refute them. I admit I also wanted to refute my friend's life, to find flaws in his character, false motives by which I could trash his entire search. Possibly he's been offended by an Evangelical or maybe he lost a girlfriend. Actually, I wonder if he's really bothered to read the Bible! Anyway, poor Chris has lost his sense of objectivity, most certainly.
I walked away from our time together concerned for my lost brother, yet with another coal of curiosity stoked and an openness to initiate my own studies into Church history and its relation to the teaching of Scripture.
As mentioned before, justification of every aspect of my journey is not the role of this essay. But I should explain some of the scholarship undergirding my journey, to track the path I have travelled, to leave a trail to be followed.
The first long leg of my research began with the early Church, primarily before Nicaea, with a special focus on the period 70-240 CE. This period of Church history is, at best, vaguely familiar to Evangelicals. Our heroes can be found in the New Testament, but the next spiritual giants to come along are Augustine (for the cerebral few), then Wycliffe, Tyndale, Zwingli and Luther. Many Evangelicals are thoroughly well-read in the Reformed tradition, but have never read a single work by a Christian from the first three centuries.
I began with Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, the first comprehensive history of the Christian Church after the book of Acts . Written shortly before the Council of Nicea, the History is a gold mine of early Christian stories and thought. Leafing through the worn pages of the library copy, I thought, "This book should be censored! No, it should be reprinted!" Nearly every chapter brought some new insight to the Scriptures, and yet much cut against what I had expected. The early Church was not exactly what I imagined. They were greater than, but weren't, Protestants.
Eusebius begins with a theology of Christ, calling him God and the Word of God. From there he demonstrates that Christ was not a recent phenomenon, but was known from the beginning of time. Throughout his argument he cites Old Testament prophecy, many passages with which I was already familiar, and others besides. Eusebius then describes the history of the Church, weaving into his account, broadly structured on the Gospels, a number of other documents and traditions of the Apostles.
For instance, Acts 12:2 mentions the martyrdom of the Apostle James at the hand of Herod. Eusebius relates how, in his trial before Herod, James delivered a passionate defense of his faith in Christ. James's words were so moving that the Roman soldier guarding him instantly converted and publicly declared his faith in Christ. With one word, Herod order both of them to be taken outside and executed.
"So they were both taken away together, and on the way he asked James to forgive him. James thought for a moment; then he said, 'I wish you peace,' and kissed him. So both were beheaded at the same time." 
Another story related in the History deals with the apostle John and his activities amongst his congregations in Asia Minor at the end of his life?material not found in the New Testament.
In another place Eusebius cites the letter of a bishop from the third century, Africanus, dealing with the discrepancies between the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. His solution tackles the problem in a way I had never heard before, treating both genealogies as lines of Joseph.
These were some of the many stories Eusebius chronicled. Each new discovery agitated other questions. I argued with myself.
What is this rubbish, stories of the Apostles not found in the Bible? Eusebius offended me. Did he really believe what he was writing? Who was he kidding? The Bible, I felt, was not only all we needed, but all we have, in terms of authentic and reliable material. How could Eusebius write this kind of thing? Didn't he believe in Sola Scriptura?
Are you saying there were people back then who knew apects of history we don't know today? This question revealed assumptions I had, hidden until now, but influenced by an evolutionary outlook. They came out: Modern man is more advanced than ever. We know more than any other generation, especially in theology. We have the glorious benefit today of the most advanced Biblical scholarship and criticism, the best archaeological and computer-based tools. We have sought to be objective in understanding our faith, unlike previous generations. Now, here I was confronted with a serious Christian historian from the early Church who had access to libraries, books, and witnesses that have long since disappeared. He was familiar with writings such as Papias' The Sayings of the Lord Explained (1st century), which are no longer with us. Arguably, we have devolved!
Upon what basis can you reject what Eusebius says? came a question in return. There was no way I could avoid evaluating his work. Its stories burned in my mind. I previously had the luxury of being ignorant. Now I needed to deal with a different world and a different paradigm. I wanted to reject what he said. I felt I could do so on one of two broad grounds, either ignore his account as superstitious and heretical, or deny its historicity.
Is this superstition? Ah, but what is superstition? For a Christian this avenue is a dead end, for the "fables" found in Eusebius are of no different a quality than those found in Scripture. Acts is full of odd stories that, if isolated from the diginity we automatically afford Scripture, we would reject on the same grounds we reject those of Eusebius. Peter's shadow healing people? His handkerchief? What about Philip's experiences of teleportation? If we have a problem with Eusebius's apocryphal stories of the Apostles on the basis of their supernatural character, then we had better question those in the Bible, too.
Is this heretical? Again, none of the stories I read could be accused of promoting false teaching. In many ways I found the stories quite compatible with Scripture. If anything, they enhanced my appreciation for the godliness of the Apostles and their doctrinal purity.
Is this historical? After all, why should I accept a story written in the early fourth century? What about the Bible? The New Testament is, after all, much more reliable, dating from the first century. That was one way to look at it. I realized, however, that I was sitting in the twentieth century, arguing with an author from the fourth. We both have access to the New Testament and the scholarship of our day, but he has the added vantage point of time, culture, language, and an ecclesiastical education. All I have are twentieth century Western commentaries. Who is right, he or I?
After wrestling with these questions, going back and forth, I vented my hungry heart and reached out to the saints of which Eusebius spoke. Instead of trying to fit them into my own mold, I asked them to tell me their story.
Where have you been all my life? As an Evangelical missionary with a lifelong interest in apologetics, I felt robbed. I had spent hours poring through Christian bookshops and had never read this kind of material. I didn't even know there were writings available from the period. Most versions of Church history I had read would briefly mention the second and third centuries, focus for a short time on the trinitarian debates of the fourth, highlight Augustine, then jump into the sixteenth century for the Reformation. Never at a Christian bookstore or booktable had I seen patristic writings being reprinted and sold. We sell the writings of any nutcase who presumes to speak as an Evangelical, but have not bothered to consider selling the works of the sons and grandsons of the Apostles.
And I soon realised why. If Evangelicals ever bothered to reprint and study Ignatius, Polycarp, Tertullian, or Irenaeus, their writings would step on our theological toes.
One of the statements widely used in Evangelical circles is, "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things charity." This is an idea also expressed in the writings of Eusebius and his forebears. But what they considered essential and non-essential was very different from what we Evangelicals did.
For instance, Eusebius discusses the canon of Scripture rather freely, treating it as an open question. Origen, he states, held the book of Revelation as Scripture, written by the Apostle John. Eusebius begs to differ, on the basis of the style of Greek, and argues that Revelation was of questionable authority. Yet he maintains the greatest admiration for Origen.
It wasn't to be until well after the writing of the History that, for the first time we know of, Athanasius in his Easter festal letter of 367 listed the twenty-seven New Testament books we now use. Every pre-367 canonical list of the New Testament we have differs with what we currently use. While Evangelicals, without recourse to the authority of the Church, are willing to castigate anyone who questions the canon, the earliest Christians held a faith that did not depend on an ironclad list of books. It was not an essential. From the time of the Apostles onward the Church was content with an unfixed canon that frequently included apocryphal works.
On the other hand, on a subject as non-essential to Evangelicals such as baptism, the early Church was united. There were controversies on the subject, such as whether such-and-such a repentant heretic should be rebaptized, but not over the nature of the sacrament. The Church was so united on what baptism meant, they even agreed that a candidate should be dipped three times, in obedience to the Trinity. For the early Church, baptism was not a symbolic gesture tacked onto a profession of faith or altar call, as is so practiced in Protestant circles; rather, it was the conduit of salvation, by which a person was born again, illuminated, and regenerated to new life.
In "essentials," unity? Who decides what are the essentials? The Church of the first centuries held to a fundamentally different understanding of Christian essentials than what we teach. By our present standards we would call the early Church "unbalanced" or "extreme." Undoubtedly they would return the favor.
In our apologetic literature on Mormonism and other cults, we often use the tactic of creating guilt by association. By pointing out the similarity between second century Gnostics and modern-day Christian Scientists, for instance, we show that there is nothing new under the sun, that heresies are constantly resurrected, dredged up from the past.
I was in for a surprise, then, when I discovered that the apologetic techniques of the early Church were considerably different than mine. My concern was to show how contemporary heresies had a deep, long history and that they keep on resurrecting through time. Early apologists, however, believed that every heresy was an innovation and therefore had no genuine history. Only the True Faith extends back through all time. To the early Fathers, sects were something new under the sun, and for that reason, they were to be rejected.
Through the writings of Irenaeus (2d c.) and Hippolytus (3d c.) I realized that Gnostic theology was nothing comparable to Christian Science. True, the two share a denial of the goodness of creation, but Gnostic thought was far more intricate and developed than Mary Baker Eddy's system. Many of them held to a godhead composed of thirty members. Many of them held to a deep admiration for Seth. It dawned on me that Gnosticism, in all its ugly theological twists and turns, was dead. There are no more Gnostics today, not if we use the word "Gnostic" properly. Even those in this century who would seek to draw from their writings are simply creating a modern hybrid. They are not restoring a heretical community from centuries ago. Think, for instance, of modern "Druids," who have to invent their own rituals and beliefs. If the ancient Druids came back, they would not recognize at all the modern attempts to recreate their dead religion.
It is true, however, that in certain doctrinal differences between the Gnostics and the early Church, Christian Scientists side with the former. Therefore, they resemble Gnosticism by virtue of some common beliefs. Ultimately, this is the point of our apologetic argument: the Christian Scientists are "Gnostic," in that they advocate their error, against the orthodox teaching.
But Protestants and Evangelicals fall to this criticism. We currently maintain doctrines that fly in the face of the teaching of the early Church. If they were with us today they would declare most Evangelical denominations to be heretical and schismatic.
Irenaeus, in his treatise Against Heresies, catalogues and deals with Gnostic heresies, primarily combatting their views on the godhead and creation, while also addressing their inclination towards sectarianism, anti-sacramentalism, and departure from the Apostolic succession (sound familiar?). Tertullian, the first Western Christian to use the term "Trinity," also looks at the nature of heresies in his day and observes how they have departed from the historic Apostolic faith in both teaching and practice, giving no regard to the sanctity of the Eucharist or the Apostolic succession (again, sound familiar?). The criticisms Irenaeus and Tertullian make of their opponents apply to many forms of Evangelicalism.
Allow me to qualify these bold strokes. Some of the early authors may have looked upon certain groups such as Anglicans or Lutherans with a sympathy that may have extended to mutual recognition and communion. Mainstream Evangelicalism, however, as represented by the Evangelical Alliance or most interdenominational agencies, would not be have been recognized by the earliest Fathers as true Christianity.
Here, I summarise a few of the things I discovered in my search through ancient Christianity, highlighting especially what struck me as different from Evangelicalism.
Early Christianity maintained that we are saved by faith in Christ through baptism. We are being saved now and will be saved if we abide in Christ. Their writings are full of warnings against falling away from Christ, with the understanding that it could and does happen. Even though they had no understanding of eternal security, the Fathers had no "eternal insecurity." They understood that God initiates our salvation by sending his Spirit and power into our lives, a love that we reciprocate. The concept of salvation by faith alone or by irresistable grace was a concept foreign to the Church. Rather, the Calvinist system, which I had embraced for many years, finds unusually strong echoes in the teachings of Gnostic sects.
Known as the Eucharist, this supper was believed to be of divine institution and power. It was much more than a symbol or representation, it was God with us. The elements were transformed by the Spirit into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, on which believers could feed to maintain the life of sacred devotion to God. The Eucharist was seen as a sacrifice, the earth's gifts that we offer back to God in thanks at the altar of the New Covenant. Ironically, once again, it was Gnostic sects that were habitually anti-sacramental.
Again, the earliest Fathers believed that they, as a community, were the New Israel, and that a departure from the visible communion of the body of Christ was the same as a departure from the faith. Their Church structure was hierarchical and based upon the trifold ministry of bishops, presbyters, and deacons. They believed that maintaining the unbroken succession from the Apostles through the bishops was an essential element of the Catholic Church. Schism from this One Church was seen as being among the worst possible of sins, for it was an assault against the Body of Christ. Although not a monolithic organisation, the early Church was One, without division, and spread throughout the world from India to Britain.
Without exception, the worship of the early Christians revolved around liturgy. Rather than eclectic or creative services, the primitive Church was content with that which they received, a liturgical worship handed to them by the Apostles. The worship of the early Church was both an extension of the Old Testament and a dramatic exclamation of God's visit to man in the Incarnation. Rather than centring around the sermon, Sunday worship centered around the Eucharist. Their understanding of worship operated on a level different than those of Evangelicals since it did not assume immediate, direct access to God, but rather an ongoing contemplation of the mysteries of Christ. Worship was part of a lifelong struggle to see God.
The early Fathers held that when we die, we go to an intermediate place of rest to await the resurrection of the flesh, when we will be judged for our sins and be rewarded with heaven or hell. They distinguished between Hades and Gehenna. The former referred to the place of the dead while the latter referred to the place of eternal torment.
I had always been taught that Scripture teaches a position quite different than those just outlined. Brazenly confident of the Bible's position, I could tolerate people who held to different beliefs, just as long as they didn't pretend the Scriptures justified them. Citing the Reformers as my patrons, I thought the story was ended.
Surprise. As I returned to the Bible with the new perspective of the early Church Fathers I began to see verses for which I had never given second thought. With time and patient reading I was forced to shift my disregard for Catholic and Orthodox teaching to a begruding acceptance. Point after point, doctrine after doctrine, I slowly realized that, as Evangelicals, we have been missing the Tradition of the Church. It was painful. I have always demanded reason for belief and here it was before me in reamfuls. And it hurt to take my own medicine.
With further studies and a struggling reflection on the Scriptures, I came to believe what I read in the Fathers. The Bible made more sense in light of the early Church than it did in light of modern Evangelicalism. Scripture took on a profound new character as the Spirit spoke to my heart freshly. I felt as if I was now under the guidance of Christians who knew the mind of Christ. For the first time ever I realized that, as a Christian, I am part of a religion with a history, with real heroes and real faith, not simply a bundle of words penned by men on a different planet. The spiritual explosion ignited on Pentecost was not extinguished. The gates of Hades did not prevail against the Church!
I plunged the depths of early Christianity. Daily, as I scoured the pages of the writings of the Fathers, I continued to discover things that demolished hidden expectations. I began with fear and suspicion, but after a couple of weeks my skepticism melted into embarrassment at my own cockiness. Instead of arguing with the Fathers, trying to fit them into my own theological grid, I sought to have them tell me their story. As I assembled the faith and practice of the early Christians I began to compare this with the state of modern Christendom. I needed to resolve my knowledge with a living faith.
The three great divisions of Christendom?Protestantism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy?became my focus. I studied the Reformation and the theological and historical differences prompting the different splits . The East, I discovered, also had a number of divisions. In the long process of comparing primitive Christianity with catechisms of today's churches, I found myself focussing on Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy. These seemed to be the body of Christians who had most faithfully preserved the ancient faith. For several restless weeks I battered around the pros and cons for each group in the light of the testimony of primitive Christianity. At one point in this frustrated exercise I compiled the following table:
open to correction
bridge to other churches
thin, spotty tradition
open to innovation
nearly insignificant in the 20th century
| little innovation
deep, unbroken tradition
quite significant (2nd largest)
exclusivist (but changing)
set in its ways
This table, although written when I was a bit muddled, was tremendously helpful. I was excited to see that I had already changed. For the first time, for instance, I saw the Anglican emphasis on "bridging" Christendom as a positive aspect. It felt somewhat odd to actively pray for the visible union of all believers and to discover the many good aspects of ecumenism, a word I had generally learned to despise.
In spite of progress, not everything made sense. I had what seemed a very clear picture of primitive catholic Christianity, but there didn't seem to be any group that exactly fit their description. I had also considered Roman Catholicism and Oriental Orthodoxy, but they seemed to have their own mismatching with the early Church. No one fit exactly, although some groups came closer than others.
It seemed that each week I looked at Christendom in a slightly different way, dependending upon my mood. My focus could be on the East-West divide and, by recognizing one side as theologically more orthodox than another, I could proceed that way. Or I could look at the churches with ancient origins versus those with modern ones, which would automatically exclude nearly all Evangelicals and Protestants. Or I could concentrate on the evidence of lives of godliness which, although arbitrary, would probably land me in radical Evangelicalism or the Mennonites. Or I could concentrate on mission and outreach, which would find me seriously considering Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, to the exclusion of the East. All four starting points, each based on an aspect of early Christianity, led to very different conclusions, despite using the same material! At the same time, as I consulted other people who were reading the writings of the Fathers, I noticed that, although moving in broadly the same direction, they were landing in different spots.
From here my journey entered into epistemology and hermeneutics. Epistemology is the means by which we justify our beliefs to be true. It is the science of knowledge. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. By our epistemology, we develop a hermeneutic of the world. Put another way, the way we think (epistemology) determines the way we understand what is going on (hermeneutics).
It was not enough that I was simply reading the writings of the early Christians. I was approaching their writings with a package of beliefs that shaped the results for me.
This first bothered me when considering the issue of Sola Scriptura. I knew that my worldview entailed Scripture as the final authority. But was this the outlook of the authors of the New Testament? I puzzled over this until I finally admitted that, no, the assumptions of the authors of the New Testament are anything but a 20th century Sola Scriptura. The language, references and premises of Scripture scream out for a context. The surviving letters of Paul leave us only half a conversation. Some verses assume the reader is familiar with an ongoing correspondence between the writer and the community, in the context of a long relationship between the two, Some authors make references to other spiritual writings with which they assume their audience is familiar. Some text is completely irrelevant to us. The way the New Testament transmits and interprets the text of the Old Testament precludes Sola Scriptura. In fact, the "stick to the obvious meaning of Scripture" approach was more characteristic of the Sadducees, not Christians.
These points were hard to admit, and I fought against them. I genuinely, desperately wanted to believe, not to surrender to what I thought were core beliefs of liberalism. My fear surfaced: Those who embrace these things become total relativists, don't they? By examining these issues I felt I was not only questioning Scripture, I was jeopardizing my eternal security, and my career goals within Evangelicalism.
So many of us, myself included, are taught that our faith is either founded on the Bible only or it is completely unfounded. To ascibe authority to anything besides Scripture was heretical. Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and everyone else adds to Scripture. We don't. Anyone who superimposes the traditions of men upon the plain words of the Bible thereby preaches a different Gospel and a different Jesus.
But church practice does not match the lofty ideals with which we struggle. Our presentations of Scripture rely heavily on traditions, such as the naming of the Gospels  and the acceptance of books that were at one time of questionable canonicity. We often add our own traditions to Scripture. Our sermons and teaching tapes are sometimes nothing more that our own ideas, with the endorsement of a few verses taken out of context. As I explored more, I soon realised that, within Christendom, Evangelicals have been just as prone as anyone else to add traditions to whatever Gospel they received. Although usually a generation or two late, Evangelicals have been quite faithful in reflecting their world.
Nevertheless, some of us are patient. We believe and seek to resolve our difficulties within a faithful obedience that does not presume to have all the answers. We try not to be embarrassing about things. We carry on within some powerful, overwhelming ambiguities and contradictions, crying out for an answer within Christ since we realize life outside Jesus is sickeningly hollow. But we are often aware that Evangelicalism often cannot answer its own criticisms of others.
This becomes one of the most important parts of my story, yet it must be kept intentionally vague and over-generalized.
We interpret Scripture through an epistemology that comes from our community. As Westerners, this means that our approach to the Bible is often laden with the philosophical assumptions of our culture and not necessarily Scriptural ones. Within the Aristotelian meanderings of the West in this millenium, the Reformation is comfortably twinned with Renaissance and humanist thought. The Anglican process of determining their doctrines operates on the assumptions of Empiricism. Dispensationalism simply borrowed an Enlightenment epistemology and laid it like an iron grid over Scripture. The Pentecostal movement can be seen as the popular after-effects of 19th century transcendentalism, existentialism, and romanticism.
Western Christendom has been in a love-hate relationship with philosophy, particularly since the time of Thomas Aquinas, who sought to reconcile Christianity to an Aristotelian framework and "prove" the truth of the Gospel. Champion to a long line of scholastic theology, Aquinas heralded trends that were to later prove disastrous for Christian orthodoxy.
We are victims of our time. Many innovations to Western Christendom have entered through Evangelicalism. For instance, in the question of the ordination of women, the first example in the history of the Church came in 1853 with the ordination of Antoinette Brown, a student of Charles Finney, in the Congregational Church.
The East, on the other hand, has remained relatively unchanged. The concept of a Reformation, so powerful an image in the West, is largely incomprehensible in the East. Rather than working with legal categories, the East has held to relational ones. Rather than starting with Reason to which the individual must attain, as in the West, the East begins with the Spirit already present within the eternal Church, within which we gather as community and understand the world.
Whereas I had conceived of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as the same beast, the East see Catholics and Protestants as opposite sides of the same coin. The Pope, for them, was the first Protestant. Luther and other reformers objected to the authority of the Pope, so they simply declared everyone to be their own Pope, capable of interpreting and practicing Scripture as they personally saw fit. Faith in the West belongs to the individual, as reflected by an emphasis on the unity of God; faith in the East belongs to the community, stemming from reliance on the threeness of God.
Through my reading and questions I began to see another possibility of looking at the Christian Faith. It personally made more sense and it helped me to deal with many of the discrepancies of the Scriptures, problems that would ordinarily have driven me into liberalism.
Instead of starting with the Bible, as an unchangeable, eternal book, I began to start with Christ. Christ truly came in the flesh. Instead of writing Scriptures, he fulfilled a perfect mission of atonement and trusted his Apostles and the Church, through the power of the Spirit, with the message of the Gospel. These Apostles were truly anointed and chosen by God and, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they delivered an infallible message, a true Tradition. The Scriptures are the authentic core of this Tradition and are infallible by virtue of being from Christ. At the same time, the work of the Apostles, in ruling a united, holy Church, left behind a community that would maintain that Tradition until Christ's return. This Catholic and Orthodox Faith has been passed down in thought, word, and deed for the last nineteen centuries via the Church, and will continue to be so until the New Creation. The Spirit speaks to my heart through the beauty of the mutual embrace of Scripture, Tradition, and the Church, the three locked in a love embrace across time and space.
We cannot claim to be objective or to somehow have the cipher of life figured out on our own. This is an earmark of liberalism and modernism. By pretending to have direct access to the Truth we circumvent the Christian Church as an historical reality and treat the Bible as a textbook, except when inconvenient. This approach affects our worship and the way we treat people outside the Evangelical community.
Many of us embrace the Bible as our starting place and act as if we simply believe the plain words of the Bible, when in reality it is our treatment of the Bible that motivates us. We call for unity on the essentials, as defined by Scripture, but when it comes to our practice, our list of essentials is based, not on Scripture, but on the mutual agreement of those denominations we include in a consensus labelled "Evangelical."
How else could Evangelicals agree on an ironclad list of 66 books, something never determined in early Church history, while doctrines such as baptism and the laying on of hands, called by Scripture "elementary"  are treated as being non-essential? How is it that we are solidly agreed on a legal imputation of Adam's sin to humanity that Christ had to pay to fulfill the justice of God, a concept never made explicit in Scripture, while we are hostile to any single pattern of Church government? Did the Apostles really simultaneously establish episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational Church structures while advancing the legal satisfaction theory of atonement?
It is time for second thoughts. As Evangelicals, we have many good people in our ranks who are simply not satisfied with a Protestant worldview that scotch tapes together theology, the Scriptures, and our postmodern world. Some of our people have lost their faith to secularism. Still others, however, are silent, stewing over the inconsistencies of the Evangelical world, afraid to challenge the powers that be for fear of being seen as a "heretic" or as a Christian with weak faith.
This alternative, which seeks to embrace a heritage rightfully belonging to all Christians, is not without its problems. It is a way to harmonize many of the stories in Scripture and bring them into symphonious dialogue with the history of the Church, our modern world, and all the question marks of what it means to be human. Many of us are tired of the easy and "obvious" answers to life, the universe, and everything, when the reality behind our claims is so often simply not there. Many of us, depending upon our apologetics, feel betrayed when we find evidence that demands a verdict opposite to what we've been told. Unfortunately, some have withdrawn faith in Christ because of this sort of thing.
Meanwhile secularism rapes the world. In this war against materialism, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox have suffered together. How shall the war be won?
Evangelicals excitedly anticipate the year 2000. This target date has caught our imagination not so much as an entry into a new millenium, but as the end of our current projects. Our best plans anticipate the next five years, then evaporate into hopes for a swift rapture. With the writing of triumphal books such as Alistair McGrath's Evangelicalism & the Future of Christianity, we have rarely felt better about ourselves than in this age. All major denominations have spread across all national boundaries. We boast of over 5% of the world's population. We have one of the highest growth rates of any religious group in the world. Who couldn't be excited and optimistic?
In spite of this optimism, it is time for us to begin to wake up to some hard realities. Already a significant number of the leading Evangelical lights are finding their way back into the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. This stream will increase, particularly with the turn of the millenium, when our Evangelical dreams and plans lay uncompleted and subject to the vagrant winds of change. Even then, Evangelical churches will continue to grow, but the definition of Evangelical will be pushed to new limits. Meanwhile, the pilgrimage to ancient Christianity will become stronger, as a new generation prepares to be faithful to Scripture and the Tradition. More and more Evangelicals are beginning to see that the apogee of their faith is really found in a place such as the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The time is right. Now, more than before, Catholic and Orthodox leaders are praying that the zeal for and commitment to Christ that Evangelicals have will be a part of their communion. Beyond the theological issues, there are bishops and priests in each of these communions who genuinely appreciate the Evangelical call to holiness, sanctity, faithfulness, and knowing Christ.
One of the greatest obstacles to this happening is the tendency for many Bible believing Protestants to pour contempt upon ecumenism. I too was taught that this word is dirty. All that it conjured up was pictures of liberals wanting to gouge out the heart of the Christian message for the sake of a superficial unity. Coming together on the basis of the least common denominator has betrayed the Church, not brought it together.
This sentiment is shared by many in the Catholic and Orthodox folds. The vision shaping modern efforts at unity has basically been a liberal Protestant one. And, as a result of this frustration, a new type of ecumenism is being born, driven by a desire not for the least in Christianity, but for the most. Instead of embarrassment at theological differences, this new movement recognizes those differences and assumes that the approach of love is to talk honestly and openly with other Christians, with a heart to be changed and reconciled.
Too often in the past, by means of anti-intellectualism, sectarian pride, or liberal castigation, Evangelicals have cut themselves off from the broader world. They have learned about other Christian traditions only from their own unfair books of apologetics, many of which are out of touch with good scholarship and have perpetuated myths and stereotypes. As the number of Evangelicals returning to the Tradition increases, how will leadership respond? Will they play the propaganda machine and maintain their position on the periphery of Christendom, or will they allow their churches to mature by beginning to open themselves? Ecumenism could be completely redefined by the choice Evangelicals make.
But before we can be this blessing, we Evangelicals must begin to own up to our lack of identity, coherent theology, and realizeable future. We should begin to humble ourselves corporately, not waiting for the year 2000 and the end of our current plans. Without a common repentence and journey back to the Catholic and Orthodox communions we face a future Evangelicalism that could be both a zoo and a museum.
The naive promotion of any author who carries a Bible and speaks the right talk has weakened the Evangelical consensus to the point where a definition of evangelicalism that is not useless is nearly impossible. Our clarity will continue to unfocus and the knee-jerk reactions already underway will simply cause our churches, once on the "cutting edge," to freeze in time and slowly wither.
Imagine the high-tech megachurch complexes currently blossoming. Is it possible that in a century these churches could ring just as hollow as many of Spurgeon's churches do today in London? The faith of the future will not be the rational, capitalist, excited, "explain-all" Christianity we know today in the Evangelical Church. Rather, it will be the ancient Faith, in communion with the Church of all ages and all times.
Kenosis is the Greek word describing how Christ emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant. The Orthodox way is also the kenotic way, maintaining the primitive Christianity ethos that sought the same. Evangelicalism shares many of these virtues, but usually only on the level of the individual. It is time to take down the barrier that prevents us from applying our personal spiritual standards to our structures, our theology, and our worldview. It is time to pursue the kenotic way.
My experience is peculiar. I have been both wounded and healed by the early Church. The mercy offered by them has been most helpful, for it has replaced an eroded confidence in Protestant theology with a Christian walk that is emerging into something more real, authentic, and kenotic.
In the awkward confrontation with my spiritual and intellectual pride I would exchange this pilgrimage for nothing else. It has brought me closer to Christ, the Scriptures, and the Church. The further I go, the fewer easy answers I have to our complex world. There are the same old sinners within Orthodoxy, and yet I find within it the right paradigm with which to view our fallen world.
Unsettling as this is at times, I am learning how to appreciate being a Christian pilgrim. Turbulent my road to Orthodoxy may be, but it is the fulfillment of my Evangelical visions. And the Spirit is calling for more pilgrims.
1. Operation Mobilisation (OM) is probably the most international of Evangelical mission organisations in the world, with 2700 adults working in 65 countries. Their emphasis is to work in Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent, as well as to minister through their two ships, the Doulos and Logos II. Although not known extensively in the U.S. they are well-established and well-known in Evangelical circles in northern Europe, India, and South Korea. Return
2. The Ecclesiastical History and the Apostolic Fathers are the most accessible beginning point to the writings of the Fathers. A number of editions exist; those published by Penguin, under the titles History of the Church and Early Christian Writings, are very good. Return
3. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.9. Return
4. Ibid., 3.23, 28. Return
5. Ibid., 1.7. Return
6. Papias's book was a compilation of sayings of Christ based on the oral tradition extant in the late first and early second century. It was extant until the late middle ages. There are many other references within early Christian writings to books that have long disappeared. Many times we must give the benefit of the doubt to these earlier lights Return
7. John Henry Newman (1801-89), one of the top theological and patristic minds of the nineteenth century, is notable on this subject. He began with an understanding of two types of the miraculous: scriptural and ecclesiastical, the former to be received, the latter, rejected. This position changed with time as he realized the distinction could not be maintained without succumbing to liberalism. In his studies he came to the point where he embraced superstition as an inherent part of a Christian ethos, the rejection of the miraculous and "superstitious" a mark of deism. Biographies of Newman's life, such as Faber's Oxford Apostles, provide invaluable insight into an intellectual and spiritual movement that sought to restore the Anglican Church to the pattern of the primitive Church. Return
8. Protestant accounts of the early Church that have no obvious errors, such as The Spreading Flame, duck aspects of the early Church that would trouble their Evangelical readership. Return
9. Dave Tomlinson, author of The Post Evangelicals, has appropriately said, "If most Evangelicals knew how the canon came together they would probably have kittens." The issues of canonisation are considerably more complex than Josh McDowell or Geisler & Nix would have us believe. An "impartial" look at the historical record might show that our understanding of canon is simply wrong. Return
10. This most difficult subject of baptism is addressed well by a number of Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran books on the subject. It is telling that Evangelical theology on baptism often circumvents the teaching of the Reformers on the subject, many of whom held to a position of baptismal regeneration. Protestant scholarship today, such as found in J. Jeremias's The Central Message of the New Testament, demonstrates that St. Paul's understanding of salvation always included baptism as an implicit element. For an introduction to the early Church's view on baptism, see Tertullian On Baptism, Justin Martyr's First Apology, and the anonymous Epistle of Barnabas. Return
11. Evangelicals may consider this a violation of a principle found in Ecc 1:10. But we should reconsider our use of this passage and the book of Ecclesiastes, which deals with the cycles of nature and the human experience, not with the history of heresy or technology. Return
12. An excellent introduction to early heresies is served by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies. "Gnosticism" is a loose term for a number of very different syncretistic theosophic sects. Return
13. See Philip J. Lee's oustanding critical expose on Gnostic tendencies in American Evangelicalism entitled Against the Protestant Gnostics. Return
14. See Adv Haer 3.1-5 Return
15. See Tertullian's On Prescription Against Heretics. Return
16. For initiation into an early Christian understanding of this essential doctrine, good starting places are "II Clement" and "To Diognetus," and On the Incarnation of the Word of God, by St. Athanasius. The patristic position on salvation is sustained by a multitude of Scriptures most of us tend to explain away when discussing the subject. Irenaeus's book Against Heresies and Origen's Against Celsus are excellent introductions to heretical and philosophical understandings of salvation. Lutheran scholar J. Pelikan, in his Development of Doctrine series (vol. 1), is one of the few Protestants who acknowledge and try to deal with the striking similarities between the Gnostic and Protestant positions on salvation, although I personally believe he dismisses it without adequate explanation. Return
17. Good starting places to understand the Eucharist include the epistles of Ignatius, Justin Martyr's First Apology, and Irenaeus's Against Heresies. The interpretation of what the early Christians may have specifically meant remains disputed, but three basic positions find consonance with the early record: Lutheran (consubsantiation), Catholic (transubstantiation), and Orthodox (similar to Catholic, but with a more mystical approach). The Anglican position is undefined, but would generally be classified with the Lutheran understanding. Return
18. Excellent points of reference with early Christianity in the subject of ecclesiology include Clement of Rome's Epistle to the Corinthians, Ignatius's Epistles, Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew and Cyprian's On the Unity of the Church. The concept of an invisible Church was not to come into Christian thought until the sixteenth century, yet even this was resisted by many Reformers. See, for instance, Frank Cross' Anglicanism, which documents the process of reform in the Anglican Church through the seventeenth century. Irenaeus' Against Heresies, III is an excellent introduction to the subject of Apostolic Succession and its importance to the early Church. While Alistair McGrath (Christian Doctrine) and others may downplay the importance of ecclesiological structure in the early Church, the writings of the Fathers speak otherwise. Return
19. Hippolytus's The Apostolic Tradition and the early liturgies of the Church (v. 8, ANF) are excellent introductions. Return
20. For an excellent summary of early Christian belief on the after-life see the fragment "Against Plato" ascribed to Hippolytus. Return
21. There are many books that thoroughly document the Reformation, or rather reformations. Instead of simply being a homogenous wall of change, there were at least six distinct movements: the counter-reformation (Catholic), humanism (Erasmus), Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anabaptism, and Anglicanism. Each had a distinct approach to the restoration of the Church. An excellent introduction to the English contribution to the Reformation, setting it in the context of the continental reform movements, is found in Stephen O'Neill's Anglicanism. Return
22. An excellent start to Eastern Orthodoxy is found in Bp. Kallistos Ware's The Orthodoxy Way and The Orthodox Church. For a good introduction to the Oriental Orthodox Church, see Adrian Fortescue's The Lesser Eastern Churches or The History of Eastern Christianity by Atiya. Return
23. An excellent introduction to the problems of Scripture in Western and other cultures is found in Nida & Reyburn's Meaning Across Cultures, which is very frank about some of the incongruities. D. Edwards, for his part, states some of these problems well in his dialogue with J. Stott in Evangelical Essentials. Return
24. The letters to the Corinthians are case in point. Is I Cor 7:1 Paul's teaching or the statement of the Church in Corinth? What was the context of Paul's injunction for women to wear headcoverings in I Cor 11, and did Paul mean for it to be binding today? What kind of salvation did Paul have in mind in I Tim 2:15? Return
25. Jude quotes the Book of Enoch (14-15) as an invective against apostates. Whether Enoch was "canonical" in Jude's mind or not is irrelevant. Categories of canonicity were to arise much later in the Church. In his argument Jude appeals to the authority of the words of Enoch, a prophet of Jehovah, and he expects Enoch will persuade his audience. Paul also assumes knowledge of either the pseudipigrapha or Jewish tradition on Timothy's part (2 Tim 3:8) and the author of Hebrews assumes knowledge of the Martyrdom of Isaiah (Heb 11:37). See also Jude 8, a reference to the Assumption of Moses. Return
26. Examples are hard to not imagine. How many sermons have used Rom 16:14 as their text? What about Num 7 & 26, Jos 14-19, and I Chr 1-7? We probably need to re-think our doctrine of Scripture being equally inspired: it is not reflected in our practice. Return
27. The New Testament frequently cites the Old Testament as Christian prophecy when, given the historical context of the Old Testament, the passage is anything but Messianic. For example, Mt 2:15 cites Hos 11:1 as a prophecy that the Messiah would dwelt in Egypt. The context of Hosea, however, revolves around the Exodus and says nothing about Christology. There are many other examples of this, such as Paul's allegorizing of the Old Testament (I Cor 9:9-10; Gal 4:21-31) and Hebrew's lengthy eisogesis of the Melchizedek priesthood (Gen 14:18-20). There are questions of Old Testament text type as well, since the New Testament authors generally prefer the rendering of the Greek Septuagint to the Hebrew. A refreshingly honest, but rather reckless book is Bible scholar James Barr's Escaping Fundamentalism, which includes more examples of this kind. Return
28. This distinction comes out most clearly in the issues of canon and the resurrection of the dead. With the former, they believed it blasphemy to add Scripture to the Torah and their devotion to "Sola Scriptura" would have prevented any of them from even thinking of a "new testament." In the case of the latter, they had a strong case, in that only a handful of Old Testament verses speak about post-mortem resurrection. In fact, the Old Testament is strangely mute on the question of life after death, leaving cries of hope, but no word of assurance comparable to the teachings of Christ. Return
29. The ascribed authorship of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of these four Gospels does not spring from the New Testament text itself, but upon an early tradition traceable no earlier than Irenaeus. Return
30. Dubious books of the New Testament in the early centuries included James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, and Revelation. For an interesting picture of the complexity of the canonicity of a book like Revelation, see Eusebius, Eccl Hist 3.25; 6.25; 7.25. The five easy tests mandated by Geisler & Nix in From God to Us and Josh McDowell's postulation of a patristic, "If in doubt, throw it out," contradict the historical record. Return
31. It is this tendency that caused Newman to label Evangelicals as the party between Apostolicism and Liberalism. Return
32. An introduction to Western philosophy is very helpful to understand the deep relationships between the Church and culture in the West. Return
33. For an excellent assessment of this phenomenon, see S. M. Hutchen's article in Touchstone, "The Unicorn and the Professor," Spring 1995. Return
34. See Michael Harper's Equal and Different, which skillfully argues for the traditional gender models upheld by the Church in a style accessible to both Evangelicals and Catholics. Return
35. See, for instance, Colin Gunton's The One, the Three and the Many and John Zizioulos's Being as Communion. Return
36. Heb 6:2. Return
37. See Fr. Romanides' article, "Original Sin According to St. Paul." The legal satisfaction theory of sin popular amongst Evangelicals was developed and promoted by scholastic theologian Anselm. Return
38. This is why books such as Dave Tomlinson's excellent The Post Evangelicals are being published. There are ways of thinking in our theology that begin with principles promoted by the Enlightenment. Return
May 1996, rev. 2003
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