Posts Tagged With: augustine

Paul in Context

So this Friday I will speaking with a local church here in Mexico about the book of Romans. Their are Two primary things I wish to accomplish with only one session. Those two primary things deal with context. Paul’s World that he engages with, and Paul’s own unique way of thinking and relating to that world.

In summary, Paul’s contextual world has to do with political social aspects of the Romans world, philosophical and religious aspects of the Greek-Roman World, and Paul’s specifically Jewish world. Paul is living in a world shaped by Greek thinking and religion, Roman power and culture, and Jewish lifestyle. Since the Apostle Paul is often hard to understand it is necessary for someone eager to actually have some sound answers about the things he says to make sure they understand the world in which Paul lived.

That said, part two of the contextualizing of Paul needs to do with what theological categories Paul actually used as a Jewish thinker who, -by the way, recently embraced Jesus of Nazareth as God himself. But lets not get to far ahead of ourselves. Back to “Theological Categories”. The reason I believe this is an important precursor for studying the book of Romans is that for a long time scholars have placed upon Paul categories that he himself could not have been entirely committed to. Its not that Paul did not speak about sin, justification, sanctification, sovereignty, free will, predestination and so on. In fact most those words are in the book of Romans. But what has happened is that people have pressed on Paul their own systematic theologies, forcing Paul to agree with his interpreters. These theological categories hinder ongoing sound exegesis. It limits people to the terms and categories established by previous interpreters. That said, these categories I believe were developed by the greats like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and so on. They should not be completely thrown out. But do they function as a way of understanding what categories (if any) Paul had.

If Paul had “theological” categories then they would have been more Jewish that ecclesiastical. So then, in summary of Paul theological categories as a Jew would have something like, Monotheism, Election, and Eschatology. Paul is not a thinker with clearly defined categories so we need to be careful how we might put his thinking into neat little boxes. He was Jewish, ancient Hebrew thinking is more fluid and story based. But Paul was also a Greek thinker and a master of logic and rhetoric. Hebrew thinkers like Paul were committed to the concept of a single God, a single people of God, and of a particular future in which the one God would liberate the specifically Jewish people, and the world would take notice. Was this how Paul thought? In what ways did Paul’s thought deviate from that?

This is something I have already gone in to detail about in previous posts. Yet again, I find it one of the most useful ways of interpreting Paul. If for no other reason than that a plane reading of Paul confuses many, and that even some of what has been said about Paul by great scholars has seemed to miss some of these more contextual elements.

JewnRomeRomans also comes into a better light when we understand the Roman Political world. The feelings of other Jews in Paul’s day and the anticipation of their own reestablishment. Much of what Jews thought about the world around them is shared by Paul, and yet the day has already come for Paul who believes that Jesus was Gods agent bringing a new day, an end to the exile, and a better hope for the whole world. The world was taking notice in what God did in Jerusalem through Jesus the Messiah. Paul is sad because for many Jews this day has come unrecognized. That his fellow kinsman were blind or deaf to what had occurred in Jesus the Messiah had greatly distressed Paul.

Beyond these main points of contextualization are further areas of context for the occasion of the church in Rome. This I will not divulge at the moment.

Paul’s World: 1) Greek Philosophy and Religion. 2)  Roman Politics. 3) Jewish Culture

Paul’s Theology: 1) Monotheism 2) Election 3) Eschatology

Categories: Bible, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Medieval Man – Modern Man – Post-Modern Man

clovis_baptizmThe Medieval Man had God and Religion at the center of all things. Kings were baptized and whole kingdoms across Europe   became Christian before the individuals that make up that Kingdom ever heard the gospel of Christ. On the surface this is neither encouraging or something to boast about as a Christian. But what does the gesture imply for the future of that nation. Again, your answer may be that the implications lend toward a Christian culture in name while remain ignorant to what God has done and desires to do in the world through the church. This may be true as well. Wow! I’m really digging myself a hole here. 🙂 However disastrous we may think these types of things to be that happened throughout the middles ages they do say something of the place of God and religion in a culture. And that is to say that God and Religion were right at the forefront of things. Kings and other rulers were baptized and whole kingdoms “became” Christian. Over time this had an extraordinary effect. At some point individuals hearing the gospel caught up a little bit and the presence of Popes, local Bishops, perish priests, and enclaves of hermits and monks brought something of the essence of real Christianity to Europe. Though not thoroughly and as we might wish. And from an early time God and Religion were understood to be essential to the life and culture of the West. Though I am dealing primarily with the West there was a similar emphasis with Christians in the East and in Africa. Placing God at the center had an extraordinary effect. Great advances in technology and science culminated around the 1400-1500’s to spark the Scientific Revolution with great contributions coming from Roman Catholics and Protestants across Europe, from some Persians in the East, and a handful of Africans. It was however primary an endeavor of European Christians. In other words the scientific revolution was an outgrowth not of recovered Greek learning but of Christian doctrine. There is so much upheaval then taking place at this point in history. The protestant reformations, the secular revolutions, and the so called enlightenment. I believe the enlightenment term to be useful in explaining that what many experienced as a result of reformations, and revolutions, was that having God and religion at the center no longer seemed valid.  Philosophers such as Edward Gibbon, Voltaire, and Rousseau to name a few were a large reason for the violent dismantling of matters of faith from matters of real life and philosophy. It is by understanding the work of enlightenment figures and their influence that we can approach the Modern era clear headed about the nature of it. Of course I believe it helps to have a realistic honest look at the Middle Ages if we want to look critically at these “Enlightenment” figures and what the propose to be true about life and faith.

The Modern man is now a man who has removed God from the center. He may not have removed God completely but like many of those original figures mentioned above, God was banished to the clouds. He no longer belonged anywhere near thisPSM_V21_D154_Charles_Darwin reality and what we mean we speak about reality in the universe. It has been throughout this Modern era that man removed God from Science. Once you arrive at the current time, science has become something seemingly incompatible with God and matters of faith. This took place over a period of time. Two great leaps forward from God happened with the enlightenment figures of 1600-1700 and with one particular individual during the mid 1800’s, Charles Darwin. The first leap was to place God off in the distant, and the second leap to banish God completely from reality. Before the turn of Darwin’s century a man by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche said that “God is Dead” and in the coming century men would no longer speak of him. So confident men became in a Science that is free from God and religious talk that eventually we make our way to the horrors of the 20th century. It is only here in the first 50 years of the 20th century that man begins to have sensible doubt regarding the unchecked positivism in human endeavors. But what could one do with God out of the picture, and now man out of the picture? Where can we turn. For Americans at least there was turning back to God, and a putting your hand to the work of rebuilding your life with God and family at the center. But another war dragged on stirring up doubt and mistrust in “the man” at the center. Young people sought an escape, sought a revolution, clung to ideologies, experimented with drugs, sex, thrills, and rock n’ roll.

The Modern man is now a Post-modern man. Uncertain of anything he tries everything and hesitantly agrees with everyone unless someone believes in absolute claims about truth, meaning, morality, origins, and destination. Man is no longer certain 7051-33about placing any one thing at the center. So he places many things at the center and is unsure what he believes and why, and where it is taking him. If he is sure of anything it is that he can not be sure of anything, that he is broken, frustrated, confused. Yet he constantly seeks validation and does not wish to be corrected. He is looking for someone who will agree with him and feels obligated to agree with everyone else. Unsure of what is up and what is down the post-modern man is tempted simply to take a step back, to place himself, his endeavors, and his own gain at the center of everything. What you then have is a post-modern man being reborn as a Modern drone-man without a soul. A man who hesitantly placed something specific in the center only for the sake of getting on with life. Even though he embraced some of the ideals of the modern life he is still a post-modern man. The original Modern man still had God in view and could not completely push him out. It is these lifeless zombies of post-modernism that lack God and eventually hopelessly leap into the dark for meaning.

Conclusion: Post-Modern youth have grown up and eventually and hesitantly re-embraced the modern ideal. If you want to have a job and get on in life then you need to re-embrace those ideals. But again, that does not make you modern. There is a real transition we have undergone. The answer to understanding post-modern man actually lies in our knowledge of Modern man, and the Medieval man. If your are a christian trying to learn to communicate you need to be able to paint the picture as I have. To see the ways in which the church engaged and came under the influence of each era and to what degree did Christians resist and maintain a biblical worldview and way of looking at reality. In other words though the Middles ages were rife with problems, corruptions, and tares among the wheat, it was a time in which God was placed at the center. Men like Martin Luther saw the corruption and error of the time piling up to something intolerable and sought to preserve the centrality of God, scripture, and faith at the center. It was the middle ages that gave us men like Luther, Augustine, and Francis of Assisi. Though God may be given a high place in culture it takes the work of devoted men and women of God to make that a lasting thing with depth. Without such men, their is such a high level of hypocrisy that people will get tired of it and seek to remove religious folk and their ‘god’ along with them from the center place. I’m crazy enough to believe that good people seeking to place God at the center and not man or even the church in the center will bring about a great healing. God at the center is the answer. I’m not advocating that we need a replica of the Medieval Christian world, what I am really aiming at is the principle at play in that era which culminated in more freedom, more churches, more education, more science, more human potential, and more progress. That the idea of human progress can not sustain itself without God, without morality, without meaning, without truth, without origins and destination.

For more on the middles ages. A personal favorite area of research and study for me check out these posts.

The Myth of the Dark Ages

Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 1

Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 2

“Enlightenment” Myth

Reformation Rethought

Reńe Descartes: Foundations for Modern Science

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Modern, Post-Modern, Science | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reformations Rethought: Part 1

Intro: When Did the Reformations Start? Jan_Hus_2

Wikipedia gives the most common start date for the Protestant Reformations in the early 16th Century. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions gives the same date. Wikipedia also identifies this as the schism that took place rather then an actual reformation of the church.

I want to take a look at the nature of what we call the reformations. Every October Lutherans around the world celebrate Reformation Sunday to commemorate the events of Martin Luther and other figures of the German reformation. However, this is a narrow view of the reformations. Our understanding of the reformations as something to do with Luther and the German church is obviously not hitting the whole church. There was an English Reformation, there was Calvin, Luther contemporary working to bring reform to France. There was the Bohemian Reformations initiated by the Czech Jan Hus. Only recently, and you can see it in the timeline on the Wikipedia page, that historians have begun to trace the beginning of the reformations to the 11th century.

The main body of this post will be to discuss the reformation spirit seen even earlier then 16th or 11th century. But generally it is a way of referring to the actual schisms that took place in the life of Martin Luther.

Generally speaking, most people are aware that Acts highlights the growth of the organic move of the spirit, and the work of the apostolic community. But were did the real trouble with the church begin. Before jumping to the time of Constantine i think it is important to remember what Jesus said about wheat and tares. Jesus knew that even in the Old Testament community of faith, there were those among the faithful who sought there own good and were not concerned with being the people of God. The early church, though it was a time of ‘organic’ growth, was a time when Judaizers sought to distort the message, Greek pagans, and Christian Gnostic attempted, and often succeeded in weakening the witness of the church.

It is obvious to me but not everyone, that ‘reformation’ may have been needed as early as the apostolic times. If we look at the nature of some of Paul’s letters it would seem that some churches, though young, encountered great error that needed to be addressed and people brought back to the truth. I think were the trouble lies later for the church is who has the authority to speak into the error within the church. Constantine, and the institutionalizing of the church has its pros and cons. I want to consider both when moving forward. But remember things were not perfect before the institution.

Constantine: Church gets Institutional con

To many various claims have been made about Constantine. That he was a blessing to the church because he helped it to triumph other religions and become the world religion it is today. Or that it was a curse to Christianity because it gave the church a sword. These two perspectives are a bit off though.

The triumph of Christianity was already in effect taking place leading up to the time of Constantine. If anything he weakened the expansion of the organic growth by supporting it. But there are some misconceptions here. Constantine did not make a Christianity a monopoly religion of the empire. He did not persecute pagans, many consider him to still be a pagan, and his conversion to Christianity fake. Some make an opposite argument. But in truth he simply ended the persecution of Christianity, sought the blessing of the Christian God in battle, and in time transferred some of the wealth of the state temples to the church. This weakened Christianity, because as Christ said, wheat and tares, there was not more of a reason for tares to come into the church. Also Christian bishops became friends, and influential parts of the Roman empire. The Capital of the Roman empire also became a capital for church policy and doctrine. Thought previous centers in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesus, maintained their influence.

Constantine did work within the church to protect its unity with the sword, at times fighting off the heretics of the time. There is a bit that can be critiqued in the life of Constantine. Much is up for debate. One of the earliest issues within the church was that it became a place of power and influence. Simony, the buying and selling of offices within the church became a play at power for and were filled by sons of the aristocracy. The high office of Pope had its price along with the lowly parishes.  Clerical families took up residence in the high office. Pope Innocent I (401-417) Succeeded his father Pope Anastasius (399-401). This is the earliest example and the latest was 1044. This was far from regular but there are a handful of examples.

This gets me on then to the body of this post. Now that we have reached a somewhat institutional church as opposed to the early grassroots move of the church. What was the nature of the church? When did the reformations begin? Where there successful reforms? Was the church from Constantine to Luther corrupt, hiding scriptures, ignorant, and committed to all the wrong things?

Two Churches: From Constantine to Luther

I believe that this is a very unknown era of history for most Protestant Christians because when being told the story of the church people like to go to the beginning. For Protestants the beginning is often the reformations. Or maybe Acts. But usually not what happens in between. As a protestant young person, I’ve been grown disturbed at not having been adequately acclimated to this long era of Christian history. Not to mentioned it has polarized my faith from that of your average Roman Catholic. Though I remain protestant, some Sunday mornings I would just as soon attend a good Catholic church as I would a charismatic pentecostal church. And I say that not as a slant against either. I find that there are wonderful traditions in the Catholic church just as there are a few I do not appreciate. I also enjoy the emotional stirring of a pentecostal atmosphere from time to time. But it really is not about preference, I’m simply stating what my preferences are from week to week. So while I will remain protestant I will not bash Catholics. In fact I may be caught more often sympathizing with their beliefs and traditions save one or two.

I feel the need to do this sympathizing because there history is my history. Not to mention many of the Catholic traditions have in fact been carried over into Protestantism and it is wrong to claim them as solely protestant. So there is a large heritage protestants enjoy built up by those who’s loyalty to God, and the catholic church will be observed a bit here in this post.

However, when I refer to Catholic I am not using the word as a synecdoche. Catholic includes both the church of power, and the church of piety. Or the high church and the low church. These terms indicate that from a very early time in the history of the ‘institutional’ church that there was a difference in the part of the church concerned with power and those concerned with being the people of God. The early monastic movements as opposed to those buying office and playing politics. These are the two churches of the history from Constantine to Luther. If Luther and other reformers were not successful they would appear likely as another monastic movement within the Catholic church. Or had they been truly successful to reform rather than form a new sect then the catholic church would have remained in place. We may still have a Pope, although a very different version of what the Pope was and is and the authority he holds.

What we are then to be looking for is how much like the true church of Acts was the the two churches of the medieval era? ( also quick disclaimer, the two churches might bring to mind the eastern orthodox church. However, I will not be strongly including it because my knowledge is still limited as to what went on and why, within the Orthodox church.) So we will be looking at the church of Power, its corruption and some of the bright spots. Also we should be considering the reformation work of the monastic communities all throughout this era.

How the Church was the Church and how it was not

It is interesting to remember that the monastic movement was institutional just as the high church of power was an institution. Though many devotees went of in search of solitude and silence, ther reputations grew and soon man more would flock to learn from these hermits. The need grew for organization, rules, and establishments to be provided for many seeking to follow in the footsteps of influential monks. Francisco_de_Zurbarán_040

This is essentially the story of Pope Gregory the Great who was the first monk to ascend the papal throne. He began by seeking the kind of life that the great monastic founder St. Benedict. Upon his becoming Pope he fought endlessly for reform, he sought to reform the churches corruption of offices bought by wealthy families. He also reformed the monastic communities according to the Benedictine Order. He wrote a book on what being a Pope was to be about. For this early Pope, Gregory saw his role as a pastor over the whole church rather then the master of the flock. He understood his role as a servant to the church. After Gregory’s death the roman clergy quickly replaced monks with secular clergy. The church was still a tool for politics. Perhaps exactly what Constantine did, or something that came as a result of his influence given to the church.

He is an example of a number of men who rose to the high church even when this was not easy to do because of corruption and typically needing to buy your way into those positions.

But the traditions that had begun in the deserts of Egypt with monastic communities is a better way to trace the church being the church. Though its not completely one sided. There were two natures of the church during this era that I think are important to maintain. Monastics had a sincere approach and love for God. The High church was committed to public life, sometime to much, and sometimes compromising as I have mentioned.

It is helpful to think of the churches influence not in such drastic terms. The church did not consist of only Popes and Monks. The in-between is the job of the Bishop. When monks had spent time in meditation, discipline, scripture, education, they would then be elected to serve as Bishop. Many did so unwillingly because they preferred the life of a scholar and hermit. When examples came along who served faithfully as Bishop, and also enjoyed scholarly life then you had someone special. But scholastic monks had a great value even before becoming well known Bishops. Saint_Anthony_The_Great

The earliest well known hermit was Anthony the Great (251-356). His life inspired many to pursue the monastic life.  His most influential follower was Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (354-440). Augustine’s influence is well known. His work as a scholar has likely been the most influential of all scholars. Calvin’s commentaries are like holding a mirror to the work of Augustine. Not only was his work influential for theology but he developed a model for education and modeled a wider education for what would become the Cathedral Universities of the Middle Ages. Not only did monastic communities make way for an educational system, but also for better economic systems.

These are just a few key examples of the movements started. A movement for the reform of both high and low churches had begun with Anthony in the 3rd century (the same time Constantine helped shift wealth and power to the church).  A monastic way of life became what many sought who wanted a sincere approach the service of God. Among the monastics developed an entire educational system for reading, writing, scripture and other important works. The Scholastic movement was an option, men like Augustine lead way in this. And then there was men who dared as Gregory I did to reform the church of power, to fight against Simony, Adultery, and the lies of the high church clergy.


Perhaps Ive done more to open up a can of worms here then anything else. However, I think there are a couple of main conclusions. That there are obvious characters throughout what some call a “dark ages” who’s aim was to bring the light of reform long before men like Martin Luther. Luther, well known for his challenge of Papal authority and his educational reforms had many who came before him. Pope Gregory, and Augustine both sought and achieved these kinds of reform but compromise and corruption persisted. Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå

The Sequel to this post will be to include what character’s, and events of the 10th century until Martin Luther hold. Protestants owe more to their Catholic, Monastic, roots then they realize. In order to continue to see our own needed reforms we need to understand our past and try to implement what we can from a true biblical worldview. We are not attempting as in a revolution to break off from the past and forget any of the lessons we could be learning from.

Knowing History is a precursor for Reformation.

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Culture, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Orthodox, Society/Culture, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Blog at