A History of Christian Thought

A History of Christian Thought by: Justo L. Gonzalez
“Just as the Israelites, when they escaped from Egypt, carried off some of the gods of their oppressors, so the Christians utilized the ideas and intellectual methods of their opponents in fashioning their replies. Broadly speaking, the intellectual concerns of the Christians, although theological rather than philosophical, placed them in the tradition of Greek philosophy, and even those Christians who, like Tertullian, decried the use of pagan learning , nevertheless in the acuteness of their reasoning were heirs of the classical heritage. But there was also a background in Judaism for intellectual pursuits. The synagogue was unique in the ancient world, a church without an altar, only a desk for the reading of the Law. And after the reading came the exposition, for the Law was to be interpreted. The desk in the synagogue was the lectern of a professor as well as the pulpit of a prophet. The rabbi was both. Significantly the first churches were modeled after the synagogue.” (14)
“The incarnation of God in the man Jesus involved another affinity of Christianity with Judaism and a divergence from the Hellenic approach to religion, because Judaism and Christianity see the primary self-disclosure of God to man in the events of history. The Eternal breaks into time. This is supremely the case with the incarnation, itself an event in time… The Word became flesh at a point in time. Therefore, Christianity must always be historically oriented. This also means that God in Christ was disclosing himself to man. This is revelation.” (15)
“This is essentially true of the Stoic and Aristotelian approaches and largely also in the case of the Platonic, where, form the shadows that he sees, man infers the realities that he does not see. In such a case, revelation, if such it can be called, proceeds from the ground up. It is not a deposit, but the object of a quest…. There need be no anchorage in the past, and there is nothing once and for all delivered.” (15)
This last sentence reminds me of the attitude among most of the Evangelical, and especially Pentecostal, Christians I know. The knowledge of history among most in the Church is atrocious. Historical ignorance is an American phenomena, so this characteristic isn’t something particular to the American Church. All the while many religious-right political leaders like to harken back to different periods in history to justify their political stands or their theological dictates, their use of history is often so selective as to render their pronouncements null and void. Of course, we find liberals doing the very same thing. Yet, if we are to be a church, a people, rooted in the historic understandings so to better understand the place of faith in our own time, we need to be well versed in history.
This seems to be such a common sense notion, but it is lost on most of us. Especially within Pentecostalism, where the idea of God doing new things through the Holy Spirit is so engrained that every whim of excess can quickly sweep through whole denominations and church-groups. It is a pop-theology, a pop-expression of Church, and the very thing we want – the one and forever Truth – can be quickly lost in the urgent and the now. If God truly is the same yesterday, today, and forever, world without end, then the one and forever Truth is there to discern and understand, but we have to be open to understand, even if the understanding completely upturns our clenched current beliefs. As Father Wright writes, “If one is to avoid becoming a mere prisoner of present perspective, then one must transcend the conventional wisdom of the immediate past, avoid the tyranny of the ‘tract-rack’ theology, for the past must be surveyed before it can be surmounted.” and “Participation in the future by interpretation of the past.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.