Eight Reasons to Read Church History

Guest post by Mark Rogers

I often tell people that I majored in history in college because I like stories. I still like stories, but I have pursued an ongoing study of church history because I think it makes me a better Christian and a better pastor. Here are some reasons I think you should read church history, too.

1. Theological

Millard Erickson is right: “History is theology’s laboratory, in which it can assess the ideas that it espouses or considers espousing” (Christian Theology, 28). Church history shows us our theological blind spots, reminds us of crucial topics our era ignores, provides confessional guardrails, and gives us the writings of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards—among others.

2. Inspirational

If you are like me, ministry is often hard work and the fruit sometimes seems slow-growing. Reading stories of God’s work in revivals and awakenings stretches my faith and rouses me to pray bigger prayers. Also, reading about the fruits of long-term, faithful preaching and prayer helps keep me steadfast.

3. Ecclesiological

Pragmatic approaches to “doing church” are so common today that one might think that this is the way it has always been. Reading the Reformers, the Puritans, and others reveals that they asked more than just, “What works?”  They thought the Bible teaches what the church is and what it should do.  Historical discussions of the nature and marks of a true church challenge the way we think about the church in a way the latest church-growth manual simply cannot.

4. Missiological

We tend to be locally minded and even ethnocentric. Most of us envision a ministry in a place like the one we grew up in among a people that look like us. Learning what God has done to spread the gospel over the past 2,000 years helps broaden our vision.

5. Hermeneutical

Christians have not been using the same hermeneutics book for the past 2,000 years. We are now able to see some of the interpretive errors of earlier eras (for example, over-allegorizing), and we can try to avoid some of their pitfalls. However, we sometimes forget that our present cultural and intellectual context likely shapes our own biblical interpretation in unhelpful ways. Commentaries and sermons from other eras help reveal some of the errors in our own methods of interpreting God’s word.

6. Reformational

Jesus tells the church in Ephesus, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Rev 2:5). The problem is that we often don’t “remember.” We don’t realize we have fallen because we never look back to a time when the church was more faithful in certain ways. Church history can help us realize our need for reform and call us back to faithfulness.

7. Correctional

Studying church history shows us how small deviations from biblical truth play out over time. It is helpful to know if you or someone in your church is holding a deviant or unbalanced doctrine before it infects your entire theology. Church history is one tool that will help you do so.

8. Doxological

The sheer fact of believers across centuries and continents worshiping God reminds us that our Lord is over all and everywhere. A poem scratched out by a persecuted Christian in prison or the testimony of a missionary’s communion with Christ as he faced imminent martyrdom or the story of whole peoples in Burma coming to Christ all point to the God who alone can satisfy every human heart.

9Marks Workshop in NYC

Guest post by Matthew Hoskinson

Next week 9Marks Ministries is hosting a two-day workshop on church health. The host is Gallery Church, which meets on the fifth floor of 1160 Broadway (on the northeast corner of 27th).

Leading the speakers’ list is Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and author of numerous philosophy of ministry resources like 9 Marks of a Health Church, The Deliberate Church, and Polity. Other speakers include Jeramie Rinne, Garrett Kell, and Shai Linne.

The event begins tomorrow evening and runs through the day Thursday. The cost is just $45 and includes breakfast and lunch Thursday.

If you live in or near the city, I encourage you to attend. The sessions will help you as you consider the place of the local church in your life and growth in Christ.

For more information and to register for the event, check out the workshop’s webpage and the video below:

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Update. Online registration is now closed. You can still register at the door.

Two Kinds of Preaching

Guest post by Mark Rogers

Parsons Cooke:

There are two ways of handling divine truth. The one uses it as a mere subject of discourse, the mere theme of a beautiful and splendid oration, the mere block of marble on which the sculptor displays his art. The other uses it as a sharp threshing instrument having teeth, to produce the broken and contrite heart. Let one propose to himself the true end of preaching — not the charming of his hearers by the beauty of his discourses, not the convincing of them that he is a splendid preacher, but the awakening in their minds of views and feelings answering to the truths which he utters; then let him employ whatever arts of eloquence, whatever powers of persuasion, whatever resources of learning, whatever impulses of genius, may pertain to him, to secure this single end. Then his splendid gifts, if he has them, assume a new lustre from the heavenly spirit and aim of their application. In such preaching, the wisdom of God and the power of God come forth. Such a ministry is in the highest degree eloquent, speaking as of the ability which God giveth, that God in all things may be glorified. – Recollections of Rev. E.D. Griffin, or, Incidents Illustrating His Character, 141.

Edward Dorr Griffin:

Let your chief attention be directed to your style and address, and the soul of your conversation has evaporated. Let your attention be engrossed by your subject or by an earnest desire to impart instruction or pleasure to those around you, and you are a different man….

The operation which takes place in a Christian church by the power of truth and the divine Spirit, is wholly different from that which took place in a Roman forum by the influence of Cicero’s elequence…. Pelagians may do the same in the pulpit: but Calvinists know that here the victory is to be won, ‘not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord'; and they rely on the energy of truth in the hands of the Spirit to produce, not natural and transient effects, but supernatural and permanent transformations of heart and life.  – “A Sermon on the Art of Preaching,: Delivered Before the Pastoral Association of Massachusetts, in Boston, May 25, 1825,” (Boston, T. R. Marvin, 1825), 6-7.

Two Guest Bloggers

Two guest bloggers have graciously agreed to contribute here this week:

1. Matthew Hoskinson

Matthew (PhD in theology, Bob Jones University) is pastor of the First Baptist Church in the City of New York. He and his wife, Kimberly, live in Manhattan with their four daughters (and #5 in the womb).

Matthew, whom I’ve mentioned on my blog numerous times, recently survived cancer and was one of my accountability partners. We became friends while taking seminary classes together.

He’s a gifted preacher, and he can write, too. He occasionally blogs at Debtor to Grace.

And he has guts: earlier this month he wore a Detroit Tigers hat and jersey to Yankee Stadium for a playoff game!


2. Mark Rogers

Mark (PhD candidate in historical theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is on the pastoral team at CrossWay Community Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Stephanie, live in Gurnee, Illinois, with their three daughters.

We became friends while our families lived on campus at TEDS and were members of CrossWay. We worked together for a while when Mark served as D. A. Carson’s administrative assistant. Mark grew up as a son of a Baptist pastor, and he earned his MDiv from Southern Seminary.

He’s writing his dissertation on “Edward Dorr Griffin and the Edwardsian Second Great Awakening” and hopes to graduate in May 2012. His responsibilities at CrossWay include their pastoral training program, newcomers, and young adult ministry. And he’s a good preacher, too.

And Mark didn’t hesitate to wear his San Fransisco Giants gear at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas last year for game 5 of the World Series (when the Giants won the series)!

I thank God for Matthew and Mark (and Luke and John, too). They’re mature, humble, gifted guys whom God has significantly used to help me love him and my family better, and I’m honored that they agreed to contribute a few blog posts while I’m off-line this week.

Is C. S. Lewis the Patron Saint of American Evangelicalism?

Phil Ryken, president of Wheaton College, makes that argument in this essay:

Philip Graham Ryken. “Lewis as the Patron Saint of American Evangelicalism.” Pages 174–85 in C. S. Lewis and the Church: Essays in Honour of Walter Hooper. Edited by Judith Wolfe and Brendan N. Wolfe. London: T&T Clark, 2011.

Ryken first presented this talk to the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society in 1995. The essay also appears in Beyond Aslan (2006), which you can read online via Google Books (pp. 69–81).

Ryken opens by quoting A. N. Wilson:

‘At Wheaton College in Illinois,’ he said, ‘where they are rather stupid fundamentalists, they have made C. S. Lewis into a god. They think he gives intellectual support for all their prejudices.’ (p. 174)

Ryken gives several reasons that Lewis is so popular among American evangelicals:

  1. Britishness. “Lewis evokes for Americans all the sophistication and quaintness of England” (p. 175). His “peerless academic credentials” help give evangelicals “a sense of intellectual credibility” (p. 176). [Read more…]

A Good Bible-Story Book with Thousands of Pictures

I recently finished reading all 215 stories in this book to my three-year-old daughter:

Doug Mauss, ed. The Action Bible: God’s Redemptive Story Illustrated by Sergio Cariello. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook, 2010. 748 pp. Audiobook, 10.2-hours.

Thoughts:

  1. I was skeptical at first how a comic-book approach like this would work, but the book responsibly presents the Bible’s storyline chronologically. It’s divided into 215 short stories spanning Genesis to Revelation.
  2. It’s attention-grabbing and attention-keeping. My daughter loves it! She daily asked me, “Daddy, would you please read God’s Redemptive Story to me tonight?!” And after each story ended, she would immediately ask, “Would you read another one?!” She was riveted to the pages as we worked our way through the Bible’s storyline. I’d estimate that it took us about 15–20 hours to read together, and she enjoyed every minute of it. [Read more…]