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December 18, 2009 / Don Sanders

Why Study Church History? part 8

The study of church history deepens our appreciation of the Bible.

            Unaware of the history of the Bible (in particular the English Bible), many Christians either give the history of the Bible little or no thought or believe that God just miraculously dropped their NIV Study Bible down from heaven.  However, spending some time studying the history and development of the Hebrew and Greek text, as well as the English Bible, can do nothing but deepen our appreciation of God’s Word.  Many people devoted their lives to the preservation, translating, copying, and distribution of the Bible.  Some were lauded as scholars (Erasmus) while others were imprisoned as outlaws (William Tyndale).  Without their dedication and sacrifice, though, we would not have the luxury of a readily available Bible in our own language.

December 17, 2009 / Don Sanders

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I’ve found that anyone who has read a Donald Miller book falls into two camps: either you love his books or you’re just “eeeehhhh, he’s just alright.”  I definitely fall into the latter category.  My previous experience in his work was the gazillion seller Blue Like Jazz.

In his latest book, Miller does what he does best…tell stories.  It’s different now, though.  This book is a story about telling stories.  He recounts how his life changes after meeting two people who want to make Blue Like Jazz into a movie.  Through the process, he learns about the elements that make up an interesting movie and story.  He then realizes that a person’s life should contain the same elements, which should produce an interesting life worth living.  Along the way of this life transformation, he meets incredibly interesting people, becomes engaged and breaks up, begins a mentoring program, and rides his bike across the country to raise money for clean water in Africa.

Some of the things that I really liked in Blue Like Jazz are still present.  Miller has a knack for making your care about him and his life through personal transparency and getting to know the people he runs with.  He has no problem revealing the good and bad sides of himself.

Also, many of the things that I didn’t like in Blue Like Jazz are still present as well.  His writing style is short, clipped, and very unsophisticated.  At times I feel like I’m reading a book written for 6th graders.  Also, it just really bugs and annoys me that he makes so many references to drinking and smoking.  I realize that my personal views on those habits differ from many (like I don’t see any redeeming value in either), but I just get the feeling that he wants to be the new Brennan Manning by showing the world that he loves to smoke and drink.

Here’s the rub of the book for me, though.  I totally get the concept of making our lives a story worth telling–and I’m in agreement with that.  The whole time, though, I kept thinking, “you’re having all these amazing personal experiences that are completely atypical of anyone else.”  He jet sets all over the county, hikes the mountains of Peru, paddles all over the Pacific, and tears across the country for seven weeks on a bike.  He wants to encourage all of us to make our lives adventurous, but so few people are capable of doing anything remotely like anything in the book.  His life is a great story because he’s got the money, time, and connections to do those wild things.  I just wonder if he could have written this book as a single mother with little money and no prospects of going on an adventure.

For those who have read the book, I know what you’re going to say.  “His point isn’t to be like him, his point is to live a great story whever your are in whatever life you’re in.”  I believe he thinks that.  The reality though, is that people who live typical lives (spouses, payments, regular jobs, etc.) can’t identify with the idea.  I’ll never take off to Peru just to hike, so my life can’t be anything like the book.

In the end my evaluation is this…while the concept is there, the application isn’t.  Miller spends a lot of time chastizing us for wanting to find fulfillment in life through things, products, etc.  In the end, I felt like this book was just another infomercial that he makes fun of.  “If you live by the principles in my book, you’ll have a much more exciting life.”

If you’re a Miller fan, you’ll love this book.  If you’re an ambivolent Miller reader, then this book will just confirm the opinion you already had.

December 16, 2009 / Don Sanders

Why Study Church History? part 7

The study of church history provides perspective on how to handle conflict.

            As long as people are in the church, they will engage in conflict.  Throughout the centuries, the church has experienced conflict and dissension from within and without.  Whether it be literal enemies at the gate (like the advancing hordes on Rome or the Muslim invaders) or subtle ideological attacks (like the Gnostics or cults), the church will always deal with conflict. 

            What is the best way to handle these conflicts?  We can look to our past for help and direction.  The history of the church is replete with good and bad examples of how to handle conflict.  We can learn from Martin Luther, Augustine, and John Calvin and how they handled situations in their day.  We don’t have to look that far back either.  How did the church handle the challenges of modernism the previous century?  The answers to these questions can certainly provide help as the church faces new enemies from within and without.

December 14, 2009 / Don Sanders

Why Study Church History? part 6

The study of church history illuminates how the world came to be as it is today.

            In the summer of 2007 I spent two weeks touring Israel and the West Bank.  We spent three days in the city of Jerusalem and it was absolutely amazing.  Two things permeated that ancient city.  First, there were remnants of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam everywhere.  From the Temple Mount, to the Dome of the Rock, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, constant reminders of past occupation and domination stand at every turn.  Second, there were just as many people from each of these faiths throughout the land.  How did Israel become place with such deep seeded animosity and hostility?  The answer, of course, lies in the study of church history.

            Touch your finger to nearly any place on a globe and the story of the influence of the church will explain the current culture.  Why are there so many abandoned cathedrals in England?  Why is there a church on every corner in much of the US?  What is the source of conflict between Northern Ireland and Ireland?  Knowing the history of the church is the key to understanding the world as it is today.

December 12, 2009 / Don Sanders

Why Study Church History? part 5

The study of church history reveals “new” heresy as repackaged “old” heresy.

            When Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code swept the country a few years ago, many Christians were paralyzed with fear about the claims made in the book regarding the origins of the Bible, the development of the church, and the divinity of Jesus.  If they would have had even a limited knowledge of church history, they would have had little reason to be afraid of anything contained in any of Dan Brown’s books.  Many groups or individuals today introduce “new” ideas about the Bible, the church, or Jesus that catch many by surprise.  These “new” ideas are many times theories, controversies, and heresies that the church dealt with hundreds of years ago.  Whether it be “new discoveries” about the origins of the Bible or “insider knowledge” about Jesus, these ideas turn out to be just repackaged Gnosticism or some other form of ancient heresy.

December 10, 2009 / Don Sanders

Why Study Church History? part 4

The study of church history inspires us with the testimonies, examples, and writings of those disciples who have gone before us.

            Hebrews 12:1 speaks of the “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds Christians and encourages us.  We usually (and correctly) assume this to mean the great men and women of faith who lived in Old Testament times and are listed in the previous chapter.  However, I think that this “great cloud of witnesses” certainly extents to the men and women who have lived by faith during the church age.  These men and women can serve can inspire us as we live for Christ as well.  We have the courage of Martin Luther and William Tyndale.  We see the devotion of Augustine and Thomas a Kempis.  We are inspired by the preaching of George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon.  This list can go on and on, but the truth is that just because these great people did not live in “biblical times” does not mean that God worked any less through them.  We certainly can learn from the examples, their writings, their sermons, their methods, and their faith.

December 8, 2009 / Don Sanders

Why Study Church History? part 3

The study of church history explains the current state of the church.

            As I drive to work every day I pass Winds of Pentecost church, Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Faith Baptist Church, St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church, a Lutheran Church, and Friedens United Church of Christ before arriving at Harvester Christian Church.  All of these churches in less than five miles.  Why are there so many different types of churches?  Why are there so many kinds of Baptist churches?  How can churches stand literally side by side and be so different?  These and many more questions regarding the current state of the church can be answered through a study of church history.  In particular, it explains three characteristics of the current church.  Church history explains the fragmented nature of the current church, the theological diversity of the current church and the uncooperative attitude of the current church.

December 6, 2009 / Don Sanders

Why Study Church History? part 2

The study of church history provides a launching point for evangelistic conversations.

            When we moved to our current neighborhood I had an interesting conversation with one of my new neighbors.  He said that he was happy to have a minister living in the area because it brought good karma to everyone.  Of course I pushed that conversation further to find out his church background.  Eventually, he said that “All churches are really the same.”  A five year conversation followed as we talked over the backyard fence about church.  I spent five years answering questions about Catholicism, Protestants, Mormons, etc.  Without knowledge of church history, those evangelistic conversations would have never happened.  Nearly everyone we encounter in our country has some concept or experience with church.  Providing accurate answers about churches (and specifically their past) can be a starting point for many evangelistic conversations.

December 4, 2009 / Don Sanders

Why Study Church History? part 1

The study of church history reveals where we stand in the theological continuum.

            Protestant vs. Catholic.  Liberal vs. Conservative.  Traditional vs. Contemporary.  Calvinistic vs. Armenian.  Premillennial vs. Amillennial.  This list could go on and on.  Knowing where you, as an individual and as a corporate body of local believers, stand on the theological continuum can only be achieved by a study of church history.  The terms and labels that are attached to people and churches are only meaningful when the counterpart is known.  This idea is like being able to pinpoint your location geographically.  I live in Missouri, and to truly understand where Missouri is, I must know the states that surround it and even those that do not physically connect.  Without knowing what lies to the north, south, east or west, those terms become meaningless.  In the same way, all the designations we give to particular theological positions only have meaning when we understand what the other positions are.

December 2, 2009 / Don Sanders

The Disciple-Making Pastor

Before I began my sabbatical this past June, I order about 15 books to read.  I made it through a couple of them, but the last one I started was The Disciple Making Pastor by Bill Hull.  I just finished the book today (December 2.)  Of course, I had a few interruptions (a job, a family, teaching a college class, and taking a grad class.)  Anyway, I finally turned the final page.

This book is a combination of great idea, great theoretical principles, rants, great biblical exposition, and some venting.  Overall, Hull does a very good job of laying out the calling, duties, and theory of what it takes to make disciples in the church.  Much of it is very good.  At times, it seems like things you learn in a college/seminary setting from someone who hasn’t actually worked in a church for a long time…good theory but doesn’t work in real life.  There are other times, though, when Hull is dead on with his evaluation of the church and its practices. 

The best sections of the book include…

  • why seminary education is important.
  • definitions and explanations of pastors, ministers, and elders.
  • descriptions of disciples.
  • a strategy for making disciples.

Overall, this is an excellent read.  Hull is attempting to change the culture of the church and ministry by refocusing it on the primary goal of disciplemaking.  This book is certainly a useful tool to help accomplish that.