The Gospel. In. History.

One glance at history and it’s pretty easy to make a case against the cultural relevance of Christianity: Crusades; Slavery; Inquisition; Colonialism - to name a few examples.

These major blemishes upon the record of Christian faithfulness cannot be ignored, nor can they be easily explained or justified. Yes, one could also make a good argument for the cultural relevance of Christianity: Renaissance thought; Abolition of slavery; Arts and Culture. But such positive examples don’t reverse the effects of the negative ones.

One could say, then, that history is actually a detriment to the gospel. We should focus, rather, on the foundational principles of God and Jesus as a way to distance the good news of Christianity from the bad news of Christian history.

Add to the colored history many personal experiences of disappointment and hurt at the hands of institutional faith, be it authority figures or the church in general, and it’s easy to see the appeal of a “pure” Christianity. Positive principles counter historical and experienced failures. Love, grace, community, and salvation are principles of truth and hope over and against the examples of hate, exclusion, loneliness and judgement. In this sense, we do need to get beyond the history.

Yet we cannot forget our history either. In fact, in any quest for a pure form of Christian faith, an honest engagement with history may be exactly what we need to arrive at a full understanding of the gospel, historical blemishes and all. I like how David Bosch summarizes an engaged view of Christian history, one which accepts the challenge of faith spanning centuries, but acknowledges that such challenge provides the repeated context in which the gospel comes alive:

“We should...with creative but responsible freedom, prolong the logic of ministry of Jesus and the early church in an imaginative and creative way to our own time and context. Christianity is an historical faith. God communicates his revelation to people through human beings and through events, not by means of abstract propositions. This is another way of saying that the biblical faith, both Old and New Testaments, is ‘incarnational’, the reality of God entering into human affairs.” (David Bosch, Transforming Mission)

Yes, such “human affairs” aren’t always pretty. But here we need to be honest, not forgetful. We need to recognize the human struggle to live out and experience divine reality. With such recognition, any form of pure Christianity, like the first church in the Book of Acts, isn’t found in spite of human failure, but in the very midst of it. Such is the way of Jesus bringing light and life into history. Such is the way of Jesus transforming people - transforming us! - in the very midst of day-to-day life in the world.

The Gospel. In. History.            


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