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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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)
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.