My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I also blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
This is my final summary of my summer reading in the writings of the early church. Tertullian is one of my favorite authors from that ancient world, and the following are some of take-aways from my browsing through his works.
Pandemics are a sad and deadly part of human history, yet, like every pandemic before us, this one too will end (hopefully sooner rather than later).
What we do during the pandemic matters now, and it will also create trajectories that last long after the masks are gone. That being the case, as we wait for the blessed day of relief when the pandemic is over, it is a healthy and helpful enterprise to pause and do some critical self-reflection on how we are coping. A mid-term exam so to speak. The aim, of course, is to be encouraged to continue doing the good, and, if necessary, change tack in light of the bad and ugly.
My comments relate primarily to the Canadian context.
During my recent tour of the NorthWind Family Ministries (NWFM) faculties in downtown Thunder Bay I made a serendipitous discovery of some original documents hanging in a hallway.
NWFM has a vibrant and critical ministry among First Nations peoples in the north, and so, on the one hand, I should not have been surprised to see such important artifacts being displayed. On the other hand, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see them because I didn’t know that such amazing documents existed.
While these documents are not a part of the official government Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, they do deal with fundamental issues related to indigenous issues. As such, they are an important part of the overall telos towards truth and reconciliation.
One document is entitled The Covenant of the First Peoples of Canada (21 June 2006).
The other is entitled The Charter of Forgiveness and Freedom (12 June 2010).
When you read them you see a remarkable depiction of a vibrant indigenous Christian identity, a vital spiritual vision, a realistic appraisal of the past, and a hopeful dream for the future. What is most striking in the light of recent reporting of unmarked graves next to residential schools is the awareness then of such problems – and a statement of forgiveness for such wrongs. For instance, the The Charter of Forgiveness and Freedom reads in part: “We gladly share this moment with you as we break the heavy yoke of the past and walk into tomorrow unfettered by its shame. Let us find wisdom together, let us renew hope together, and let us share in the life conceived in our Creator’s heart for all of us. We forgive you.”
If reconciliation and healing is to continue, the sentiments in these two documents must be remembered and nurtured.
image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Triunfo_de_San_Agust%C3%ADn.jpg
The subtle yellow and red tinges on the leaves on the trees indicate that the fall semester is fast approaching. As a result, this is my last blog on my summer readings on the early church.
My July/August batch of readings were from St. Augustine (354-430). I simply have not read enough of this theological giant and this was a chance to make up for some of my deficiencies.
I was interested in his approach to theological education and ended up browsing his On Faith and the Creed, Faith of Things Not Seen, and The Creed: A Sermon to Catechumens. What I did do was slow down and read in more detail his On the Catechising of the Uninstructed. My comments below relate to that work.
Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taliban
While the similarities with the ignominious US evacuation from Saigon, Vietnam, in 1975 are what is on most people’s minds watching the news over the US retreat from Afghanistan, the tragic and frenzied last-minute evacuation from Kabul reminds me of a different conflict. One much more distant in memory.
Much of my research deals with religion and war in the early twentieth century, and recently I have been struck with an interesting similarity between the response to those who refused to fight in the First World War (1914-1918) and those who refuse to be vaccinated in the current war against Covid 19.
More specifically, I am interested in the public shaming of those not in compliance with the war effort.
As the casualty rate rose in the First World War, people were increasingly angered by those who did not enlist in the titanic struggle. Contempt was expressed for those who refused to fight. One common – and very public – way to shame people was for mothers and wives of servicemen to pass out white feathers to any men not in uniform who had the audacity to walk the streets and show their face in public.
Of course, today we do not have actual white feathers being passed out to shame people into getting vaccinated, but the discourse surrounding the vaccination issue is marked by overt shaming. And it is carried out by politicians and people of all stripes in a wide variety of ways.
But what is the problem with the white feather approach? Why shouldn’t people be shamed into supporting the war effort? While I am convinced that the current vaccines are an important part of the response to Covid 19, here are some thoughts as to why I am opposed to the white feather approach.
AnonymousUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
My summer reading in the writings of the early church continues, and I just concluded the Didache and Epistle of Barnabus.
Both works share some things in common. They are both from the second century. The author(s) of both are unknown. The Epistle of Barnabus has a concluding section that mirrors the Didache’s “Two Ways” (the way of life and the way of death) motif. They were widely read in the early church. And much of the original texts were recovered in the nineteenth century.
A key difference is that the Epistle of Barnabus was written as a letter, and the Didache is basically an instruction manual for new converts (or perhaps a tool for evangelism for inquiring neighbors). A second difference is that the Epistle of Barnabus is filled will allegory – what appears to me as fascinating and fanciful applications of the biblical text.
What follows are some observations and takeaways from my reading.
Check out the prices of houses, clothing, and cars.
The Queen certainly looked younger - and her recently deceased husband was in his prime.
Political commentary reflects some of the pressing issues of the early 1970s.
The religion page was quite detailed, and provides a sense of some of the issues of the day such as the "Jesus Freaks" movement and Apartheid in South Africa.
And finally, "experts agreed" that Schnieders made the best hot dogs.
As I continue my summer reading in the writings of the early church I have been struck by a few choice quotes in writings related to Polycarp, the famous bishop of Smyrna.
I recently presented a paper at the Canadian-American Theological Association on some survey results related to my interest in the intersection of Canadian churches, war, and Hans Mol's "priests to prophets" paradigm. The results of my research have also been recently published in Peace Research.
The students surveyed were from seven Christian educational institutions. Here are some of the results of the survey. If you want to see the full details and analysis, see Gordon L. Heath, “Priests to Prophets in a Post-Christendom Canada?: A Survey on Views on War,” Peace Research 53, 1 (2021): 50-75.
Here are brief comments on the survey results.
First, the results indicate a range of perspectives, especially in regard to age and denominational affiliation—a caution to making sweeping statements about views of “the church.”
Second, the survey indicates a resiliency of the traditional just war position, challenging assumptions about a move to the margins being concomitant with a move to pacifism.
Third, the results do indicate a resistance to associating a war effort with support from the pulpit, as well as showing support for the churches’ ongoing mission to engage the state in matters of foreign policy. In that regard, the responses reflect Mol’s conclusions in regard to a more prophetic vision for the churches. The churches may be on the margins, but, if the results reflect a larger picture, they do not intend to remain silent.