Even though I didn’t physically move locations to attend seminary, I have spent a lot of time unpacking boxes during my past two years of study. The boxes didn’t contain books (though I could fill several with texts) or kitchen supplies or clothing, they contained my thoughts, understanding of doctrine and preconceptions about God, Jesus, Scripture, spiritual growth, heaven, grace, etc.
I can’t think of a single class where I didn’t need to pull out the box cutter and open multiple boxes to expose the contents to new perspectives, new interpretations of Scripture or to deeper understanding of the implications of a particular position. One of the classes with the biggest pile of opened boxes surprised me.
A four credit course entitled, “History of Christianity”, is required for nearly every masters track at TEDS. After the first weekly lecture of nearly four hours, I looked forward to getting the “pegs to hang the rest of the studies from” as promised by the professor. I wanted to understand the driving forces behind the various splits in the catholic church — East from West, Protestant from Catholic — and within denominations.
While we studied those topics, I found the story of the development of the creedal statements such as the Apostles and Nicene Creeds in response to various heresies fascinating. In learning to recognize the heretical strains of thinking promulgated by the likes of Arius, Marcion, Sabellius, I was amazed to see trails of these lines of thinking appear again and again throughout church history and even into the twenty-first century.
What boxes did I cut open? My “evangelicals invented the church” box; my “church history doesn’t matter today” box; my “the early church had it easy” box, my “I have a handle on the Trinity” box, my “theologians aren’t important” box, and my “you don’t need anything but the Bible” box.
I gained an appreciation for the struggles and intense effort undertaken in the first four centuries after Christ’s death and resurrection to formulate doctrine and to ensure right thinking about the Trinity in particular. Without the efforts of Iranaeus, Origen, Tertullian, Augustine and many other theologians, heresies that weakened the divinity of Christ or disproved his humanity would have caused more damage to the church than they did.
Theologians often get a bad rap for having their heads in the clouds, wordsmithing ad nauseum, and debating nuanced points of doctrine, and often deservedly so. But don’t disregard them entirely or think their role wasn’t important in the formation of the church and isn’t important today.
If your thinking tends to run along those lines, I challenge you to pick up a church history text and start reading.
Oh, and keep a box cutter handy.
What challenges you to noodle through issues and rethink a position?
Some recommended books: