1. Pastor, Church, and World
2. Cultural Contexts of Ministry
3. Bible as Scripture
4. Introduction to Theology
5. Missional Church
6. Congregational Leadership
7. Christian Worship
8. Christian Proclamation
So, Global Christian History:
Our seminary curriculum tries to separate American church history from global church history. American church history is treated as part of the cultural context of American ministers in the Cultural Contexts class. This allows the Global course to spend more time on the way Christianity has existed in the two-thirds world. It also would eventually allow versions of these courses taught elsewhere in the world to fit those contexts without assuming that American Christianity is ground zero.
I'm rather proud of this feature of the curriculum. First, if these components were taught right, it could help them see the extent to which some of the elements of their thinking are not Christianity but culture. For example, I grew up with no sense at all of how my thinking on things like sanctification, standards, and going forward to the altar were shaped by nineteenth century holiness revivalism. I never even heard the name Phoebe Palmer until I was teaching at IWU... and here the form of "name it claim it" sanctification I struggled so much with as a teen was strongly linked with this 19th century woman.
But this post is supposed to be about global Christian history. Certainly I would like a person to know the key events and people of church history. Even more so, I would like students to see how so many of the ideas and practices they think simply come from the Bible were hammered out in church history as Christians wrestled with issues in dialog with Scripture. I would like students to realize that the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ was won in the midst of massive struggle and debate. I would like them to realize that the doctrine of creation out of nothing may have been won in debate with Gnostics in the second century.
So what would be my agenda for this class if I taught it? Here are a few:
- Constantine was not the boogie man and he only made Christianity legal--he didn't make it the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity never thrived during the years of persecution. Persecution actually almost wiped it out. It was between persecutions that Christianity thrived. Constantine may not be in the kingdom, but he did a good thing when he made Christianity legal and tried to get Christians to come to some consensus on issues like the Trinity. Good grief, American cultural evangelicalism is more Constantinian than Constantine was.
- Some key elements of what Protestants think is "just the Bible" are Augustine (original sin, total depravity, etc)
- I would like students to come out of this course without the knee jerk anti-catholic bias so many have.What was God doing for a thousand years of Christianity? Off somewhere playing golf? There will be an awful lot of catholics in the kingdom, and Luther wouldn't have withdrawn from the Roman Catholic Church of today.
- Luther was an overreaction. Luther didn't enact sola scriptura but "sola the first five centuries of the church." Luther's sola fide missed the fact that Paul talks about being judged for what we have done at the time of final justification.
- Calvin was playing out traditions just like anyone else. His predestination was an extension of Augustine extending Paul. The end result eliminates the "Arminian" elements of Paul. The doctrine of penal substitution is an extension of Anselm extending the New Testament.
- The fragmentation of Protestantism, as well as liberal Christianity, were simply playing out the founding principles of the Reformation. When everyone thinks they just get their ideas from the Bible, then the polyvalence of language will facilitate tens of thousands of churches who all think they are just getting their ideas from the Bible alone.
- Liberal Christianity was a natural offshoot of not allowing the words of the Bible to be read in more than literal ways. If I must only stick with the "literal" meaning, then eventually the books fall apart as separate historical documents that are difficult to connect to each other. The quest for historical meaning comes to undermine theological unity.
- Although this course is primarily about world trends, I would hope students would locate themselves in relation to the world. Some of the things that pre-occupy our minds might baffle world Christians with similar values to us but who can see the cultural elements of our thinking.