History

 

Mar

17

2014

Mike Pettengill|12:01 AM CT

St. Patrick: Reclaiming the Great Missionary

Today most people know St. Patrick for green beer, banishing snakes from Ireland, using shamrocks to teach the Trinity, or his walking stick growing into a living tree. Indeed, none of these legends has anything to do with the real Patrick.

However, the factual accounts of Patrick, missionary to Ireland, are even more compelling than the folklore. Telling the true story of Patrick provides an inspiring lesson in God's grace and mercy.

While other 1,500-year-old characters in history are difficult to research because too few writings have survived time, Patrick is hard to study because so much has been written about him. The bulk of the writings on Patrick are lore, fiction, and embellishment. In uncovering the real Patrick we must sift through ten fictional accounts of his life to find one factual work.

patrick_shamrock_0From Slave to Evangelist

As a teenager Patrick was kidnapped, taken from his home in southern Britain, and sold into slavery on the island of Ireland. During his six years as a slave he converted to Christianity and earned a reputation as a fervent evangelist. In the dark of the night Patrick escaped his bonds and fled Ireland. Following a long journey home he entered theological training and full-time service to the Lord. God spoke to Patrick in his dreams and told him that he would return to Ireland and serve as a missionary to the people who had kept him in servitude.

In AD 432, 25 years after fleeing Ireland, Patrick returned to the place of his bondage. He did not return with malice in his heart, but as a missionary eager to convert the Irish. Patrick served in regions of Ireland where outsiders had never traveled. While roaming through Ireland he preached to pagans and also instructed Christian believers. Patrick trained Irish helpers and ordained native clergy. He was bringing a new way of life to a violent, war-oriented pagan culture. His work was both groundbreaking and Christ-honoring.

"Daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises," Patrick wrote while serving in Ireland. "But I fear nothing, because of the promises of heaven."

Many brutal kings and warlords felt threatened by Patrick's work. In order to obtain the favor of local leaders and to gain safe passage, Patrick paid penance, or bribes, to authorities. He used the rulers to gain access to their lands just as they used Patrick to gain wealth and favor with Christians. Of the bribes he paid, Patrick proclaimed, "I do not regret this nor do I regard it as enough. I am paying out still and I shall pay out more."

Missionary Ahead of His Time

In fifth-century Ireland women were a commodity. Selling a daughter or arranging a politically strategic marriage was common and advantageous to a family. Patrick upset the social order by teaching women they had a choice in Christ. As God converted these women to Christianity, some became full-time servants of Christ in the face of strong family opposition. Patrick told women they could be "virgins for Christ" by remaining chaste. This newfound control was appealing to many women, but it angered many men who believed Patrick was taking away their prized possessions.

At the time many scholars regarded Ireland as the end of the earth, or at least the edge of the inhabitable portion of earth. The collapsing Roman Empire supported many beliefs that civilized society was drawing to a close. Politicians and philosophers viewed Ireland as barbaric and untamable. Many Christians did not believe the Irish were worthy of being saved. At that point in history, Patrick truly served as a pioneering missionary to a forgotten people.

Patrick advocated learning among Christians. He promoted the ascetic life and monasticism. The Irish culture did not place great value on literacy or education. Patrick, however, promoted studying the Scriptures as well as reading books written by fathers of the faith.

Recovering the True Patrick

Patrick entered an Ireland full of paganism and idol worship. But just a few short decades after Patrick arrived, a healthy, Christ-honoring church was thriving. The Irish church was so strong that in the centuries to come it would send missionaries to evangelize much of continental Europe. Patrick's legacy lives on through the countless spiritual grandchildren he left to continue his work.

Patrick lived in a way that brought honor to God. His devotion and resolute obedience offer examples for all followers of Christ. Patrick stood in the face of great challenges and did not falter. His service, his life, and his unwavering commitment to spreading the gospel of Christ are as commendable today as they were in the fifth century.

We as Christians have allowed the modern, secular customs of St. Patrick's Day to steal away one of the greatest missionaries in Christian history and reduce his memory to leprechauns, green beer, and fictional tales. Let's take back our beloved servant of Christ and share God's glory achieved during the life of Patrick the missionary to Ireland. Let's share the true legacy of this great Christian evangelist.

 
 

Feb

20

2014

Collin Hansen|12:05 AM CT

Battle of Science vs. Religion: Necessary or Evil?

Red vs. Blue. Alabama vs. Auburn. Ford vs. Chevy. Two rivals enter the arena. Only one rival will leave victorious.

church-history-volume-two-from-pre-reformation-to-the-present-day-the-rise-and-growth-of-the-church-in-its-cultural-intellectual-and-political-context_7314_500Heated though these rivalries may be, they don't compare to the winner-take-all struggle for the soul of the West. Science vs. Religion dictates our debates and defines our times. The closely watched debate on the origins of life between Ken Ham and Bill Nye confirmed this adversarial narrative. As did a recent essay in the New Yorker, in which Adam Gopnik observed, "Surprisingly few people who have considered the alternatives—few among the caucus who consciously stand up, voting aye or nay—believe any longer in God." Writing in his widely influential book A Secular Age, the eminent philosopher Charles Taylor argues that Science is winning the argument against Religion not primarily on the facts so much as the intuition: would you rather be on the side of reason and progress or dogma and repression?

Has the argument always been shaped this way? Will it always be this way?

For these answers and more I turned to John D. Woodbridge, research professor of church history and the history of Christian thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Along with co-author Frank A. James III, he recently published Church History Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day. Among other topics in this 30-minute interview, we discussed the decline of Christianity in the West, challenges to biblical authority, and the damage of Darwinism. Stay tuned for the end of the interview when Woodbridge offers hope for Christians who feel under attack by philosophers and scientists.

You can stream the full interview below, download the mp3, or subscribe to TGC's podcast on iTunes or through your other mobile devices.

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Feb

07

2014

Jarvis J. Williams|12:01 AM CT

Let's Discard the N-Word and Uncle Tom Myth

During Black History Month we celebrate the contributions of black Americans, many of whom, such as Martin Luther King Jr., dedicated their lives to fighting for freedom and equal rights for black Americans and for people of color. Their contributions helped to achieve many victories, including laws (such as the Civil Rights Act) that make racial discrimination illegal. However, decades after the successes of the civil rights movement black Americans continue to receive an increasing amount of rhetorical racism from both black and white Americans.

n-word-featureFor example, since Harriet Beecher Stowe's scandalous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the phrase "Uncle Tom" has functioned as racist hate-speech from the mouths of black Americans against other black Americans. Beecher Stowe exposed the horrors of slavery in part by placing a virtuous, hard-working, house slave named Uncle Tom at the center of her narrative. In the novel, Uncle Tom, going against the advice of some of his fellow slaves, refuses to run away from his master. Instead, he faithfully serves him for as long as he remains his master's property.

As a result of this character's devotion to his white master, the phrase "Uncle Tom" eventually entered into popular American culture as a derogatory epithet. In general, some black Americans call other black Americans "Uncle Tom" when the "real" blacks perceive the "sell out" blacks to care more about pleasing the white man than about preserving African American identity and particularity.

Terms of Abuse and Dishonor

Some black Americans from a variety of diverse communities and backgrounds classify certain black Americans as "Uncle Toms" based on certain beliefs or action. These include association with white people, a well-rounded education, a solid work ethic, use of standard English, membership at a multi-ethnic or predominately white church, embracing an exclusive confessional evangelical Christianity, involvement in an inter-racial relationship, affirming conservatism (either theological or political conservatism), listening or not listening to a certain type of music, attending a certain type of school, and a long list of other characteristics.

Ironically, many of the same black Americans who use the phrase "Uncle Tom" to question "authentic blackness" employ as a term of endearment the word "nigger"—a term traditionally associated with and used by white racists (specifically by racist slave owners) to shame and dishonor African slaves. However, black Americans who use the N-word often have a double standard. Some of them would be offended if a white person were to call them a "nigger," while finding the term acceptable if used by a black person.

As a black American with a multi-racial background, who was born and raised in an extremely racist part of eastern Kentucky, I have been called a number of racist epithets by both blacks and whites. White racists have called me everything from a "colored boy" to a "black nigger." Likewise, black racists have called me "half-breed," "high yellow," "sell out," whitey," "Uncle Tom," and—not so lovingly—a "black nigger."

Regardless of the ethno-racial group that directs racist rhetoric toward another group, hate-speech is sinful and, therefore, dishonors God. However, in my view, the term "nigger" is the most offensive of all slurs directed toward blacks, regardless of the lips from which it comes.

The reason is simple: white racists used this term from its inception to dehumanize, to dishonor, and to ostracize African slaves within (what they thought was) a superior white society. And many black Americans continue to refer endearingly to each other as "niggers" in music, movies, and casual conversations, even though, in using this racist language, they reinforce the racist rhetoric and worldview of slavery and white superiority.

The Real Uncle Tom

I am absolutely puzzled that so many black Americans embrace the term "nigger," given its long, dehumanizing history, as in-group racial slang of endearment. I am equally baffled that many black Americans likewise use the phrase "Uncle Tom" as a derogatory appellation to paint a negative caricature of other black Americans. In Beecher Stowe's novel, both terms seem to have the opposite rhetorical function compared to how both black and white racists use these expressions today in popular culture. Beecher Stowe's novel suggests that Uncle Tom chose to be faithful to Christ and to suffer the horrors of slavery for the sake of honoring Christ, a biblical principle that neither condones the evil institution of slavery nor excludes the Bible's permission to practice civil disobedience.

To clarify, I am neither suggesting that the phrase "Uncle Tom" is honorable language or appropriate speech, nor am I suggesting that this phrase should be used to describe any black American. American slavery and all other forms of slavery are evil. Those who worked to abolish slavery, to hide slaves "underground," and to help them attain their freedom not only did what was right, they also did what all Christians should have done. My point, however, is that all ethno-racial communities should embrace the Christian identity of Beecher Stowe's character Uncle Tom while rejecting every form of racism directed toward him and rejecting the racist worldview that both forced him and others into a slavery founded on white superiority.

Black Americans should stop calling fellow black Americans "Uncle Toms," and they should stop calling each other "niggers" since both expressions are racist hate-speech regardless of who uses them. All ethno-racial communities alike must repent of their sins (including the sins of racism), embrace new identity in Jesus Christ, and be willing to experience any natural ethno-racial ostracism that may come from rejecting the gospel. God sent Jesus to die for the sins of all communities in order to recreate them into a new race known as Christian (John 1:29, 3:16; Eph 2:11-22; 1 Pet 2:9).

Before he laid the foundation of the universe, God chose to save different ethno-racial groups and to unite them together in Christ by faith. He forgave them for their transgressions and sins by the blood of Christ and sealed them by the Holy Spirit, so that they would hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3-14). God creates Christians to be new creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).

We must carry the truth of Christian ethno-racial identity in the gospel beyond Black History Month. We must work to make the gospel heard so that it may reign in the hearts of all ethno-racial groups who have ears to hear and hearts to believe. And we must have the courage to live as biblically responsible risk-takers for the gospel of Jesus Christ as we rigorously and intentionally work to demythologize the Uncle Tom myth and N-word.

 
 

Feb

03

2014

Joe Carter|12:06 AM CT

9 Things You Should Know About Black History Month

Every February Americans observe Black History Month, a time set aside to celebrate the contributions that African Americans have made to American history. Here are nine things you need to know about the history of the observance:

1361913601-black_history_month_2011_1. The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be "Negro History Week."

2. Woodsen chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation, and of Frederick Douglass, an early African-American abolitionist.

3. Woodsen, the son of a slave, began high school at the age of 20 and then proceeded to study at Berea College, the University of Chicago, the Sorbonne, and Harvard University, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1912. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 to train black historians and to collect, preserve, and publish documents on black life and black people. He also founded the Journal of Negro History (1916), Associated Publishers (1922), and the Negro Bulletin (1937). Woodson spent his life working to educate all people about the vast contributions made by black men and women throughout history.

4. The reason Woodsen started Negro History Week was to ensure the legacy of black Americans would not be lost. He used the Jewish people as a model for black Americans:

If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.

5.. The expansion of Black History Week to Black History Month was first proposed by the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, in February 1970.

6. In 1976 as part of the United States Bicentennial, the informal expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month was officially recognized by the U.S. government. President Gerald Ford spoke in regards to this, urging Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

7. In 1986 Congress passed Public Law 99-244 which designated February 1986 as "National Black (Afro-American) History Month." This law noted that February 1, 1986 would "mark the beginning of the sixtieth annual public and private salute to Black History."

8. Since 1975, every U.S. President has issued a proclamation for the observance, though the names have often changed: Black History Week (1975), Black History Month (1976), National Afro-American (Black) History Month (1978), African-American History Month (1992), and National African-American History Month (1993).

9. Black History Month also began to be celebrated in the United Kingdom in 1987 and in Canada in 1995.

 

Other posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

 
 

Jan

27

2014

Joe Carter|12:19 AM CT

9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual international day of commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Here are nine things you should know about one of the most horrific genocidal campaigns in history:

neveragain1. The term "Holocaust," originally from the Greek word "holokauston" which means "sacrifice by fire," refers to the Nazi's persecution and planned slaughter of the Jewish people. The biblical word Shoah, meaning "calamity", became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the 1940s, especially in Europe and Israel. The term "holocaust" became a household word in America when in 1978 NBC television aired the miniseries titled Holocaust.

2. The Holocaust began in January 1933 when Hitler came to power and technically ended on May 8, 1945 (VE Day). But the official genocidal plan was developed at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. Fifteen Nazi leaders, which included a number of state secretaries, senior officials, party leaders, SS officers, and other leaders of government departments, held the meeting to discuss plans for a "final solution to the Jewish question in Europe." (The Nazis used the euphemistic phrases "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" and "Final Solution" to refer to the genocide of the Jews.) In the course of the meeting, Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich outlined how European Jews would be rounded up and sent to extermination camps.

3. The Nazis distinguished between extermination camps and concentration camps. The interchangeable terms extermination camp (Vernichtungslager) and death camp (Todeslager) refer to camps whose primary function was genocide. Unlike concentration camps, the Nazis did not expect the majority of prisoners taken to the extermination camps to survive more than a few hours after arrival. In the early years of the Holocaust, the Jews were primarily sent to concentration camps (where they would often die of torture and starvation), but from 1942 onwards they were mostly deported to the extermination camps.

4. Genocide at extermination camps was initially carried out in the form of mass shootings. However, the shootings proved to be too psychologically damaging to those being asked to pull the triggers. The Nazis next tried mass killing by blowing victims up with explosives, but that also was found unsuitable. The Nazis settled on gassing their victims (usually with carbon monoxide or a cyanide-based pesticide). Stationary gas chambers could kill 2,000 people at once. Once in the chambers, about one-third of the victims died immediately, though death could take up to 20 minutes.

5. The use of camps equipped with gas chambers for the purpose of systematic mass extermination of peoples was a unique feature of the Holocaust and unprecedented in history. Never before had there existed places with the express purpose of killing people en masse. These were extermination camps established at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chełmno, Jasenovac, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibor, and Treblinka. For political and logistical reasons, the most infamous extermination camps were in Occupied Poland,  since Poland had the greatest number of Jews living in Europe.

6. At various concentration and extermination camps, the Nazis conducted medical experiments on their prisoners, which included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, and various amputations and other surgeries that were often conducted without anesthesia. The most notorious of these Nazi physicians was Dr. Josef Mengele, who worked in Auschwitz. According to one witness, Mengele sewed together a set of twins named Guido and Ina, who were about 4 years old, from the back in an attempt to create Siamese twins. Their parents were able to get some morphine and kill them to end their suffering.

7. Churches throughout Europe were mostly silent while Jews were persecuted, deported, and murdered by the Nazis. As Holocaust scholar Victoria J. Barnett says, "In Nazi Germany in September 1935, there were a few Christians in the Protestant Confessing Church who demanded that their Church take a public stand in defense of the Jews. Their efforts, however, were overruled by Church leaders who wanted to avoid any conflict with the Nazi regime."

8. The largest Protestant church in Germany in the 1930s was the German Evangelical Church, comprised of 28 regional churches or Landeskirchen that included the three major theological traditions that had emerged from the Reformation: Lutheran, Reformed, and United. Most of Germany's 40 million Protestants were members of this church, although there were smaller so-called "free" Protestant churches, such as Methodist and Baptist churches. Historically the German Evangelical Church viewed itself as one of the pillars of German culture and society, with a theologically grounded tradition of loyalty to the state. During the 1920s, a movement emerged within the German Evangelical Church called the Deutsche Christen, or "German Christians." The "German Christians" embraced many of the nationalistic and racial aspects of Nazi ideology. Once the Nazis came to power, this group sought the creation of a national "Reich Church" and supported a "nazified" version of Christianity. The Bekennende Kirche—the "Confessing Church"—emerged in opposition to the "German Christians." Its founding document, the Barmen Confession of Faith, declared that the church's allegiance was to God and scripture, not a worldly Führer.

9. The most commonly cited figure for the total number of Jews killed is six million — around 78 percent of the 7.3 million Jews in occupied Europe at the time. Additionally, the Nazis murdered approximately two to three million Soviet POWs, two million ethnic Poles, up to 1,500,000 Romani, 200,000 handicapped, political and religious dissenters, 15,000 homosexuals, and 5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses, bringing the total genocide toll to around 11 million.

Other posts in this series:

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

 
 

Jan

16

2014

Chuck Colson|12:01 AM CT

Finding Sexual Freedom in Augustine's Confessions

No stranger to sexual dysfunction, Augustine is a faithful guide for those seeking to escape the mire of sexual sin. In his autobiographical masterpiece Confessions, Augustine chronicles the intensity of his struggles, providing us with a probing analysis of the human heart, the nature of sin, and the grace of the gospel.

st-augustineIn his early 30s, Augustine was attracted to the truth of the Christian faith but struggled to give up his sexual pursuits. He feared what he would become if he discontinued his carefree relationships. He writes: "I loved the happy life, but I feared to find it in your abode, and fled from it, even as I sought it. I thought that I would be too wretched, if I were kept from a woman's arms."

But God's grace found Augustine and liberated him from his deadly disease. And reading through Augustine's struggles, we see three important principles that help us in dealing with sex and sexual sin.

Sex is a gift from God, but sex is not our ultimate good. 

For Augustine, sex is not evil—it is the gift of a good God. Like all creaturely gifts, sex is intended by God to lead us to him, resulting in the love and praise of his name. However, as Adam's children, our loves are profoundly disordered. Pleased with God's gifts, we displease God by loving the gifts over him, the Giver. Augustine captures this dynamic beautifully, saying:

All these things are the gift of my God: I did not give them to myself. These things are good, and they all made up my being. Therefore, he who made me is good, and he is my good. . . . But in this was my sin, that not in him but in his creatures, in myself and others, did I seek pleasure, honors, and truths.

However, in seeking to find our good in the creation, we discover a profound restlessness, not peace. Augustine confesses that his soul sought something better than God, but "turned and turned again upon its back and sides and belly, but all places were hard to it, for you [God] alone are rest." In other words, if sex becomes our ultimate good, rest will elude us—no matter how many beds we visit.

Augustine explains the reason for sex's inability to fulfill us:

The good you love is from him, but only in so far as it is used for him is it good and sweet. But with justice will it become bitter, if you, as a deserter from him, unjustly love what comes from him. Whither do you walk, farther and farther along these hard and toilsome roads? There is no rest to be found where you seek it: seek what you seek, but it lies not where you seek it. You seek a happy life in the land of death, but it is not there. How can you find a happy life where there is no life?

Augustine sees that sex, like all created things, has limitations. If we ignore those limits, we die a thousand deaths seeking a "happy life where there is no life." To experience the "goodness and sweetness" of sex we must forsake the quest of finding our good in it and accept the boundaries God prescribes around it.

No matter the variety, intensity, or orientation, sex will fail us if our meaning and identity are tied up in it. We may enjoy pleasures and climaxes but will continue to live in a world of want because we seek something from sex that it doesn't possess. It's like trying to find a nutritious meal on the candy aisle—it simply isn't there.

Sexual sin, like other disordered loves, enslaves us. 

Through his sexual habits, Augustine trained himself to answer his physical lusts. Repetitive bodily actions, freely chosen by him, made Augustine a slave. He preferred to satisfy his lusts rather than have them extinguished by God's mercy. He writes, "There remained only speechless dread and my soul was fearful, as if of death itself, of being kept back from that flow of habit by which it was wasting away unto death."

Augustine feared what his life would become without his sexual liaisons. So he limped between opinions, believing there was something better in life, yet terrified by what that could mean.

Echoing Paul from Romans 7.24, Augustine poignantly captures his struggle in this prayer: "Who will give me help, so that I may rest in you? Who will help me, so that you will come into my heart and inebriate it, to the end that I may forget my evils and embrace you, my one good?"

Augustine helps us appreciate that God's good gift of sex, when misused, creates its own hellish prison. Sex is a wonderful servant but a horrific master.

God's grace forgives and heals, turning us from the many to the One.

In his grace, God rescued Augustine from his sinful squalor. In Christ, Augustine found grace that not only liberated him from the guilt of his sin but also transformed his affections and actions.

Reflecting on the number of men and women of every age who managed to live in sexual fidelity to God, Augustine records a fictional conversation with "Continence" (read: "self-restraint in sexual matters"), guiding us to the source of sexual faithfulness. He writes:

She smiled upon me with an enheartening mockery, as if to say, "Cannot you do what these youths and these maidens do? Or can these youths and these maidens do this of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand on yourself, and thus stand not at all? Cast yourself on him. Have no fear. He will not draw back and let you fall."

Augustine knew that he did not possess the resources within himself to overcome his sexual sins. However, in casting himself upon Christ, he found grace that enabled him to obey God's commands. From his weakness and frailty, Augustine cries out to God, saying, "All my hope is found in your exceeding great mercy. Give what you command, and command what you will!"

Unless God set him aflame through his grace, Augustine knew he would not break his old habits. But in humility and dependence, he looked to God to provide what he needed, in the power of the Spirit, to follow Jesus faithfully. Grace heals by giving us all the resources we require to follow God in obedience.

God's grace was sufficient for Augustine, forgiving his sins and healing his wounds. In humility, we can come to the same God, confessing our penchant to find our good in God's gifts rather than in him, the Giver. This God forgives, frees, and restores us in Christ Jesus, no matter our sexual sin and shame. Come to him, allow him to inebriate your heart and collect your affections, drawing them from the many to the One. And, in weakness and dependence, may you find life in the living God.

 
 

Jan

09

2014

Thomas S. Kidd|12:01 AM CT

The Science of Sound: Whitefield's Massive Crowds

George Whitefield was the most spectacular preacher of the First Great Awakening in Britain and America, drawing revival audiences reported in the tens of thousands. News accounts of these meetings drew the attention of many, including Whitefield's friend and publisher, Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia.

I recently interviewed Braxton Boren, a PhD candidate at the Music and Audio Research Laboratory at New York University, about his new study of Whitefield's preaching and the science of sound. Boren specializes in the physics of sound and computational acoustic simulation techniques. 

How did you get interested in studying George Whitefield's revival audiences?

whitefield preachingMy dad was a history teacher at my high school, and he had me read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography for one of his classes. After I had done some research into acoustical simulation of music in the Venetian Renaissance, my dad read my thesis and reminded me about the autobiography's story of Franklin performing an experiment to estimate the range of Whitefield's voice. I realized that modern acoustical simulation techniques could test Franklin's data to estimate Whitefield's overall loudness, and to project his intelligible range at the actual sites where he was preaching.

The reported size of Whitefield's crowds was controversial during his lifetime and remains so among historians today. How many people do you think might reasonably have heard him speak at one time?

It is important to note that Whitefield's largest crowds were reported during the summer of 1739 when he was a young man, after which his novelty wore off. When he was older and perhaps wiser, he revised his earlier journal entries and removed passages he considered to be "justly exceptionable." This included changing estimates of crowds larger than 20,000 to say "so many thousands that many went away because they could not hear." It may be that Franklin's acoustical method is the best estimate we have for the effective size of Whitefield's largest outdoor assemblies.

Using speech intelligibility, distance, geometry, and our best information about the Market Street area during Franklin's experiment, we worked backward to estimate the average sound pressure level (SPL) of Whitefield's speaking voice. This was interesting because the computer model yielded a best guess of about 90 decibels at a distance of 1 meter from his mouth. This is incredibly loud. The international standard for "loud" speech is only 74 decibels, so it was unclear initially whether such a high SPL could be achieved by any human voice.

To test it, we measured SPLs in a lab for several trained actors and opera singers, and surprisingly the highest levels anyone could produce were right around 90 decibels. This suggests that there is a higher loudness level available to trained vocalists, which may have been more common in the days before electronic amplification. So the first component of this research projected that Whitefield was probably as loud as anyone for whom we have experimental evidence in history.

Based on this assumption, we then set up a computer model of the sites of Whitefield's largest reported congregations in London, using a virtual George Whitefield preaching to a crowd filling the entire area of the space. We had to account for different levels of background noise, as Whitefield made it clear that some crowds were quiet while others were boisterous or unruly. For different sites, our models project that Whitefield had a maximum intelligible area of 25,000 to 30,000 square meters under optimal conditions. A solid crowd over that area would constitute about two people per square meter, leading to an overall crowd of 50,000 to 60,000. However, if the crowd was slightly noisier, or if Whitefield was a little hoarse, the intelligible crowd area could decrease quickly.

The ideal acoustic conditions probably were fragile with any crowd of such a large size, but it seems possible that on certain occasions he may have been able to reach 50,000 people, at least for short periods of time. However, the majority of his large crowds were reported at 20,000 to 30,000, and these were the sizes Franklin was trying to validate. From our simulations we can say that these sizes of crowds were certainly possible.

How did Franklin do his experiment, and how reliable do you think his calculations were?

Franklin walked backwards from Whitefield's crowd in Philadelphia and recorded the distance at which Whitefield's voice ceased to be intelligible. His experiment was based on the idea of a uniform intelligible distance, which he then used to calculate the intelligible area by assuming a semicircular acoustic radiation pattern. However, this method does not account for many factors. For instance, the human voice does not radiate in a perfect semicircle. Even the ancient Greeks knew this, as they put people of lower social standing (like foreigners and pregnant women) on the sides of their semicircular amphitheaters because of the poorer speech intelligibility there. So Franklin's model adds a little area on the sides but misses out on some behind Whitefield where people could have also heard him. In addition, Franklin's method doesn't account for the reinforcing reflections at Philadelphia from the courthouse. Finally, his method does not anticipate changes in background noise.

Despite the omission of these factors, Franklin's estimate gave an area of about 23,000 square meters, which is just slightly lower than our largest projections. His largest error was his assumption of the crowd density, which he calculated as one person per two square feet—what modern crowd statisticians refer to as "mosh pit conditions." This experiment gave him an overall crowd estimate of about 125,000 people, which is much larger than Whitefield's largest reported audience of 80,000. However Franklin, the modest New Englander, merely reported that he believed Whitefield could be heard by "more than thirty thousand," since that was the number he was trying to validate.

All in all, Franklin's back-of-the-envelope approach was pretty good for estimating intelligible area quickly. Given the constraints of 18th century science, I doubt anyone else in that period could have done much better.

Do you think that people in a time before electric amplification had different ideas of what it meant to "hear" a speech or sermon?

Whitefield's outdoor assemblies were a novelty in Britain and the colonies because sermons had been traditionally confined to churches. There were some European traditions of itinerant preachers, but none attracted crowds of the size of Whitefield's. Certainly today we have clear ideas of speech intelligibility necessary in different spaces, and the minimum speech intelligibility values used in this research (about 30 percent of words understood for an average hearer) would not be up to code for a public address system in a train station or public building.

However, when given the context of the message, the hearers' minds can usually fill in the rest of the details by hearing this much. The problems of "hearing" in churches would have been primarily related to reverberation. In the fields, the open air would take all sound away quickly, leaving background noise as the main interference in hearing a speaker outdoors. Hearers today would be pickier, but back then people might have been more accepting of poor acoustic conditions in exchange for the chance to see a celebrity like Whitefield.

Even if it wasn't "mosh pit conditions," what do you think it looked and sounded like at a Whitefield assembly: more like a traditional church meeting or a modern rock concert?

Probably a little of both! Closer to Whitefield the most devoted followers gathered and would sometimes shout out or faint. However, on many occasions he specifically noted the silence that his devoted listeners observed.

On the other end of the spectrum, some people—including skeptic David Hume—came to hear Whitefield solely for the spectacle of the occasion, without necessarily believing in his revival message. The famed Shakespearean actor David Garrick admired Whitefield's oratorical skills but apparently did not embrace Whitefield's gospel. (Garrick reportedly said that Whitefield could "make men weep or tremble by his varied utterances of the word 'Mesopotamia.'") The success of the Methodist revivals in Britain and America certainly had roots in many convergent historical factors, including the advent of print advertising, increasing ease of transcontinental communication and travel, and not least the singular booming voice of George Whitefield.

 
 

Dec

26

2013

John Rinehart|12:01 AM CT

We Need Gospel Patrons

In the early 1500s God raised up William Tyndale, a passionate and gifted young scholar who learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in order to translate the Scriptures into English. Tyndale wanted to bring his nation a Bible they could read and a God they could know, but he faced two challenges. First, Bible translation was illegal, the equivalent to heresy. Second, Tyndale didn't have the financial means to focus his time exclusively on such a massive project.

441px-Unknown_man,_formerly_known_as_William_Tyndale_from_NPGIt was a London businessman whose generosity bailed him out and so changed the course of the English-speaking world. When Humphrey Monmouth met Tyndale and heard about his ambition, Monmouth took a risk to provide for him, protect him, and partner with him. For six months he housed Tyndale and enabled him to work diligently on the translation. And when it was done, Monmouth leveraged his business connections with other merchants to use their ships to smuggle the contraband Bibles throughout England. Both men paid a high price for this endeavor. Monmouth ended up in prison. Tyndale ended up dead. But together they lit a flame that still burns in our generation.

Within two years of their deaths, the King of England ordered that every parish church should receive its own copy of the English Bible. Within 75 years, King James authorized an updated English translation, of which 80 percent to 90 percent was directly carried over from Tyndale's translation. For the next 450 years the King James Bible became the most influential book in the English-speaking world. And even today any English Bible you or I or any of the more than 600 million English speakers pick up is unashamedly built on Tyndale's foundation. History remembers Tyndale, but it has largely forgotten that the catalyst behind this massive movement of God was a generous businessman.

More Than Philanthropists

Men like Monmouth are more than philanthropists. They are "gospel patrons." The word patron occurs only once in the Bible, in Romans 16:2. It's a reference to Phoebe, the apostle Paul's patron. But throughout Scripture there are many examples of gospel patrons, although they are generally found in the verses we read right over on our way to the "good stuff."

For example, how did Jesus and his disciples fund their three years of preaching and ministry tours after they left behind their fishing nets and carpenter's belts for public ministry? They did not have a miracle meal of fishes and loaves for every lunch. Luke 8:1-3 records that three well-connected and generous women—Mary, Joanna, and Susanna—came alongside Jesus' ministry and generously provided for him.

Soon afterward [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

Generosity and Progress

But is patronage a relic from a bygone era? Absolutely not! In the book Operation World, Jason Mandryk says "Generosity, evangelistic vitality, and ability to dream big are major factors in the surge of gospel progress" in the United States. Generosity and gospel progress go hand in hand.

Consider the early years of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. In one of his sermons pastor Mark Driscoll shared how the generosity of a few gospel patrons changed everything for the future of their church and ministry:

This guy named Brad showed up at the church, and he and his wife were very sweet and very godly, and I'll never forget the day they sat me down and said, "We believe in what God is doing, and so we want to help pay for the renovation of this little church building."

At that same time a couple showed up and they said, "You know, we love what God's doing here, and we love church planters and we love young pastors and we love Jesus, and we think God's got big things for Mars Hill." And they also started being very, very, very generous.

And it was at that time that a few very generous people made a difference. Had they not, to be honest with you, I don't think Mars Hill would've made it. I think we would've probably just ceased to exist. But because of the generosity of a few people, that morning service went from forty to eight hundred. That was the absolute game-changer in the history of Mars Hill.

We don't often get to hear these kinds of stories, but gospel patrons have done more to spread the good news of Jesus Christ than any of us know.

A year ago I crossed paths with Don Carson and shared some of my research with him. His response shocked me. Without blinking he said, "Behind The Gospel Coalition there are gospel patrons. I could tell you who they are right now, but I want to honor their desire to remain anonymous." Without them, this platform that provides gospel-centered content every day simply would not exist.

There are more stories that could be told from history, from Scripture, and even from today. But there are also many stories still to be written by God. As much as we need to raise up and equip the next generation of gospel preachers and missionaries, we also need to call forth those who will partner with them, the next generation of gospel patrons. They may not be the guy on a stage with a mic or the long-term missionary overseas, but they too have a vital part to play in God's work. The calling of a gospel patron has a long and beautiful history, filled with gripping stories of those rare men and women whose generosity changed the world.

 
 

Dec

05

2013

Joe Carter|8:24 AM CT

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

Yesterday marked the 450th anniversary of the closing of the Council of Trent, one of the most significant series of meetings in Christian history. Here are nine things evangelicals should know about the Council and the decrees that it issued:

Concilio_Trento_Museo_Buonconsiglio1. The Council of Trent was the most important movement of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church's first significant reply to the growing Protestants Reformation. The primary purpose of the council was to condemn and refute the beliefs of the Protestants, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, and also to make the set of beliefs in Catholicism even clearer. Approximately forty clergymen, mainly Catholic bishops, were in attendance during the twenty-five times over the next eighteen years that the Council convened.

2. Protestants endorse justification by faith alone (sola fide) apart from anything (including good works), a position the Catholic Church condemned as heresy. During the the sixth session, the Council issued a decree saying that, "If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema."

3. The Protestant Reformers rejected the Apocrypha as part of the biblical canon. (The term Apocrypha (Gr., hidden) is a collection of ancient Jewish writings and is the title given to these books, which were written between 300 and 30 B.C., in the era between the Old and New Testaments.) During the the fourth session, the Council issued a decree damning anyone who rejected these books:

. . . if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.

Many doctrines unique to Catholicism, such as the teachings of purgatory, prayers for the dead, and salvation by works, are found in these books.

4. During the Protestant Reformation, the doctrine of transubstantiation was heavily criticized as an Aristotelian "pseudophilosophy." The 13th session reaffirmed and defined transubstantiation as "that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood - the species only of the bread and wine remaining - which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation."

5. Protestants claimed that the only source and norm for the Christian faith was Holy Scripture (the canonical Bible without the Apocrypha). The doctrine of Sola Scriptura was rejected at Trent. The Council affirmed two sources of special revelation: Holy Scripture (e.g., all the books included in the Latin Vulgate version) and traditions of the church (including the "unwritten traditions").

6. In Catholic theology, an indulgence is a remission of temporal punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has been forgiven. Under Catholic teaching, every sin must be purified either here on earth or after death in a state called purgatory. The selling of indulgences was not part of official Catholic teaching, though in Martin Luther's era, the practice had become common. (Luther was appalled by the sermon of an indulgence vendor named John Tetzel who said, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.") The Council called for the reform of the practice, yet damned those who "say that indulgences are useless or that the Church does not have the power to grant them."

7. In Catholic theology, purgatory is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who denied yet were not free from "venial" sins (a lesser sin that does not result in a complete separation from God and eternal damnation in hell). The council affirmed the doctrine of purgatory and damned anyone who claimed "that after the grace of justification has been received the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out for any repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be paid."

8. In the 24 session, the council issued decrees on marriage which affirmed the excellence of celibacy, condemned concubinage, and made the validity of marriage dependent upon the wedding taking place before a priest and two witnesses. In the case of a divorce, the right of the innocent party to marry again was denied so long as the other party was alive, even if the other party had committed adultery.

9. At the request of Pope Gregory XIII, the Council approved a plan to correct the errors to the Julian calendar that would allow for a more consistent and accurate scheduling of the feast of Easter. The reform included reducing the number of leap years in four centuries from 100 to 97. Although Protestant countries in Europe initially refused to adopt the "Gregorian calendar" (also known as the Western or Christian calendar), it eventually became the most widely accepted and used civil calendar in the world.

(Note: The declarations and anathemas of the Council of Trent have never been revoked. The decrees of the Council of Trent are confirmed by both the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the official "Catechism of the Catholic Church" (1992).)

 

Recent posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

 

 
 

Nov

27

2013

Dan Doriani|12:01 AM CT

The Speech that Launched the Crusades

On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II delivered the speech that launched the Crusades. Some call it the most influential speech in human history. Everyone today agrees that the Crusades were a disaster. So is there any point in revisiting them? Yes, because of this sad fact: the case for the Crusades was so well-suited to the culture that almost every major Christian leader of the age fervently endorsed them—Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, and more. How did this happen?

StatueUrbanIISpeaking to a group of European leaders gathered at Clermont, Pope Urban summoned Christians to rise to the defense of fellow believers in Greece as they battled Turkish invaders. Yet the records of Urban's speech show that he had more interest in liberating Jerusalem than in Constantinople. One account reads this way:

Under Jesus Christ, our Leader, may you struggle for your Jerusalem, in Christian battle line, [that] most invincible line, even more successfully than did the sons of Jacob of old—struggle, that you may assail and drive out the Turks, more execrable than the Jebusites, who are in this land, and may you deem it a beautiful thing to die for Christ in that city in which he died for us. But if it befall you to die this side of it, be sure that to have died on the way is of equal value, if Christ shall find you in his army (as recorded by Balderic of Dol). [1]

With appeal to the Israel's wars, Pope Urban urged knights to join an armed expedition to liberate Jerusalem from Turkish control. If someone asks why a pope would aim to raise and commission an army, we need to go back a few years.

Violence and Chaos

Between the collapse of Rome in AD 476 and the rise of the high Middle Ages, Europe endured centuries of violence and chaos. Rulers were essentially warlords whose strength legitimated their control. Warriors felt deep loyalty to their lords. Clan and honor were paramount. Offenses against them had to be avenged. Blood feuds proliferated. In time, a reform movement arose. Some wanted to repristinate the church; others, to liberate it from the control of local lords. As part of this process, popes sought knights of Christ to defend the church against lords who tried to control it—often with armed forces.

These knights were upper-class, professional warriors. Because church reform had spiritual effects, this knightly class became concerned for their souls, sensing conflict between their profession as warriors and the gospel. They suspected that they could never do enough penance to cover their sins as warriors. Could their work lead them to eternal condemnation?

Popular Appeal

The desire to defend Christian lands, along with a desire to avenge affronts to the honor of Christians, combined explosively with the concerns of Christian knights when Pope Urban spoke. Urban participated in the reform movement and drew on its themes as he appealed to his audience. The various versions of the speech agree on its chief themes, although the specific language differs.

Pope Urban called Christian knights to stop fighting each other and to battle infidels instead. They invaded Christian lands and assaulted Christian pilgrims. Knights should liberate fellow Christians from pillage, fire, rape, and tortures, described in lurid detail, by "an accursed race," and free Jerusalem, including the most holy relic, the Holy Sepulchre, from their control (Robert the Monk).

Urban says, "You should shudder . . . at raising a violent hand against Christians; it is less wicked to brandish your sword against Saracens [Muslims]. It is the only warfare that is righteous, for it is charity to risk your life for your brothers." Knights of Christ should offers themselves as a holy sacrifice to defend the honor of the church. And they should have compassion on their brothers" (Balderic of Dol).

Urban linked the campaign to a popular form of penance, the holy pilgrimage. The knights wanted to do penance for their sins, and Urban gave "whoever wishes to save his soul" an opportunity to do so (Gesta). He told the warriors that all who died in battle against the pagans "shall have immediate remission of sins" (Fulcher of Chartres). The knights were, in essence, armed pilgrims.

Urban also tied his appeal to a popular form of spirituality, monasticism. Crusaders took monastic vows (their obedience is another question). Thus the warriors became armed, mobile monks. Our Christian brothers are suffering and their lands taken, Urban said, in language that evoked a sense of offended honor. The knights should be willing to suffer with them, as Christ suffered, in order to retake their lands and the church's holy sites.

Unprecedented Effect

In short, every theme of Urban's speech resonated with his listeners: pilgrimage, honor, land, brotherhood, knights of Christ, and remission of sin. Urban's speech had unprecedented effect because it combined familiar and widely accepted themes, in a fresh way, for an exalted cause.

Urban said the old knight murdered fellow Christians; the new knight loved God and neighbor by fighting evil. If the knights loved their souls, Urban said, they should fight the barbarians who had slain their brothers. And if they perished, they perished as martyrs and gained eternal praise. Thus warfare was viewed as a redemptive activity.

Jonathan Riley-Smith, an expert on the Crusades, said the great Christians of the day so fervently supported the Crusades that they sacrificed "wealth, health, life itself, in a cause which they believed to be just, and even salvational" (The Crusades: A Short History, 256-7).

Error We Must Face

The doctrinal errors are obvious: we cannot perform saving acts of penance; Christ does not advance his work by force. But the cultural error is the one we must face. Europe was an armed, allegedly Christian camp in Urban's day. Instead of questioning this, Urban tried to redirect it. Urban failed; the Crusades were disastrous in every way. Untold numbers died in vain. The "Christian knights" acted like barbarians and fools and killed both Muslims and also fellow believers.

It would be all too easy to condemn Urban and his age. But we must ask, "Why did almost everyone agree with him, when his thoughts seem so clearly false to us?" The answer is that he and his contemporaries baptized notions from their culture that are alien to Scripture: pilgrimage, the need to forcibly avenge affronts to the clan's honor, the idea that works of penance are instrumental to salvation.

The challenge is clear. We need to ask ourselves, "What cultural values do we baptize? Which of our culture's universally accepted values are actually at odds with the character, word, and will of God?"

* * * * *

[1] The accounts of the speech are short and can be found in various places: I have drawn on August C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921). Online, see http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2-5vers.html#Fulcher