Church Nostalgia

Most historians, however, recognize that the pass of time allows the relative significance of events to become clearer. This might make later accounts more preferable. A theoretical preference for the earliest accounts really makes sense only if one romantically imagines some pristine early phase of Christianity, which was then systematically corrupted by institutional forces.–Stephen Fowl

Today I read a brief essay by Stephen E. Fowl that discussed three different approaches to the study of the, “historical jesus.” Fowl, as far as my limited knowledge of this topic can allow, makes some interesting points regarding the shift in theological study which he claims occurred sometime in the 18th century. He claims that those, prior to the shift, used biblical scripture to interpret the world, while those after the shift used the world and the study of history (which Fowl refers to as an “autonomous realm”) to interpret scripture. An approach which seeks to bend scripture into the parameters of historical methodological methods, “will not be able to give a theologically sufficient account of Jesus, and account that both rightly identifies Jesus as Lord and properly accounts for Christian claims about Jesus’ continued presence in the lives of believer and the church.” This mirrors a Kierkegaardian understanding regarding the possibility of knowing Jesus from history–

Can one then, come to know something about Jesus Christ from history? By no means. Jesus Christ is the object of faith….Thus history can indeed richly communicate knowledge, but knowledge annihilates Jesus Christ.

Practice in Christianity

I suppose this I’m considering the question of history because I often hear individuals complain about the institution of the church and its many missteps–both ethical and scriptural. That is not difficult to do. It does not suggest an elevated or privileged understanding to point to the errors of an institution which is subject to the same handicaps as others–that is, the handicap of man. Regardless of one’s beliefs regarding God’s providence, that providence evidently does not correct man’s seemingly eager inclination to error. In addition to the tired grievance with the church, these individuals often, as Fowl mentions, romanticizes the idea of a more pure church, an earlier church free of theological squabbles and greed. Although, one does not need to read any deeper than Paul’s letter to the Corinthians to see that, even from the Church’s infancy, it was plagued with…let’s call it a loose but understandable subjectivity. Perhaps there is no “golden era” to be harkened back to. Christ has always been a problem, and affront….and offense. Christ has never been understood. Obviously, any figure with such influence, yet so difficult to grasp, will surely create controversy. The Church has never experienced harmony, at least, not in any large context. It has always battled itself, it has battled “heretics.”

I personally have never been able to place the roll of the church inside a comfortable context within my own pollution. That pollution being a result of a desire to somehow understand Jesus.

Christianity is not at all closer to heavy-mindedness than to light-mindedness; they are equally worldliness, equally far away, and both have just as much need of conversion.–Kierkegaard

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1 comment
  1. Great stuff. I also agree that there has never been a “Golden Age” of anything, especially the church. The great times of the past are almost always viewed through the lenses of nostalgia. If the church was doing so well then, why do we have 3/4 of the New Testament. The church as an institution can only mirror the individuals that comprise it, therefore, it is and always will be flawed. Accepting this fact may lesson the blow when the church inevitably fails you.

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