Posted by Robert Sagers
Earlier this week this blog pointed to a new book by Timothy Paul Jones entitled, Christian History Made Easy. Professor Jones was kind to answer a few questions about the book.
RES: What led you to write Christian History Made Easy, and what do you hope that the Lord will accomplish through it?
TPJ: This book began more than a decade ago when I was privileged to serve as pastor in a tiny church in rural Missouri—a congregation of hardworking farmers, factory-workers, and a few coaches and schoolteachers. I wanted them to learn what Christians believe and why, yet I struggled to get them interested in theology. After a handful of trials and a lot of errors, I discovered something: When I taught theological truths in the context of historical stories, the people became interested not only in the history but also in essential theological truths. The problem was, I couldn't find a book that captured the passion, the pathos, and the humor of church history in a simple, user-friendly text. So, in that rural clustering of God's people, I wrote the text that I was looking for. Thus this book was born, first as a photocopied three-ring binder with black-and-white maps and pictures from which I led a study over the course of three months. In 1999, it became a quite plain book which went on to sell around 40,000 copies. Now, I have completely rewritten that text, and Rose Publishing has produced what I envisioned more than ten years ago but couldn't do back then: A full-color, picture-packed, theologically-rich romp through the history of Christianity, written in words that anyone can enjoy. What I hope God accomplishes through this book is to call Christians today to know and to appreciate tradition in its best and truest sense—tradition in the sense that G.K. Chesterton intended when he wrote, "Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about."
RES: Why should Christians today be concerned with the history of the faith?
TPJ: For Christians, history is inescapably theological. At the core of Christian faith stands the assertion that, in Jesus Christ, God personally intersected human history in a unique and consummate way at a particular time in a particular place. When we confess that Jesus was "born of the Virgin Mary," "suffered under Pontius Pilate" and arose "on the third day," we declare that our faith is rooted in history. That's one reason why the first generations of Christians rejected Gnosticism—Gnostic thinking was rooted not in the historical testimony of eyewitnesses but in the mystic experiences of those who happened to be "in the know." By looking at God's providential workings in the past, we become more keenly aware of how God may be working in the present. By weighing heresies of the past, we learn to identify what constitutes orthodoxy here and now. By considering the rich heritage of theologies past, we are freed from the faddishness of pragmatism that idolizes the present moment. There's much wisdom in the words of Job, when he urged his friends, "Inquire of ages past, consider what our fathers have searched out, because we are but of yesterday, knowing nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will not the fathers teach you and speak to you and utter words from their understanding?" (Job 8:8-10). Our ancestors in the faith can speak to us still. Unfortunately, knowledge of what they speak is often limited to a few scholars while the curriculum in our churches is devoid of this rich heritage of faith.
RES: What period in the history of Christianity do you think should be studied more by Christians today, and why?
TPJ: I am very fond of the apostolic fathers—the Christian authors who lived within a generation of the first century. When I read the letters of Ignatius, the fragmentary remains of what Papias wrote, and Irenaeus' references to Polycarp, I see how it would have been virtually impossible for the accounts of Jesus to have been fabricated; there is such concern at such an early time for eyewitness testimony to the truth about Jesus. Additionally, the 19th century is so important; both revivalism and theological liberalism emerge during that century, both of which still deeply affect churches today.
Click to purchase Christian History Made Easy.