Monday, 1 February 2016

A NEW BOOK - FINDING THE FATHER IN THE STORY OF THE CHURCH.


A number of times over the years I have been asked to teach a short course on the story of the church through 2000 years. I have been interested in Church History since my days in college. I had been inspired to study Church History by my tutor, Dr. Raymond Brown, then principal of Spurgeon’s College in London, UK. He loved the subject and it rubbed off. My short course inevitably was superficial and subjective simply because there was so much to include and a large amount to exclude.  Therefore, I tried to paint a big picture rather than a detailed account.  

People started asking me for copies of my notes. I had notes that were not very readable. Also my notes were to be used as prompts and therefore spoken and taught rather than read. They had been collected over the years from all sorts of books and sources and it was very hard to say where I had picked up the information. 

So the idea for this book was born.  However, it was clear I needed to tidy things up and present the material in a more readable format if it was going to become a book. One of my aims when I taught also applies to this book, it was to inspire the reader to dig further and explore the rich wells of the story of the Church. As a result, I have not written an academic scholarly work and by that I mean it is not full of detailed footnotes like a theological or historical treatise. Instead, I have written a story. If you have read any of my other books you will know I like stories.  Where I have referenced something it is primarily to acknowledge the source of a major quotation or a book or author whose influence has been significant to me.

Some people struggle with the very idea of reading history. Famously, Henry Ford the founder of the Ford Motor Company in the USA writing in the Chicago Tribune in 1916 said, “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinkers damn is the history that we make today.” 

I profoundly disagree with Ford's statement. Christianity is a historical religion. God has revealed himself in and through history. The Old Testament is a historical revelation of God at work through his relationship with his people. God does not reveal himself through doctrinal statements but through his relationship and interactions with his people through the ages. In the Old Testament, he instructed people to tell the stories of his dealings with them to their children and then their children.  

The great Roman orator, Cicero in the first century BC said that to not know what took place before you were born was to remain forever a child. To have no memory of the past is a serious psychiatric or mental condition. We do all we can to help people to recover their memories. A community with no social memory is suffering a serious illness.

What is history? It is a collection of stories, memories, and writings from all sorts of perspectives. Much is a subjective description of past events by people commenting on what they witnessed from their personal perspective. Sometimes what they have recorded was a description of someone they didn’t like or who didn’t think in the same way as they did, effectively their enemy!  Impartiality, as a result, was easily lost. 

Sometimes history is gleaned from objects, inscriptions, paintings and artefacts from the past that need to be interpreted. Historians build a picture of what they think happened in the past by studying these things. We are very dependent on those whose passion is to describe the events from the past, the historians, theologians and writers who have made the study of the past their life’s work. Increasingly, I am seeing that this whole process is very, very subjective. I don’t think this book will be very different.

However, as I looked at the story of the church, I began to see that it was not just a story. It was not just memories. I saw very clearly that the story was one of incredible depth and the unfolding of an amazing revelation.  I began to see that the early church lost touch with its beginnings and the Church evolved into a vast multifaceted worldwide organisation made up of thousands of varying expressions very different from its original form. Specifically, I saw that there was a steady loss of key biblical truth generation after generation over many centuries. Equally, in time there was a restoration of key biblical truth that God has graciously given back to the Church particularly over the last five hundred years. As a result, this book became a charting of this process. My particular interest in this is because in many ways it has reflected my own journey of rediscovery culminating in the amazing awakening within me of knowing the triune God not just as Jesus my saviour, the Holy Spirit my comforter but also as God my Father. 

In short, the purpose of this book is to try to follow how the revelation of the Father that Jesus brought and that is recorded in the New Testament gradually began to be lost by succeeding generations of Christian writers and teachers and was then given back or restored to the church. This loss was slow, but sadly constant from the late first century to the Middle Ages. Then, from the sixteenth century onward, there was equally a steady rediscovery of the three persons of the Trinity: first Jesus, then the Holy Spirit, culminating in the present day revelation of God the Father and our resulting identity as sons.

The book is therefore more about the development historically of theological truth than just church history. However, the two are deeply connected. To understand the development of theological truth, we need to see where this sits within the big picture of history. Many have heard bits and pieces of the story and know about some sections, so what I have tried to do in this book is join the dots. For many, the story of the church is a jumble of isolated events and people who are not connected, rather like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The reality is that there is a flow to the story, a pulsing of the Holy Spirit as he energizes the people of God in every generation to seek for truth even when all around them there is corruption and stagnation in the Church. The puzzle is actually a magnificent picture!

God’s work in history is a secret work, a mystery even. At times, it is an exciting and happy story, full of joy. Other times, it is downright dreadful and humiliating when it is very difficult to see the finger of God in the process. For example, how on earth could Christians read that Jesus told us to “love your enemies” then think it was still okay to burn them at the stake. Beats me.

Sometimes, the story reads in such soiled and earthy terms as to make us question ‘Where was God?’ It’s easy to see him in Athanasius, Francis of Assisi, the Great Awakening, in revivals and Mother Theresa, but more difficult to find him in the Viking onslaught that wiped out the Celtic Church, in the Crusades and in Auschwitz. In the story, while there is great sadness and darkness there were always moments of great light. There were people who held high the light of the gospel of truth and revelation when all around was very dark.

The great tapestry that is the story of the Church is woven with dark threads as well as bright silken threads. This book is not about the ‘whys’ of history, though I have my opinions that will inevitably pop out. Rather, it is about the wheat and the weeds growing up together alongside each other as in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:24. In the end, the harvest of the wheat is gathered in despite the weeds. We do know how the story ends in so far as it ends for us in the early twenty-first century. Though as C.S. Lewis supposedly said if Jesus does not return in the next two thousand years, they will look back at our era as still being in the Early Church.

So that is what the new book is all about and why I call it Finding the Father in the story of the church. 

The book will be available very soon via Amazon and Kindle and we will have some copies with us too.

2 comments:

  1. This book sounds amazing! I can't wait til it's available!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This book sounds amazing! I can't wait til it's available!

    ReplyDelete