Category Archives: Christian History

The Ephesian Moment

Great stuff from Andrew Walls on ‘the Ephesian moment’ and its implications for the church today: “The Ephesian moment – the social coming together of people of two cultures to experience Christ—was quite brief….But in our own day the Ephesian moment has come again, and come in a richer mode than has ever happened since the first century.”[1]

“There are two dangers. One lies in the desire to protect our own version of the Christian faith, or even seek to establish it as the standard normative one. The other, and perhaps the more seductive in the present condition of Western Christianity, is the postmodern option: to decide that each of the expressions and versions is equally valid and authentic, and that we are therefore each at liberty to enjoy our own in isolation from all the others.”[2]

“The Ephesian metaphors of the temple and of the body show each of the culture-specific segments as necessary to the body but as incomplete in itself. Only in Christ does completion, fullness, dwell. And Christ’s completion, as we have seen, comes from all humanity, from the translation of the life of Jesus into the lifeways of all the world’s cultures and subcultures through history. None of us can reach Christ’s completeness on our own. We need each other’s vision to correct, enlarge, and focus our own; only together are we complete in Christ.”[3]

[1] Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004), 78.

[2] Ibid., 78–79.

[3] Ibid., 79.

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Filed under Christian History, Intercultural Theology

In Seventeen Hundred and Ninety-Two…

Why is A.D. 1792 an important date in Christian history? Some might recognise it as the year that William Carey’s world changing Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathens was published. Andrew Walls notes another reason for its significance: “That same year saw the arrival in Sierra Leone of some 1,100 people of African birth or descent, bringing with them from North America their own churches and preachers, to form the first church in tropical Africa in modern times….The first church in tropical Africa in modern times was not a Western missionary creation, but an African one, an African creation marked by the experiences of America.”[1]

After A.D. 1792, West Africa would never be the same again.

[1] Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004), 28.

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Filed under Christian History, Missiology, Uncategorized

Love for Neighbour in the European Migrant Crisis, c. 410 A.D.

Raymond Canning argues that in the Augustinian structure of love, “when the human subject’s uti and frui are rightly focused, the outcome will be a loving concern for others (caritate consulendi) which is presented as the very opposite of every kind of dominating ‘use’ of others (dominandi cupiditate).”[1]

Canning explores this idea by looking at Augustine’s use of Matt 25:31-46.[2] He particularly focuses on verse 40 in the context of refugees pouring into North Africa following the fall of Rome. For example, in one sermon, Augustine encourages his listeners: “Think of the poor. Think how you can clothe the naked Christ….Sisters and brothers, repeat it aloud, so that you might realize that you are not deprived of Christ’s presence. Listen to what the judge will say: ‘When you did to one of the least of mine, you did it to me.’ Each of you expects to receive Christ seated in heaven. Turn your attention to him lying under the covered-walk; direct your attention to Christ who is hungry and suffering from the cold, Christ in need and a stranger.”[3]

While this might strike some as encouraging an egoistic concern for one’s salvation, Canning argues that this should be understood in a Christological rather than a soteriological sense.[4] The neighbour’s identification with Christ is analogical. The neighbour is sacramental in the sense that he or she is a real subject of love who at the same time points beyond him- or herself to Christ, which brings us back to the significance of the incarnation for love of neighbour.

The Incarnation, far from absorbing love for neighbour into love for God, motivates and elevates love for neighbour.

[1] Raymond Canning, The Unity of Love for God and Neighbour in St. Augustine (Heverlee, Belgium: Augustinian Historical Institute, 1993), 114 quoted in Eric Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 347.

[2] Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love, 348.

[3] Augustine, Sermo 25 quoted in Gregory, 348-9.

[4] Gregory, 349.

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On Teaching Christian History

Andrew Walls has some rather devastating criticisms of typical approaches to teaching Christian history. “A common church history syllabus begins with what is called the early church. In fact, it usually deals only with the part of the early church that lay within the Roman Empire. By missing the early church beyond the Roman Empire, the syllabus also misses Asia and Africa. It also loses the chance to compare the experience of Christians in the Persian Empire, who never had a Constantine, with the experience of Christians in the Roman Empire, who did. Students are led to identify the “Great Century of Missions” as the nineteenth, without noticing that there are other great centuries in the missionary history of the church or instituting any comparison between the nineteenth and the nineteenth and the ninth century.”[1]

These approaches are problematic because they leave Western students to assume that “Western Christianity is a normative form of the faith, seamlessly connected with the church fathers.” Unfortunately, “Even well-read scholarly Western theologians are sometimes surprised at the statement that Africa has nearly two thousand years of continuous Christian history, or that nearly fifteen hundred years of Asian church history took place before Western missionaries arrived, or that the first preaching of the gospel before the king of northern England was roughly contemporary with that before the emperor of China.”[2]

Such a parochial view of Christian history limits Western Christians in their ability to understand and participate in the global church today.

[1] Andrew F. Walls, “Globalization and the Study of Christian History,” in Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, ed. Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007), 78-9.

[2] Ibid., 78.

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Filed under Christian History, Teaching