<![CDATA[Christian History Blog]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/ Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:56:20 GMT Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:56:20 GMT LemonStand <![CDATA[How World War I Inspired The Lord of the Rings]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/how-world-war-i-inspired-the-lord-of-the-rings https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/how-world-war-i-inspired-the-lord-of-the-rings Mon, 20 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love The Lord of the Rings. I take every opportunity to sneak it into everything. I am a huge fan of all the Inklings and their friends and mentors, in fact, and immensely enjoyed working on our issue #113, Seven Literary Sages.

Now I'm happy to report that both Tolkien and Lewis show up in our upcoming issue on faith in the World Wars—and we didn't even have to sneak them in! The war was profoundly influential on the fiction of both Tolkien and Lewis. You can read a bit about that here, in the testimony of Tolkien's grandson Simon about his memories of his famous grandfather. (Simon has, it turns out, actually written a book called No Man's Land based on his grandfather's wartime experiences.)  You can read a bit more about it in our World Wars issue very shortly. 

The whole issue is a compelling and moving one full of stories of how people wrestled with Christian obligations in a time of national crisis.  Sign up here to get it in your mailbox when it ships—it went to the printer's on Friday! 

Posted in: Product Release

<![CDATA[Who keeps Christian History in business? YOU!]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/who-keeps-christian-history-in-business-you https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/who-keeps-christian-history-in-business-you Tue, 07 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT

We're often asked here at Christian History Institute (CHI) how this magazine is supported, since we bill ourselves as a "donation-based publication." Some folks think that a foundation, or a few people with deep pockets, support our work. In fact, we are able to continue our mission because of the generosity of thousands of small-scale donors who read the magazine every quarter.

Here's a little history. Our work was begun in 1982 by Ken Curtis, the founder of CHI. Our passion is the same now as it was then: to bring the lively and enriching stories of Christian history to a wide audience by producing films to present the lives of famous Christians. In order to make the films more educational, our team put together study materials to accompany them. These study materials, filled with information on a single topic, formed the basis for Christian History magazine.

It wasn’t long before readers were telling us they wanted more of the high quality, multi-dimensional stories we presented, and we realized the magazine deserved a life all its own. As a result, we shifted to publishing a regular quarterly, choosing topics of broad appeal and devoting each issue to a single topic.

In 1989 Christianity Today International (CTI) brought Christian History under its leadership as a way to further expand the reach of the publication, leading to significant increases in quality and circulation for 19 years. CTI made the difficult choice to cease publication in 2008 because of the increasing costs of maintaining a print publication.

It was at this point that care of the magazine returned to CHI. When we released issue 100 on the King James Bible in 2011, demand to bring the magazine back on a regular basis was overwhelming. But it was obvious that traditional subscription models would no longer work. Instead, we decided to operate the magazine as a ministry. Subscribers are sent the magazine regardless of their ability to pay, but we also hope and pray that those who are financially able can donate to help continue CHI's three decades of providing high-quality historical information aimed at modern believers, engagingly written and beautifully illustrated. Donations are tax-deductible.

Now you know: you are the one keeping Christian History in business! We thank you so much.


Posted in: Behind the Scenes

<![CDATA[Old evangelicals and "New Methodists"]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/old-evangelicals-and-new-methodists https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/old-evangelicals-and-new-methodists Tue, 24 Jan 2017 00:00:00 GMT

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History magazine

As someone who has spent much of my life among Methodists and a somewhat smaller portion among Anglicans (and who has prepared for the ordained ministry among both groups), it's been my experience that, while both those groups name John Wesley as one of their forefathers in the faith, the way they tell his story is very different.

For Methodists, Wesley's critique of Anglican legalism, corruption, and complacency (of which there was plenty in the 18th century) culminates in the establishment of Methodism, which then jumps the Atlantic and conquers the American continent. No one ever worries about what happened to the Anglicans afterward. For Anglicans, Wesley is an 18th-century hero among many faithful priests and pastors who spoke out for a better way, leading to 19th-century movements of renewal and social action; he somewhat regrettably and accidentally produced a schism, but no one talks about that in polite company. :)  No one ever worries about what happened to the Methodists afterward.

That's why the new book Wesley and the Anglicans by Ryan Nicholas Danker is so important: he worries about both groups. And he worries about the intersection of spirituality and politics. Ryan, who a long time ago was my student when I was a teaching assistant at Duke, comes by it all naturally: he is an evangelically-minded, high-church United Methodist who teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.  

The book tells the story of how Wesley and other evangelical Anglican clergymen related to each other for the first few decades after the beginning of Methodism (which was a looser and more varied association at the beginning than is sometimes believed.) Ryan describes the context of early English Evangelicalism and how Evangelical-sympathetic clergy established networks of friendship and influence. (The 18th century, which understood Evangelicalism as a "party" within the broad religious landscape of the Church of England, usually capitalized the word.) Ryan fits the Wesleys into that picture, and then he looks at the way tensions arose between John Wesley and other Evangelicals, including his own brother.

While sympathetic to the desire for "heart religion" that John preached, most Evangelicals desperately wanted to stay within the church, within which they were, in Ryan's words, an "embattled minority," They were gun-shy of associating with a movement criticized by Anglicanism's non-Evangelical members as politically seditious and religiously irresponsible. They viewed Methodism as dangerously close to the "conventicles" of an earlier era which had ultimately led to the overthrow of both state church and King; they distrusted John's use of lay preachers and the attempts of those lay preachers to administer Communion; and they resented Methodist preachers' disregard for parish boundaries by preaching to their flocks. (They felt that they were already doing a pretty good job explaining heart religion to them, thank you very much.). Pamphlets (which functioned essentially as the blogs of the 18th century) arose on both sides, each criticizing the other. 

Relations eventually broke almost down completely after the University of Oxford expelled 6 students in 1768 for "methodistical practices" and the university cracked down on dissenting views. A degree from Oxford or Cambridge was the only route to Anglican ordination; Evangelicals, who already found getting ordained and obtaining a church difficult, did not want it to become impossible. The two paths began to diverge. The stories they told about each other eventually became the two different narratives I was expected to produce on two different sets of ordination exams.

Every so often, a book comes a long which has the possibility to reshape a whole historical outlook and give us a new set of eyes by which we can see familiar things.The study of the history of Methodism has been very lucky in books like that recently, including Jeffrey Williams' Religion and Violence in Early American Methodism and Geordan Hammond's John Wesley in America.  This is another book like that. When you strive to be a teacher, more often than not by your students you'll be taught. 

More on the Wesleys in the newly reprinted Christian History magazine #69, The Wesleys.

Image: the nave of Christ Church Cathedral

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Insist on Gospel basics]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/insist-on-gospel-basics https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/insist-on-gospel-basics Thu, 02 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


"When you preach in the presence of learned and intelligent men, you may… present these parts in as varied and intricate ways… But with the young people stick to one fixed, permanent form and manner, and teach them, first of all, these parts, namely, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, etc., according to the text, word for word, so that they… commit it to memory.  But those who are unwilling to learn it should be told that they deny Christ and are no Christians… For although we cannot and should not force anyone to believe, yet we should insist and urge the people that they know what is right and wrong." - Martin Luther

Reflections by Langdon Palmer, Pastor at Leverington Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA 

Although Luther may sound somewhat rigid to modern ears, I think he is on to something very important here—actually two somethings! First, what you know really matters. So many times my progressive friends sum up the gospel as “helping the poor and oppressed,” and my conservative friends sum up the gospel as “living a pure moral life.”

Bible with candle and glasses
Luther emphasized the need for Bible knowledge.


But, these are wonderful responses to the gospel, not the gospel itself.  Weren’t there faithful Jewish people fighting for social justice long before Jesus came?  Weren’t there faithful Jewish people striving to live pure moral lives long before Jesus came?   If they were already doing all these good things, then what did Jesus coming to earth add?

The word “Gospel” means good news, and that good news came to people who were already religious. “News” implies information that is given to you by another—knowledge you did not deduce on your own. This is information that comes from outside of us.  It changes us because it changes the way we see ourselves and the world.  Therefore knowing Christian doctrine (claims about what is real) really matters.

Second, teaching really matters.  As early as Augustine, church leaders were asking “What are the essentials one needs to know, and where should we begin in our teaching?  1 Corinthians 13:13 implores us to pursue “Faith, Hope, and Love” and so the early church decided to teach along these three lines.  For an introduction to faith they taught the Apostles Creed, as it declares the basic theological claims of the faith.  For love they taught the Ten Commandments, because these are practical ways to show love of God and love of neighbor.  For hope they taught the Lord’s Prayer, because it implies that God is real, is at work right here and now, and cares intimately about our lives and our future. 

Luther holds onto this three-fold tradition and reforms it.  He implies memorization is crucial but so is understanding.  We must hold onto the basics as we move towards more nuanced and critical ways of thinking … so that God can reform us. I am thankful to Luther for reminding me that learning and the life of the mind is crucial to my walk as a Christian. 

Langdon Palmer is Pastor at Leverington Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[God's second best gift]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/gods-second-best-gift https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/gods-second-best-gift Thu, 16 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by Diana Severance, director of Dunham Bible Museum and author of Her Story.

My husband and I met in 1990 on a tour of the Early Church, led by Ken Curtis, CHI’s founder. We enjoyed each other’s company during the tour, and I thought Gordon certainly the most fascinating man I had ever met (everyone says that about Gordon!). When the tour came to an end, I went on an extension to Rome, but Gordon went back to the US. My camera had broken, and Gordon loaned me his little camera to finish taking pictures on the tour, giving me his address to mail the camera back. I actually cried myself to sleep that night thinking I would never see this fascinating man again—he lived on the west coast and I lived in Texas. After returning home I mailed the camera back with a thank you letter, which to my delight he promptly answered. As our correspondence and affection for each other increased, Gordon thought he needed to tell me how old he was so I wouldn’t get too serious about him. I wrote back that the 20 year age difference was not important. After all, in the Bible Boaz was old enough to be Ruth’s father—and Martin Luther was quite a bit older than Katie!  Luther’s marriage became an example for us, as it had been for so many in his day and after.

Luther family time
Family time with the Luthers.


As an Augustinian monk, Martin Luther had taken a vow of celibacy and internalized the Roman Catholic teaching that celibacy was most conducive to spiritual attainments. However, when Luther made the Scripture his spiritual authority, he found the Bible not only did not require ministers to be celibate, but that marriage and the family were institutions established by God. As early as his 1520 Address to the German Nobility, Luther encouraged the end of clerical celibacy, recognizing that marriage itself could be a restraint on sexual temptation and immorality. While the Church authorities often saw women as fleshly and seductive, Luther did not disparage the female sex, even encouraging education for girls as well as boys. Women as well as men had been created in the image of God. 

While some clerics followed Luther’s advice to marry, Luther didn’t consider that an option for himself, even though his superiors had released him from his vows as a monk. Because of the threats on his life and the danger of being arrested and executed at any time as a heretic, Luther didn’t see marriage in his future. 

Luther’s scriptural teachings had spread throughout Germany, reaching even into monasteries and convents. Some of the nuns in the Marienthron convent in Torgau read Luther’s writings and wrote to him for advice and help on leaving the cloister. In 1423, Luther arranged for Leonhard Köppe, a merchant who delivered herring to the convent, to secretly pick up eleven women, hiding them among his barrels of herring (some said they were hidden in the barrels!). 

Several of the women returned to their families; others were placed with families in Wittenberg. Within two years, all of the former nuns had married except one—Katherine von Bora.

One young man had wanted to marry Katherine, but his family was opposed to the match. Luther and his friends tried to match Katherine with a Pastor Glatz, but Katie thought him arrogant and had no respect for him. She said she would not marry anyone unless she married Martin Luther! In Luther Katie saw her liberator and a man she could trust. Luther finally consented to marry Katie, saying it would “please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh and the devils to weep.”

Katie and Luther were married June 13, 1525. Their wedding invitation stated that “marriage was an act of confession and obedience to God’s act of creation.” The twenty years of their marriage became a model of pastoral marriage and a Christian family. Katie bore Luther six children and elevated the position of motherhood as a godly calling. Luther affectionately called Katie his “rib” as well as his Galatians, for she brought him much freedom by relieving many cares from him. Luther wrote a friend, “My wife is compliant, accommodating, and affable beyond anything I dared to hope. I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus.”

Katie managed the large Luther household, which often included students and visitors, as well as their own children and some adopted ones too. With his growing family, Luther prayed, “Dear heavenly Father, because You in Your name and in the honor of Your office have ordained and want to name and honor me as father, grant me grace and bless me so that I may govern and nourish my dear wife, children, and servants in a godly and Christian manner. Give me the wisdom and strength to govern and raise them well and give them a good heart and the will to follow your teaching and to be obedient. Amen.” Together Martin and Katie showed that family and marriage, not only the convent or monastery, were areas where faith and obedience to Christ were lived.

Gordon and I enjoyed twenty-two incredibly harmonious and joyous years together before his passing. Everyone marveled at our oneness and compatibility, which we both knew was the Lord’s special gift. I began writing for CHI, and Gordon went on to co-produce Candle in the Dark, a film on the life of William Carey.  But, Martin and Katie Luther had led the way.

Diana Severance is Director of the Dunham Bible Museum and the author of Her Story and A Cord of Three Strands.

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Messy Marvelous Marriages]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/messy-marvelous-marriages https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/messy-marvelous-marriages Thu, 09 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


By Jennifer Woodruff Tait, Managing Editor, Christian History magazine 

When I was in college, I was sure I would soon find “the one” to marry. I dated several people seriously, but it never worked out. College came and went, as did seminary, as did library school (my mother kept asking me “are you ever going to do anything else besides go to school?”)  

Then I went to Duke to get my Ph.D. I was taking a class on Luther from David C. Steinmetz of blessed memory, whose profiles of lesser-known reformers have formed a part of each of our recent Reformation issues of Christian History. The last day of class, Dr. Steinmetz played a guest lecture (on a cassette tape, believe it or not, because this was the year 2000). A young man who was not normally a student in the class came to hear the lecture. I saw him sitting in the far corner. He looked about 16 (he was actually 26) and was absolutely the dictionary picture of a geek: polyester pants, pocket protector, encyclopedic words whenever he opened his mouth. How ridiculous, I thought. 

wedding day
Marriage does not guarantee bliss but is a school for character.


This past August I celebrated being married to the guy with the polyester pants for 13 years. He can tell you the story of how he thought I was incredibly unfriendly when he and I were first properly introduced about 8 months later (by the senior editor of this magazine, Chris Armstrong, no less, proving that even then I had Christian History in my future!); how it took 8 months after that, hanging out with a group of grad school friends, before we became friends ourselves; how we were friends for more months yet before we ever thought of being more than friends. Years later, when we had groups of students (from the small Christian college where Edwin taught) over to our house for board games and sweet treats, we would tell the story of how our meeting had emphatically not been love at first sight, and how being friends with your spouse is actually a pretty good way to be married. 

That was, and remains, an important message in a culture which, in both its Christian and secular incarnations, is invested in the idea that you will find the one perfect person and once you do everything will always be perfect. The fact is, everything is not and has not been perfect. There have been a couple articles going around Facebook lately making that point: “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” and “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give.” And a book by friends of Edwin’s, Are You Waiting for “The One”?: Cultivating Realistic, Positive Expectations for Christian Marriage, is well worth reading on this point. So, it turns out, is Luther. 

Martin and Katie Luther did not marry because they were madly in love and thought each other was “the one.” They had practical, logistical reasons for getting together. If Table Talk and other sources are a reliable guide, they had many conflicts and arguments. (Surely a bit of Martin Luther’s own experience is getting read back into Adam and Eve here.) But they deeply respected each other. They managed a household together. They raised children. (Of one child Martin supposedly said “Child, what have you done that I should love you? You have disturbed the whole household with your bawling!”) They traded quips and letters. They talked over their days and lives together. When he died, she was devastated. They had a profoundly Christian marriage. I hope mine can continue to be the same. 

Ada Calhoun says at the end of “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give” (in which her husband ends up paying for the same plane tickets twice—in fact, almost three times), “Epic failure is part of being human, and it’s definitely part of being married. It’s part of what being alive means, occasionally screwing up in expensive ways. And that’s part of what marriage means, sometimes hating this other person but staying together because you promised you would. And then, days or weeks later, waking up and loving him again, loving him still.” 

I think Luther and Katie would have understood.

Jennifer Woodruff Tait is Managing Editor of Christian History magazine.

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation. Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[It’s a Man’s Prerogative to Change His Mind]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/its-a-mans-prerogative-to-change-his-mind https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/its-a-mans-prerogative-to-change-his-mind Thu, 26 Jan 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by: Carolyn Custis James, author and blogger

What do a first century Jewish synagogue ruler, a twenty-first century Pakistani Muslim educator, and the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther have in common? 

These men changed their minds.

The patriarchal social system they repudiated (at least as it defines women) is a product of the fall. These radical breaks from deeply ingrained views of women resulted, not from academic debates or egalitarian influences, but from close encounters with actual women and girls.

Adam and Eve
Early Christian depiction of Adam and Eve in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter.


In first century Israel, a patriarchal culture where the birth of a son would ignite an outburst of celebration and the birth of a daughter was a grave disappointment, Jairus’ heart was captured by his only child—a gravely ill twelve year old girl—and he was beside himself at the prospect of losing her.

In twenty-first century Pakistan, a patriarchal culture where education for daughters is considered a wasted effort,  Ziauddin Yousafzai unleashed his daughter’s potential by educating her along with her brothers, in spite of the threat of Taliban violence to enforce a ban on education for girls. Today, Malala (a teenager) is an outspoken global advocate for educating girls, a survivor of a Taliban bullet to the head, and holds a Nobel Prize for her efforts.

Germany’s Luther, on the other hand, with his history of misogynist statements, seemed hopeless when it came to women. No doubt inspired by good German beer, he once pontificated:

Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children.

But even Luther changed his mind.

The matrimonially-reluctant Luther came to his senses, when Katharina von Bora (1499–1552), a rebellious nun turned Protestant, became his wife. He quickly discovered how utterly indispensable she was to him. 

Surprised by how capable, wise, and strong she proved to be—virtues he came to depend on—Luther testified to his great awakening when he wrote, 

Men cannot do without women. Even if it were possible for men to beget and bear children, they still could not do without women.

Luther discovered the truth of Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper (ezer) suitable (kenegdo) for him” (Gen 2:18)? 

In case you don’t already know, ezer is a military Hebrew word that in the Old Testament is is used most often for God as Israel’s helper. According to the esteemed Hebrew scholar Robert Alter ezer kenegdo “connotes active intervention on behalf of someone, especially in military contexts” (emphasis added). At creation, God attached this permanent label to all his daughters.

In his Genesis commentary, Victor Hamilton writes,

[Kenegdo] suggests that what God creates for Adam will correspond to him. Thus the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior, but an equal. The creation of this helper will form one-half of a polarity and will be to man as the South Pole is to the North Pole” (emphasis added).

It took firsthand experience for Luther to see the light. In God’s providence, Luther was joined in holy wedlock to a strong ezer-warrior who proved without a doubt she was his kenegdo. What is remarkable about Luther is that he didn’t see his wife as an exception to the rule, but drew conclusions about all women from what he learned from Katie. 

Yes, old dogs can learn new tricks. And men can change their minds!

Carolyn Custis James’s latest book is Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World. Find all her books and her blog at carolyncustisjames.com

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Lies about relics]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/a-relic-is-a-reminder https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/a-relic-is-a-reminder Thu, 19 Jan 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


by Jennifer Freeman, Art Researcher Christian History magazine

What material objects communicate the presence and reality of God’s grace to you? To some, the honoring of relics might seem like a completely foreign or even superstitious practice, but it is worth considering what objects in our own lives serve as “relics” of the holy—perhaps an old family Bible, a photo, or a belonging of a deceased loved one. For me, one such example of an object communicating grace is my engagement ring. A simple but beautiful piece of jewelry, it once belonged to my sister-in-law, who was tragically killed in a car accident before my husband and I had even started dating. Her widower later gave the ring, which had been in his family, to my husband in a kind of blessing of our relationship.

The term “relic” comes from the Latin reliquum, meaning “remainder.” That is, a relic is a material object which is “left over” from Jesus, Mary, or a saint. Because Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-12) and church tradition taught that Mary was “assumed” into heaven, medieval people would have understood them to leave behind no bodily relics (like bones), but only “contact-relics,” that is, material (e.g., cloth) with which they had come into contact.  On the eve of the Reformation, the Christianity of Western Europe was characterized by a fervent desire to encounter and tap into divine presence and power. This devotional attitude was so intense and pervasive that it described the vast majority of medieval Europe’s culture: the medieval life was a religious life.  Not only that, it was a religious life fueled by “stuff.” This process of intensification had begun in the twelfth century and was fueled by economic and ecclesial growth, as well as the importation of icons from the East due to the crusades.

Image reliquary pendant of the holy thorn, British Museum.


It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to overstate the excessive visual and physical nature of late medieval Christianity, which used images and the material as a central means of accessing the divine. Late medieval religious practice can rightly be generalized as superstitious and “magical,” with its objects of devotion often bearing a close resemblance to volatile pagan deities: for example, some saints were thought to grow angry if their shrines were neglected. The fear caused by the immanence of death (think Black Plague!), the uncertainty of salvation, and the intense desire to secure it led to the increase of relics, public and private images, and devotion to the Eucharist.

At best, the clergy were knowledgeable guides in spiritual matters; at worst, they manipulated and took advantage of a needy and fearful populace. Salvation, the institutional church, material wealth, pilgrimage, the Mass, and visual culture (i.e. religious “stuff”) were all inextricably tangled like the strings of a great, knotted ball of yarn, and the Reformation was their unraveling.

In the quote above, Martin Luther ridicules the unbelievable proliferation and dissemination of relics. Another similar saying is the one that there are enough (alleged) relics of the true cross to build an entire ark! There are two truths bound up in quips such as these. Yes, the distribution of relics was a political and often money-making transaction; relics could build bonds between communities, establish authority, and increase pilgrimage. Not surprisingly, this power led to the fabrication of relics, which is unfortunate, and, as Luther points out, even comical.

But, the second truth wrapped up in such barbs is a spiritual truth about the medieval understanding of the goodness of the material world (as affirmed by God at Creation and the Incarnation) and the power of the spiritual. The multiplication of relics also includes a truth about medieval piety consistent with medieval notions of spiritual power. Miraculous images were even known to reproduce themselves, which, in the medieval mind, was not much different than Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes. In theory, a medieval person would not have been that miffed by a “fake” relic—if it had come into contact with a “true” relic, it was as good as gold, because God is capable of imbuing anything with his holiness.

Of course, relics remain a part of devotional practice for many Christian communities, as they are, for example, still installed in the altars of Catholic and Orthodox churches. But even beyond the traditional conception of a “relic,” it’s useful to reflect on the goodness and power of material creation. Needless to say, the daily presence of the engagement ring on my hand is a reminder of profound loss, but also of the many blessings my husband and I have experienced over the years. Whether you think of them as "relics" or not, take a fresh look at the meaningful objects in your life and let them remind you of grace, of faith, of love from another era. 

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era. Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

Our film This Changed Everything is a fresh look at the Reformation through the eyes of scholars from a broad range of perspectives.

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Did they really say that?]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/did-they-really-say-that https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/did-they-really-say-that Thu, 12 Jan 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by: Steve Perisho, Theological Librarian

I don’t know what this says about my choice in “friends,” but my Facebook feed feels sometimes like little more than a molten flow of inflammatory lies and half-truths. The user-friendliness of this medium allows individuals to broadcast their second-hand opinions with the click of a button.  And because a picture is supposedly worth more than a thousand words, this often takes the form of an interminable stream of images or “memes.”  Combine a picture with words, attribute them to a person much more famous than yourself, and your friends will sit up, take notice, and share.  Combine them with a picture of the celebrity, and you’re home free, even if the celebrity is long gone and didn’t even say what she or he is supposed to have said.  With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at hand, Protestants especially  have been particularly prone to harkening back to the Reformers, using “their” words to make a point. This one, for example (whose accuracy is examined here), has been wielded at both ends of the theological spectrum on more than one issue:

luther pseudo quote

And the following one has been making the rounds more recently, both with a typo and without (not to mention a variety of photographs). Popularized by a best-selling evangelical biographer who has never, to my knowledge, produced a source in Bonhoeffer himself (who was, admittedly, not a Reformer), it, too, is an equal opportunity (and of course temperature-raising) troop-rallyer:

Bonhoeffer pseudo-quote

Luther’s sidekick Philipp Melanchthon, known—in an age of vitriol comparable to our own—for his cool-headedness, was right: “The truth,” he said at the Leipzig Disputation of 1519, “might fare better at a lower temperature.”

Or did he?  Could this, too, be closer to a misleading Facebook meme than to what Melanchthon actually said?

The “translation” of Melanchthon’s words is Roland Bainton’s. It derives from his famous biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand, published to thunderclaps of acclaim in 1950.  There Bainton summarizes the opening maneuvers of the Leipzig Disputation as follows:

In the afternoon began the preliminary skirmish over the rules of the tournament.  The first question was whether to have stenographers.  Eck said no, because taking them into account would chill the passionate heat of the debate.  “The truth might fare better at a lower temperature,” commented Melanchthon.

Unfortunately, my attempts to track this famous (and admittedly wonderful) saying back into the sources themselves have so far failed. Bainton did not specify his source, and the German specialists on the Leipzig Disputation whom I’ve queried so far have not been forthcoming.

Specialists on Melanchthon usually cite as a source for this the post-Disputation letter of Melanchthon to Johannes Oecolampadius dated 21 July 1519. But they tend to drop the quotation marks that Bainton availed himself of, and for an obvious reason: in that letter, at least, we find the sentiment, but nothing nearly so memorable, not even the word “truth”.  Barring the emergence of the very source that Bainton neglected to cite, we are forced to conclude that the quip should probably be attributed to Bainton (1894–1984), not the much more famous Melanchthon (1497–1560).

Bainton is of course right.  “The truth [really] might fare better at a lower temperature.”  That is a word that Christians wishing to speak into our molten socio-political climate would do well to heed. But above all we need the truth. And the habit of truth-telling starts small. With even the images and quotations we sling about, in fact. Let’s be careful about what we share and post, mindful of the accuracy of the words and images we use.

Steve Perisho is Librarian for Theology and Philosophy at Seattle Pacific University and blogger at Liber locorum communium

Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[The Holy Innocents]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-holy-innocents https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-holy-innocents Wed, 28 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

"Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye, bye, lully lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
for to preserve this day,
this poor youngling for whom we sing,
bye, bye lully lullay.

Herod the king in his raging,
charged he hath this day,
his men of night, in his own sight,
all young children to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee!
And every morn and day,
for thy parting nor say nor sing
bye, bye, lully lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye, bye, lully lullay." 

Words: Coventry carol, fifteenth century. Painting: Massacre of the Innocents by Léon Cogniet

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Christian History offers condolences on the death of Thomas C. Oden Sr.]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/christian-history-offers-condolences-on-the-death-of-thomas-c-oden-sr https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/christian-history-offers-condolences-on-the-death-of-thomas-c-oden-sr Tue, 13 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT Methodist theologian, patristics scholar, and ecumenist Thomas Oden died last Thursday night at the age of 85.

Over 20 years ago, when I was in seminary, my theology professor Dr. Steve Seamands (who is also my first cousin once removed in law, but that's another story) required us to read Oden's three-volume systematic theology as our textbook. My marginal notes attest to the fact that the encounter was a spiritual as well as intellectual one, not so much with Oden himself as with the tradition of the church that he channeled.

Later, I served as a librarian at Drew University for three years.  As such, I attended Oden's retirement banquet as a representative of the library. Oden spent his early life as a liberal mainline Protestant. He remained a mainline Protestant and committed United Methodist, but his discovery of the riches of the church fathers (and mothers) set his life on what he termed a "paleo-orthodox" journey. His conservative turn had been difficult to handle for some of his colleagues there. It taught me something useful about academia to watch some faculty members who tolerated many other things try to tolerate him.

Four years ago, we got to work with and interview Oden at Christian History for my first full issue as managing editor, the one on early African Christianity.  He was courteous and thought-provoking.

We here at Christian History would like to express our condolences to Oden's family, friends, and legions of former students. 

You can read more here:

"Give rest, O Christ, 
to your servant with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, 
the creator and maker of mankind;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth,
and to earth shall we return.
For so did you ordain
when you created me, saying,
'You are dust, and to dust you shall return.' 
All of us go down to the dust;
yet even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia." (Greek Orthodox chant)


Posted in: general

<![CDATA[reformation stories for 2017]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/reformation-stories-for-2017 https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/reformation-stories-for-2017 Fri, 30 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT The Reformation and counter-Reformation were big events in western church history. Needless to say, many Reformation-era events and figures made it into our “It Happened This Day” series. Given that 2017 marks the fifth centennary of the Reformation, we thought we would point you to those stories. More are on their way—we will be swapping out at least nine of the existing stories for new ones on Oecolampadius, Lady Jane Grey, Ignatius Loyola, John Fisher, the Book of Concord, Elizabeth I, John of the Cross, the Council of Trent, and the Reformation’s impact on Eastern Orthodoxy. Meanwhile, here is a list of Reformation-themed daily stories that are already in the annual cycle.

01-03 Peder Palladius (Danish Ref)
01-06 Olaus Petri (Swedish Ref)
01-28 Menno Simons (Anabaptist Ref)
01-29 Ulrich Zwingli (Swiss Ref)
01-31 Martin Bucer (Swiss and English Refs)

02-11 Elizabeth of Palatine (German Ref)
02-16 Phillipp Melanchthon (German Ref)

03-01 Guillaume Farel (Swiss Ref)
03-04 Bernard Gilpin (Eng Ref)
03-05 Thomas von Imbroich (Anabaptist)
03-15 John Hus (Bohemia pre-Ref)
03-30 Thomas Cranmer (Eng Ref)

04-05 Sea Beggars (Dutch Ref)
04-06 George van Pare (English Ref)
04-09 Michael Agricola (Finnish Ref)
04-25 Girolamo Savonarola (pre-Ref)

05-02 John Knox (Scottish Ref)
05-23 Defenestration of Prague (began 30-year war)
05-28 Martin Rinkart (German pastor during the 30-year war)

06-04 Niels Hemmingsen (Danish Ref)
06-09 Patrick Hamilton (Scottish Ref)

07-06 Thomas More (Eng counter-Ref)
07-09 Gorcum Martyrs (Dutch counter-Ref)
07-12 Erasmus (pre-Ref)
07-16 Edmund Campion (Eng counter-Ref)
07-18 Heinrich Bullinger (Swiss Ref)
07-21 Roman Inquisition (counter-Ref)

08-15 Francis Xavier (counter-Ref)
08-20 Martyr Synod (Anabaptist)
08-23 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (French Ref)
08-27 Pierre Viret (French Ref)

10-02 William Tyndale (Eng Ref)
10-04 Teresa of Avila (counter-Ref)
10-05 Maeyken Wens (Anabaptist)
10-08 Don Carlos de Seso (Spanish Ref)
10-11 John Zizka (Bohemia pre-Ref)
10-31 Martin Luther’s theses (German Ref)

11-02 John Calvin (Swiss Ref)
11-08 Stockholm Bloodbath, Gustav Vasa (Swedish Ref)
11-26 John Jewel (Eng Ref)

12-15 Jacques Lefèvre (French Ref)
12-20 Katherine von Bora Luther (German Ref)
12-26 Marie Durand (French Ref)

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Carpenter Work]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/carpenter-work https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/carpenter-work Thu, 15 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by Joel Mumma
Four years ago, the relentless stresses of teaching finally caught up with me and forced me into early retirement after thirty years in the classroom. Since then, I’ve had more time alone with my thoughts than perhaps ever before in my life. It has been, I must say, a most unsavory experience.

Just like Paul, I find a war within me: “For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” (Romans 7:15, 19) And even worse, my will itself is hell-bent upon its own sinful purposes so that frequently I don’t even want to do the right thing, and things I know I should hate instead I secretly love. Like Paul, I cry out “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25) I know from experience that, apart from His grace working through me, sin is my default setting: not theoretically, but perpetually.

This is the point at which I recoil from the very thought of mankind having free will. Erasmus reminds us in the quotation above that God Himself came to us, stooping far lower than a carpentry shop and lower even than a feed box in a stable. He became, as Michael Card sings, a “holy embryo.”


Carpenter Tools
Carpenter tools representative of Christ’s work in us.


But why would the Most High come so unimaginably low if we, pulling ourselves up by our own Arminian bootstraps, could just as easily have met Him somewhere in the middle on His way down? That’s because we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1): not sick, not even gravely ill, and certainly not on the mend, but dead as a doornail, like Jacob Marley, and as unlovely and unlovable as you’d expect a corpse to be.

Yet, even knowing that God has come in the person of Jesus, I waiver and feel torn like Peter: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8); but then “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

I marvel most that He wants me! Another reformer Martin Chemnitz writes, “For Christ, both God and man, must lay hold on us in order that there may be a union between him and us.” This leaves me dumbstruck! Not only must the Lord seek me, because I couldn’t seek Him and didn’t really want to anyway, but also, now that He’s got His hands on me, He has absolutely no intention of ever letting go.

Retirement lets me reinvent myself: tutor, tour guide, gardener, Grandpa. But the Lord’s plans for me are what fire my brightest hopes. Ellie Holcomb sings “He takes broken things and makes them beautiful.” Carpenters are talented that way.

by Joel Mumma, retired public schoolteacher, Lancaster, PA

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era. Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine was the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Pearl Harbor, trenches, and conscientious objectors: Christian History announces an issue on Faith in the World Wars]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/pearl-harbor-trenches-and-conscientious-objectors-christian-history-releases-an-issue-on-faith-in-the-world-wars https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/pearl-harbor-trenches-and-conscientious-objectors-christian-history-releases-an-issue-on-faith-in-the-world-wars Tue, 06 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT

Some decades ago, I was due on an anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. My mother announced her intention to name me Pearl if I arrived on the intended day. The fact that I did not is obvious from the name I got instead, but I’ve always felt a particular interest in the day and its world-changing implications.

This year, we remember the attack’s 75th anniversary on December 7, 2016. It strikes home to me with particular resonance, not just because I was almost named Pearl, but because we’re currently working on an issue of Christian History about faith in the World Wars. (We’ve previously done issues on faith in the Revolutionary War and Civil War. You can get both on our website as full-color reprints.)

The 31-year period from 1914 to 1945 saw not one, but two world-encompassing conflicts, as the “war to end all wars” (World War I) was followed by World War II just two decades later. The death and destruction that resulted and the religious questions that were raised have troubled the modern world ever since.

This special expanded issue of CH is filled with stories both heroic and haunting, both challenging and touching. Sometimes they have even brought the editors to tears working on them. You’ll hear the names you know of—Woodrow Wilson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom—and also many stories that will be new. From chaplains to conscientious objectors, from U.S. doughboys to Japanese pilots, from Congressmen to philosophers, everyone wrestled with questions of where God was in the midst of war. Their answers continue to relate to our modern world in its own kinds of turmoil.

The words of Bonhoeffer on the eve of World War II have been repeated many times, but they are no less valuable to keep before us today: “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

Subscribe now to get this issue in your mailbox in February!  

For more on the image above, click here.

Posted in: Product Release

<![CDATA["The Gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life."]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/im-not-supposed-to-like-calvin https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/im-not-supposed-to-like-calvin Thu, 17 Nov 2016 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

"The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life.  It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart." - John Calvin

Reflections by Stephen Rankin
Chaplain, Southern Methodist University

I am a United Methodist pastor steeped in the tradition of John Wesley.  Therefore, I am not supposed to like John Calvin.  But I do.  Here’s why.

Physically frail, bookish and painfully shy, Calvin nevertheless exercised strong pastoral leadership under very volatile circumstances.  In other words, the guy had courage and I admire him for it.  Geneva, which became the center of his work, was politically unstable and financially strapped.  Having recently become Reformed, this city of 10,000 inhabitants lacked appropriately trained pastors.  Calvin was called to Geneva in 1536 to supply the leadership, only to be booted from town in 1538, the victim of being on the wrong side of political infighting.  And then, when called by some of the same people who had worked to have him ousted, he returned to Geneva in 1541 and stayed till his death in 1564.  

Calvin in his study
John Calvin in his study.


In spite of political fractiousness and resistance, then, Calvin served steadfastly.  He wrote prodigiously.  His Ecclesiastical Ordinances provided the Genevan church with the organization and order it needed.  His Institutes of the Christian Religion, originally meant as a manual of instruction for Christian initiation, expanded over several editions into the magnum opus of Reformed thought.   He penned numerous commentaries on biblical books.  He wrote treatises and letters.  He preached constantly.  And as Protestant exiles streamed into Geneva, he taught and his ideas began to spread.  

Therefore, as Alister McGrath has written in A Life of John Calvin, “To speak of Calvin is to speak of Geneva.”  Given the exceedingly challenging circumstances of sixteenth-century Europe, this is a truly amazing thing to say about someone.  

While many people familiar with Calvin’s life know all of what I just summarized, some are quick to say, “That may be true, but what about Michael Servetus?” Genevan authorities put Servetus to death for heresy, since he held and promoted anti-trinitarian and anti-infant baptism views. And he wouldn’t leave town. Calvin is often blamed for his death, which proves to critics that he was cruel and dictatorial. Which means that the critics then feel justified in dismissing his ideas. While we need to understand the historical events that led to Servetus’ death, as one who lives in a part of the Protestant church sometimes proudly “not Reformed,” it pains me that we dismiss Calvin because of this one incident and miss the privilege of interacting with this great Reformer’s contributions.  

Which brings me to the quote at the top of this post.  It comes from Book III, chapter 6, of the Institutes of the Christian Religion and it is by no means an isolated comment.  In fact, as one reads widely in that part of the Institutes, one sees how important a theme it must have been for Mr. Calvin.  

Perhaps with a little irony, what old-time Methodists call “heart religion” is captured quite aptly in Calvin’s assertion.  In fact, it might do us well to lay this statement from John Wesley (1703–1791), the father of Methodism, alongside Calvin’s.  Mr. Wesley, reflecting on a major turning point in his spiritual life, wrote in his journal “I began to see that true religion was seated in the heart, and that God’s law extended to all our thoughts as well as words and actions.”  

It is clear, in reading John Calvin’s works, that he really cared about holiness.  He cared deeply about godly character, not just for individual Christians but also for the whole community.   We Methodists tend to think holiness is our turf.  Some of us would be surprised. 

As we approach the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, I have a little dream.  Let’s recommit to getting to know these Reformers in their own terms and contexts.  (Thank you, Christian History for helping us!) Sometimes, proponents of diverse parts of the Protestant tradition know only caricatures of other parts.  Maybe we could change.

More from Stephen Rankin in Amid the Wreck of Things from CHM #104 on the Industrial Economy and Confessor in Chief from CHM #111 on Billy Graham.  Don't miss Christian History magazine #120 on "Calvin, Councils, and Confessions," available for preorder here.

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box above right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Christian History’s Fifth]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/christian-historys-fifth https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/christian-historys-fifth Fri, 04 Nov 2016 00:00:00 GMT

Dear Friend of Christian History

Have you ever missed an important anniversary? Well, we almost missed a big one! When issue #100 on the King James Bible went to press in May 2011, Christian History magazine was reborn as the unique donation-based print publication you see today. We’ve reached our fifth anniversary thanks to the support of our faithful readers! It’s a milestone we shouldn’t miss, but here’s the reason we nearly did: a far bigger milestone, the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, is upon us! 

 October 31, 2017 marks a half millennium since the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses, a moment that has come to signify sweeping change in the Church and virtually all other aspects of civilization. In preparation for this colossal anniversary, we’ve been digging through the history books to uncover the roots of reform, the hearts of the reformers, and the ongoing effects of their ideas. We’re so grateful for your partnership in this endeavor! 

As a Christian History reader, you have already seen issues 115 Luther Leads the Way and 118 The People’s Reformation. The third installment in this Reformation series will profile the life and work of John Calvin. The issue will include a keepsake Reformation timeline to help put everything in perspective. Watch for it in your mailbox in early December. And we'll conclude the series in May 2017 with an issue on the Catholic or Counter Reformation, where we'll also learn about the ecumenical movement. 

We are also proud to present our most extensive and intensive historical Reformation film production to date, The Reformation: This Changed Everything. This engaging and thoughtful three-hour docu-mentary examines the roots and the fruits of reform while asking important questions about continuing fissures in the Christian church. Featuring a diverse array of Protestant and Catholic scholars, a custom 14-lesson study guide, and breathtaking shots of key locations across Europe, it’s a film you won’t want to miss. And we are thrilled to announce that we’ve signed an agreement to broadcast the series on local PBS stations. If you’d like to see This Changed Everything reach a wider audience, you can help by contacting your local PBS station and request they carry the series for your area.

 Our new “Refo Thursday” series promises to be fun, informative, and devotional all at the same time! We’ve asked a variety of writers to share personal stories while reflecting on Reformation-era quotes in a kind of theological conversation with the reformers. Find them each Thursday on our blog, our e-newsletter, and our Facebook page, beginning on October 6 and continuing through October 2017: www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/.   

In 2016 we were delighted to bring you many important stories about the history of our faith. Early in 2016, Christian History published The Surprising Quakers, and found an active group that is not as quiet as we sometimes think! Our most recent issue on The Wonder of Creation may well be the most beautifully illustrated issue to date. We’ll begin 2017 with a special double issue on the incredible faith stories of World War I and World War II. We know you’ll appreciate learning about the active faith of heroic veterans who faced unimaginable danger and uncertainty. 

We’ve heard your requests for a handy way to protect and organize your collection of Christian History magazines, and we now offer attractive slipcases for your convenience. You can find these and a list of available back issues to complete your collection on the order form inside each issue of Christian History or online any time. We’ve been gradually reprinting out-of-print issues, so check back frequently for an updated list.

Please see our enclosed flyer for many of the resources mentioned here.  Our complete storefront is available at www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/storefront/

Together with you we look forward to the coming year and to telling the many stories of faith that have spanned both the globe and the ages. Thank you for your partnership.  


William K. Curtis

General Manager 

P.S. As we celebrate both a five-year and a five-hundred-year anniversary, we give thanks for each of you who supports our mission to bring “the story of the Church to the people of the Church.”  If you have not yet sent a donation in 2016, please consider making one now with the form below, by phone at 1-800-468-0458, or online at www.christianhistorymagazine.org

Posted in: general, News

<![CDATA[Great change is normal]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/great-change-is-normal https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/great-change-is-normal Thu, 29 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

“By identifying the new learning with heresy, you make orthodoxy synonymous with ignorance.”—Erasmus

Reflections by Michelle Curtis, CHI intern

My church has an “old ladies” Sunday school class, and though I’m more than a half-century younger than them, I really enjoy their class!  One recent Sunday we discussed how drastically the church has changed since their childhood. Many of these women have attended this suburban Mennonite church their whole lives, and they were reflecting that nearly everything has changed. So I asked them: In the midst of all this change in the church, what has remained? What’s still the same that we need to hold onto moving forward?

One woman responded immediately: “Jesus!” There was a pause as the group nodded in agreement. Then another woman added, “And the basic message of the Gospel, that Jesus came and died and rose again to bring us into right relationship with God.” That’s it. These women told me the only things that make the church recognizable from the church of their childhood 80 years ago are the centrality of Jesus and the good news that Jesus takes away our sin and restores our relationship with God.

Jesus Christ icon
Whatever else changes, Christ and his work does not.


At first, I was appalled. That’s a lot of change! It’s scary to think about how much may change in my lifetime if this trend continues. But as I let their words sink in, I found myself comforted. Great change is normal. As long as we hold fast to the good news of salvation in Jesus, we do not need to panic when everything else about the church, from the music to the “dress code” to denominational structure, seems to be shifting.

The Reformation was also an era of immense change, in both church and society. When I first heard of Erasmus, I was intrigued by the story of a reformer of Luther’s era who remained within the Catholic Church. In a time of great change, Erasmus argued for reform in the church and championed new ideas and learning, particularly humanism (an academic movement interested in ancient Greek and Roman thought). Yet he did not reject the orthodox tradition he had inherited. On the contrary, this reformer claimed that holding fast to orthodoxy must not lead us to reject new ideas and learning outright. We should always be learning new things with our God-created minds.

Erasmus reminds me, just like the women in my Sunday school class did, that I do not need to be so afraid of the rapid changes in our society and the church. New learning can threaten our familiar ways of doing things or familiar ways of relating to God. But following Jesus requires that we cling to the Gospel and the deep time-tested traditions of Scripture and the creeds while also moving forward to understand what Jesus is doing in our present context. Though it can be intimidating and difficult work, both Erasmus and the women encourage me to remain centered on Jesus and to remain open to the new work God may be doing in our own context. This is the challenge we face as part of a living tradition.

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era. Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

More on Erasmus in Christian History magazine issue #115 and especially in The Man Who Yielded to No One by David C. Fink.

Want more Christian History?  Sign up for our Daily e-mail on our "Today in Christian History" page.  Many of the stories we'll feature in 2017 will be related to the Reformation. 


Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Martin Luther is my favorite among the reformers]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/martin-luther-is-my-favorite-among-the-reformers https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/martin-luther-is-my-favorite-among-the-reformers Thu, 22 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

Oh, then rejoice that through His Son
God is with sinners now at one;
Made like yourselves of flesh and blood,
Your Brother is the eternal God.
—Martin Luther “Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar” 1543. Trans. Richard Massie

Reflections by Matt Forster, writer and editor at big-words.net

Of all the apostles, I have a particular appreciation for Peter. Like me, Peter is human. If I close my eyes and imagine myself into the narratives of the New Testament, I can’t see myself as the cow-eyed John or the guileless Nathanael. It’s the weak, stumbling Peter that seems right.

Manger scene
Luther wrote Christmas hymns.


Peter—the guy who walks on water, then almost drowns. He’s called “the Rock” by Christ, who later calls him “Satan.” Peter witnesses the transfiguration on the mountain, but can’t keep his eyes open for an hour in the Garden of Gethsemane. He tries to protect the Son of God with a sword—an ill-considered idea from the start—and then denies knowing him three times. Peter is, undeniably and without question, a fallen human being.

For the same reason Martin Luther is my favorite among the reformers. When I read the works of Luther, I see his humanity in all its brilliance and ugliness. On one page he is eloquently defending the faith; later he is vulgar and crass. He can be kind, humorous, or downright racist. In a Christmas sermon he expounds on the need to accept Christ not just as a child borne of a virgin, but as the Savior. Then he rails in his way against the pope and the papists, and also denounces the Turks. Then for good measure, he censures antisacramentarians, fanatics, and sectarians. I can’t imagine his Christmas cards. I am almost certain there would be an image of someone mooning the devil.

It would be nice to gloss over the less attractive bits of Luther’s personality, to recast him in the mold of the stolid Calvin, let’s say. But to fairly edit Luther for polite society would also deny the wit, the humor, and the joy of the man. This joy is seen in his table talks and the hymns he wrote for the church—many of which were sung to common beer hall tunes.

While future reformers would strip their churches of ornament and proscribe the Christmas holiday, Luther felt there was something worthwhile in the community gathering to celebrate the birth of Christ, and several of Luther’s hymns were written for that occasion. That’s where our quote today comes from. It is Luther’s hymn, “Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar” (“From the Sky Came the Host of Angels”), which we Anglophones know as “To Shepherds, as They Watched at Night.”

Oh, then rejoice that through His Son
God is with sinners now at one;
Made like yourselves of flesh and blood,
Your Brother is the eternal God.

Luther wrote a lot about the cross and justification by faith. In his Christmas hymns, however, he celebrates the language of the incarnation, Christ’s “flesh-and-blood”-ness—Christ as our brother, Christ as God abiding with his creation, Christ whose victory in the flesh will support our weak flesh.

The imagery of God with us in the form of a man is a humbling one, especially in light of the kinds of people we can be—in many ways, Peters and Luthers all. This conviction—that Christ is our brother, that we are God’s own—gives us the strength to be fully ourselves. To try and fail, and try again as we travel the narrow path. It’s the confidence I hear behind Luther’s oft-cited letter to Melanchthon, where wrote, “let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger.”

It’s all set in the faith expressed in the final stanza of “To Shepherds, as They Watched at Night”

Ye shall and must at last prevail;
God’s own ye are, ye cannot fail.

Matt Forster is a writer and editor at big-words.net and a frequent contibutor to Christian History magazine. 

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era. Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

More on Luther in Christian History magazine issue #115

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<![CDATA[What <em>Sola Scriptura</em> Doesn’t Mean]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/what-sola-scriptura-doesnt-mean https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/what-sola-scriptura-doesnt-mean Thu, 05 Jan 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by Ryan Klein

When I first read the quote above, it reminded me of some things I used to hear people say when I was a very young Christian. “If it’s not in the Bible, then it’s not true”; “If you can’t point to it in a verse, I won’t believe it.” We believed the Bible contained all the truth in all its fullness—at least, all theological truth—and so we discouraged attempts to understand God that strayed beyond it. You don't need doctrine, and you don't need theology. All you need is the Bible alone. Sola scriptura, after all.

Infant baptism
Anabaptists rejected infant baptism based on their understanding of Scripture.


Sola Scriptura was a keystone of the reformation, and as a young evangelical Christian, I held on to it tightly. But in college, I began to rethink what I thought it meant. In my sophomore year, for instance, I learned about the Arian Controversy of the fourth century, during which a priest named Arius argued that Jesus was not actually God, but was the “first created” being, adopted by God in a special way. To me that clearly sounded like going wrong by going outside the Bible. “The plain and clear truth of Scripture is that Christ is God,” I thought to myself. So I was shocked to learn how successful Arius had been in gathering a huge number of followers, and how it took the church several decades to decide that his beliefs were heretical. “How could it take so long to denounce him?”, I wondered. “The Trinity is right there in Scripture!”

But when I tried to point out where in Scripture, I had a hard time. I found a handful of passages that seemed to allude to it, but learned that Arius knew the same passages and had linked them together to support his view in a surprisingly convincing way. After some study, I began to  see how he had come to his conclusion through an honest pursuit of God’s truth. And it wasn’t until I had waded through dozens of treatises from other early Christians like Athanasius, whose views on this eventually triumphed, that I could articulate why I thought he was wrong.

This forced me to admit that the doctrine of the Trinity is not “right there in scripture” in the way I’d thought. It’s in there, but very implicitly, rarely ever more than hinted at. In fact, I had to admit, the doctrine wasn’t ever fully articulated until those 4th century Christians wrote it down—quite “outside” of the Bible.

Fortunately, I learned, I had been looking at doctrine, and Sola Scriptura, the wrong way. I’d thought “the Bible alone” meant “no doctrines,” and had treated doctrine as “extra stuff” on top of what the Bible teaches; but in reality, doctrine is part of the process of understanding the Bible itself. Take the Arian controversy: Christians didn’t really understand certain parts of the Bible, I’d say, until they had debated various christological doctrines and settled on the doctrine of the Incarnation. So even though this and other doctrines originate outside of the bible, they’re not extra stuff—they’re the very fruit of thoughtful Bible study.  Sola Scriptura can’t mean “no doctrines,” because if we’re going to understand scripture at all, we’re going to need them.

When I first read the above quote from Hubmaier, I figured he didn’t understand this, as I had not. Even if there are no actual baptisms of infants in scripture, a good doctrine of baptism might still call for infant baptism. It seemed to me that Hubmaier was simply rejecting the idea of doctrine entirely. But I realized I was wrong— he rejected infant baptism because he believed that what is in the bible implies a doctrine incompatible with it. That is why he said “If there is an instance, I’m defeated” and not “If there is no instance, I win.” It is a subtle difference, but a very important one; the latter neglects the fact that even if a practice or belief isn’t expressly taught in the Bible, it can be very Biblical indeed.

Another way of saying this is that there are two ways to treat the Bible: as the end of conversation, or as the beginning of it. To treat it as the end is to expect it to present crystal-clear teachings and instructions whenever you require them. To treat it as the beginning is to acknowledge the difficult work it expects of us, and to begin the work with people who will think deeply with you. If the Christians of the fourth century had treated it as the end, we probably would not have the doctrine of the Trinity. Fortunately for us, they, and almost all the leaders of the great Christian Tradition—including Hubmaier—have long seen the Bible as a beginning. So in this year of commemorating 500 years of the Reformation, I plan to embrace Sola Scriptura as the beginning, not the end.

Ryan Klein is the Marketing Coordinator of Templeton Press

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

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<![CDATA[A bitter wound]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/a-bitter-wound https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/a-bitter-wound Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

“The Lord has certainly inflicted a bitter wound in the death of our infant son. But He is Himself a father and knows what is good for His children.” —John Calvin

Reflections By Kaylena Radcliff, CHI's circulation manager and author of Corrie ten Boom

In 1540 Calvin married Idelette de Bure, widow of his friend Jean Stordeur. Idelette was a woman of strength, individuality, and character, and, as Calvin described, his “best companion.”  Though they shared a short nine years together, it was filled with a lifetime of joy and sorrow. In 1542 the couple lost their first child together, Jacques, at 2 weeks old after he was born prematurely.  Over the next five years they would lose two more infants in a similar way.

Empty crib
John and Idelette knew the sorrow of empty cribs.


In a letter to a fellow minister Calvin penned the above reflection; one that I stumbled upon shortly after my own miscarriage.

It was my second pregnancy. The confirmation surprised us, but my husband and I were overjoyed by the blessing. Despite my husband’s warnings that our articulate 2 year old would spoil the surprise, I prayed for baby with my daughter every night, already imagining life as a family of four. In that short time, we began our preparations, our name brainstorming, our announcement plans.

About a week later warning signs of an impending miscarriage turned my anticipation to plunging anxiety, and a resulting overnight stay at the ER confirmed my fears. I was losing the baby.  

No words adequately express the pervasive, keen despair I felt then, but Calvin’s descriptor of “bitter wound” comes close. Peace came quickly after the death of a believing grandparent only a month before, but this was different. Here I wrestled with questions that until that moment were mere philosophical conundrums—questions of original sin in the young and the unborn, of God’s justice and mercy, and of the meaning of election, among other things. Now that it was my reality, each question brimmed with new immediacy, colored by the grief and loneliness that too many parents know. And my uncertainty yielded no comfort.

I wonder if these same thoughts swirled through the minds of Calvin and Idelette as they did  through mine. Though Calvin addresses infant election in his Institutes, confirming in his interpretation of John 3:36 that infants cannot be condemned since they cannot exercise willing unbelief, was his assurance challenged by his own experience? I know mine was.

But just as theology does not develop in a vacuum, it is not tested in one, either.  The concepts and doctrines that Calvin had devoted himself to exploring and teaching were now held to the fire, and there is no such thing as a scholastic understanding of God’s sovereignty and love in the heartrending aftermath of such a loss.

In times of seemingly senseless events, we also stand at the crossroads. We have to earnestly and honestly consider if we really believe that our God is who He reveals Himself to be, trusting where our human sight fails. For Calvin’s part, he bowed his head in faith, and even in the midst of such pain and uncertainty did not lean on his own understanding (as impressively vast as it was), but acknowledged God as his Good Father who knows what is best, even when it’s not readily demonstrated in this life.  

Truly there will be seasons and sufferings that will challenge our fundamental beliefs, and even if we come out the other side intact, we may never in this life receive an answer that satisfies our questions.  We can, however, be satisfied in what the Scriptures consistently confirm: He is our Good Father, knowing above all what is good for each of his little ones.

Kaylena Radcliff is CHI's circulation manager and the author of Corrie Ten Boom, a biography in CHI's Torchlighter collection.

Read much more about Calvin in the latest issue of Christian History magazine

Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.

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