I learned today that, as the Romans put it, you lived
. You fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. And now you have entered into the eternal presence of the Lord and have probably heard "well done" by now.
I first became acquainted with your writing through a musician, Rich Mullins
(who you've probably reconnected with by now) and his music that was affected by your teaching and writing. I'm pretty sure you had something to do with the title of his "Liturgy, Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band"
Speaking of ragamuffins, your book The Ragamuffin Gospel
taught me about the truth of God's amazing grace maybe more than anything I've ever read or heard. It was one of those few books that moved me to tears every few pages it seemed (and I don't cry hardly ever). It's one of the few books that I would buy in bulk to give to friends. My favorite quote from the book is actually not your own (from Robert Capon, Between Noon and Three,
114-15) but one that captures the spirit of the book. You, a Franciscan Catholic, describe in living color how the Protestant Reformers must have felt when they rediscovered grace and the gospel: The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen hundred year old, two hundred proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single handedly.
To this you add:
In essence, the Reformers recovered the biblical gospel: That God accepts us sinners not because of any work or supposed merit of our own, but because of His own mercy, on the ground of Christ’s finished work in which by grace we put our trust. Thus, today we remember that Christianity at the core is “not primarily a moral code but a grace filled journey; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands.”Ragamuffin Gospel was also a story of your journey. Your obituary in short form and your last work All is Grace (your memoir) show us that you lived a life in need of grace, you reveled in it, and you passed it on to other beggars. Thank you for your brokenness and transparency.
When my son was born in 2003, we named him Brennan. Partly because we liked the meaning of the name in its original Gaelic ("Prince" or "sword") but mostly because we wanted him to emulate you. We continue to pray that he will.
In his latest work, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity
, Robert Louis Wilken has invited the reader to a delightful journey that spans the church's first millenium. Now professor emeritus of History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, Wilken pays forward the fruits of his career in early Christian studies and proves to be a trusted guide through his profound handle on the narrative of the period. Similar to his manner in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought,
he frames the work around themes and people and, in the words of one reviewer, we "meet"
many of they key personalities in the story of Christianity while getting a sense of the social, theological, and political issues.
The following were some highlights:
- As the subtitle indicates, it's about the global church and not limited to Europe or the West. Much space is given to the church of the East and the reader will come away with a good grasp of the likes of the Jacobites, Melkites, and miaphysites. As the book stops around year 1000, the reader becomes aware of the issues (cultural, political, and theological) that brought division between Western/Latin Eastern/Greek.
- Wilken narrates the church's story, especially the Eastern church, in the context of Islam's rise and expansion. As he notes, "By the middle of the eighth century more than fifty percent of the Christian world had fallen under Muslim rule" (p. 307). As Christians continued to live, work, and worship as minorities in Muslim controlled societies, Wilken has ably captured this. Also, this context provides insights into the world and thought of Eastern theologians like John of Damascus and Theodore AbuQurrah.
- Wilken's style is accessible and inviting. Further, a new student to early Christianity is encouraged to press on because each of the 36 chapters (plus Afterword) are short and can be easily read in one sitting.
My main critique is that, despite that fact that this work is the fruit of a lifetime of study, the reader does not benefit from that research by way of footnotes or endnotes. Though Wilken has indicated that this is deliberate and that the work should not be considered a monograph, some basic documentation would have been a real plus.
Despite this, the book does include a helpful set of maps, a bibliography of key primary and secondary sources, and a chronology that will aid rtainly help the reader grasp the overall narrative.
In short, in this work, Prof. Wilken has provided a great resource to students of history and to the church as a whole.
The following is my review of David Dunaetz' The Early Religious History of France: An Introduction for Church Planters and Missionaries
that was published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelical Missions Quarterly.Should we read history missiologically, and can that historical reflection help mission practice today? David Dunaetz attempts to answer yes to those questions in writing this new book. Dunaetz’s aim is to offer an overview of the first one thousand years of Christianity in France, especially for those with a superficial knowledge of French church history. His primary audience is the missionary community from North America and his goals are to equip them with a greater understanding of French church history to aid them in more effective church planting in France (pp. 1-4).
Following a brief introduction, Dunaetz’s work is organized in six chapters. In the first five, particular periods are broken down, including the pre-Christian era to the second century (chap. 1); the second and third-century Church (chap. 2); the fourth-century Church and official Roman recognition of Christianity (chap. 3); the Church in the fifth to seventh centuries (chap. 4); and the Carolingian period from the eighth to tenth centuries (chap. 5). In chapter 6, Dunaetz provides a brief overview of French church history from 1000 AD to the present day. Except for the final chapter, his practice is to narrate key historical elements from that period and then discuss their missiological applications for today.
This book has a couple of weaknesses. First, with only twenty works cited, The Early Religious History of France
seems to be lacking in source materials for a robust historical study. Related, chapters 1 and 2 could have benefited from a stronger historical foundation before any missiological reflection was attempted. Finally, although chapters 3-5 have a stronger historical foundation, I consistently struggled to see the author’s warrant to jump from historical data to missiological application without the best historical foundation. While I applaud Dunaetz’s missiological reading of history that seeks to inform how we approach mission today, this seems to be the biggest weakness in the book.
In terms of positive highlights, Dunaetz does a helpful job of introducing the reader to key church leaders and theologians (e.g., Martin of Tours, Hilary of Poitiers, and Vincent of Lerins), as well as political leaders (e.g., Clovis, Pepin, Charles Martel, and Charlamagne). Culturally speaking, Dunaetz aids the reader in understanding the differences between the Gallican peoples, the Franks, and the Goths—all within the mosaic of the Roman Empire. Finally, in terms of style, the work is well written and accessible to benefit a broad audience of readers.
Although not an in-depth historical work, Dunaetz’s book should serve Christian workers in France (from the whole Global Church) to grasp some key points in French church history toward better understanding the French and planting churches among them.
I am grateful for Dave Broucek's kind review of Brazilian Evangelical Missions in the Arab World
in the April 2013 issue of Evangelical Missions Quarterly:Ed Smither’s work represents a mature evangelical description of Latin American missionary efforts. Earlier narratives of missions from south of the border exulted in Luis Bush’s bold declaration, “From a mission field, Latin America has become a mission force.” Smither has no less admiration for the Latin missionary movement, but his description is more “thick” (to use a term from qualitative research) and more nuanced.
(Visit EMQ online
to read the read the rest of the review).
Dave serves with South America Mission
, a key organization in Latin America for nearly a century. It was my privilege last Fall to sit with some of the SAM field leaders and share what I had learned through writing the book.
During lunch yesterday, I got a call from ABC Columbia
to do a brief interview about the present conclave to select the next pope for the Roman Catholic Church. It was an enjoyable conversation about how the popes have been selected by the college of cardinals since 1379 and how this particular election is unique because of the resignation of Benedict XVI. I am amazed how ten of minutes of video footage can be spliced into short sound bites (assuring me that I have no future in journalism or politics).
When asked about what part of the world the next pope would come from, I related that the church would probably follow tradition and elect a leader from Europe. I hope I'm wrong though and it would be great if one of the non-Western front runners
--two from Brazil, one from Ghana, and one from the Philippines--would be seriously considered. Why? Because the majority of the world's Christians--Catholic, Protestant, or Independent--are from the Global South or Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The leadership of the church ought to reflect these global realities.
As an evangelical Protestant, my prayer is that the leadership of our evangelical churches, denominations, missions, and seminaries would also reflect this majority world reality. But it means being deliberate. It means that North American and European leaders must be deliberately humble and seek to cultivate global leadership from the majority world and, then, we must trust them and follow their leadership. I was very encouraged to hear this week that Operation Mobilization has named Lawrence Tong of Singapore to be just the third international leader in its history. Of course, many new missions and churches are springing up organically in the non-Western world allowing us in the West to pray for, encourage, and appropriately partner in ministry.
In John 7:53-8:11, the famous account of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus offers great insight into God's mercy and justice. John records the Lord's famous verdict (v. 7-11):“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Preaching from this passage in the fifth century, Augustine (Tractates on the Gospel of John 33.6-7) helpfully comments on this tension between mercy and holiness and how we tend to love the first but are slow to embrace the second: "Neither will I condemn you." What is this, 0 Lord? Do you therefore favor sins? Not so, evidently. Mark what follows: "Go and sin no more." Therefore the Lord did also condemn, but condemned sins, not the sinner. For if he was a patron of sin, he would say, Neither will I condemn you; go, live as you will; be secure in my deliverance, however much you will to sin. I will deliver you from all punishment even of hell, and from the tormentors of the infernal world. He did not say this. Let them pay attention, then, who love his gentleness in the Lord, and let them fear his truth.... The Lord is gentle, the Lord is long suffering, the Lord is full of pity; but the Lord is also just, the Lord is also true. He bestows on you an interval for correction, but you love the delay of judgment more than the amendment of your ways
(cited in Oden and Elowsky, On the Way to the Cross: 40 Days with the Church Fathers. Kindle Location 640-643).
Where do we need mercy and forgiveness today? In what area of our lives must we, by the Spirit's enabling power, go and sin no more?
I'm excited that the Southeast Regional Evangelical Missiological Society
meeting will begin tomorrow on our campus at CIU
. Our theme is the "Family and Mission" and we are excited to have Dr. Jerry Rankin, former president of the International Mission Board, as our plenary speaker as well as 14 other papers and presentations. There is still time to register on-line HERE or by registering on site Friday. The updated schedule is below:Friday, March 8
11:30a-1:15p, Packet pickup/late registration (Hoke Lobby)
1:30p, Welcome (Hoke Auditorium)
1:50-2:35p, Plenary Session (Hoke Auditorium)
Dr. Jerry Rankin (IMB/Zwemer Center), “The Family—An Asset to Fulfilling God's Mission”
2:45-3:25p, Session 1
David Cashin (Columbia International University), “Family issues in Preventable Missionary Attrition: An Overview.” (Fisher 206)
3:25-3:40p, Coffee Break (Fisher 1st floor)
3:45-4:25p, Session 2
Harvey Payne and Leah Herod (Columbia International University), “Understanding Fourth Culture Kids: What happens when you add the world of special needs to Third Culture Kids?” (Fisher 206)
4:30-5:10p, Session 3
Trevor and Katie Castor (Columbia International University), “Mission or family health? Our Journey in Mission” (Fisher 206)
John Wood (Biola University/IMB), “The Church in China: Ready to Finish the Task of Missions within Their Own Country and Beyond” (Fisher 203)
5:15-5:55p, Session 4
Gwen Broucek (South America Mission), “Intercultural Missionary Marriages” (Fisher 206)
Rachel Wood (Biola University/IMB), “Together With God: Strategic Training for Missionary Women” (Fisher 203)
6:00-7:00p, Dinner (note: CIU cafeteria ends serving at 6:30p)Saturday, March 9
8:30-9:10a, Session 5
Kayla Wilson (Liberty University), “A Holistic Approach to Cross-Cultural Education” (Fisher 206)
Chris Little (Columbia International University), “Business as Mission (BAM) Under Scrutiny” (Fisher 203)
9:15-9:55a, Session 6
Jere Phillips (Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary), “Managing Stress Effectively on the Mission Field” (Fisher 206)
Ed Smither (Columbia International University), “Bible translation in the early church: the Syriac, Latin, and Armenian Scriptures explored through missiological lenses” (Fisher 203)
9:55a-10:10a, Coffee Break (Fisher 1st floor)
10:15-10:55a, Session 7
Becky Magnuson (Columbia International University), “Member Care for Finishers: Life and Career Concerns” (Fisher 206)
Andrew McFarland (Asbury Theological Seminary), “The Family Life of William Carey” (Fisher 203)
11:00-11:40a, Session 8
Bill Rogers (CRU/Columbia International University) “Sexual Addiction in Missionary Personnel: Is There Hope?” (Fisher 206)11:40a-12:00p, Closing Comments (Fisher 103)
The weekend, March 8-9 at CIU
, we are privileged to host the Southeast Regional meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society
. I will be giving a paper entitled "Bible translation in the early church: the Syriac, Latin, and Armenian Scriptures explored through missiological lenses," which is part of a chapter of a book I'm working on on early Christian mission. I've posted the abstract below:
With nearly 2000 of the world’s 6900 language groups still without Scripture, organizations like Wycliffe labor to bring the Word of God to every cultural group in the world. Though Wycliffe has been instrumental in accelerating the pace of Bible translation in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the value of translating Scripture was also evident in early Christian mission. In fact, because the Gospels and New Testament were composed and circulated in common (koine)
Greek, as opposed to Aramaic or even classical Greek, it can be argued that the New Testament Scriptures are translations in a sense and they testify to the missional nature of the faith.
Referring specifically to the four Gospels, Irvin and Sundquist have helpfully summarized, “Crucial for the transmission of this memory [of Jesus] was the composition of books we call Gospels.”
Lamin Sanneh, a leading scholar of global Christian history, has referred to this core value of the Christian faith—making Scripture available in the heart languages of the world’s cultures—as the vernacular principle. Identifying Christianity as a “vernacular translation movement,” Sanneh asserts that the “vintage mark” of the faith was that it has been a movement of “mission by translation.”
Sanneh continues, “Mission as translation affirms the missio Dei
[mission of God] as the hidden force for its work. It is the missio Dei
that allowed translation to enlarge the boundaries of the proclamation.”
With the Gospel moving across social and cultural boundaries, Sanneh further adds that translating into local languages served to clarify the gospel message within a given people group. He writes, “Scriptural translation rested on the assumption that the vernacular has a primary affinity with the gospel, the point being conceded by the adoption of indigenous terms and concepts for the central categories of the Bible.”
In short, Christian mission in the early church and later periods has been facilitated by Bible translation.
In this paper, I will explore evidence for the vernacular principle at work in the early church by narrating briefly the key accounts of Bible translation. While mention has already been made of the significance of the koine
Greek New Testament, we will focus on the translation of Scripture into Syriac, Latin, and Armenian with an eye toward their missional significance.  Sanneh, Translating the Message, 1. Irvin and Sundquist, History of the World Christian Movement, 50. Sanneh, Translating the Message, 7, 29. Sanneh, Translating the Message, 31, 82. Sanneh, Translating the Message, 166.
(Pictured above: a facsimile of the Book of Kells (c. 800) on the Isle of Iona, Scotland taken during my trip there last Spring. This was an illustrated edition of the Latin Gospels completed by the Columban monks at Iona.)
In 590, Columban (543-615) left the monastery in Bangor, Ireland and established a community of missionary monks at Luxeuil, France where he served for twenty years. Though he initially found favor with the local king and was given the freedom to preach, he was later expelled by the king of Burgundy for preaching against the king’s immorality. After leaving Luxeuil, he and his monks continued evangelizing other parts of France and Northern Italy.
While meditating on John 4
--Jesus' famous encounter with the woman at the well--I ran across this prayer of Columban in Oden and Elowskys' Lenten devotional, On the Way to the Cross: 40 Days with the Church Fathers (Kindle Locations 244-250).
He writes:I beseech you, merciful God, to allow me to drink from the stream which flows from your fountain of life. May I taste the sweet beauty of its waters, which sprang from the very depths of your truth. 0 Lord, you are that fountain from which I desire with all my heart to drink. Give me, Lord Jesus, this water, that it may quench the burning spiritual thirst within my soul, and purify me from all sin. I know, King of Glory, that I am asking from you a great gift. But you give to your faithful people without counting the cost, and you promise even greater things in the future. Indeed, nothing is greater than yourself, and you have given yourself to mankind on the cross. Therefore, in praying for the waters of life, I am praying that you, the source of those waters, will give yourself to me. You are my light, my salvation, my food, my drink, my God.
Columban's meditations on John 4, which include an application of prayer, worship, and renewed perspective are quite worthy of imitation today.
Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Resurrection Sunday, is a time for confession and turning away from sin. While this ought to be a daily discipline, it is still good to have a focused season for this. In my Lenten devotions, I've been using a guide called On the Way to the Cross: 40 Days with the Church Fathers
--a journey through John's Gospel with excerpts from sermons and writings from the church fathers. One benefit is that each day begins with this prayer of confession, which can also be accessed from the Book of Common Prayer
Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have wandered and strayed from your ways
like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires
of our own hearts.
We have offended against your holy laws.
We have left undone those things
that we ought to have done;
and we have done those things
that we ought not to have done;
and there is no health in us.
But you, O Lord, have mercy upon us sinners.
Spare those who confess their faults.
Restore those who are penitent,
according to your promises declared to mankind
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,
that we may live a disciplined, righteous and godly life,
to the glory of your holy name.
I have found benefit in reading the prayer slowly, focusing on sins that I have committed and on what I have failed to do. I find much encouragement that the prayer ends with a focus on God's merciful nature--one who forgives sins and restores--and the renewed hope and expectation of new life in Christ.