Monday, August 1, 2011

An excerpt from the Introduction

A metaphor for church history is a journey, a pilgrimage, or perhaps a parade—a parade that begins as the Messiah marches out of the pages of the Old Testament.  The parade meanders through Palestine and reaches a pinnacle with the Triumphal Entry into Old Jerusalem, only to be followed by a charade:  trial and execution.  The parade will end one day in New Jerusalem when, from every tongue and tribe and nation, the saints go marching in.  But in the millennia before that glorious new day, the parade of Christian history marches on with colorful fanfare, complete with clowns and garish floats and the steady beating of the bass drum.

How does a historian even begin to relate this wonderful drama to readers?  For me it would be natural to offer the story in the very chaotic jumble that it presents itself.  But I have found that my students desire structure and organization.  So what I seek to offer here is the delightfully messy disarray of our Christian heritage in a free and easy style with a highly organized structure.

            The book has 24 chapters divided in two parts of 12 chapters each. Each chapter contains all the same components, including an opening page of personal remarks, a parade-of-history sidebar, an everyday-life section on a relevant topic, a What if segment serving as wrap-up, and a bibliography for further reading.

            There are countless ways to partition the history of Christianity as one formulates a textbook, the chronological always competing with the topical.  In this volume, Part I covers a time frame beginning with the New Testament, continuing through medieval Catholicism, and ending with the Magisterial Reformation, led by Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin.

            Part II highlights a new movement within the church, proceeding with fits and starts, only to gain momentum as it triumphs in the twentieth century.  The first and foundational chapter of this Part features the Anabaptists who called for separation of church and state in opposition to the Magisterial Reformers and Catholic Church of the previous centuries.  The following chapters carry on with the institutionalized Church as seen in the Catholic Counter Reformation and the English Reformation, while picking up the trail of Puritans and Quakers and diverse communities of believers worldwide—a trail that ends at the turn of the twenty-first century.  

Excerpt from the Preface

This book is dedicated to my first class of church history students at Moffat Bible College in Kenya.  How well I recall Kotut and Kennedy and Gabriel and Timothy, ethnic Kilenjins and Kambas, studious scholars in the middle of Kikuyu country.  I remember that class as though it were yesterday.  Sixteen students sitting at their desks wondering what a rookie white lady teacher might have to offer them.  Truth is, they offered me a lot more than I offered them.  I had been warned by missionaries before I arrived that Africans are used to learning by rote in elementary school and that this practice often continues into college.  Don’t expect them to jump into class discussion.  I panicked.  If I don’t have feedback I fade away.  I vowed things would be different.  I would force them to challenge me.  And challenge me they did.

            I had an advantage over the other American teachers—my gender.  Challenging a white American male professor back in those days was intimidating for some.  But a woman who was baiting them with her sometimes-outrageous comments and questions—that was different.  I got them stirred up by the end of the first day of that three-week session.  We interacted and argued, clucked in despair and howled with laughter.  The colorful characters in our Christian heritage, it turns out, were Africans.  At least they all behaved like Africans.  They worshipped and grieved and bickered and celebrated just like Africans do.
            I discovered this truth most profoundly when my students were performing their end-of-course drama that we turned into an exciting campus event.  Polycarp and Perpetua and other persecuted Christians came to life—and death—as they were burned at the stake, so much so that we nearly lost Kituo our Kenyan Polycarp in the fire.  A scream of horror rose up from the crowd as his choir robe (Didn’t all early martyrs wear choir robes!) was singed by the flames.  The following year Martin Luther and Katie von Bora were the stars—as authentically African as that celebrated couple has ever been.
            Church history belongs to Africans (and all Christians of the world) when they embrace it as their own.  I after all claim church history for myself even though Polycarp and Augustine and dozens of others in this volume are much closer geographically—and perhaps psychologically and spiritually—to Africans than they have ever been to me.  One need not be an African to identify with Perpetua or Augustine, nor Jewish to claim a connection with Jesus and Paul.  We are one family across culture and time: one Lord, one faith, one baptism.