Picturing the Church: An Introduction to Church History

Of Ducks, Rabbits, and Ivory Towers
What is the history of the Church of Jesus Christ, in fifty words or less?
Wittgenstein: A thing's description is a picture that shows you how to see it (example: the "duck-rabbit").
Our pictures of the Church make sense of it (we do not just see, but "see as").
Our pictures of the Church interpret our actions ("meaning is use").
Our pictures of the Church serve our purposes (citizenship/scholarship; discipleship/worship; etc.).
 
 
What Is History?
History is the purposeful narration of past events.
Revealing questions for historical projects include:
Who is narrating?
Where is the narrator located (e.g., which social community)?
What is the narrator's rhetorical purpose?
Why and how is the release of information being controlled (e.g., literary genre)?
Who is receiving the narrative?
Where is the receiver located?
What is the receiver's rhetorical purpose?
Why and how is the reception of information being controlled?
Modern history tends to obscure narrators and their purposes, simply being taken for "what really happened."
These aspects re-emerge in postmodernity.
 
 
What Is Church History?
Church history is (here) the Christian community's faithful remembrance of its past.
What constitutes the true Christian community?
Can "Church history" come from outside narrators?
"Faithfulness" has more than one meaning.
Much qualifies as "its past."
"Remembrance" brings the past forward, selectively and intentionally, into the present.
Remembrance is evangelism.
Church history is salvation history.
 
 
Ducks: Christian Histories of the Church
Christians picture the Church's history according to our doctrines of the Church (and vice versa):
Eastern Orthodox: The tradition is a deepening stream.
Roman Catholics: It is a growing tree.
Protestants: It is a vine that often needs pruning.
Baptists, Pentecostals: It is a reviving original community.
Unitarians, pluralists: It is one of many (somewhat?) compatible "religions."
Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, New Agers, others: It is a restoration of something long lost.
Each of these pictures includes and excludes different communities from the true "Church."
 
 
Rabbits: Modern Academic Histories of Christianity
Modern historians have pictured Christianity's history according to their ideologies of neutrality, objectivity, and representation (and vice versa):
It is shorthand for a nebulous set of political movements influencing the Roman Empire, then Europe, and now the postcolonial world.
It is shorthand for a set of overlapping traditions embodying a cluster of ideas.
It is "one" of several "world religions."
 
 
How This Class Works
Modern history, though rhetorically deceptive, is still useful.
Modern history, though useful, is foreign to the community and radically incomplete.
This course moves beyond worldly history of Christianity into Christian history proper.
As we travel, keep asking the following:
You are the audience. What do you see? Why do you see it that way? How adequate is your picture?
For better or worse, I am the master storyteller, the metanarrator, the managing editor. How adequate is my picture?