This 3-unit course is "a study of the major developments in the history of Christianity. Emphasis is placed on the growth of Christian doctrine" (Undergraduate Catalog). It meets the general studies requirement for "God's Word and the Christian Response." It carries no prerequisites.
Class meetings and readings concentrate on stories of Christian practice, teaching (doctrine), and renewal. These include rival theological visions of what constitutes the Church what it is whose stories are being told. Readings also introduce primary sources, social contexts, and distinctively Christian practices of history. Assignments concentrate on applying and evaluating the lessons of Christian history for the Church and its disciples today.
One day a letter arrives for you. It's from another state, sent by someone you don't know, who has your aunt's maiden name. Inside is an invitation. A family reunion is happening. This is not just a run-of-the-mill holiday get-together with cousins and grandparents. It is going out to all kinds of people: to second and third cousins, to families of in-laws, to estranged relatives whom no one has seen in years, to branches long cut off by divorce. There is of course an obligatory reception and dinner. After dinner, storytellers will refresh everyone's memories of the few famous relatives whose names everyone still boasts about, the obscurities who fill in the generational gaps, the pioneers who moved the story into new locations and new eras, and of course the ancestors who came to America and started it all. The next morning features a time for everyone to bring each other up-to-date on their activities. Can you e-mail a paragraph on yourself and bring photos and relics to show around?
The allure of the event is irresistible (especially because other family members strong-arm you into going), but you are still nervous about being lost in the crowd, a stranger in your own tribe. Furthermore, you are not so sure that all these people really are your family. What do you really have in common with these people? What connection is there between you and your aunt's great-great-great-grandparents? You know them only as a few enigmatic faces on a photo in your grandparents' musty hallway. Aren't your immediate family, your own blood relatives, your best friends, your "homies" aren't these people your real family?
What is family, anyway? Is it lineage? Is it a sprawling network of marital and parental and adoptive links that stretches across countries and centuries? Is it a life shared and experienced together?
These are the questions to ask and answer in our semester together studying the history of Christianity. Consider this your invitation to meet a family a family whose margins bleed into others, a family which may be yours or may simply be someone else's.
The academic term for this reunion is "Church history." Together we will see both how these pasts form us, and how we form these pasts. "History" is not a self-contained, stable deposit of information that passively awaits our investigation. Rather, history is a living project where what we retrieve is shaped by what we expect, and what we retrieve changes how we live and think (and what we expect to retrieve in the future). As we revive the past, the past will revive us.
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