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
- Our pictures of the Church serve our purposes (citizenship/scholarship;
- 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
- 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?)
- 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
- 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
- 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?