Sunday, May 06, 2007

Christian Thought


For some time I’ve been reading a book called The History of Christian Thought, by Jonathan Hill. To get the negatives out of the way first: sometimes the tone is just a bit too facetious for the subject matter, and the humour occasionally undermines the seriousness. And it uses two type-faces. There’s a reason for this: when it’s talking about the person, or their thought, it uses one type-face. When it’s talking about general history surrounding that person, it uses another, smaller type-face. The smaller one is just a bit too small for my taste.
But besides these quibbles (I always have quibbles about non-fiction books) the breadth of understanding of the various theologians and philosophers – and the history about them – is enormous, and it’s given me a much better view of the Church’s history than any of the more widely regarded books, such as Chadwick on The Early Church, which was dull, dull, dull.
You have to wonder, as you read about all the arguments, the heresies that weren’t always heresies, the battles, the murders and assassinations, the plain stupidity and the huge range of characters, just where the Holy Spirit fits into it all. Didn’t Jesus promise that He would lead us into all truth? Man, He leads us on very circuitous routes, if that’s the case!
Can anyone really state clearly why Jesus died on the cross? ‘For our sins,’ you might say, but how did His death deal with our sins? There’s a large number of views on this subject alone, several of which I’ve encountered and several of which I’ve thought were the last word on the issue.
I just talked about the Holy Spirit, but the views on Him and the Trinity are again very diverse. Of course we can’t have any full understanding as finite humans of such a complexity, something that’s more complex than our minds can grasp, but the attempts to do so have ranged over vast plains and distant mountains.
And how come, as Christians, we can’t seem to agree on enough of the basics to stand together? The Church is still greatly split between Eastern Orthodoxy (in its various guises) and Protestants and Catholics – and all their guises. Does God like diversity so much? Is this His Church that stands as One? You wouldn’t think so, looking at it from our point of view.
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