Heavenly Mindedness in the Early Church

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts      When Cyprian (d. 258 AD) wrote to Christians who were being persecuted, one thing he told them (among many) was to keep their eyes fixed on heaven. Perhaps with Hebrews 11 in the background, Cyprian told fellow believers to stand firm in the Christian faith and focus on the life to come. Here are a few examples of his pastoral call to heavenly mindedness.

“The one peaceful and trustworthy tranquility, the one solid and firm and constant security, is this, for a man to withdraw from these eddies of a distracting world, and, anchored on the ground of the harbor of salvation, to lift his eyes from earth to heaven.”

“Let us not look to things which are behind, whither the devil calls us back, but to the things which are before, whither Christ calls us. Let us lift up our eyes to heaven, lest the earth with its delights and enticements deceive us.”

“But we who live in hope, and believe in God, and trust that Christ suffered for us and rose again, abiding in Christ, and through him and in him rising again, why either are we ourselves unwilling to depart hence from this life, or do we bewail and grieve for our friends when they depart as if they were lost, when Christ himself our Lord and God encourages us and says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall live; and whoever liveth and believeth in me shall not die eternally?’ If we believe in Christ, let us have faith in his words and promises; and since we shall not die eternally, let us come with a glad security unto Christ, with whom we are both to conquer and to reign for ever.”

“We should consider…that we are…living here as guests and strangers. Who that has been placed in foreign lands would not hasten to return to his own country? Who that is hastening to return to his friends would not eagerly desire a prosperous gale, that he might sooner embrace those dear to him?”

These – and many other such excellent quotes – are found in the letters and treatises of Cyprian. You can read these in The Ante Nicene Fathers, volume 5, pages 279, 287, and 473f.

shane lems

Two Good Reads

A few weeks back I finished this historical biography on Anne Bradstreet (1612-1642) by Faith Cook: Anne Bradstreet Pilgrim and Poet (Carlisle: EP Books, 2010).  This is a great introduction to an amazing Puritan woman’s life, times, and writings.  Anne came to America with some of the first Puritan refugees in the 1630s and faced the tough shores of the American East coast.  Her life was filled with death – many of her children, siblings, and friends died at young ages.  Her poems often reflected this unavoidable reality along with the truth of life after death:

All men must die and so must I
This cannot be revoked
For Adam’s sake this word God spake
When he so high provoked
Yet live I shall, this life’s but small
In place of highest bliss
Where I shall have all I can crave
No life is like to this.

I enjoyed this book; I’ve not read many books about this time period in America’s Puritan history, so it was fascinating.  I recommend it for anyone who enjoys historical biography along with excellent poems of Christian piety.  Faith Cook is a superb author and biographer.  This book will not disappoint.  It would be a good one for a women’s book club at your church.

Another EP book I want to recommend is Every Word Counts by Tom Barnes (Carlisle: EP Books, 2010).  This new book was written in response to the ongoing discussions and debates about the nature of Scripture, including inerrancy, authority, and infallibility.  He starts by very briefly mentioning the Beale/Enns debate, along with other authors like A. T. B. McGowan, John Webster, and Timothy Ward, just to name a few.

This book is helpful because Barnes simply goes through scripture highlighting what it says about itself.  When we talk about if, how, and why scripture is inerrant/infallible, we have to do so in scripture’s own terms.  Of course, this is a key truth to the whole debate.  Barnes talks about Jesus’ use of the OT, the “true” aspect of scripture, inspiration, how scripture is a treasure, and how the church should respond to scripture.  It was pretty straight forward and clear.  In fact, I think it is much more helpful than Beale’s The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008) because it is easier to read, more level-headed, less polemic, and didn’t overstate premises as much as Erosion.

In summary, Every Word Counts is a great book to read and study if you want a good scriptural summary on the Bible.  I’ll hand this one out to Christians who do have questions about scripture – it will answer quite a few of those questions and give the reader an appreciation for and love of the Bible along the way.

Note: Thanks to EP books for sending me these review copies.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Following Jesus in a Consumer Society

Following Christ in a Consumer Society: The Spirituality of  Cultural Resistance, John F. Kavanaugh, 157075666X

 This is quite a powerful book: Following Christ in a Consumer Society – The Spirituality of Cultural Resistance (2nd rev. ed) by the Jesuit priest, John F. Kavanaugh (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006).  Originally written in 1981 and updated twice (1991 & 2006), this book is a serious unmasking of the consumerist powers that be.  Kavanaugh points out the dominate traits of our American culture and shows how they’ve crept into Christianity – or how churches have welcomed them.  One major problem is how the relationship between Jesus and politics in America has “reduced Christ to Americanism and capitalism” which has resulted in “the impoverishment and domestication of the Christian faith” (p. x).

“In a time of closing parishes and dwindling attendances, of a youth seemingly not drawn to priestly life, religious life, ministry or service, perhaps we might ask ourselves whether we have been offering them a way of life that is a mere variation on a capitalist, depersonalized and de-Christianized world.  The failure to grasp the whole Christian message, to fully accept Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is the core of the problem.  We may say we believe in Jesus Christ.  We act as if we do not” (p. xliii).

The first half of the book talks about how our consumer-centric culture results in an empty “interior” life, broken relationships, lust for things instead of longing for relationship, depersonalization of persons, and a flight from the marginalized in society.  Kavanaugh also talks about how the media and the mall preach the ‘gospel’ to us: he who has the best body, bank account, and most belongings is blessed.  Finally, before the second half of the book, Kavanaugh writes about how our consumer culture has turned people into commodities, from sex to violence to lack of deep relationships.   He also talks well in this section about how idolatry is all wrapped up in consumerism.

Part two is about the Christian “person” and the Christian view of persons.  He explains how to live as Christians in an idolatrous culture.  Kavanaugh mentions prayer, community, sacraments, marriage, and other “churchly” things.   Some of the second half didn’t sit well with me as his Catholic anthropology and ecclesiology comes out – though it was still challenging and worth reading.

In summary, this is good stuff. I recommend it, especially the first half.  The reading level is probably college (give or take) and it is just over 200 pages (the 2006 edition).  It makes a good companion to Stephen Nichols’ Jesus: Made in America.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

This Kingdom, That Kingdom

The Epistle to Diognetus (c. 150 AD?) is a sort of apologetic work whose author scholars debate (Hippolytus? Theophilus of Antioch? Pantaenus?).  Regardless of the author, there are some outstanding themes and notes about early Christianity in this epistle.  Here’s one that we might call a nice definition of two kingdoms or pilgrim theology.  I’ll have to dig around Calvin and Luther to see if they cited it – though I’m not sure they had access to this letter.  Notice it is descriptive, not prescriptive.

“For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom.  For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life.  This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious people, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do.  But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship.

They live in their own countries, but only as nonresidents; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners.  Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign.  They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring.  They share their food but not their wives.  They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh.  They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.  They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws.  They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.  They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life…” [he goes on here to talk about different measures of persecution]. (Ep. to Diog. 6.1-12)

See The Apostolic Fathers ed. M. W. Holmes 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 701-3.

shane lems

sunnyside wa