Monthly Archives: November 2014

The (Needed) Spirit of Contemporary Christian Thought

I’m partial to Robert Louis Wilken’s introductory observation in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought.

I am convinced that the study of early Christian thought has been too preoccupied with ideas. The intellectual effort of the early church was at the service of a much loftier goal than giving conceptual form to Christian belief. Its mission was to win the hearts and minds of men and women and to change their lives. Christian thinkers appealed to a much deeper level of human experience than had the religious institutions of society or the doctrines of the philosophers. In this endeavor the Bible was a central factor (xiv).

Wilken goes on to note that the early church “gave men and women a new love, Jesus Christ, a person who inspired their actions and held their affections” (xv).

In light of this, I believe it is safe to say that contemporary Pentecostals are doing a better job than the historic mainline churches of appealing to the “much deeper level of human experience.” Thus, in the wake of Pentecostalism we see personal change and congregational growth. But IMHO the Pentecostal-endeavor has failed to make the Bible a central factor.
Another of Wilken’s introductory observations is key: “What has impressed me the most is the omnipresence of the Bible in early Christian writings” (xvii). If the contemporary church can both (a) bear witness to her experience that the love of Jesus Christ has changed her and (b) make the Bible a central factor to that lifestyle of witness, then I believe we’ll see church growth and cultural transformation on par with the Early Church. 

Custer As “Good Copy”

“Uniquely charismatic men like Custer, who always seem to be in the right place at the right time, are indeed rare, which is why he was always good copy, as journalists are wont to say. If it is true that he led himself and his men to their deaths at the Little Bighorn in a mad dash for glory, then he was only doing what the press and its voracious readers expected him to do” (James E. Mueller, Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud: Custer, the Press, and the Little Bighorn, 6).


“According to the Left Behind website, between 1995 and 2008 the series sold sixty million copies. On February 4, 2002, its authors appeared on CBS popular program 60 Minutes and on July 1 of the same year the Left Behind series appeared on the cover of Time magazine as a cultural phenomenon” (Kenneth L. Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion (3rd. ed), 39).

Central Pillar of Pentecostalism

“The central doctrine of pentecostalism, according to one of the movement’s best known leaders, is ‘the abiding possibility and importance of the supernatural element . . . particularly as contained in the manifestation of the Spirit'” (David Edwin Harrell, Jr., All Things Are Possible: The Healings and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America, 11).

Luther the Preacher

“Reformer, scholar, teacher, pastor, husband, father, composer, prayer warrior–all these labels depict Martin Luther. Yet Luther was also a preacher–and a prolific one at that. . . . Generally, he averaged three sermons per week throughout his adult life, but often preached four or more. Luther was, to state it mildly, a homiletical force” (Eds. Keith Willhite and Scott M. Gibson, The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching, 31).

Ecstatic American Roots

“The roots of American pentecostalism reach deep into the history of ecstatic Christianity. Pentecostal leaders trace their origins through George Fox and the Quakers, John Wesley and early Methodism, the Plymouth Brethren, William Booth and the Salvation Army, and other similar men and movements. More recently, American pentecostalism grew out of a deepening of spiritual life associated with the holiness movement at the end of the nineteenth century. Participants in this nebulous movement, both in America and abroad, looked beyond the conversion experience to continual personal encounters with God for the Christian” (David Edwin Harrell, Jr., All Things Are Possible: The Healings and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America, 11).

Augustine the Preacher

“Having been trained in the art of rhetoric, Augustine knew well all the strategies of communication. Yet what made him such an outstanding preacher was his emphasis on communicating God’s truth in familiar and ordinary ways. The aim of the sermon, he stressed, should be to instruct, to please, and to move the will to action” (Eds. Keith Willhite and Scott M. Gibson, The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching, 29-30).


“[T]he biblical text is what truly governs our seeing of the world. If all the world is a text to be interpreted, then for the church the narrative of the Scriptures is what should govern our very perception of the world. We should see the world through the Word” (James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, 55).

Regenerate Information, Regenerate Reading

“Revelation informs our horizon. However, even the (objective) provision of a revelatory interpretation does not guarantee that everyone will read the event in this way. One must (subjectively) accept this revelatory interpretation, which requires faith–and such faith requires the regenerating working of the Holy Spirit. . . . the objective provision of revelation in the Scriptures is ineffectual as revelation (i.e., to communicate) without the regeneration of the heart and mind in order to dispel blindness” (James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, 48).