Historical Mentor Revisited – John Chrysostom

St John Chrysostom, St Patrick's cathedral, Ne...

St John Chrysostom, St Patrick’s cathedral, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some time ago I asked for some recommendations for an important figure from church history to engage with as a historical mentor. You gave me some wonderful suggestions and helped me think through the implications of some of the various choices available to me, and for that I am grateful.

I ended up selecting John Chrysostom as my historical mentor and enjoyed researching his life and thought for a paper for my Church History class. I knew next to nothing about him before my class, and since we were covering 2,000 years of history, we weren’t able to spend much time on him in class, so I was thankful for the opportunity to explore him a bit more.

 

His is truly an incredible story, and the way he has influenced our own Christianity today is fascinating.

I hope you’ll take some time to read through my paper and enjoy learning a bit about a bold man of God.

You can find it here.

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Church History as a Mustache Mirror

from American Mustache Institute

Have you ever wondered what you would look like with a dirty mustache? You may have taken a dry-erase marker and drawn one on your mirror to get a look, or perhaps even purchased this thing.

 

I may have done it once or twice but usually I just utilize my own face hair to create creepy mustachios.

 

Villains have always loved their mustaches, and I have always loved to hate villains. It is easy to find villains in the history of the Church and I have long sneered at those Christians who participated in or were perhaps even responsible for things like the Crusades and the Inquisition, or the sale of Indulgences and the justification of slavery in America. My natural response to these situations is to assume that these people were not real Christians, motivated purely by greed or hate. I ad hominem them in my mind until I can squint my eyes and say, “see, these aren’t really Christians. Christians would never do something wicked like this.”

However, when we actually studied Chuch History (and not just to confirm the biases that I already have) I realized that things were not quite as simple as I had imagined. At the beginning of our semester, Marc Cortez warned us against this kind of self-righteousness that avoids seeing fault in ourselves and avoids seeing anything good in those we disagree with. He challenged us to see what we look like with the mustache of an American Christian slaveholder, or of a Dominican Inquisitor (okay, he really said “put yourself in their shoes” ,,,but mustaches!).

After an initial shudder of disgust, and imagining the whiskers getting stuck in your mouth when you take a bite of a sandwich, you take a real look at yourself. You notice pretty quickly that you look completely different than you used to…because you are completely different. You are in a different time and a different culture, with different challenges and different assumptions and different ways of thinking. You can’t understand owning another person or killing someone who you disagree with.

But after you get used to the differences you realize that you are still you. You see a passionate conviction of the truth of what Scripture teaches or a desire to protect from trusting in a false gospel because you care about their souls. You see a respect for your faith community and the consensus it has reached or a deep and biblical theology, long thought through in pursuit of knowing God and making him known.

Please don’t hear what I am not saying. These things were not okay. I am not proposing a full makeover and new jewelry for the pig, let alone lipstick and a gold snout-ring. Though we have taken the name of Christ, and make up his body, we are not always like him, and to forget that would be a terrible error. Some may need that reminder, but I have long been steering in the opposite direction. When faced with those whose actions I despise or whose thoughts I disagree with, I am quick to pat myself on the back and thank God that I am not like that poor tax collector. If we ever forget Solzhenitsyn’s lesson from his time in the Gulags, we are doomed to a life of self-righteousness and us vs. them in a world of Christ’s righteousness and me against me.

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Join me in pursuing charity. Spend some time seeing what you look like with someone else’s mustache on your face, or if you’re really committed eat an entire sandwich with their mustache on before you criticize and condemn them. Try and understand why they did what to us is so obviously wrong. Name evil and label lies when you see them, but understand that we are not all that different from those who have gone before.

Semester the Second

My next semester at Western Seminary will begin on January 9. I’m excited to be continuing my Greek studies with a course on Syntax with Dr. James DeYoung. I just read the assigned reading for the first week in our text, which is  Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. We used Mounce’s text the first semester, which I had gone through about 5 years ago during my undergrad, so I’m excited to be moving beyond what I’ve done before. The first semester was still plenty challenging, even being a review of sorts, but it remains to be seen how difficult this next course will be. Having just read the introductory material and the first few chapters on case, I think that while a bit dry, the nuance and depth of syntax will keep me interested.

One of the greatest helps for me going through the first semester was using my Greek every day. However, since the end of the semester, I’ve realized how difficult it is to maintain that habit without the accountability of homework. I need to seriously consider the best way to maintain and keep up what I’ve learned so far, while at the same time continuing to learn the material for this next level.

 

The other class I’ll be taking this semester is called Wisdom from Church History, taught by Dr. Marc Cortez. This is a class that I’m particularly excited about for a few reasons. I’ve never had the opportunity to study Church History before, beyond my own limited reading, and loving both history and the church, it’s an area that I’ve long desired to dive into. I’m also excited to take my first course from Dr. Cortez. When Shelby and I visited Western for the first time, my admission counselor set up a meeting with Marc and we were able to chat at length about the school, our goals, and whether Western might be a good fit. Since that first conversation, though I’ve not had a class with him, I’ve consistently enjoyed and been challenged by what he writes at his blog, Everyday Theology. He has a fantastic sense of humor, especially for a seminary prof, and as the title of his blog suggests, is passionate about the intersection of theology with life. He is also the director of Western’s Th.M. program, which is one that I’m considering after I complete my M.A. Put it all together and I’m excited by what I’ll be studying, and who I’ll be studying with.

 

I’m thrilled with how my first semester has gone, and I’m looking forward to the next. I did well in the three classes I took, and also received a number of credits by doing some Advanced Standing testing. Perhaps the most exciting thing is to see the transforming work the Holy Spirit is doing in my heart and life as I learn and live. The combination of school and church and life with my wife have provided me with ample opportunities to grow in practical knowledge and experience, as well as in grace and wisdom.