A look at Historical Theology for Everyone
I don’t really like Church History. At least not the sort of history I was taught as a child. Dates, names, events—all obscure and lifeless—taught in such a way as to inspire no one. I would rather leave the past dead and gone before sitting through a lecture designed to make me win at Jeopardy.
Historical Theology comes easy to me now that I know this caricature is based on older needs. There was a time when this old model of teaching had its place: before the internet we needed someone to walk us through the facts and the role of a teacher was to master the story. A teacher was a guide, the students the tourists.
The evolution of technology in the last several decades has rendered much of this unimportant. The phones in our pocket could look up the story—the facts—faster than someone can tell us the story.
What the power of the internet has given us, though, is a fragmented story. It’s not enough to know when Constantine died or Luther nailed the 95 Theses. We need context and substance designed to lead us towards a better grasp of how these random facts hold together and shape our world today.
Who am I?
I am a Florida native, born in Orlando, raised in the small town of Lake Wales. I was a lackluster student in my youth until being called to theological studies. Most of my life was spent listening to Guns N’ Roses, playing guitar, and pretending to be awesome. But then Jesus started messing with me.
I am the product of good teachers and good advice. My first love was philosophy and systematic theology—both of which I butchered through a mixture of pride and sloppy thinking. During my college days at Samford, though, it dawned on me that I was more drawn to the historical figures in philosophy. I liked a good debate on predestination as much as anyone, but my instincts always drove me towards the biographies of Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer. Before long I realized I was more at home in intellectual history than in a world of abstract ideas. I never left theology, I just wanted it to sprout legs and live in the real world.
The pivotal moment in my career was meeting Heiko Oberman—the single most influential Luther scholar over the last two generations. He arrived at Beeson Divinity to give the Reformation Heritage Lectures in 1999. He spent most of his off time seated outside on a folding chair, reading, smoking cigarettes, and making Baptist students uncomfortable. But he was kind to me and encouraged me, if I was serious about my desire to teach Reformation history, to head to Germany. He went back to smoking, and I to Germany.
From there my academic journey was spent chasing the idea that our heritage is as important for shaping our identity as any other single factor after the Bible. We are time bound. We live not only in a physical world but in a world of time and space. These realities are inescapable. We have forerunners in the faith and a legacy of theological reflection that is rich and complex. The shape of our theological grammar comes to us caked in the dust of history.
I married my wife Charlotte in 2003. We have three kids: Zoë, Owen, and Dexter. The kids could care less about academics and prefer ice cream, movies, and daddy being silly. I also have a mild addiction to watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I think my love of the Bucs feeds not only my need for recreation but also forces me to ponder the existential side of loss and frustration. Not everyone can be Patriots fans and enjoy every game.
The Focus of this Blog
Blogs are everywhere. I have always been a happy non-bloger, choosing not to send my voice into the internet abyss and focus instead on teaching, writing, and administration.
What changed was a growing interest in photography, videography, and content creation for my courses. My background in music led me to be a prosumer in sound engineering—amps, mics, cables, noise floors. A close friend is a professional photographer (you can see his stuff here) and he passed to me the gentle madness of cameras, lighting, and pictures. These worlds came together as I built courses for online teaching. Now it is a full blown hobby in my off hours with the seminary, driven largely by my YouTube channel where I house four of my courses and other videos I make.
The blog then will be designed both towards video and written content. Many of us are visual learners—though grumpy professors tell me this is a myth—but also we labor in a world already burdened with too much to read. Videos provide the best vehicle for helping people learn new material when they are not full-time students.
Posts here will focus on our heritage, the story of the church. They will focus on history, theology, common questions, topics, and anything that comes under the rubric of the church over its 2000-year history. I also want to focus on the global story of the church, not merely its European roots.
My goals for this blog focus on three interwoven needs:
-To give everyone tools for navigating theological and biblical debates.
-To serve the church by helping folks understand the riches of the Gospel
-To clarify bad thinking (or myths) that sprout up in our conversations about important issues
My goals are not to make everyone a scholar or professor. Instead I want to contribute to the conversation we each have about the Gospel for the 21st century. The trouble of our modern world, though, is we often love to build our own theological houses based on our rugged individualism rather than reach for material from the past. Imagine us, the builders, learning we are laying a foundation to rooms not only against the architectural design but that, once built, will make the house unlivable. It seems to be our curse, as moderns, to be willing to build unlivable houses and to be proud that we did so without the help of the blueprints.
History is not a straightjacket, of course, but a guide. I prefer to see Luther, Edwards, Augustine, and others, not as standing before us as a tribunal, but standing beside us as we all look to scripture for the Gospel. Each is a partner in the ministry of the church, not a judge or adversary.
If I can contribute anything to the wider conversation in your world, your church, your ministry—then I will be blessed more than you can know.