Stephen Backhouse | Zondervan Essential Companion to Christian History
3:53PM Sep 3, 2021
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Welcome to in on a titan v day. This is a program where we keep raising a very dangerous but extremely important question and that is what would the church look like if it were reunited today. Thank you so much for joining us. Today we are thrilled to be speaking with Dr. Steven backhaus. Dr. backhaus is the founding director of tent theology, adventure that designs and delivers theology programs to local churches. He is the author of several books, including the piece that we're going to be discussing today. zonder vins, essential companion to Christian history. Dr. backhaus we're really honored that you'll be speaking with us. Nice to be here, Jonathan, thank you for inviting me. And Dr. backhaus. Before he hit the recording buttons, we were just bantering about a past life of both of ours that was in Wickliffe. Hall.
I think we probably have lots of mutual friends and colleagues. So I lived in Oxford, I did my D fail in Oxford, and I lived there for Well, we had a house that I lived there for 1010 years altogether.
So how cool and so you have a PhD in theology from Oxford, just tell me what it is that you were studying during those years. That was in character God. So
I did my doctorate on Soren Kierkegaard attack upon Christendom and his critique of Christian nationalism. Cool. Yeah. When I was doing that, back in the day, everybody said, our Christian nationalism is not very relevant today, is it? And now look at us look where we are now. Wow, it's the most important phenomenon going all around the world at the moment. So.
So we need to schedule another interview immediately. I think we do nationalism.
Yeah, that was my work. So I was I did a critique of nationalism from a Christian point of view, actually, patriotism, just good old fashioned Christian patriotism, considering it from a Christian point of view if it's a valid Christian affection. And then, and then I became a political theologian, sort of as resolved or backed into political theology through my character garden studies. Well, basically, that's what I've been doing. Yeah, I've been a political theologian. Now, since since getting my P, my PhD.
We absolutely do need to chase that trail down to.
But it's all related to history as well. I mean, the history of the church is also the history of the rise and fall of nations and empires. So they are related.
Well, important time to be to be working in that area. Yeah, talking back house, you had founded 10th theology, which I really, really cool. A lot of the stuff that you're doing, I look up to in the work that we're doing at aqueduct project, please tell me about your vision for 10 theology.
Well, so what happened was, I mean, you know, because you worked in a vicar factory, as well. So in England, the Anglican Church, the Church of England, they call their pastors Vickers. And I also worked for a college that primarily trained people for ministry in the Church of England. And we jokingly called it a vicar factory. And I was, I liked theology, I liked it, I liked to my students, but I was also increasingly uncomfortable with theology, just being a subject that people who want a Christian job do is become just the sort of check that that people check in order to get the Christian job at the end of it. So youth pastors or vicars, or worship leaders that are told to go study theologies, they can get their job. And I didn't like that very much, because that's not what theology is, actually. And a lot of theologians will know this, you will know this as well that we often spend lots of time sitting around borders going, how can we bring more people? How can we open up theology to a wider set of people than just professional Christians and being academics, our solution is almost always to just put on another course. And all that really does is that just sort of establishes the idea that the university or the seminary is the only place one can do theology. So I got a bit tired of all that. And I thought, well, what if I went freelance and I took the theology course to the church, rather than expect churches to send people to me. So what 10th theology is, is it's intentionally as a way to be, you can, easy to set up easy to take down easy to take anywhere, we open up spaces for like high level engagement with the Bible or with theology, but inside local churches inside worshiping communities. Anyway, and the idea is you don't have to leave church to learn about your own Christianity. So we start to do the work that in the university, but we do it with worshiping communities, and there's no essays and there's no accreditation and you're not expected to get a degree you're just expected to, we're going to help us think christianly about our own Christianity.
That is really awesome. And I'm wondering, so where's the natural end goal for this new way of doing theology, this new mode of theology. Are you planning maybe in the future? Or are you already doing things entirely virtual? Or do you see a necessary component of what you're doing as being? Wow,
I mean, lockdown. So I've been doing theology for four or five years now. And but obviously, in the last couple of, or a year and a half, that the lockdown COVID stuff has meant that a lot of my work has just naturally become online. But that's alright, because the churches are also having to do stuff online. And they're they they're getting everybody's getting used to meeting on zoom and things. So in some ways, I'm just continuing the same work I always did, which is creating spaces to have discussions, which are kind of not ideologically, or apologetics, like we're not trying to prove a point, we're not trying to give clever answers to complicated questions, we are just trying to find ways to really help people think through some of the stuff that that theologians are used to thinking about, but which perhaps, normal Christians don't often get that. And so one of the things I've been doing is the online stuff has been really fun. And I was also I started doing a lot of podcasting. So I've been creating, recording a lot of my material and just putting it out there. And that's been good, too. But when my next stage, I guess, the 10th, yoji 2.0 is to open it up to more people. So I don't want to I'm not trying to build an empire, I'm not trying to make it all about me. I'd like to create something where it's almost like a directory, and it's easy for churches to find theologians and for theologians to find churches, I would love to see, like, in the future that any worshiping community could have access to a theologian. And it would be as easy they would, they would think it says odd not to have a theologian on the books as they would to not have a youth pastor, or a music director. I would like theologians to start to think of one of the tools in their toolbox could be that they are also available to local churches to help and to just be there. It is, my next step
is really awesome vision. Do you think you can build some sort of app so I can select here's the doctrinal statement that I want the theology to feel? Yeah,
I thought of like a dating
app, a dating app for theologians, and you swipe left and swipe right. And, I mean, cuz I wanted to build because theology is so complex. And also, some people can be very defensive about some of these positions. And I don't want to be in the position of being like a policeman, an ideological policeman, I, I want to just make it easy for people of goodwill to find other people of goodwill, and they can sort out whether they want to be in the same room with each other, right? I don't want people to say, oh, only go to 10 theology, if you want certain types of theology, I want them to maybe say go to 10 theology if you want certain types of people. And that the the people and the attitude towards these questions is more important, I think, then, quite often, even the answers that we give, so yeah, but I want to stay away from being the thought police and I want to see if I can make it easy for the for groups to figure it out themselves.
Oh, cool. Well, I'm super excited for what you're doing and really grateful to be able to follow your work. And you put together this really beautiful book, this is I can't emphasize enough how picturesque and in spa is and I I'm betting there's a maybe a series of backstory. So this is, this is pretty unique book I've seen maybe one or the other, the erg, men's the classic piece, the Urban's Handbook of church, yeah. Also a really visually oriented walk through church history. But this is a really beautiful job. What were you, and I'm guessing that some of your work in the tent theology is of that variety to I'm guessing it's visually rich and inspiring. It's an inspiring portrait of the material they present. What was the what was what were you trying to do with this beautiful book?
Well, first of all, I'm glad you you think it's beautiful. I'm really glad I, I was very keen. So what happened was, the backstory was that I had, as I said, Before, I done my doctorate on nationalism and patriotism and the rise and fall of nations and Christians allegiance to the state and all that. And I wanted to turn it into a popular a more accessible form. So I went to the publisher, and I pitched this to them. My idea of a popular book on patriotism, and they said, Wow, we don't really want your book that you've pitched. But what we do want is somebody who could write a history book. And I and so I can't, because I've been thinking about this in the background. So I went away. And I thought about that for a while, and I kind of thought I could probably do this instead. It's not about patriotism or nationalism, but it is about world history. And it is about the there's a running theme through the history of Christianity, which is always of institutions building themselves up. And then power being co opted or them being like a group might start full of fears and energy and then it will become institutionalized and it will become maybe it started as the scrappy little outsiders With the Holy Spirit, and then it becomes the establishment and it's in charge of educating and healing and making war and it becomes the, the culture that it used to be the scrappy little outsider to. And that's a story that you just see over and over and over again in Christian history. So I did realize to tell the story of the different Christianity's in the world is also to tell the story of the rise of different civilizations and cultures, and the fall of them as well. And what happens when, when the followers of Jesus clash with their own Christian cultures. That's also a story I'm finding very interesting. So I thought I could probably to write their history of Christianity that they wanted to write and I went away and did it. That's it without the pictures and things as part of the I mean, because just a book is so boring. Just words can be very dull and and part of the history of Christianity is its visual flavor, its architecture, it it ethnic diversity. And we very deliberately, one of the briefs was we don't want to just tell the story of like, you know, big see Christianity, Calvinism, capitalism, conservatism, we don't want to tell the story of just how one type of Protestant Christianity became dominant. We want to tell the story of, of all Christianity. And in my book, I think pretty much every country in the world gets at least one mention. And so we wanted to say make sure that it's a world story and not just a English story in an American story.
Yeah. That is the perennial temptation of history, isn't it to tell stories with arrives that gesu? Me Yeah, on the top of the pile, exactly. Driving the story to your own experience and awareness of the world. But you really do broaden that perspective, as
well. I'm a kierkegaardian. And Kierkegaard made fun of that idea of history. This is the the character guard was very interested in history in church, Christian history. And he also made fun of the idea that all these different European nations, they always have this view that history is just inevitably leading to one, whoever is top of the pile, that must be God's highest revelation at that time. And he just makes fun of days. Isn't that funny? All these European nations, they all think that they are God's latest revelation to the world.
Maybe Maybe it's a perennial temptation of not just church history, but Biblical Studies, too. You see lots of biblical word of art, really, here, your reflection of the author, etc. It's so interesting. Yeah. Good, good work. One of the really interesting things about this book is you divided into 20 chapters, one chapter for each century of church history. Yeah. But that is not an easy format, a rollicking ride through church history. Wow. Because sometimes you're gonna have massively too much material, sometimes you're gonna have much less material. So yeah, challenges in maintaining that one chapter one century per chapter scheme through the book.
I read, like, how do we figure this out? I wanted to make it as simple as possible, as possible. How do we work this out? And I thought, well, there are 20 centuries, and there's, we could make it 20 chapters. So what I did was I spent the first month of research, I actually just made a huge timeline. I went into lots of different books, history books, and I compiled a timeline that just went on for pages and pages and pages. And I ended up I did basically just said, Okay, well, what happens if we just only write about something that happened between the year 100 and year 200, or 405 100? Because I had to start somewhere, I just had to, I had to organize my thoughts somehow. And I thought, what if I just did that? And that's where we went really. And then I worked through my timeline, after I'd broken it down into 20 sections, and I tried to stick with it that way. And then there's lots of editing like this is no if you have a favorite theologian, or biblical scholar, or Christian hero of the faith, that person will probably get mentioned once, maybe twice, and then we'll be moving on. It's not you're not dwelling with anybody for for all the time they deserve. You're kind of mentioning them within the wider scheme of what else is going on around the world.
It's fast paced, it's quick. And I'm guessing the eighth century the problem that you probably encountered in the eighth century was how to how to find the material in the first place. And up in the 20th century, that's going to be a giant problem, because you can only name a few people yeah. 500 that you'd like early
earlier chapters can dwell more on the people and their stories and then the later chapters become just a name drop and then moving swiftly on. Yeah, Bicester.
Great, um, I'm really interested in one of the things that we do in in Luna touch on V day is we explore the question of the unity of the church despite the diversity that we have in the church. I was really interested to see that you included in your text, the first what you call the first schism of the church, and the little known schism is between Pope Felix the third, who's Bishop of Rome at the time. Then acacias of Constantinople. The debate this is but apparently the schism is lasting between 482 and 518. Ad Hoc question is monophysite ism that is the question of, does Christ have one or multiple natures we know from calcineurin, proclaimed in 451, that Christ is both fully divine and fully human. So the question on the table is, does Christ have more than one nature if he's both God and man? And this question, which we don't think about too much today, split the church from 482 to 518. Why did you include this in your survey in church history?
Well, do you know I mean, we give it names like monophysite ism, and we do talk about it as if it's talking about the nature of Christ. And that is on the surface, that is a big part of it. But again, I'll go back to my original interest, a lot of these schisms is actually just because there's a whole tranche of Christian speaking Greek and there's a whole nother trench of Christian speaking Latin. And the cultures are drifting apart. And a lot of these so called theological debate, sometimes are coming down to just linguistic emphasis and differences. And there's a cultural element as well as a national element. And there is a real schism. I'm not saying there wasn't one but we have to think it's just a bunch of eggheads sitting around, trying to hating each other because they slightly got the definition of the Trinity wrong. There's whole like nationalisms at stake as well. And the baizen time culture is jostling for power and position, and they're losing prestige to the Latin, West, and these things are happening. And there's economics and there's language, and there's ethnicities, and there's politics happening, as well as the natures of Christ and how we talk about the Trinity. And I wanted to just sort of say like, these schisms have been root, they're brewing really, it's it's like a, it's like a long story, how we get to the different main branches of Christian tradition, it's, it's a long story, it isn't like this, everybody was happily speaking with one voice. And then boom, all of a sudden, they had a disagreement. And now we have three different main churches. They literally weren't speaking with the same voice, which is why they grew so distant, and so apart.
So as you know, from your study of church history is that these divides, we remember the Miss theological controversy. Yeah. Well, how come these divides always take place across linguistic and cultural divides? That's too coincidental. Not to take note of? Yeah, right. How do you separate those things out in your mind? You know, Can Can we say like the divide here over monophysites? ism was, like 50%, cultural and 50% linguistic? Or how do you divide? How do you say what the priority between culture and theology was in these ancient divides?
Well, I I can't, I can't say that I can't add a number to it or anything. But I, I think what we can do is let ourselves notice that the story that what the story that a group tells itself about itself will always be false. Like he will always maybe not on purpose. I'm not saying they did it on purpose, but it will always be some sort of lie, because it will never be able to encompass what's really going on. And they'll always be blind spots that they don't notice. And they'll always be areas that they don't want to admit to themselves. And so, you know, the stories that the church historians are telling to themselves about themselves, or they wait quite heavily the theological stuff. And they're kind of not noticing the other things happening. And it sometimes takes other people, from a few centuries distant to notice what's that. Maybe there's more than just theology happening here, or the theology itself is not hermetically sealed from the other stuff, right? Like, if you notice that the earliest Christians, the New Testament Christians, now I'm into your area, Jonathan, so I'm very hesitant here to talk about the Bible. But you're one of the engines driving that the New Testament imagination was specifically to break down barriers between Jew and Gentile. And to hammer away at some idea of ethnic privilege or historical, right. And to say, we are new people, a royal priesthood, and we, we aren't going to try and define ourselves just by one type of ethnic stronghold or privilege. And you start to see that like, that was one of the main things the earliest Christians ever had to deal with, and that never went away. And so you start to notice the same kind of themes keep coming up again and again, and people are trying to cross these barriers or they're trying to resist the temptation. I think. I do feel that patriotism is like a temptation to be resisted, rather than a virtue to be embraced, that there's always a temptation that Christians will want to give prior allegiance to their home team that they were born into, and they start to see themselves and their fellow the people who look like them and sound like them as much as possible. They see they give them priority. Whereas the New Testament is like, No, we got to give priority to people who are following the people who are following the way of Jesus. They're the brothers and sisters. It's not the people who look like you and sound like you. And and I feel like some of the history of church development is often the development of that theme, either being ignored or attacked by Christians. And so often what you find is some of the wherever you find a revival, moments of revival, or reformation will often come accompanied with some pretty strong political overtones, that often do have to do with things like crossing barriers. non violence against enemies is a big one that happens in a lot of revivals. And then what will happen is, as those revivals become concretized, they'll start to cool and they'll start to become the the patriotic nationalist blocks that they originally start. Were undermining, right. And it all starts over again. And I think these, the history of some of these schisms is part of that. And you see this rapprochement, you see people trying to talk to each other, you see them sending emissaries to each other. And you can see like, there's a minority voice seeking peace. But it doesn't really, it succumbs to the majority voice which sort of retreats back into these blocks of linguistic and nationalist blocks. Sadly, yeah, I think the history of Christianity is not a happy thing to look at. If you love Jesus, the history of the church is not, is not always a fun read.
Right? you're leading us in a great path here, you're revealing to us the complexity of all history. But in this case, Christian history is also just as complex as any other national political history is messy, it's reality. And for the safe distance of 1500 years, we can look back and say this early monophysite controversy was tied up in all of these cultural linguistic divides as well. Is there any way to make history less messy? Or? Or are we is as the job of the historian who cares about theology and believes that there is value in explaining theology from the biblical and theological self understanding of the groups involved in telling that story in theological terms? And then simply noting, there? Are all of these cultural questions hanging around this controversy as well? Is that is, is there a way to make it less messy? What's your preferred way?
Well, that the again, the, the temptation or the drive to tell a very simple story, is very appealing. But it's wrong. Like it's just false. There isn't a simple story. And so if somebody tells you a simple story of Christian history, they are lying to you. They're telling you a lie that's really attractive, and that makes you feel good. And a typical simple story would be the, the the story of the heroes of the faith kind of story. Like I've taught people about Martin Luther and the reformation, and you teach Protestants about Martin Luther and the Reformation. And they, they're, they're set up to think of him as a real hero of the faith. And he did some things that were really heroic. But when I teach, I also gave all the quotes he had about how much he hated Jews. And how he led preached a sermon, which led to a riot against Jews and burning them and burning them out of their synagogues and things. And so like, you have to have both. And I'm not saying Martin Luther is only an anti Semite, and nothing else. But you can't also you can't say he was only a heroic defender of the faith and nothing else, either you have to say, this is our story. It's more than one thing. And so I'm trying, I am trying to resist simplicity, or the hero, the great hero kind of stories, actually. And I think we see it, again, are kind of more character guardian to see history as more like a repeating cycle rather than a linear, linear development. So conservatives tend to see they have a golden age version of history and the like, it was better back then. And now look, we're so bad now. Right? And liberal progressives tend to have a positive view and they say, it was bad then, but look how good we are now. Whereas Kierkegaard says, well, you're both just thinking in terms of linear progression, or regression. What if we started to notice that actually, the human condition doesn't change very much. And what we end up seeing is actually the same kinds of things over and over again, which is, people being proud, setting themselves up. And then along comes the minority voice which says, You have forgotten the cause of the oppressed, you're forgotten the foreigner amongst you forgotten the widow. The Lord wants requires mercy, not sacrifice. And then, and you're always seeing every generation essentially, the Christianity is renewing. Every generation, and that's what a lot of these these rise and falls are. They're just every generation discovering Jesus for themselves. And I wanted to sort of point that out. So it's simple. It's not simple isn't this simplistic story, but more to say, here's some tools to look out for when you read Christian history.
Yeah, I really appreciate your restraint. I admire your restraint. That's not easy to do. And I think you're using the right categories. They're resisting temptation in reducing the story. That's something untrue because of its simplicity. So I, I respect that one of the ways that you show restraint in this volume, is reducing your comments to Soren Kierkegaard to a couple of paragraphs,
maybe 200 words, I gave myself 200 words.
I'm sure that was very painful to do. I was knowing that you're a specialist in Kierkegaard looking over that section especially you say that Kierkegaard attempts to, quote, reintroduce Christianity to Christendom, would you expand for us on what Kierkegaard his project was, please?
So Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, he was he, he died in the 1850s. He never really left Denmark. But But he was very aware of the, of the phenomenon of Christendom, which wasn't just a state church, it wasn't just the, like a lot of Americans today will think, Oh, we don't have Christendom because we don't have an official state church. But Kierkegaard wasn't talking about that he was talking about any culture in which Christianity is in its building blocks, any any culture in which Christianity is the sort of backdrop to the society. That's Christendom. And one of his things was the idea of he said, Look, when the Apostle Paul stood up in the marketplace and said, the name of Jesus Christ, people had never heard that word before. And it was intriguing to them. Today, if I go and say the name Jesus Christ in the marketplace, right? People will think I stubbed my toe. Right? Like the name of Jesus, everybody in Christendom has heard the name of Jesus. That doesn't mean there is nobody in America today that has not heard the name of Jesus. It doesn't mean they all know anything about him or following his way or anything like that. But they've all heard the name. And Kierkegaard says, that is Christendom. It's not a legal relationship between church and state. It's a cultural awareness that the things of Christianity have pervaded our social imagination to such an extent that they they form the language, we use the shape the geography of our cities, the churches are on the corner. Yeah, where's the nearest bank? Well go down. And then at first Lutheran Church, take a left, or go down St. Paul St. And you'll find the bank right, like the saints and the churches form our geography as well. And so Kierkegaard says, in that world in which being a Christian is as easy as being born, you're born into Christendom, you're a Christian, because you're just a citizen of your country. And he said, in that world, being a Christian is as easy as being born. I need to make it harder. I need to reawaken maybe what it felt like when the Apostle Paul said the name Jesus Christ in the marketplace again. And so for him, he said, we need to reintroduce Christianity back into Christian light Christendom has done away with it. This idea that America is a Christian nation, or that the British Empire was a Christian Empire, or these ideas have actually all they've done is they've substituted your nationality for you're following the way of Jesus. And the nationality is more popular. And it tugs on the heartstrings more in it, it offers more safety in life. And so people go with that one more than they go with the way of Jesus, again, and again and again. And so he's saying like, that, that Christendom model of Christianity has actually just made people following Jesus, it means they don't do it anymore. And they have a whole lot of people who think they're Christian. And for him, it was because they're white, and they speak Danish. And he said, This isn't that's not Christian, that's just being Danish. I need to make it harder. So
Dr. backhaus, I'm hearing a lot of resonance between the core themes of Kierkegaard and your own ministry, which I I'm hearing a prophetic edge to what the way that you're teaching theology. So I
did you come to Kierkegaard because you perceived in him the theological resources to do what was needed for today's moment, or did you develop from your study and a pre existing love of Kierkegaard this set of tools that you now use in 10 theology?
Well, I, I grew up. So I grew up in evangelical I grew up born again, in a conservative amongst self described fundament I grew up in Canada, Western Canada. And, and, and I grew up very much associating Christianity with being a culture warrior, you know, you must defend. Here's the talking points that when you go to the secular University, and they talk about abortion or evolution or the rapture, here's the things you have to say. And it was very much that idea that I was being brought up to be a defender of a certain civilization or culture, against the secular liberals, or whatever it is. And I moved to England when I was 19, just as an adventure. And I ended up going to a little church, little Anglican Church, in a in a not very exciting part of a not very exciting part of the country. And I was in this church of people who all believed they all love Jesus, but they didn't all agree about climate change, or the rapture, or even abortion. And yet, they were all in one room together. And they were all singing the same hymns together. And it was so different from the culture I'd grown up in, which was so mano a mano, cultural when it came to politics, and social, economic vision, right? That it really kind of rocked me a little bit. And I thought, I need to think about this difference between being a follower of Jesus and just being a good citizen of my particular culture. And I just I was working in a bookshop at that time. And I discovered kirkegaard, in my book in the bookshop. And I was using my employee discount to buy fear and trembling, and in fear and trembling, which was a book he wrote, describing death in 40s, talking about Christendom, he was describing the culture I was aware of, in the 1990s, evangelicalism. And I thought, wow, this guy gets it, he understands the difference between he started to give me language to talk about the difference between being a follower of Jesus, and being a Christian, or Christendom citizen. And so that's what led me to study him again and again and again.
That is an amazing story. And and as a church historian, one of the one of the stories that we can see how churches we can be life giving how the things that you're teaching 10 theology can change a person's life, you can start out on spiritual on a spiritual adventure, but that turns into a lifelong spiritual pilgrimage. That's awesome. Yeah. Yeah. Dr. backhaus, I need to ask you also a question about theological education. Yeah. As a industry or sector of society as a way of life theological education is changing hugely. It's not just theological education that's changing its education in general, that's changing. But what what is it that you see what are some of the new opportunities but also some of the new challenges specific to theological education is operating today in this post COVID world?
I, I'm always wary of professionalization, in churches, I'm aware of like being a professional is really good for lots of things. So if you want to be an accountant, you should go and learn how to be an accountant. If you want to be a plumber, you should learn how to be a plumber. If you if you want to be an academic historian, you should go and learn how to be an academic historian. The problem with theology is that it isn't a professional qualification. It's meant to be a form of worship a Gustin thought that theology was a form of worship, because you are saying God's goodness back to God as best as you know how. And you can't really do worship as an objective academic subject. something bad happens to it when it becomes that right. And so I, I really think Christians should think seriously about their Christianity. Like, I'm not, I don't want to dumb dumb it down. I'm not trying to be dumb. But I don't think we should treat theology like we would treat an accountant or a plumber or historian. I think something bad happens to our worship when we assess it based solely on essays, or the ability to read a certain amount of texts in a short amount of time. And so I want to I want churches to start to think of, if they don't like the word theology, maybe just say, thinking Christian Lee, or thinking seriously about the ways of Christ. And and drawing from, we have a long history, we have 2000 years or more of people thinking really well about this stuff, like drawing from it. I'm not saying make it all up as you go along, connect yourself in that wider conversation, but maybe find ways for it to be a conversation that everybody can be a part of, and not just the people who think they're called to Christian ministry, right? Like they need theology as well as everybody else. So I'd love to find a way to maybe separate the professionalization of Christianity from the learning of theology if possible. Yeah, that's one of them. I think
it's a really cool vision. Dr. backhaus, this program in only two v days, we're exploring with theologians around the world today what church unity would look like. And I think this is going to be a really important conversation all over the church in so many different areas, we're all talking to each other, we're resuming with each other. And one of the things that's happening in the post COVID world is, we're not going back to a to a pre COVID world where you know, we all sent letters to one another in like St. Agustin did, this is something different, and we can have these real time conversations hypothetically, with anybody. Presumably, one of the things that we need to talk about as a as a Christian church broadly, is how it is we relate to one another within our current denominational structures, they were made. Yeah, time. What is it that a reunited church would look like today? If If, if we continue to work for Jesus, what Jesus is praying for, and we pray with Jesus toward a john 17 unity? What does that look like for you?
Well, I do get a lot of emails and things from people. And I'm not trying to get all super political here on you, but like the last four years have been really rough. And the the, the the high association of, especially in America, of Christianity with a certain form of like, patriotic Make America Great, again, jingoism, a kind of an angry patriotism has created a lot of people who are coming to me. And they're losing their faith, and they're not losing their faith because of secular liberals. They're losing their faith, because they're like, the things that the loudest voices in my Christian world are shouting for. Don't look like anything Jesus would have said or did. And there's and I, and I say, I think I'm losing my faith. And I say, Well, do you like Jesus? Now? Yeah, I love Jesus. And Wait, do you like his way? Do you like how he treats his enemies? Do you like, what he's how he thinks you should be open handed about money or fame or power? Yeah, I love that I find it really attractive. And so I said, Well, I don't think you have a crisis of faith. I think you just have a crisis of the denomination you were born into. You're just having a crisis of culture. But you still really love the way of Jesus. And I think there's something like that, that I'm finding that people are caring, less and less about their denominations or their tribes. They're not really I'm finding people don't care that much about being Catholic, or Calvinist or Pentecostal, they just care about the way of Jesus. And they're starting to notice that not every Christian likes the way of Jesus, right. That the way of how he dealt with things, how he dealt with his power, how he showed his anger, how he treated foreigners, those things are different to why a lot of Christians would do. And I think that unity is going to, I don't know if unity is ever possible, in that grand everyone speaking with one voice kind of way. But I feel like the dividing lines are going to be less about what at what stage of life you get baptized, or when you how often a month you have the communion. Or whether you speak in tongues or not. I feel like I'm noticing a real dividing line between are you? Do you like the way of Jesus or not? Is your Christianity, one that's trying to follow the way of Jesus? Or is it one that's trying to defend a certain type of Christian culture? And I feel like that's where unity is, people are finding their fellow travelers based on that. I don't know if that's an answer to your question. But that's what I'm noticing in my work.
I repeat, you have a prophetic edge to the work you're doing, which is really important. So let me ask another question in that regard, so that you've identified I think, correctly that a lot of American churches are really at a crisis point, or do the churches exist to maintain their own structures and their own institutional form? Or do they exist to point people to Christ? And yeah,
I'm always so attracted when I find a church that's willing to dismantle its own structures, if they think it's no longer serving that purpose. And like I said, before, they hold their, their stuff with an open hand, they don't clutch tightly to what is rightfully theirs, even if it's rightfully theirs, but they don't clutch tightly to it, and they let it go if it's going to help. And to the Jew, I'm a Jew to the Greek I'm a Greek right. And and I find there's something really attractive about that when we we may be as white Christians with lots of money or whatever, we've inherited positions that we basically did nothing to earn. What do we do with that? Now? What do we do with that power and privilege that we've, we're sitting at the top of the heap right now, right? We won the lottery ticket of life. So now what do we do with it? And I always like when I find groups that are willing to to be creative with what they do with what they've inherited, and they don't think their job is just to preserve it no matter what.
So this is really important. The division that comes to my mind is what would Jesus do if he were on your elder board? Right? Yeah, please do if he was one of your voting leaders. So what then becomes your message to the church that the American church is certainly caught in that struggle right now? institutional structures or the ethics of Jesus? Sir, obviously, it's not just America, obviously, it's not just American. That's good if you but I plead guilty.
How what do you
what is your message to churches that are in that dilemma? And how do how do the churches Shepherd people properly to Christ, what are some practical things we can do to make sure that there's as little damage as possible at this point forward.
Um, you know, Jesus, his, his words are not hard to understand, but they are hard to do. And you'll often find like, the Sermon on the Mount gets gets ignored in churches or funked, or privatized, radically privatized or explained away. And I feel like I would like churches to start to think of themselves as an alternative political group. There's a theologian named Stanley house, who's very interesting theologian, Texan theologian. And he, and and he says that the church's response is not to withdraw from the world. And it's not to just become like the world, it's to be an alternative to the world. And one of the things that it can do is it can follow the way of Jesus, for example, as in the Sermon on the Mount, but not in some isolated, individualistic way. It's not just you, Jonathan, all by yourself up against the world, trying to love your enemies and turn the other cheek. It's, we are trying to do it, we are loving our enemies, we are turning the other cheek. And if you are faced with a problem, we've got your back and have churches to think of themselves more as networks of benign resistance to Babylon. Right? That realize we're living in Babylon right now. We're living in these empires that have grown arrogant and, and lost their way and they forgotten the cause of the oppressed, and the foreigner in their MIT. And so we get, that's us, we get to do that now. And I don't think Christianity is primarily about you and your salvation of your individual soul. I think it's about us, being part of the kingdom of God, which Jesus said, is here. You know, there's a there is an element of the kingdom of God that is present. And he said, he essentially said, The kingdom of God is present. When you listen to my voice, The kingdom of God is with you. When you do as I do, The kingdom of God is with us. And I want us to start to awaken some of that. And to help each other do that. Wow.
We have learned so much from you today. Dr. backhaus is super grateful. Speak with Dr. Steven backhaus, author of the text essential companion to Christian history from Zondervan, available from 2019. We're so grateful and looking forward already to your next book.