Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus



"Serbia-0306 - Doorway of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church" by Dennis Jarvis of Halifax

A Non-Protestant School of Christianity


    In the last two years, I have learned much more than I can dream of succinctly sharing. Until recently, my understanding of Christianity has been pitifully Western; which is to say I have understood Christianity exclusively through Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives (primarily Protestant). Since I can not succinctly share what I have learned, I offer this reading list to the curious. I recommend here only those books which have shed the greatest light for me on the historic and global Christian faith which is so remarkably diverse.
    I offer a brief summary with each book, praying my summaries do not dissuade the reader from any of these tremendously profitable works. Do not be intimidated by the length of the list. Just grab whatever piques your interest. All of these books include errors alongside important truths, between which the reader must distinguish. Beware: you might just slip out of a strictly Protestant mindset into agreeing with two thousand years of Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Assyriac Church of the East, and Protestantism too:

WORLDWIDE NEW TESTAMENT: A classic book dating close to 1900 opened my eyes to how the manuscript line underlying most 20th and 21st century Protestant New Testaments disagrees with nearly all of Christianity around the globe.
    The manuscript line underlying most Protestant New Testaments disagrees with the Greek New Testament of Eastern Orthodoxy, disagrees with the Aramaic "Peshitta" New Testament of the Assyriac Church of the East, disagrees with the Latin New Testament of Roman Catholicism, and disagrees with the Ethiopic New Testament in Oriental Orthodoxy.
    John Burgon wrote "The Traditional Text" with the intent of defending the "majority" manuscript line, but inadvertently showed his Protestant readers the global and unified nature of the early church. Coptic Egyptians alone continued to use the manuscript line adopted by most mainline Protestant New Testaments.
    The differences between the manuscript lines can be dismissed as minor, but I personally personally prefer to use a Bible which agrees as much as possible with global Christianity.

WORLDWIDE OLD TESTAMENT: More recently, "When God Spoke Greek" by Timothy Michael Law details the Jewish "Septuagint" version of the Old Testament. The Septuagint underlies the Old Testament of every form of Christianity except for Protestantism.
    Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Assyriac Church of the East have agreed since the early centuries of our Lord that at least seven books are holy scripture which Protestants reject. Unfortunately, Timothy Michael Law does not write as one who believes in the innerancy of scripture, but he has much to teach those of us who do believe in the innerancy of scripture about the Jewish Septuagint version of the Old Testament.

ASIAN CHRISTIANITY: "A History of Christianity in Asia, Vol I" by Samuel Hugh Moffett provides 500 pages of fascinating detail regarding the first century birth of Christianity in India, Persia, and Western Asia.
    Moffett's scholarly but well written work exposes us to the grand history of the Assyriac Church of the East as well as Oriental Orthodoxy. Please don't miss this great book!

THE ORIGINAL GOSPEL: As highlighted in my summary above, all of these books fall short of perfection, which is especially true of N.T. Wright's "What Saint Paul Really Said." Yet I highly recommend his short little book, dating to 1997. Despite problems with what Wright presented regarding justification, this early book of his marvelously clarified the original gospel as preached in scripture.
    Surely no topic is more important than the gospel itself. I look forward to offering my own book about "the gospel of the kingdom" in December of 2014.

THE REAL MARTIN LUTHER: As a Protestant, I had only heard the romanticized version of Martin Luther. It seems Protestants may have worked too hard at making a perfect hero from the very flawed man who (in great measure) began a civil war in European Christianity.
    "Luther's Lives" offers first Philip Melancthon's rosey biography of Martin Luther, then Johannes Cochlaeus' vilifying biography of the same man. While the opinions of each man betray their biases, both men can be trusted to quote him accurately. The quotes Cochlaeus offers are eye-openers indeed.
    Surely Luther's true character lies somewhere between Melanchthon and Cochlaeus' versions, prompting us to think critically about the founder of our Protests.

MYSTERY OF THE CROSS: When you finish reading Johanne Cochlaeus' scathing biography of Luther, "Christus Victor" might restore your high opinion of the Reformer-in-Chief. Gustaf Aulen's "Christus Victor" gave a well-researched, fascinating presentation of the historic understanding of the atonement.
    Aulen's short and extremely well written book sees Anselm as veering from the Patristic understanding of atonement. Aulen presents Martin Luther as having corrected the Western European understanding and as agreeing with Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Most of Protestantism outside of Lutheran churches have followed Anselm's understanding rather than Luther's, but Aulen heartily applaud's Luther's atonement theology as agreeing with the historic version.

FATHERS OF OUR FAITH: As Protestants, we uniquely disregard the writings of the early church. Our doctrine of the priesthood of all believers tragically opens us to the capricious interpretations of any teacher or pastor who can articulately rationalize his or her interpretation.
    By contrast, Assyriac Christians, East Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Christians give strong preference to the earliest Christian leaders. The disciples of the apostles are assumed to have received and retaught what the apostles themselves taught. If therefore any modern teaching disagrees for example with Polycarp of Smyrna whom the Apostle John personally taught, then Polycarp is assumed to be right and the modern teacher wrong.
    "The Apostolic Fathers in English" (as translated by Michael Holmes) provides a crash course on the writings of the earliest Christians in the line of apostolically appointed leaders.

OLDEST BOOK OF THEOLOGY: After the apostolic fathers, I recommend the very short "Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching" by Irenaeus of Lyons. While earlier Christian writings include theology, Irenaeus' "Demonstration" is exclusively a summary of Christian Theology as handed down from the apostles rather than an apologetic or corrective writing. If you skip all the introductory material, you'll find Irenaeus' theology runs barely 100 beautiful pages.

OLDEST BOOK OF CHURCH HISTORY: Eusebius of Caesaria recorded his venerable "Ecclesiastical History" near the end of the fourth century. How different and wonderful is his work compared to the dry and skeptical modern books on church history.
    Be warned; the final third of this book is very difficult to read because it is spent primarily on how various Christians were tortured and executed for their faiths.

EASTERN ORTHODOXY: Finally, I recommend the very short and engaging "Journey to the Kingdom" by Vassilios Papavassiliou. Papavassiliou surprised me in his ability to describe the Eastern Orthodox liturgy in such a thoroughly enjoyable book. There is something innocent and unusually engaging in his writing style which I can't quite identify.
    "Journey to the Kingdom" will bring any believer into a greater and more sympathetic understanding of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

    I could recommend many more, but these ten have done more to open my eyes than any other books regarding the historic, worldwide Christian faith rather than just the Roman and Protestant flavors to which I was accustomed. Through these books, the Protestant will meet many heroes whom other Christians have celebrated for two thousand years. Enjoy!!



                                                    
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"A Non-Protestant School of Christianity" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net on September 15th, 2014. All rights are reserved.