Author: Gerald L. Sittser
Genre: Church History
In our Western, post-Christendom society, much of Christianity's cultural power, privilege, and influence has eroded. But all is not lost, says bestselling author Gerald Sittser. Although the church is concerned and sobered by this cultural shift, it is also curious and teachable.
Sittser shows how the early church offers wisdom for responding creatively to the West's increasing secularization. The early Christian movement was surprisingly influential and successful in the Roman world, and so different from its two main rivals--traditional religion and Judaism--that Rome identified it as a "third way." Early Christians immersed themselves in the empire without significant accommodation to or isolation from the culture. They confessed Jesus as Lord and formed disciples accordingly, which helped the church grow in numbers and influence.
Sittser explores how Christians today can learn from this third way and respond faithfully, creatively, and winsomely to a world that sees Christianity as largely obsolete. Each chapter introduces historical figures, ancient texts, practices, and institutions to explain and explore the third way of the Jesus movement, which, surprising everyone, changed the world.
Reviewer: Laura J. Davis
What can Christians today learn from the early church? That is what I hoped to learn by reading Resilient Faith by Gerald L. Sittser. I learned that and so much more.
The author takes us on an extensive journey of Christianity. Using the Bible, writings from early church leaders and secular books on the history of Rome and the emergence of Christianity. It is clear, early on, that the church began to have problems once Gentiles were adopted into the faith. For example, when the Apostles were alive, they made Israel's Bible (the Torah) the Christian Bible. They used it in worship, in sermons and quoted it in their writings. The church, during the time of Apostolic Leadership, kept the Sabbath on Saturday as God had commanded. Using the Torah, they were able to show new believers God's plan of redemption, starting at creation and would end with a new heaven and a new earth. For the disciples, the Torah was a "glorious narrative, and Jesus is at the center of it."
The problems began after the apostles were all gone, and more and more Gentiles became believers. Unfortunately, unlike the gentiles of Jesus' time, these believers knew nothing of the Jewish Torah or the Jewish faith and began to separate themselves from it. The author covers a lot of ground about how and why the church separated itself from Jewish Christians, and it is an interesting read.
The author included many quotes and notes from historical church figures like Eusebius, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, and Irenaeus, among others. He also included Gnostic and heretical writings from Marcion of Sinope, who was expelled from the church as a heretic. I loved these bits of information because they began to show a picture of how quickly the church lost its focus as Jesus being the centre of all things.
An interesting tidbit of history was on catechumenates and the very Catholic rituals that began to be observed during the 3rd century. New believers were put through a carefully choreographed initiation of examination, lessons, indoctrination, etc. before they were accepted as believers. The description left me feeling like the early church operated like a cult. Belief in Jesus and confession, along with repentance, just weren't enough. This 3rd-century ritualistic observation included the daily recitation of the Lord's prayer, daily exorcisms, anointings, confirmation, baptism and partaking of the Eucharist. These were all needed to become a Christian. But eventually, even this discipline in the early church faded. I am glad, as the more I read, the more it sounded like they were replacing faith with more rituals and laws to follow.
If you are a student of the Word, you will enjoy this informative book on early church history. While I disagree with the author's conclusions as to how the 21st-century church should operate today to survive in a hostile world, it is still an interesting read.
I received this book courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley for my honest opinion.
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