One of the most exciting aspects of theology is seeing how it has developed through history, engaging with politics, art, science and cultural change. But if you’ve ever dipped into a book about theology you’ve probably been bombarded by countless names, dates and places. Now if you’re like me you probably find it hard enough to spell Athanasius (mmm, I think that’s right), let alone know when he lived, who his contemporaries were and what key doctrines he’s associated with. Recently I’ve started using a web-based app called tiki-toki for creating timelines to keep all this data in one place. Every time I come across a new theologian I add them to the timeline and I can instantly see where they fit in. There is also space for you to write as much detail as you like about them. Next time they crop up, just look them up and see where they fit into the big scheme of things.
As well as adding theologians. I’ve also been putting in key events in history as they come to mind, like the invention of the printing press and the First World War. The final category on my timeline is key non-Christian thinkers; people like Freud and Nietzche have inevitably become part of the dialogue of theology.
One advantage to viewing timelines is that you see history visually. This helps to make links that otherwise might have been missed; there is often huge significance in the political and cultural climate that a theologian lived in.
I’m just playing around with tiki-toki.com at the moment, but it seems to be a really handy tool. If you’re trying to get to grips with historical theology this might be just what you need.
Forgive the geeky post. It’s just rare to see a NT Greek learning aid that makes you smile.
There’s a debate in Oxford tonight with the motion “This house wants to defeat ageing entirely.” The motion is proposed by Aubrey de Grey, who ages himself rather ironically with a Gandalf-style beard (see picture). As Christians, we shouldn’t be surprised that people are desperate to live forever; it’s the way we’re wired.
In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we read that God “has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” We were made to live forever, and in his resurrection Jesus has defeated aging entirely. This motion is a natural one and a biblical worldview offers the answers everyone is looking for.
How many Isaiahs does it take to write a book? Ask around and you’ll find all sorts of answers; there were two, maybe three, even a whole “Isaianic school” of prophets behind the book of Isaiah. But as a Christian you tend to assume (and it doesn’t seem like much of an assumption) that Isaiah was written by Isaiah. When you realise that this is not the consensus amongst academics it can leave you feeling a bit shaken.
This is where Alec Motyer comes to the rescue! I was recently reading his commentary The Prophecy of Isaiah in preparation for a sermon on Isaiah 6 and I found his introduction so helpful in this area. With decades of studying Isaiah behind him, he shows that you don’t need to throw your brain away in order to read Isaiah as the work of one prophet. Despite its clear sections of the King (ch. 1-37), the Servant (ch. 38-54) and the Conquerer (ch. 55-66), the book of Isaiah is woven together with several clear themes, the hope of a Messiah, the motif of the city, the Holy One of Israel, historical consistencies, and literary and structural features.
To give you an example of how this evidence points to a book written by one prophet, the title “the Holy One of Israel” is used repeatedly throughout the whole book, in every section. This is important, because it ties the three sections together and because the phrase isn’t used much elsewhere in the Old Testament (only seven times, compared with twenty-five occurrences across Isaiah). This points to the facts that we have the writing of one man in front of us, not that of multiple prophets from different times in history.
Reading through the rest of the introduction, historical, theological, structural, even geographical evidence mounts up in support of a book written by one Isaiah. So if you just assumed that that this was the case, don’t let the critics scare you. Good evangelical scholarship is on our side, as well as plain common sense.
- They Are Converted
- They Have Been Equipped, Not Entertained
- Their Parents Preached The Gospel To Them
Sounds like a helpful window on modern culture. I’ll have to add it to my ever-growing list of books to read.
It seems to me that a view more commonly held in churches than in the rest of society is that art is only art if it looks like something nice. This is “proper art”, not “weird art.” If it looks odd, or ugly, or it’s driven by concepts rather than aesthetics, then it’s not art. What unsettles me most is when it’s assumed that this is “what Christians think,” as though the Bible says it.
But take a look at the Bible; what kind of an artist is God? It strikes me that he’s as conceptual as they come. In Ezekiel, how does God warn his people about the coming judgement? With a pretty water colour, or a neat little short story about the future of Jerusalem? No. He get’s Ezekiel to lie on his side for just over a year and cook bread on a poo BBQ.
Or how about the church in the New Testament, how is it described? A community of believers would be an accurate description, but time and again pictures are used; a body, a family, a vine. This picture language is powerful and conveys meaning.
What about God himself? He created sunsets and little lambs and crashing waves; all the things we tend to find on cheesy Christian posters from the ’80s. Surely this is good old fashioned art. Proper art! Well not exactly. If “proper art” is a close representation of something nice, like a sunset in pastels, then God’s creative power is the exact opposite. God created ex nihilo, out of nothing. There was no visual reference for what God made; pure abstract creativity.
Maybe it’s time for a bit more “weird art” in church. I’m sure God wouldn’t mind.