The Wednesday session of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts fundraiser for St. Catherine’s Monastery’s efforts to digitize their collection of ancient manuscripts, second only to the Vatican’s, began with lunch, followed by a lecture by Father Justin, and was finished with a quick tour of CSNTM’s offices at the Hope Center in Plano, Texas. A friend of mine from my last church happens to be a cousin of native Texan Father Justin, so I had the privilege of sharing lunch with both of them. When Father Justin heard that I had posted a review of Tuesday night’s lecture on this blog, he generously offered to send me his more detailed lecture for Wednesday with his invitation to post it in it’s entirety. The following is that lecture, Father Justin’s remarks on “The Significance of the Sinai Texts for New Testament Study.” Photos from the lecture and tour and a few of the Hope Center will be added later in the day.
1 The Codex Alexandrinus is one of the oldest manuscripts of the Holy Bible, dating from the fifth century. It is bound in four volumes. The first three contain the Old Testament in the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. The fourth volume contains the New Testament, and the Epistles of I and II Clement. In 1624, Cyril Lucaris, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, presented the four volumes of the Codex Alexandrinus as a gift to England. They reached England in 1627, when they were presented to King Charles I, who placed them in the royal library. This was the first time scholars in Europe had seen such an early copy of the scriptures.
The cry at the Reformation was ad fontes, ‘to the sources’. This meant a study of the New Testament, not in the Latin Vulgate, but in the original Greek. With the recovery of Greek, it became possible to study the Septuagint, and as well, to read the Greek Fathers of the early Church. But a careful study of the Codex Alexandrinus showed variants between this and later manuscripts. It became evident that there was a need, not only to study the New Testament in the original Greek, but to search out the oldest manuscripts, and recover the earliest levels of the text. It was the Codex Alexandrinus that initiated this search to find the oldest manuscripts of the scriptures. From that time, ad fontes, ‘to the sources’, meant, above all, the search for the earliest texts of the New Testament.
2 Richard Bentley (1662-1742), Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, is regarded as one of the greatest textual critics who has ever lived. In 1721, he published Proposals for Printing a New Edition of the Greek Testament and St. Hierom’s Latin Version, in which he described his approach to the challenge, and he included a critical edition of the last chapter of the Book of Revelation in parallel Greek and Latin, as an example. Jerome had translated the Greek New Testament into Latin in the fourth century. Bentley surmised that, since the Greek and the Latin had diverged at that time, by searching out the oldest manuscripts (this was, above all, the Codex Alexandrinus, which he called ‘the oldest and best now in the world’), and noting where these two coincided, at those points it would be possible to reconstruct the text of the New Testament as it was in the fourth century. He wrote, ‘But, since that time, I have fallen into a course of studies that led me to peruse many of the oldest MSS. of Gr. Test. and of the Latin too of St. Jerom; of which there are several in England a full 1000 years old. The result of which has been, that I find I am able (what some thought impossible) to give an edition of the Gr. Test. exactly as it was in the best examples at the time of the Council of Nice.’
Günther Zuntz has written, ‘It was a stroke of genius to use the agreement of these two witnesses, Origen and the Vulgate, for the recovery of a fourth- or even a third-century text. He was the first to replace the standard text also of the Vulgate by that of its oldest manuscripts; it served him to make up for the scarcity of ancient Eastern manuscripts at his disposal.’ In the end, nothing came of his Proposals, due to the enormity of the task, and the antagonism of fellow scholars at his college. Nevertheless, he established procedures, and showed scholars the way forward.
3 In the middle of the nineteenth century, scholars came to Sinai, inspired by this same goal: to locate the oldest manuscripts of the scriptures, in order to recover the earliest levels of the text. Of these scholars, the most famous was Constantine Tischendorf, the first to identify the singular importance of the Codex Sinaiticus. This is a manuscript originally consisting of 740 leaves, containing all of the Old and New Testaments in Greek, as well as the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas, both important late first century texts. The manuscript dates from around the year 325, which would place it within the lifetime of the emperor Constantine. Scholars before Tischendorf had seen the Codex Sinaiticus, but failed to appreciate its importance. He understood at a glance that this was the oldest manuscript of the scriptures he had ever seen, and that every variant reading was of the greatest interest.
In 1844, he managed to take 43 leaves of the codex with him, which he published in Leipzig in 1846, not divulging the source of the manuscript. In 1859, when he was travelling to Sinai under the auspices of the Russian emperor Alexander II, he was shown the rest of the manuscript. He asked that it be sent to Russia where the original could be consulted, so that the publication of the text, undertaken at the expense of the emperor, would be as accurate as possible. The monks of Sinai, out of a genuine concern for the furtherance of Biblical scholarship, gave him the permission he sought, on condition that the manuscript be returned to the monastery upon its publication. To this Constantine Tischendorf agreed in writing, giving the assurances as well of the Russian ambassador to the court of the Sultan.
4 The importance of the Codex Sinaiticus for Biblical scholarship cannot be overestimated. Westcott and Hort had at their disposal the published texts of the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus as they completed their labour of thirty years that culminated in the publication of the critical edition of the Greek New Testament in 1881. Hort has written, in his lapidary style,
Whatever be the mutual relation of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, each of them separately, Sinaiticus in the Apocalypse excepted, is found on comparison of its characteristic readings with those of other documentary authorities of approximately determinate date to have a text more ancient by a long interval than that of any other extant Non-Western manuscript containing more than a few verses; to be in fact essentially a text of the second or early third century. This fact, which is independent of coincidences of Sinaiticus Vaticanus, so that it would remain true of Sinaiticus if Vaticanus were unknown, and of Vaticanus if Sinaiticus were unknown, suggests the most natural explanation of their coincidences. They are due, that is, to the extreme and as it were primordial antiquity of the common original from which the ancestries of the two manuscripts have diverged, the date of which cannot be later than the early part of the second century, and may well be yet earlier.
5 Rendel Harris travelled to Sinai in 1889. At the time a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, he was later to become director of studies at Woodbrooke College near Birmingham, and curator of manuscripts at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. He spent seventeen days at the monastery. In a Syriac manuscript, he identified the unique surviving copy of the Apology of Aristides. In 1890, he published Biblical Fragments from Mount Sinai, listing the texts of sixteen fragments of the scriptures that he had been able to study. In the Introduction to the book he wrote,
6 There is much to discourage anyone who proposes to make a journey to Mount Sinai in the interests of Biblical Criticism; the successes as well as the failures of previous visitors have great deterrent force; the latter [those who have failed], because they intimate that there is no useful work to do; the former [those who have succeeded], because they suggest that all the useful work has been done already; and it is surprising how powerfully both of these considerations work in the case in question. . . . For example, Coxe in his report to Her Majesty’s Government on the state of the Libraries in the Levant, expressly states that he avoided Sinai because it had been recently visited by Tischendorf; I believe I am right in stating that at the time when he came to this resolution (in January, 1857), the Sinaitic Codex was still lying in its time-honoured retreat, where in fact it would be to-day if the ordinary conventions concerning the rights of property had been scrupulously regarded.
7 It was Rendel Harris who encouraged Agnes Smith Lewis and her twin sister Margaret Dunlop Gibson to visit Sinai in 1893, since he knew that there yet remained Syriac and Arabic manuscripts that he had not had time to read. On that visit, Agnes Smith Lewis identified the importance of Sinai Syriac 30, known as the Codex Syriacus. This manuscript is a palimpsest: the original writing was erased, and the valuable parchment used a second time, in the year 778, to write the Lives of the Saints. The original text may date from the fifth century. It is one of only two manuscripts in the world to preserve the Old Syriac translation of the Gospels, made from the Greek towards the end of the second century. We know that the texts of the New Testament were written in the first century. Today, we have manuscripts of the scriptures that date from the third century. What happened in the second century to account for what we see emerging in the third? That is the critical question in New Testament studies, and any manuscript that can illuminate the state of the text in the second century is of the greatest importance.
8 Agnes Smith Lewis and her twin sister Margaret Dunlop Gibson photographed the manuscript in its entirety. From these photographs, other Syriac scholars from Cambridge were persuaded to join them the following year. The first was Robert Lubbock Bensly, Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, lecturer in Hebrew and Syriac, and Lord Almoner’s Professor of Arabic. The second was Francis Crawford Burkitt, a former student of Bensly, who in 1905 was to be appointed Norris Professor of Divinity. Rendel Harris also joined them. The texts of this manuscript were published in Cambridge in several editions over the next few years.
In 1895, Burkitt read a paper at a Church Congress in which he said,
This version is certainly older than the Peshitta, which is not earlier than the fourth century; probably older than the Syriac Diatessaron, which is not earlier than 170 AD. Of this version of the Gospels only one other manuscript is known to survive besides our palimpsest, namely, the Codex in the British Museum used by Cureton; from this, however, more than half the contents are wanting, and its text has certainly undergone revision from the Greek. In the Sinai palimpsest considerably more than three-fourths of the whole of the Gospels is legible, and its text shows no clear signs of revision from later Greek manuscripts.
9 These are a very few of the Sinai manuscripts of the scriptures that have been of the greatest importance to Biblical studies. With the work of such eminent scholars over the course of many years, we may well ask, what remains for us to do? If Rendel Harris could write in 1890 about the discouraging effect of both the successes and failures of previous visitors to Sinai, how much moreso would that be the case today? Are we to be only gleaners in a field that has been already harvested? In fact, just a few years ago, yet another scholar made an important discovery.
10 Hikmat Kachouh is a Lebanese, who came to Sinai in the summer of 2006. He was working on a doctoral dissertation under the direction of David Parker, at the University of Birmingham, in England. His subject was the text of the Gospels in Arabic, excluding lectionaries. In the course of his studies, he had read over two hundred manuscripts of the Gospels in twenty-one different institutions. He came to Sinai for ten days. During that time, he was able to review sixty manuscripts. He was looking for test passages that would allow him to identify the characteristics of each manuscript. From his careful study of so many other manuscripts, he could quickly tell which had been translated from the Greek, and which from Syriac, and as well, the nature of the text from which the translation had been made. Most of the manuscripts at Sinai represented texts that he had already encountered, but seven of them were texts that he had never seen before. He set them aside as essential to his research. And then he had to return to England.
11 I was able to photograph these texts at high resolution, and send him the digital images. Two of these, in particular, became his favourite manuscripts: these are Sinai Arabic New Finds 8 and 28, which originally formed one manuscript, written on parchment, and containing 143 folios. It dates from the second half of the eighth century or the early ninth century, making it one of the oldest surviving Arabic manuscripts of the Gospels. In his dissertation he wrote, ‘The examination of the Gospel of Luke shows that this manuscript follows an archaic Greek manuscript which differs considerably from the Greek Byzantine text. The Western and Alexandrian readings are very many and will be presented in a separate monograph. No extant Arabic manuscript can claim more textual value than this version.’ He has drawn attention to the importance of Arabic manuscripts of the scriptures. In a further study of this manuscript, published in Novum Testamentum, he writes, ‘The Arabic Gospel manuscripts have much to contribute to the history of the transmission of the text, as well as enhancing our knowledge of the biblical tradition’. I might add that Hikmat Kachouh has recently been appointed dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut.
Such discoveries show the continuing importance of the Sinai manuscripts. What are we doing today to make them more accessible?
12 Some years ago, we began a program to photograph the Sinai manuscripts with a Sinar camera, made in Switzerland, that has a six megapixel CCD. The camera is mounted on a special cradle designed by Alan Buchannan in London, for the safe handling of fragile manuscripts. The camera takes excellent photographs, and will continue to be an important part of our project.
13 The day before I left Sinai to come to the States, we completed the installation of a new digital camera and cradle, made by Stokes Imaging, in Austin, Texas. The new camera has a 48 megapixel CCD. But in addition to the increase in resolution, the new system is much more efficient. The focus and many other functions of the camera and cradle are automated. The processing software straightens and crops the resulting images and saves them in three different formats, all of which had to be completed by the operator with the earlier system. We are very happy to announce this addition to our digital photography program.
14 Another important development is the project for the photography of the Sinai palimpsests. Because Sinai was so isolated, there are many manuscripts where the original writing was rubbed out, and the valuable parchment used a second time. We have over 110 manuscripts with palimpsest text. Already, we can see traces of both scriptural and classical texts in the occasional words that are visible in the margins of these manuscripts. The possibility of recovering these texts is a very exciting prospect.
How can the Sinai manuscripts continue to help us in our study of the scriptures?
As we continue to photograph the Sinai manuscripts and make them available to scholars, it is certain that important discoveries are yet to be made, in our goal to recover the earliest text of the scriptures. But there are other ways as well in which we still have much to learn from the Sinai manuscripts.
15 Scholars are coming increasingly to appreciate the importance of manuscripts of the scriptures with commentary in the margins. Commentaries show us how these texts were understood. One example is a tenth century Sinai manuscript containing the books of Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus, with marginal commentary drawn from twenty-four different writers, beginning with Philo and Josephus in the first century, and extending to Severus of Antioch in the sixth. The writings of some early authors only survive in such commentaries. The manuscript contains, as well, variant readings from Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus, who each made translations of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek as alternatives to the Septuagint.
16 There has been a living community at Sinai since the late third and early fourth centuries, an astonishing record of continuity. This gives an added dimension to each of the manuscripts: they are still in their original context. Sinai has over fifty copies of the Psalter written in Greek majuscule script, a script that predates the tenth century. Manuscripts such as these may add little to our knowledge of the text, but they can help us understand the place of the scriptures in Christian worship.
17 We face a certain paradox in our own days. In the early seventeenth century, scholars who had studied the Codex Alexandrinus made it their goal to search out the oldest manuscripts of the scriptures, in an effort to recover the earliest levels of the text. We now have manuscripts of the New Testament dating from the third century, and even from the second century, of which Westcott and Hort could only have dreamed. In addition, we have recovered a multitude of texts written on papyrus, from sites such as Oxyrhynchus, and these have contributed much to our understanding of Greek as it was used in late classical antiquity. All of these resources have allowed us to make ever more informed judgements about the text of the New Testament.
And yet, in our own times, Christians are being challenged in the very foundations of their beliefs. In early Christian times, we are told, there were many Gospels, and many Christianities. The process by which the traditional scriptures and faith emerged as normative was quite arbitrary, the result of power plays that could as easily have turned out differently then, could as easily turn out differently for us today. What are we to answer?
18 For those who know their Church history, these issues will sound familiar. These are the very issues faced by Irenaeus in the latter second century. He had to justify the unique place of the four Gospels. He also had to vindicate what he called the canon of faith, the rule of truth. He illustrated this by describing a mosaic in which an artist has used brilliantly coloured pieces of stone and glass to make the portrait of a king. Another person takes this mosaic, and rearranges the pieces to make the portrait of a fox. He can claim that the pieces are identical. He has not added or taken away one stone. But the arrangement is not the same. The pieces are not in their original order.
19 It is the same with the scriptures. Christ is anticipated in the Old Testament in types and figures. In the fulness of time, he came into the world as a recapitulation of the continual presence and activity of the Word. The New Testament is an epitome making clear what had previously been obscure. The canon of faith is this Christocentric reading of scripture, seeing the whole of scripture in the light of Christ and as speaking of Christ, the Old Testament invisibly in types and enigmas, the New Testament visibly in a clear epitome.
This approach to the scriptures was stated most succinctly by the holy apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians, ‘For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures’ (I Corinthians 15:3-4). This was the faith announced by the prophets, taught by the Lord, delivered by the apostles. Those who have come to know this overarching pattern will be able to discern the authentic portrait.
20 The cry of the Reformation was ad fontes, ‘to the sources’, a return to the sources of our Christian faith. This must still mean, above all, the most careful study of the text of the holy scriptures, and in this, the Sinai manuscripts have been of the greatest importance. We are certain they will continue to be so, as these manuscripts are photographed and made accessible to scholars. But the age-old continuity of which Sinai remains the very emblem reminds us of the wider scope of this admonition, ad fontes, ‘to the sources’. Those for whom this can include the defence of the faith written by such early writers as Irenaeus, will be in a better position to meet the challenges we face today as Christians. In this, as well, we have much to learn from the Sinai manuscripts.
 Richard Bentley, Sermons Preached at Boyle’s Lecture; Remarks upon a Discourse of Free-Thinking; Proposals for an Edition of the Greet Testament; Etc. Etc., edited with notes by the Rev. Alexander Dyce (London: Francis Macpherson, 1838), p. 477.
 Günther Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles: A Disquisition upon the Corpus Paulinum (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), p. 7.
 Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, Introduction and Appendix (Cambridge: Macmillan and Co., 1881), pp. 222-223.
 J. Rendel Harris, Biblical Fragments from Mount Sinai (London: C. J. Clay and Sons, 1890), pp. iii-iv.
 Francis Crawford Burkitt, ‘The Sinai Palimpsest and the Greek Text of the Gospels’, Mrs. R. L. Bensly, Our Journey to Sinai: A Visit to the Convent of St. Catarina (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1896), pp. 175-6.
 Hikmat Kachouh, The Arabic Versions of the Gospels: The Manuscripts and Their Families, (Birmingham: The University of Birmingham, 2008), vol. 1, p. 376.
 Hikmat Hachouh, ‘Sinai Arabic New Finds Parchment 8 and 28: Its Contribution to Textual Criticism of the Gospel of Luke’, Novum Testamentum 50 (2008), p. 29.
Those are the categories utilized by Michael Lindsay, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, and author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. When Lindsay spoke recently at the Pew Forum’s semi-annual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life, he used these categories to describe the division in the ranks of politically active American evangelicals.
Lindsay on Populists: “You see, populist evangelicals are what we oftentimes think about evangelicals. These are the folks who are culture warriors, who say that they want to take back the country for their faith. They see themselves as embattled against secular society. They are very much concerned that they are in a minority position, and they’ve got to somehow use very strong-arm tactics to win the day.”
Lindsay on Cosmopolitans: “They are less interested in taking back the country for their faith. They really are more interested in their faith being seen as authentic, reasonable, and winsome. So they still have an evangelistic impulse, but their whole modus operandi looks quite different. Because of that they have different ultimate goals of what they are actually trying to achieve. They want to have a seat at the table. They want to be seen as legitimate. They are concerned about what The New York Times or TIME magazine thinks about evangelicals because they [the cosmopolitan evangelicals] are concerned about cultural elites. They want legitimacy. Legitimacy is actually more important to them than necessarily taking back the country.”
Notable among the cosmopolitan group were Reformed Christians. Here’s what he said about them.
“There are some theologically literate cosmopolitan evangelicals, people who are able to articulate how their faith matters and drives them to particular positions, but the interesting thing about that is that almost all of them come from the Reformed tradition. The rise of Presbyterian kind of theology has been very interesting to observe. Abraham Kuyper has been one of the figures that is oftentimes cited among the people I interviewed.”
Then Lindsay mentions one significant Reformed theologian who is partly to be credited with the emergence of Reformed theology in the American evangelical community. David Wells. “I got in touch with a theologian named David Wells who has just written a book. I’ll promote his book since I don’t have one of my own. His book is The Courage to be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World. And he has a different dichotomy of the outlook of the evangelical landscape.” So Lindsay explains Wells’ breakdown. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. I want you to go read the whole transcript. It will give you a good idea of what is going on among us voting evangelicals.
Normally, I don’t post on politics, but politics is only one factor. I’m interested in this also for the historical and theological associations. If you want my views on politics, you’ll have to email me or send me a message at my Facebook page.
Finally, there was another Reformed individual, who, in her vocation, is associated with all of this. The chief religion correspondent from FOXNews Channel, Lauren Green, happened to be in attendance at the conference and piped up with some questions when she heard her church referenced. That church would be Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. I found that interesting. It’s nice to learn about the faith of the talking heads you listen to. So now Lauren is “outed” if you will as Reformed!
R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, and Associate Pastor at Oceanside United Reformed Church, splashes a little water in the faces of those of us who get excited about the Reformation on Halloween. If you want your Reformation myths challenged (if they are myths), then read his post at the Heidelblog entitled, “What Reformation Day Really Is.” But be of good cheer, true believer–the doctor not only invalidates the legends, he bestows a sharper knowledge of the true Reformation! Read, and rejoice in the truth!
The following is a synopsis of the things I learned after reading The Origin of the Bible, edited by Phillip Comfort, with chapters contributed by scholars such as F. F. Bruce, Carl F. H. Henry, J. I. Packer and Leland Ryken among others. I highly recommend this book for those who would like to learn the facts regarding New Testament textual criticism. Having come out of an Independent Baptist, King-James Only perspective, this topic is dear to me, although I am not an expert. What follows is my synopsis only, with links to names or concepts that may warrant further study.
If you are knowledgable of the facts below, are not King-James Onlyist, and detect any inaccuracy, feel free to speak up and correct what I’ve written. Of course, if you are King James Onlyist, feel free to engage me in dialogue about it. Again, I’m no scholar, I just wanted to put this info down to help solidify in my mind that which I read in the book. But I posted it because I wanted it to benefit anyone it can. I admit the information listed below is kind of condensed, which may make it a little difficult to comprehend. Feel free to also ask me to clarify what I’ve written, if necessary.
- Early faithful copies
- “Western” or “Popular” Text copies (independent copies all seeking to “improve” the text by either harmonizing events or parallel passages, smoothing out awkward language, emphasizing doctrinal aspects)
- “Alexandrian” or “Polished” Text, begins taking shape through a long process of classifying manuscripts and applying textual critical methods to recover the original readings, developing a superior type of text, although some original readings are “polished” (and thus corrupted) and are instead preserved by the Western or Byzantine Texts.
- Concurrent with the ongoing efforts of Alexandrian scholarship, Lucian of Antioch, Syria, (head of the theological school in that city) edits a recension (revision) of the Western Text, conflating (combining) variant readings and smoothing out awkward language. Subsequently, Roman emperor Diocletian persecutes the Church and confiscates Bibles. After Constantine legislates tolerance for Christianity, copies of Lucian’s recension of the Western Text of the New Testament are distributed among the Eastern churches by bishops trained at Lucian’s theological school. This becomes the dominant type of text during the Byzantine era, and is classified as the Byzantine Text. This also becomes the text of Protestant Christianity after the fall of Byzantine civilization and the westward migration of eastern Greek manuscripts, including Byzantine New Testament manuscripts. Hence the formation of the Textus Receptus.
- Usage of the Greek language falls out of use in the Mediterranean region and so the demand for copies of the Alexandrian Text of the New Testament is diminished until the type of text is largely lost to Christendom, although traces of it are retained in the Latin Vulgate and other versions. About 1481 Codex Vaticanus is discovered and placed in the Vatican’s library, but it is not until the 19th century before the bulk of Alexandrian manuscripts is discovered and begins to influence the work of textual critics.
- The two strands meet when in 1881, the Authorized Version (based on the Textus Receptus) is revised utilizing Alexandrian scholarship to create the English Revised Version, which revolutionizes the work of English Bible translation, culminating in the Nestle/Aland/UBS critical editions of the Greek New Testament which brings the New Testament to as close proximity to the original wording of the New Testament as has yet been achieved.
There’s a book out chronicling the resurgence of Calvinism among the, pardon the expression (keep in mind, I’m using it correctly), emerging generation of teens, twenty-, and thirty-somethings (including myself) who are disillusioned with the shallow theology and over-emphasis on you name it, revivalism, pietism, experientialism, commercialism of the twentieth century. As you know, the list of misguided varieties could go on.
So many of us who’ve grown up as a either a fundamentalist or evangelical Christian have come to the conclusion that what is needed is for the church to get back to the basics of what it means to be a Christian. The basics of Christianity as understood in a broader way than just re-examining my Bible and reconstructing my own version of what I think is the clear teaching of Scripture regarding faith and practice (which is what most of the previous generation think it means to get back to the basics).
Such a tactic is part of the problem–it’s too self-centered and individualistic and often far too reductionistic. It’s not a matter of just throwing out current traditions and starting over with a clean slate. It’s not about reinventing the wheel–those are the kinds that never turn out round. What I’m talking about is getting on the right track–yes, the most biblical track, the most Christian track, the most Protestant track, the most truly evangelical track–a track I didn’t lay myself, but was laid by the faithful followers of Christ who genuinely changed the world in their generation as did the first century apostolic generation.
What generation am I talking about? I’m talking about the generation that laid the tracks of conservative evangelical, confessionally Reformed, Christ-centered Protestant theology. The generation identified in the history books as the Reformers.
I read once that Socrates is known for saying, “Sometimes regress is progress.” The bill of goods that we were sold in the 20th century told us that what’s happening now is better than what happened back then. The present is always preferable to the past. The new is more relevant than the old. Well, some of us have learned that sticking “new and improved” on something doesn’t mean a thing. Some of us have learned that if conservative evangelical, or fundamentalist Christianity is going to make any progress, we’re going to have to regress back to a time when things were genuinely being done right and learn from both their successes and mistakes, receiving the faith in tact as handed down by them and not as re-imagined by modern philosophical influences, be they pragmatism, modernism or post-modernism. Progress will only come through this kind of regress.
Second Timothy 2:2 puts it best: “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” But lots of people are entrusting lots of things to lots of “faithful men.” Which version of Christianity is best? There’s a number of us in this new generation who are firmly convinced that what the apostolic churches passed on to faithful men who led the post-apostolic generation, got deformed in the medieval era and was reformed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is the “basics” to which the 21st Century generation of Christians needs to get back to. So much that has transpired since the Reformation era leaves so much to be desired that we don’t trust much of it at all. That’s why we’re turning to Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology.
Journalist Collin Hansen has written Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. It tells our story. Martin Downes has reviewed the book over at Reformation21.org. Read all about it, then find your place in the 21st Century Reformation.