A Systematic Theology of Early Christianity

Someone told me, in so many words, that my teaching can be confusing. What he said was:

When i watch a video of yours, or read an article from your site, or even a whole book like Logos, i think well that’s great! i learned a lot of cool stuff and particular issues were indeed clarified, but later i can’t hold all the little gold nuggets in place, i can’t see how they form or fit into an overarching narrative, or consistently follow some few simple rules, patterns or principles. (FB message, forgive his capitalization)

What I teach can be confusing. That is true for two reasons:

1. My teaching is directed at evangelicals—a movement I’ve been somewhat a part of my whole Christian life—and evangelicals not only believe, but assume without question, a lot of unscriptural traditions. The road out of those traditions can be both troubling and confusing.

2. Communication is difficult, especially when one is saying something that is new to his hearers. I don’t always know what my hearers are hearing.

So today I am going to give a quick overview of my view—no, the historical and apostolic view—of the Christian life. I am going to leave things out, not on purpose, because spiritual things don’t outline well.

  1. Mankind is fallen. Give them a law, and they will, by nature, violate it. (Rom. 7)
  2. God proved it over 1500 years (or something like that) by letting Israel try to keep the Law of Moses. (Letter of Diognetus, ch. 9; cf. Jer. 31:31-34 and lots of other passages)
  3. Jesus came and changed everything. He took the kingdom from the fleshly nation that hadn’t kept the old covenant (Matt. 21:43), and he made a new kingdom in himself. (Matt. 21:43; Rom. 9-11; Col. 1:12-13)
  4. He inaugurated that kingdom and a new covenant with his blood on the cross. (Col. 1:14; 1 Cor. 11:25)
  5. He conquered death by rising again, so we never have to fear death again. (Heb. 2:14-15)
  6. If we will believe in him all our sins will be forgiven, we will receive the Holy Spirit, and we will be transferred to his kingdom. All this is our inheritance in the new covenant. (Acts 2:38; 10:43)
  7. There is a judgment coming, in which our works will be judged. The righteous will inherit everlasting life and immortality in the kingdom of God, and the unrighteous will perish in everlasting fire. (Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:5-8; 2 Cor. 5:10: Rev. 20:11-15)

An excellent description of the path from the new birth to judgment is found in 2 Peter 1:3-11.

That’s my picture of the Christian system as taught by the apostles and their churches. I don’t wonder about those things. I don’t wonder about evangelical traditions that conflict with those points, and I am absolutely confident that where evangelical tradition conflicts, it is wrong (and harmful).

Someone once suggested I write a series on the teachings of the early church, counting on me to research those teachings as well as I researched In the Beginning Was the Logos (still on sale till June 30 for 99 cents on Kindle!).

I like the idea. Here’s some other subjects that I think would be easy to prove from the Scriptures and from the early Christian writings and which I would consider at least somewhat important.

  • Baptism as the entrance rite into the faith, and, under normal circumstances, the point at which we are born again. As a result, for more than 1500 years, the entire church, including the Reformers, equated baptism with spiritual rebirth.
  • The “New Law” of Christ (cf. Heb. 7:12), a proper understanding of Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law of Moses as described in Matthew 5, which used to be known by all Christians. I am already working on this book/booklet. (I don’t know which it will be till I’m done. It will be at least 50 pages, maybe 200.)
  • “Behavior Is Better Than Belief,” an exposition of 2 Tim. 2:19 and the “sure foundation of God.” Lots of people have objected to that terminology (“behavior is better than belief”), but I think they’re being way too picky. I’ve started on this several times, but I’ve never been even remotely satisfied with how I’ve explained it.
  • Grace is power, not mercy (Rom. 6:14; Tit. 2:11-12; Heb. 4:16; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; plus Eph. 2:8-10 with Rom. 5:2). I’ve written this several times in several forms, including a mostly finished version I have printed on my desk. This will be coming soon.
  • The unity of the Spirit comes before and is the only route to the unity of the faith. This would be more controversial as far as justifying this statement from the early Christian writings. Because apostolic tradition was so close at hand for them, they could call for a unity based on “the rule of faith”. On the other hand, it seems to me that Ephesians 4:3 and 4:13, with the intermediate verses, states plainly that it is the unity of the Spirit that leads to unity of faith (rather than careful or spiritual Bible study leading to unity of faith).
  • Christianity is not an individual religion, and evangelicals grossly misunderstand the nature, role, and function of the church. (Jn. 17:20-23; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Thes. 1:6-8; 1 Jn. 2:27; and a number of long sections of early Christian writings—examples)

Finished Booklets, Coming Out Within a Month

  • The Apostles’ Gospel: A review of the Gospel as the apostles preached it to the lost, rather than as we’ve gleaned it from their letters to the churches.
  • How To Make a Church Fail: This doesn’t really fit with this blog post, but it’s coming out very soon. It’s been finished for four years, but I’ve never done anything with it. It explains, from the devil’s perspective, what happened to the church between the time of the apostles and the time of Constantine.

Don’t forget that we have started a publishing company, Greatest Stories Ever Told, to publish our books, and we’re celebrating with a free writing contest!

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2 Responses to A Systematic Theology of Early Christianity

  1. Shammah says:

    That is what I have seen as well. I’ll give some thought to that first request of yours, but sometimes trying to outline evangelical beliefs makes posts and web pages long and wordy.

  2. Buckstop77 says:

    Something that I would find helpful along with the 7 points you listed is a brief explanation of how each point is different from evangelical thinking/belief.

    I like the point you make about behavior is better than belief. I’ve always wondered why God seems to be “in” all these different movements, denominations, etc. Seems like there would be one “right” one that God has his stamp of approval on. I have come to realize that God will honor those who love and obey Him to the best of their understanding and ability even if their theology is off.

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