Summer 2016:  June 19-July 31 (7 weeks)
The First Five Hundred Years: An Introduction to the History of the Early Church and Why It Matters

Ever wonder why some books are in the NT, and some are not? Why we say the Nicene Creed? Is Dan Brown’s hypothesis about the role of Constantine in defining the Church really right? How did the Bishop of Rome become Pope? Who was Augustine and why should you care? If these questions interest you, this is the course for you. Learn something new about your ancient heritage and how it continues to shape who Christians are and how they believe and behave.

Led by:      Boyd and Nan Clarke unless noted otherwise
LocationParlor (Room 100)

Time: 10-11 am

Week One (June 19) -  “ A Jewish Sect Becomes a Church for the Whole World: The Spread of Christianity in the First Century”

We will focus largely on the New Testament  record as the leadership of the Church begins to fully understand that the message of the Gospel is truly universal, but it forces them to come to terms with the implications of what that means. Key subjects will include the Council of Jerusalem, the impact of the fall of Jerusalem, and the manner in which the faith spread under the aegis of the first generation of its leaders.

Week Two (June 26) -“ The Rise of Christianity:   The Sociology of the Expansion of the Faith, Prior to Constantine”

We will focus on one of the most difficult questions for historians and sociologists of religion have to answer. Namely, how did an obscure Middle Eastern sect get to the point where it might even contend for the interest of the Emperor within a little over 250 years? We will rely heavily on the work of Rodney Stark (“The Rise of Christianity”), paying close attention to the means and message that fueled growth.

Week Three (July 3) -“A New Generation of Leadership: Martyrs, Master Teachers and Monks“

Whereas most modern Christians can summarize the biographies or writings of Paul or John, the next generation or two of leadership (through the second and third centuries) is virtually unknown. And yet spiritual athletes like Simeon Styletes, or leaders like Ignatius of Antioch or Origen, or martyrs like Ste. Blandine  followed Christ in ways that sometimes are inspiring to us, and in some ways mystifying. This session will engage in 3 or 4 brief biographies to demonstrate the varieties of Christian experience in this time, and hopefully remind us that maybe we need to be a bit more open minded that we have traditionally been.       Led by Travis Pickell 

Week Four  (July 10) "Assembling the New Testament: Establishing The Source Book of the Faith”

The New Testament Canon was not the product of a decision by a council of Bishops, nor was it an imposition of a decision by Constantine. Rather it was the product of a process of assimilation over two centuries that included some books which remain controversial (eg. 2 Peter) and excluded others. How did this happen? And what does it mean for how Christians today might view the NT?                                                                                         Led by Tim Latham.

Week Five  (July 17) - “The Rise of Creedal Christianity: The Why and So What of Creeds”

In this class, we will focus on the environment that led up to the development of the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed in particular. The purpose of the session will be to highlight why creeds were necessary then, and why they remain useful now, even when the original problems have been largely addressed within the Church. In addition, they will be viewed as antecedents for more modern Creeds such as the Barmen Creed.

Week Six  (July 24) - “Constantine: The Christian Emperor”

Inasmuch as  historians have often laid the rise of Christianity in the West at Constantine’s feet, and popular writers like Dan Brown has used his role to advance some wild ideas about the Church, it is appropriate to examine his role. What did he do, and not do? Perhaps we can have an interesting discussion as to what he might imply about the relationship between Christian’s and the state.

Week Seven  (July 31) - Augustine of Hippo: The Impact of Augustinian Theology

After a brief review of his biography, we will focus on the three great theological controversies of Augustine’s life: his rejection of Manichean dualism; his  struggle with the Donatists; and his refutation of the Pelagian heresy. All three of these issues have returned to occupy the attention of some within the Church for centuries afterwards. Hence this will be an interesting way in which to investigate the establishment of an orthodoxy which extended beyond the Creeds.


A few more thoughts about this class.  Now it is worth noting that while we have dedicated seven hours to the history of Church in first five centuries, to say the least, there is so much of importance that we have omitted. The rise of monasticism, the establishment of the papacy, the breadth of the establishment of the intellectual foundation of the Church, the geographic expansion of the Church, the relationship with the Jews and the efflorescence of art and architecture will all get short shrift. Not that we will have said anything about the medieval Church against which the Reformation (or post Reformation) must be viewed. So there is so much that could still be mined, but that can be for another time.

We hope these sessions should be enough to whet any appetite that might exist, and in the meantime, they may challenge some of our presuppositions about what it means to be a Christian in a world that is not dominated by the concept of Christendom.


Location: 600 Forest Ave. Room 100