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October 03, 2004

A History of the Work of Redemption

I was just reading about Jonathan Edwards's A History of the Work of Redemption, which was a history of the world from the point of view of God's plan. I haven't seen the book itself, but I like the idea. There's a lot of study of God's plan in the part of history covered by the Bible, but what about the 2,000 years since then? Just because we have not had prophets and apostles in that period does not mean its history is unimportant, or even that it is less important than the history in the Bible. It seems unlikely that God would have put such a long period between the Resurrection and the Last Judgement without some purpose, and since the world has changed so much in that time, should we not deduce that that change is part of God's plan?

I'll muse a little about how such a history might be structured. It would be a life's work, but I'll give it about half an hour.

That Israel was located in what is essentially the center of the world cannot be accidental, under either a religious or a secular view of history. Christianity was poised to take off, as a new religion that appealed to both the head and heart of those dissatified with both paganism and philosophy in the Roman Empire. That Empire was the breeder for Christianity. When the Church was old enough to survive without the peace of the Empire, the Empire collapsed under the barbarian invasions.

The barbarian invasions set the scene for the next phase of Christianity. It ended the stagnation of the Empire, which had made amazingly little progress in the arts and sciences during its 450 years of prosperity. And it prevented the Church from becoming a mere state religion under the thumb of the Emperor. The cost was high, of course-- the Dark Ages, with a heavy decline in prosperity and learning. Christianity, however, prospered, as the barbarians were one by one converted-- a surprising success, given that it was not Roman power that brought about the conversions.

The Middle Ages were a period of both savagery and piety, of illiteracy and theological development. They also saw the institutionalization of the Church, and its corruption. To what end? I don't know.

The Reformation clearly improved the Church, both in Protestantism and via the reforms it brought to the Roman Catholics. It also set the scene for the strong Church in America, which I suppose is due to the Puritans and the frontier Baptists and Methodists setting the tone for other denominations.

The next phase of history saw the rise of Christianity in the United States and its decline in Europe. Despite some valiant rear-guard actions, the Church in Europe again became corrupt, while in America a decline in some denominations was matched by a strengthening in others.

The main story of the 20th century was the rise of Christianity in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, a rise which is in full throttle now. History is pointing towards a replacement of both Europe and America as the strongholds of the Church-- unless, that is, those continents are infused with new strength from the Third World.

As to what happens next, that is a mystery. The history I am thinking of would not be like the Dispensationalist books on the present signs of the End of the World. I see no such signs-- indeed, as I said, we seem to be in the middle of important developments, not near the end of some phase. I don't think we can know if the Last Judgement is going to be next year or 2,000 more years from now, but there might actually be some clue in the developments of the first two millenia of the Church, if only some wise man were to study them.

Posted by erasmuse at October 3, 2004 08:52 PM

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