Is God at Work in History?

In my church history classes, I often ask students why the early church grew so rapidly. And we discuss non-theological factors like the pax Romana, a shared language, established trade routes, and the charitable endeavors of the early church.

Then someone inevitably asks, “What about God?” Surely God wanted the church to grow and the gospel to spread. So we can look back on history and see God at work making sure those things happened in the first few centuries of the church.


After listening for a few minutes, I ask the students to consider the near elimination of the church in North Africa and Asia Minor after the rise of Islam. What do you do with that? If God wants the church to grow and the gospel to spread, why did that happen? How do you find God at work in those historical events?

What about the Crusades? The holocaust? The Rwandan genocide?

How do you discern God at work in history? That’s really the question. How can we speak so confidently about God at work in growing the early church and then just stammer awkwardly when asked about more tragic realities of the past?

What is the relationship between divine providence and the study of history?

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Flotsam and jetsam (3/17)


Good Reads

  • Why We Argue Like Jerks: Diving headfirst into an endless vortex of insults and insinuations is incredibly tempting in the heat of the moment. I have felt the tug and I have regrettably given in many times to coarse tweets and ad hominems. Maybe considering the why behind our inability to argue well will help us move forward. (Christ and Pop Culture)
  • St. Patrick: Reclaiming the Great Missionary:  the factual accounts of Patrick, missionary to Ireland, are even more compelling than the folklore. Telling the true story of Patrick provides an inspiring lesson in God’s grace and mercy. (Gospel Coalition)
  • Francis Has Changed American Catholics’ Attitudes, but Not Their Behavior, a Poll Finds: One year into the era of Pope Francis, a new poll has found that a broad majority of American Catholics say he represents a major change in direction for the church, and a change for the better. But his popularity has not inspired more Americans to attend Mass, go to confession or identify as Catholic — a finding that suggests that so far, the much-vaunted “Francis effect” is influencing attitudes, but not behavior. (New York Times)
  • The Intellectual Snobbery of Conspicuous Atheism: vocal atheists reinforce this binary of Godly vs. godless, too—the argument is just not as obvious. Theirs is a subtle assertion: Believers aren’t educated or thoughtful enough to debunk God, and if they only knew more, rational evidence would surely offset faith. (The Atlantic)

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A Prayer for Sunday (St. Patrick)

st patrickIn the fifth century, St. Patrick established his reputation as one of the most famous missionaries in Christian history. According to tradition, he was just a teenager when he was taken as a slave to Ireland. He eventually escaped, became a priest, and returned to Ireland with the gospel. After years of faithful service, he has long been remembered as the “Apostle of Ireland” and one of the key figures in establishing Celtic Christianity.

In memory of Patrick’s amazing life and ministry, this Sunday’s prayer comes from him.

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Saturday Morning Fun…It’s Creepy When Humans Do It

Cats do lots of stuff that is pretty creepy all by itself. I routinely catch my wife’s cat just staring at me. I’m convinced that it’s trying to eat my soul, but my wife says it’s just keeping an eye on me. Either way it’s a bit creepy.

But the things cats do are even creepier when people do them.

Is Belief in God Essential to Morality?

An interesting new survey from the Pew Research Center shows what people around the world think about whether belief in God is essential to morality. The variations between counties and continents is fascinating.

belief in god morality

Flotsam and jetsam (3/14)


Good Reads

  • The 7 Commandments for Choosing a Church: After several moves, and several not-so-good choices over the past few years, I found our most recent church choice to be different – and much better.  My hope is that anyone who is facing the decision of which church to join will find help and encouragement.  So here are 7 commandments for choosing a church. (Transformed)
  • Letter Grades Deserve an ‘F’: Letter grades are a tradition in our educational system, and we accept them as fair and objective measures of academic success. However, if the purpose of academic grading is to communicate accurate and specific information about learning, letter, or points-based grades, are a woefully blunt and inadequate instrument. (The Atlantic)

Other Info

Just for Fun

  • Can gibberish be a verb? If so, this woman gibberishes exceptionally well.

What Is a Theological “Mystery”?

Human head silhouette with question mark concept

Most people appeal to mystery at some point in their theology. And that’s what we would expect given that we’re trying to understand the infinite, transcendent, and ultimately incomprehensible God of the universe. So we end up talking about things like the Trinity (three persons in one being) and the incarnation (divine and human in one person), fully aware that we are affirming truths that transcend our understanding, but unwilling to say that they are mere contradictions. So we call them mysteries.

But what exactly does it mean to say that something is a “mystery” in theology?

In their book, The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable (Baker, 2012), Steven Boyer and Christopher Hall explain that “mystery” is actually a rather slippery term in theology. So they offer a helpful taxonomy of different kinds of mystery, arguing that only the last is really adequate to a God who both transcends knowledge and makes himself truly known.

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Flotsam and jetsam (3/12)


Good Reads

  • 3 Ways Expository Preaching Combats Biblical Illiteracy: Biblical illiteracy is a widespread problem that manifests itself in several ways. The basic nuts and bolts Bible knowledge of key stories, people, and concepts is much less common. People have little patience for the parts that are difficult to understand, let alone the parts that are clear and offensive. What are you going to do about this, Pastor? (Pastors Today)
  • Heal Me—Body, Mind, and Soul: Why are we so attracted to yoga, acupuncture, and the like? As people of faith, we recognize that we are multidimensional beings. We know that we are more than just a body, but exist as bodies, minds, and spirits, and all parts of us need attention. (Hermeneutics)
  • Paranoid Narcissism: What Dostoyevsky Knew about the Internet: Paranoid narcissism—the mixed desires and fears of being watched by unknown others—thus defines virtual society, giving rise to numerous related anxieties such as the sense of exposed insignificance and the fear of missing out. (The American Reader)

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Flotsam and jetsam (3/10)

trick question

Good Reads

  • An Open Apology to the Local Church: Here’s where I need to confess my true feelings about you, Church: The romance of our earlier days has faded. The longer I have known you, the more I weary of your quirks and trying character traits. Here’s one: You draw people to yourself whom I would never choose to spend time with. Every Sunday, it seems, you put me in contact with the older woman who thinks that angels and dead pets are everywhere around us. You insist on filling my coffee hour with idle talk of golf, the weather, and grandchildren. (Christianity Today)
  • Encounters with Orthodoxy: I would never be the same Protestant I had been. I understood in a more tangible way than I could have imagined the significance of the “smells and bells” of worship, the careful attention to the worshipping body as well as the worshipping spirit, the sense that God didn’t exist “in my heart,” but also out there in a big, strange world that demanded to be perceived through my senses. (Books and Culture)
  • How Can I Best Absorb Information While Reading: Impress yourself with powerful mental images, make associations with what you already know (and make sure you learn the basics to start), and repeat this exercise several times. Work to become better at remembering and you will become better at remembering everything you want. (Lifehacker)

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A Prayer for Sunday (Thomas Aquinas)

St Thomas AquinasThomas Aquinas is one of those theologians who needs little introduction. One of the most influential theologians in the history of the church, Aquinas has shaped the way theologians in the west think about almost every theological issue. Best known for his massive Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles, Thomas also wrote extensive commentaries on Scripture and Aristotle, as well as various liturgical works.

Thomas Aquinas died on March 7, 1274. In honor of his amazing life and ministry, today’s prayer comes from him. And it’s an excellent prayer for students and learners everywhere.

Ineffable Creator,
Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom,
has established three hierarchies of angels,
has arrayed them in marvelous order above the fiery heavens,
and has marshaled the regions of the universe with such artful skill,
You are proclaimed the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin raised high beyond all things.

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