7 Things Yo’ Momma Never
Told You About Church History
(Written Transcript Part 1)
I’m really glad that you’re here, and it’s been brewing for a very long time. There’s a little story behind this whole talk that I want to tell you about; how this whole project was born.
About seven years ago, I put up a website called CoffeeHouseTheology.com. There were a number of motivations for me doing this, but one of them was I needed a punching bag.
I’m a pastor’s kid. Many of you know that pastor’s kids are trouble-prone, dysfunctional, and all that kind of stuff, so I lay claim to all of those characteristics.
I’ve kind of been the “scenic path through life” kind of guy – a little bit of this and a little bit of that – and my younger brother, Bryan, was straight down the party line. He did it exactly the way they told him to. He did not vary.
He gets to be about 30 years old and all the sudden – kaboom! He goes from being the hardcore man of the cloth to nearly atheist in a space of about a year or two. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, seriously. He’s very sharp, and he has more ability than most people to take the dagger and stick it right into the core issue. So Bryan’s asking really intelligent questions, and I’m not necessarily finding good answers to all these questions.
That’s even more significant when you consider that for 10 years I went to Willow Creek Community Church out in the far northwest suburbs. Willow Creek is a seeker-sensitive church. You could be an atheist, you could be a Buddhist, you could be whatever, and you’re welcome to go there. It doesn’t mean they’re atheists, it doesn’t mean they’re Buddhists, but it means they welcome everybody and they’re not afraid to mix it up.
I was actually a pioneer in something they started there called seeker small groups. A seeker small group is like me and maybe an apprentice leader, we’re Christians, and then we get this small group and everybody else at the table is not a Christian. We’re going to have some kind of Bible study or some kind of discussion, and I’m supposed to somehow steer this thing, and it’s crazy.
You say Bible study and people picture a really well-behaved group. They’re sitting there in dresses they made themselves and they’re reading their Bibles and everybody’s being really submissive.
Well, you get a bunch of non-Christians that show up from anywhere at Willow Creek, because they like the jazz or whatever, and it’s careening all the time. And I did that for ten years and I got pretty good at it and I got pretty comfortable.
But then my brother comes along and he’s got a Ph.D. in theology. He’s studied Greek, he’s studied Hebrew, and he’s like, “I don’t buy any of this.” What he would do is he would ask me questions, and when I would try to argue with him he wouldn’t answer, and it really shook me up.
I’m feeling like, “I think there’s good answers to these questions,” so there’s a whole variety of reasons, but what I did is I set up this website called CoffeeHouseTheology.com, and this is what it looks like now.
It used to be a little simpler, but basically this website said, “I’ve got this email series called 7 Great Lies of Organized Religion. You’ll get one message every day. Sign up for it and see what it’s all about,” and people out of curiosity would do this.
If you read it, it’s definitely spun to appeal to the skeptical angry person, not the happy submissive person. The way this worked was anytime a person would reply to an email I would get it, and for the last seven years I’ve had anywhere from 50-100 people a day subscribing to that. Between that website and another one called CosmicFingerprints.com, which is about science stuff, I had 300,000 people subscribe to these emails.
What I decided to do was I will take all comers. I will not back down from any question, and I’m going to see, “Can Christianity stand up to this?” Because you know what? If it can’t I’m going to find out, and that is the background for what I’m going to share with you today.
Christianity absolutely does stand up. It stands up scientifically, historically, philosophically, and every other way. I put a lot of stuff on the anvil and I’ve had a lot of conversations. I bet I’ve had 10,000 conversations with people via email, a small percentage of them going on for a very long time and very intense.
Just to name one example, there was one guy where it turned into a Microsoft Word document that would go back and forth and back and forth, and every time it was a new thread it would be a new font or a new color so everybody could figure out where we were at, and it got to be 100 pages long.
He was an atheist, and finally after eight months he said uncle. He said, “Okay, you know, you’re very smart, you’re very polite, I can’t explain everything, but I’m tired of arguing. You’re not as dumb as I thought you were,” basically.
So this has gone all kinds of different directions, and here we are. It’s “7 Things Yo’ Momma Never Told You About Church History.”
This isn’t your typical chronological church history thing that you would get at a seminary or Bible college or university. You do that and they will answer a whole lot of questions that nobody’s asking. What you’re going to get today is the questions that everybody’s asking. This is what you actually get when you go out there and have conversations with people.
If you’ve ever felt squeamish about defending what you believe, and not just defending but advancing what you believe, that this is the truth, I think this will help you.
I also think it will help you internally, because one thing I know about just about anybody who would show up at something like this is that you have questions too. And you know what, that’s okay. Questions are good and it’s okay to venture into that dangerous dung.
There’s a disclaimer that I want to give to you, and here’s the disclaimer. What you’re getting here today is Planet Perry. It’s not the church necessarily. I’m not going to claim by any means that it’s perfect or infallible. I expect you to show up and think.
If you disagree, that’s fine, but you should have good reasons. You should not accept whatever I tell you just because I told you. You shouldn’t accept anything that way.
What I think is lacking in the church and lacking in our culture is people who are willing to do the hard scary work of thinking, so that’s the disclaimer. This is not perfect, it’s a work in progress, but it’s the best I can give you after basically 15-17 years of duking it out with people and having these kinds of conversations.
Disclaimer #2 I’ll do at the end. Somebody remind me, “What’s disclaimer #2?” and I’ll tell you what it is.
Let’s start with one of the bullets here.
What ancient people really believed about the earth, science, and astronomy
How many of you have ever heard the story, “Christopher Columbus’ men threatened mutiny because they were afraid they would sail over the edge of the earth”? How many of you have heard that? Most people. How many of you think it’s true?
You know what, there is not a shred of truth to that – not a shred. There is a popular idea out there that people 500 years ago thought the earth was flat. People have not believed that for 2,500 years at least.
Why is that rumor out there? What is that all about? In 1828 a guy named Washington Irving wrote a book called, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, and it was this highly-fictional story that had people in it, like priests, who said, “Mr. Columbus, the Bible says the earth is flat and you’re defying scripture and you’re going to sail off the ends of the earth,” and all this kind of stuff.
There became a whole genre of authors in the 1800s who began to portray medieval people as being stupid, and a term was invented, called The Dark Ages. What’s The Dark Ages? Isn’t like somewhere like 800, 1000 or 1200 AD when the world was plunged into superstition and witches were being burned at the stake and they were running around killing people, and the Crusades, and Galileo was almost burned at the stake, and astronomers – you’ve all heard that stuff, right?
There’s a grain of truth to that, because people always resist new ideas and, yes, churches resist new ideas, and there’s all these kinds of dogmas, but for the most part it’s not true.
Well, get on the internet and look up a term “conflict thesis.” The way you find out is you read what people were saying 600 years ago. You can read the theologians, you can read the astronomers. All this stuff is preserved and there was not some big conflict between reason and faith. There was not some big conflict between the church and science. It’s largely a fabrication.
Audience: I don’t agree with you, but….
Look up “conflict thesis.” The conflict thesis says that for hundreds or thousands of years there’s been a war between science and religion. There hasn’t been a war between science and religion until science started becoming atheistic 150 years ago. It really started with Darwin. That’s really when most of the conflict started.
Technologies Invented During the “Dark Ages”*
- The Indians made a cotton gin
- Toilet paper
- Wind powered gristmill
- High purity glass
- Hang glider
- Metal block printing
- Corrective lenses
- Oral anesthesia
- Surgical rod
- Magnifying glass
- Pinhole camera
- Geared mechanical clock
- Flow control regulator
- Programmable analog computer
All these were invented between 500 and 1300.
There are two views. One view – and this is the conflict thesis view – is that after the fall of Rome, the world was plunged into this sea of ignorance that lasted for 1,000 years, and then when philosophers began to resurrect Greek philosophy and Roman philosophy, the Renaissance began and pulled us out of this dark superstition. Then the industrial revolution and the scientific revolution and all this stuff happened. That’s the conflict thesis.
My thesis says after the fall of Rome there was a steady drip-drip-drip-drip of uphill improvement of science, philosophy, technology, and human rights. Augustine lived in 400 and he wrote about the Fall of Rome, and he’s got a chapter in his book, The City of God, and he says people blame the Christians for the fall of Rome because they turned Romans into these soft, compliant people.
He goes, “No, that’s not really true. The Roman empire caved under the weight of its own ego.” He said, “The thing you need to give Christians credit for is the fact that when Rome fell, all the women and children weren’t slaughtered. They were put in churches where they would be safe, and they were fed by their enemies,” which never happened before that.
Before that, if you have a war, you either sell everybody into slavery or you just kill them all or torture them to death. So there was this steady, steady improvement.
A good book for you to read is,Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark. Actually, any of Rodney Stark’s books are great. He’s a sociologist at the University of Michigan. He documents this exhaustively.
He says the windmill was invented because the church was frowning on slavery in 600 AD, and technology was a result of people saying, “We’ve got to get rid of slavery. There must be some way that God has for us to grind this grain or to farm this land.”
On a similar note, here’s something to think about. Is it just a coincidence that slavery was outlawed in the United States in 1865, and within 20 years technology went kaboom! Is it just a coincidence that that happened? You can decide for yourself.
So Stark chronicles in details early forms of democracy in Italy in 1000 AD in Florence. Later, towards the end of my presentation, I’m going to talk about the idea of equality and how that idea grew from the time of the New Testament to the present.
One of the things I want to spend a lot of time talking about today is next.
How We Got the Christianity We Have Today
When you bring up this topic, a lot of people will say things like, “Well, Christianity was invented by Constantine in 300 AD when they all got together and they voted which books were going to be in the Bible. So Jesus was basically turned into God somewhere in the middle there, and this nice prophet who unfortunately got crucified in Jerusalem somehow got turned into this God-Man kind of guy, and then it was institutionalized and, boy, the world’s been screwed up ever since.” That’s the secular story.
There are so many documents, so much literature, so many scrolls, so much history you can study, that by the time we’re done we will completely lay that notion to rest, because it’s completely not true.
The centerpiece of Christianity in the Bible is in the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Pretty much everybody agrees that Paul’s letters were written first and the Gospels were written after that. This is how they’re normally dated.
That’s the kind of the typical secular story that you get.
There are a lot of ways that we arrive at dates like that. Some of it is from manuscripts. The earliest manuscripts that we have of the New Testament date back to typically the middle of the second century, like the actual piece of paper dates to 150 AD.
That is not how scholars date ancient documents. If we use that method, then Homer would be 700 years old or something. We date things based on what’s inside the documents, like what’s included and what’s not included, and based on what other people who were close to the time said.
And here’s another thing. These documents have genealogies. There’s a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, and the New Testament exists in all kinds of languages. If you go to between 200-300 AD, you’re already finding 15-20 different languages that the New Testament has been translated in, so you can start tracing the genealogies.
They all point to documents that we no longer have copies of, and there are differences between them where you see, “Oh, there was a copying error,” and then you see it in this one, this one, and this one. “Oh, here’s this other little copying error over here,” and it’s in this one and this one, and you start working down, and they point to an epicenter.
I want to go through an exercise with you that I think will help you see an argument for the dating of the gospels that’s maybe a little different.
Matthew says when Jesus was standing before Pilate,
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said, “It is your responsibility.”
All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
I want to read to you some Jewish history from 70 AD. This is by Josephus, a Roman historian, very respected. As you can see, this book is rather thick. This is a combination of Josephus’ interpretation of Jewish history and then Roman history during his time, where he reports in great detail what was going on in his day.
In March of AD 70, Passover was held in Jerusalem, so Jerusalem would swell to two to three times its normal population, and everybody is eating and feasting and celebrating Passover.
While Passover was going on, the Roman army surrounded Jerusalem and began a siege, which meant they wouldn’t let anything in or out, and they were starving the city to death. Happy Passover.
Josephus describes what it was like. I’m just going to warn you, this is kind of gruesome, but there’s a reason why I’m giving this to you. There’s a very definite reason why.
Famine now raged in the city and the rebels took all the food they could find in a house-to-house search, while the poor starved to death by the thousands. People gave all their wealth for a little measure of wheat, and hid it to eat hastily and in secret so it would not be taken from them.
Wives would snatch the food from their husbands, children from fathers, and mothers from the very mouths of infants. Many of the rich were put to death by Simon and John, while the sufferings of the people were so fearful they could hardly be told, and no other city endured such miseries.
Not since the world began was there ever a generation more prolific in crime than this bastard scum of the nation who destroyed the city.
Meanwhile, as Titus’ earthworks were progressing, his troops captured any who ventured out to look for food. When caught, they resisted and were then tortured and crucified before the walls as a terrible warning to the people within.
Titus pitied them. Some 500 were captured daily, but dismissing those captured by force was dangerous and guarding some numbers would imprison the guards. Out of rage and hatred the soldiers nailed their prisoners in different postures, and so great was their number that space could not be found for the crosses.
This describes Titus, who was in charge of the Roman army in the temple.
Rushing out, he appealed to his troops to put out the flames, ordering one of his centurions to club anyone disobeying his orders, but respect for their general and fear of punishment were overwhelmed by their raging hatred of the Jews and hope of plunder.
Seeing that all the surroundings were made of gold, they assumed the interior contained immense treasure. When Titus ran out to restrain the troops, one of those who had entered with him thrust a firebrand into the hinges of the gate of the inner temple, and flames shot up in its interior. Ceasar and his generals withdrew, and thus, against his wishes, the sanctuary was burned.
While the temple was inflamed, the victors stole everything they could lay their hands on, and slaughtered all who were caught. No pity was shown to age or rank, old men or children, lady or priest. All were massacred.
As the flames roared up, since the temple stood on a hill, it seemed as if the whole city were ablaze. The noise was deafening with war cries of the legions, howls by rebels surrounding, by fire and sword and shrieks of the people. The ground was hidden by corpses and the soldiers had to climb over heaps of bodies in pursuit of fugitives.
The Jewish brigands forced their way through the Romans into the outer court of the temple and then into the city. Some of the priests at first tore up spikes from the sanctuary and hurled them at the Romans, but afterwards retreating from the flames they withdrew to the wall.
Before the siege, portents had appeared foretelling the impending devastation, but the Jews had disregarded these warnings of God. A star resembling a sword hung over the city, and also a comet, which lasted a year.
Just before the revolt, when the people were coming together for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a bright light shone around the altar during the night and brightened the sanctuary for half an hour. The people thought this was a good omen, but the sacred scribes told them the contrary.
A cow gave birth to a lamb in the temple court, and the eastern gate of the inner court, which was fastened with iron bars so heavy it took 20 men to move it, flew open on its own during the night.
Another portent was even more alarming. Four years before the war, while the city was enjoying prosperity and peace, a rude peasant named Jesus, son of Ananias, came to the Feast of Tabernacles.
He stood up in the Temple shouting, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the sanctuary, a voice against bridegrooms and brides, a voice against all the people.” Day and night he walked the streets with this cry.
Some of the leaders arrested the fellow and beat him, but he only kept on shouting as before. The magistrates brought him before the Roman governor, who had him whipped to the bone, but he neither begged for mercy nor shed a tear, only crying at each stroke, “Woe to Jerusalem!”
When Albinus the governor asked him who he was, where he came from, why he uttered these cries, he did not reply, but only repeated his dirge, “Woe to Jerusalem!” for seven years and five months.
Continuing through the war, he maintained his cry, until making his rounds on the wall during the siege, he shouted with his piercing voice, “Woe once more to the city, to the people and to the temple.” Then he suddenly added, “And woe to me also,” and was immediately struck dead by a stone hurled from a ballista.
But what most incited the Jews to war was an ambiguous oracle which predicted that someone from their country would become ruler of the world. This they interpreted as someone from their own race, but the oracle actually signified Vespasian, who was proclaimed emperor on Jewish soil.
Then this describes the end of the fall of Jerusalem.
As Titus entered the city, he was astonished at its strength, and especially the towers which the tyrants had abandoned. Indeed, when he saw how high and massive they were and the size of each huge block, he exclaimed, “Surely God was with us in the war, who brought the Jews down from these strongholds, for what can hand or engine do against these towers?”
Josephus reports the total number of prisoners taken during the war was 97,000, and those who died during the siege was 1,100,000. Josephus reports that Jerusalem was utterly decimated. It was burned to the ground. It was unrecognizable.
He said a few years before it had been a beautiful place with gardens and properties and farms and orchards and flowers. It was a beautiful city with a beautiful temple. He said after it was all done you couldn’t even recognize that there had been a city there. It was completely obliterated.
This is the most significant event that happened in that part of the world that century. This is the equivalent of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Bam!
What I want you to think about is if you went to Hiroshima in 1950, in what way would people speak of the previous 20 years? Wouldn’t the atomic bomb sort of overshadow everything that you talked about? Could you even talk about Hiroshima or Nagasaki without mentioning, “Oh yeah, well, before the atomic bomb there was a beautiful Buddhist temple over here,” right?
With that in mind, I want you to look at some stuff. I want you to consider how foreshadowing is handled by the gospel writers.
Foreshadowing in the Gospels: Judas
Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him
and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him
Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor
(He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the 12, was later to betray him).
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected.
It’s almost like somebody’s telling a story, and every time somebody says “Judas,” a guy named Anthony goes, “Traitor!” It’s like, “Yes, Anthony, I know. Judas was a traitor. Can I go on with my story now?” It’s like they can’t even mention him without saying this.
How about a different foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing in the Gospels: Death of Peter
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.
It says what He meant. It sounds like He already knows what happened and He’s explaining it to them.
Let’s look at how the temple is discussed in the New Testament.
Foreshadowing: Destruction of the Temple
Matthew mentions the temple 17 times. The only reference to destroying it is in Matthew 27:40.
The people were saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross if you are the Son of God!”
That is the only reference in the book of Matthew to destroying the temple.
Mark mentions the temple 12 times, with two references to destroying it.
We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this manmade temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’”
He’s not even talking about the temple.
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days…”
Luke mentions the temple 21 times, with one reference to destroying it.
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
You know what he says next? He says new chapter. He goes on to something else and he never says, “And he was right.”
Judas is like, “Judas, who betrayed him. Judas, who betrayed him. Judas, who betrayed him,” and the temple….it never says. Which was a bigger event in the history of the Jews? Judas betraying Jesus, or 1.1 million people being murdered and a city being destroyed beyond recognition?
John mentions the temple 25 times.
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days? But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
They are more interested in Jesus’ body than they are in the city and the temple.