September 29, 2004

Thirty Years That Changed The World, by Michael Green

Michael Green is an Anglican priest; he was also one of the speakers at the Plano West conference, which is where I bought this book, a detailed study of the Acts of the Apostles.

Acts is the fifth book of the New Testament; written by St. Luke the Evangelist, it picks up where Luke's gospel leaves off, with the events in Jerusalem in the days and weeks after Christ's resurrection. Early on the focus is on St. Peter, but before too long the focus shifts to St. Paul and remains with him to until the end of the book. All told, the narrated events span thirty years, thirty years in which the Christian faith spread from Jerusalem to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire.

Should you ever visit the north of England, go to the city of York and tour Yorkminster Cathedral. Don't miss the undercroft. Renovations there uncovered the remains of two previous churches and a Roman camp dating back to the New Testament era--and in the Roman camp they found Christian graffiti. It's been conjectured that St. Paul converted some of his Roman guards during one or another of his spells in prison, and that the poor fellows were shipped off to England as a result.

Now, consider the distance between Jerusalem and York. Consider that Christianity spread purely by personal contact and individual persuasion. Christians were the least of the least in the Roman world; they had no political power, and no way to coerce belief. I might add, Christianity continued to spread in this peaceful way, occasionally suffering great persecution, for over two-and-half-centuries, until finally a Christian sat on the Roman throne.

One might contrast this peaceful process with the history of Islam, which was allied with political authority and spread by military force from its inception. Constantine's conversion was hailed as a great deliverance by Eusebius and others, and in the short term they were certainly correct; with him the intermitten waves of persecution finally came to an end. But in him the Church found itself to be the partner of the State, and that's generally been a bad thing. I support the separation of Church and State with my whole heart, not because of the corrosive effect of a state religion on the state but because of the corrosive effect of political power on my religion.

Anyway, the whole process began in those first thirty years, the thirty years discussed by Acts. Taking the remarkably quick spread of Christianity as his starting point, Green asks, "How did it happen? What were these early Christians like? How did they live? What did they do, to spread the Good News?" Rather than taking the book of Acts verse by verse, chapter by chapter, Green takes in the whole book, scrutinizing these early believers from many different angles, and drawing parallels with our current practice--and largely, and fairly, to our detriment.

I found it a fascinating book, both as Church history and as a call to action in the present day. It's a rich source of ministry ideas and an inspiration both. It is, however, aimed directly at a Christian audience; if you're looking for a general history of the early Christian era or an introduction to the book of Acts, you'll need to look elsewhere.

Posted by Will Duquette at September 29, 2004 06:48 PM