Thursday, May 7, 2009

"A rich vein of spiritual, intellectual, and practical resources"

At Christian History Blog, Chris Armstrong, a Professor of Church History at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN, explains his enthusiasm for attending a conference on medieval studies. Excerpts:
.... Another thing that has spurred me to engage medieval history is ... well ... this will raise eyebrows, but I'll say it: I am a long-time fan of fantasy literature, and a one-time enthusiastic player of Dungeons and Dragons. Both that genre and that game (with all of its countless spinoffs) were inspired by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. And if the number of sessions at the Medieval Congress dedicated to Tolkien is any indication, there are plenty of folks doing medieval studies today who love Tolkien—including, I don't doubt, many who got into the field of medieval studies through reading Tolkien.

The potential lesson here for evangelicals goes beyond The Lord of the Rings. Some of modern evangelicals' favorite writers are scholars of the medieval period: along with Tolkien we can list C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, and Dorothy L. Sayers. Surely we should stop cherry-picking these authors, concentrating on the "mere Christianity" that they defended so eloquently and imaginatively, and ignoring their strong sense that the medieval world has something to show and tell us today.

One more thing that has spurred me to dig into the Middle Ages has been the trend among younger evangelicals toward returning to “tradition” as a resource for tomorrow’s church. ....

Surely evangelicals who are sampling these medieval wares would benefit by moving beyond a piecemeal, “consumer” approach to medieval Christianity into a more systematic, in-depth study. Beneath the surface of now-trendy medieval practices, and amidst that era's wrong turnings and corruptions, lies a rich vein of spiritual, intellectual, and practical resources. I can think of at least nine facets of medieval faith and life that we can stand to learn from today:
  1. their willingness to engage in spiritual disciplines,
  2. their theologically grounded devotional and even "mystical" practices,
  3. their high valuation of tradition handed down in texts,
  4. their passionate search for theological knowledge (fides quaerens intellectum—"faith seeking understanding"),
  5. their moral seriousness, expressed for example in the lists of "deadly sins" and "cardinal virtues,"
  6. their adaptation of classical learning to Christian theology (which paved the way for the birth of modern science and continues to provide a model for Christ-culture engagement today),
  7. their deep affection for the doctrines of creation and incarnation, issuing (for example) in many profoundly spiritual treasures of Western art and literature,
  8. their high valuation on eternity over temporal life, and the "art of dying well" (ars moriendi) that developed from this commitment, and
  9. their insistence on works of charity (fides caritate formata—"faith formed by love").
Well, these sorts of thoughts have spurred me to start reading seriously in the area of medieval studies (still as an amateur, rather than as a scholar), seeking a "usable past." .... (more)
Christian History Blog: The Monks Did It

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