WTC Theology: Week 6: The Early Church (@WTCTheology)

WTC Theology: Week 6: The Early Church (@WTCTheology)


I didn’t get as far as the readings from week 6 onwards, but I finished watching all the videos (you can join in when the material is available via OpenWTC).

Session 6.1: Why Study Theology? (Lucy Peppiat)

God is creating a people and place for his presence, so creation can embrace his presence – this is what it means to become fully human. So how is this depicted in the Bible, and in the early church?

Systematic Theology: The study of doctrine or Christian beliefs/faith. Not just irrelevant philosophical ideas, but should be concerned with questions about God, how he’s revealed himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know God because he’s revealed himself to us, and through/in this through Jesus Christ, with the Holy Sprit opening our hearts/minds to see/understand that.

Theology literally means = “words about God”, because he has first spoke to us through the prophets and through Jesus (Hebrews 1-2). Theology = reflecting on the nature of God and his relationship with humanity and his creation.

Doctrines = statements of what we believe. Study = not just the content of what we believe, but also why we believe what we believe, behind what that is. Theology helps us to reflect on our understanding of the gospel = redemption, new life and rebirth. It helps us reflect on whether we’re being faithful on the teaching of scripture and the church. Is there integrity on how we’re living this out. We can tell what people believe by how they behave, we don’t study to check if we’re right/wrong (thought police!), but is words about God, so anyone who speaks about God is ‘doing theology’). Even if we think God doesn’t exist we have an opinion about God.

We reflect on the nature of God, the nature of church, the nature of discipleship.

In the Christian faith we study theology for a number of reasons.

  • Learn to articulate what we believe as truthfully, carefully, precisely as we can – in different contexts (It’s an evangelistic faith, so it can’t be anything but that). The unchanging message of the gospel in our ever changing context requires ever changing prayer and study.
  • To set boundaries around the faith – by the statements of belief. Know what we believe and what we belong to.
  • To understand our identity. Statements of belief give us a sense of identity – who we are, and what we profess/confess. Shared identity with others who profess the same faith = unity in the church.
  • To explore the reality and the implications of our faith for the world around and our church. Christian doctrine divided into topics that shouldn’t be divided. We unpack it and explore the implications – the ideas and questions that that throws up. Christian statements of belief largely expressed in creeds (esp Nicene creed: We believe in one God). How can he be one, when he appears to us as three? Why is important that we say that, and what does it mean for us? What does it mean in relation to other religions. “The father almighty, maker of heaven and earth” (same questions). The incarnation- why God came in the flesh, the reality of the spirit , that Christ will come again, heaven/earth renewed, why humanity will be judged. What are the implications of all these beliefs?

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Kevin Van Hoosier – doctrine is the stuff of life – necessary for human flourishing. Why we’re here, and what we are to do. Participants with speaking and acting parts.

Video 6.2: Christology: The Study of Jesus (his identity/mission)

Mark 8:27-30 – Who do people say that I am? Who do you say I am?

We are confronted with our own desires/longings for who Jesus might be. When we encounter – we make a decision – do we make up who he is, or accept the claims he make about himself?

Who is Jesus, and who are we talking about when we talk about Jesus Christ, and what do we mean by that term? How do we know what I know (epistemology)?

Who is Jesus = a very complex question, with no simple answer. Is split by theologians (early church would understand should have been together):

  • Christ of faith (what we do together in church)
  • Christ of dogma (theological reflection on statements made in creeds and counsels)
  • Jesus of history (the historical figure, esp Biblical scholars)

Lex orandi, lex credenti: the rule of prayer is the rule of belief.

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Which are used in Old/New Testament? Every term is packed full of extra meaning, history and associations – a richness of significance/signification. Leads to more questions…

How has Jesus been depicted/perceived in history – in art, literature and media. What do those interpretations tell us about him, the church and the culture in which they were drawn?

Jesus was a historical figure within a particular context – so what does the New Testament allow us to piece together?

Deut 6:4 Jesus is God, The Spirit of God, but God is still ONE). The Old Testament had shown what God was, so Jesus disrupted their thinking, as they could see that he did the things that only God would do. How to articulate this new faith? The Trinity… one, but 3. Writing the gospels/NT – what could be ‘allowed’ to represent the Christian faith – in a hostile world? Lots of persecution until Constantine, with first Christian Emperor (313).

Video 6.3: Clarifying and Defending Beliefs about Jesus

Earliest, most controversial claim – Jesus is Lord (Kourious) = highly inflammatory to e.g. other leaders/religions. It was fighting talk.

What other things do we believe because we believe that? Based on ‘uniqueness’ – he was God, but became a human being like us. How do we hold that claim together and why does it matter?

Contested from the beginning to the present day. Apologists = make a defence for the Christian faith from the early years. Wrote to combat false ideas including:

  • Ignatius
  • Irenaeus
  • Justin Martyr
  • Polycarp
  • Theophilus
  • Tertullian

“Wrong ideas” from outside (seeking to reconcile ideas), and from within esp from teachers. Labelled ‘heresy’ (an inadequate version – a half-truth or exaggerated) – outside ‘the boundaries’ (not always strict lines?) – can be attractive because they resolve tensions that we can’t understand.

  • Docetism: he only seemed human (by early Gnostics), underlined by idea that Jesus ‘floated’ through life and was not a ‘real’ experience. Why would we suffer for something that was not true?
  • Ebionitism/Adoptionism: he became the Messiaah at birth, and was not truly God through birth.

These arguments defined ante-nicene doctrine, in a way that would speak to their own culture… they built upon concept in the New Testament, but expanded them (they needed to engage with Greek philosophy, why we see so much of this).

Orthodoxy describes the truth about Jesus

Irenaeus: The Rule of Faith (wrote ‘Against the Heresies’) – wants to present the truth for God’s glory. Deeper worship from true doctrine, and unity under one banner of faith. Only made sense fully God/fully man.

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