Historical Inquiry & Christian Origins
I’m currently in Vancouver teaching a summer course in Regent College. My course, “Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity”, draws upon my research and publications over the last 20+ yearas.
It’s interesting, yet again, to lead students in focusing on historical issues involved in the origins of Jesus-devotion. The students are all communicant Christians (of one kind or another), and for many of them these specific issues are new, and an effort at a strict historical approach somewhat new as well.
It is, however, one of the unavoidable features of Christianity that it is a historical religion, its origins provenanced, a number of the leading figures identifiable, and with texts from the earliest period, some of which take us back to within ca. 20 years after Jesus’ execution. So, it’s really unavoidable for thinking Christians to take seriously the historical nature of their faith, all the historical issues and approaches valid.
In fact, to my mind, it’s one of the attractive features of Christianity that it is a historical faith, and doesn’t claim to be simply some set of timeless truths (e.g., to be discovered by contemplation). It means living with the nature of historical knowledge on a number of issues (limited by extant evidence, always provisional and subject to correction, and conclusions often disputed). But it can be an intriguing exercise to try to project ourselves back into the setting of earliest Christian centuries, when they were having to understand what they believed had happened to them, and without the later creeds, theologians and church structures of subsequent centuries.