Am I a Product of My Time? What Church History Does to You

So I just finished reading Bruce L. Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language and thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to trace church history from the beginning until now, whereas previously I’d only look at certain periods separately.

Personally, I think church history should be something all Christians get round to looking at. Understanding our own background helps us understand our own context, and the context of others, and makes us look at the basics of our faith very differently.

How? As one looks at church history they may begin to realise how many Christians believed what they believed simply because of the time that they lived in. They were a product of the time. And in so many ways one has to realise that they are too. So much of what I claim as true is just the influence of my time. In years to come, people will look back at many of my beliefs and say, “What was he thinking?”

Is there anything we can rely on then? Or is all truth simply so subjective? I think Shelley ends off his book by getting to the real point of Christianity, the one thread that carries through all the ages, regardless of what people believe, and we can rely on again and again.

The thread is this: Not WHAT we believe, but WHO we believe? As Shelley says:

“Christians can hope because faith always reaches beyond earthly circumstances. Its confidence is in a person. And no other person in recorded history has influenced more people in as many conditions over so long a time as Jesus Christ. The shades and tones of his image seem to shift with the needs of men: the Jewish Messiah of the believing remnant, the Wisdom of the Greek apologist, the Cosmic King of the Imperial Church, the Heavenly Logos of the orthodox councils, the World Ruler of the papal courts, the monastic Model of apostolic poverty, the personal Savior of evangelical revivalists.

“Truly, he is a man for all time. In a day when many regard him as irrelevant, a relic of a quickly discarded past, church history provides a quiet testimony that Jesus Christ will not disappear from the scene. His title may change but his truth endures for all generations.”

What a great journey. While Shelley’s history covers the Western church, I think I’d like to pick up something next on the Eastern church. Should be fascinating.

PS: I think the period that fascinated me the most was the High Middle Ages, the Gothic era. Check out the two Gothic cathedrals below. Fascinating. The architecture itself shows you the prevalent thought of the day — that heaven and earth were intertwined in majestic and mysterious ways. Love it.

(Picture thanks to this guy)

(Picture thanks to

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8 thoughts on “Am I a Product of My Time? What Church History Does to You”

  1. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  2. One interesting point about the architecture — Western church architecture of the high Middle Ages had all those spires pointing up to heaven — earth reaching up to heaven. Eastern church architecture was quite different — not spires, but domes. Not earth reaching up to heaven, but heaven come down to earth.

    Also interesting in that connection is a short story by G.K. Chesterton, The hammer of God.

  3. Love Chesterton, I’ll give that a read.

    Interesting that. I always thought the domes were inherited from the Greeks and Romans. How do domes represent heaven come down to earth, though?

  4. Ryan, the domes represent heaven coming down to earth by the icon (actually usually fresco) of Christ the Pantocrator who is always pictured in the dome. It is the Incarnation that joins heaven and earth.

    Another point that may be worth making is that, at least from what I’ve been told by those who know more about this than I do, the earlier Romanesque architecture of the West fulfilled a similar function – of rooting heaven on earth. It was only in the late Middle Ages that the emphasis became more on heaven than on earth.

    1. Wow, thanks Macrina. I love old church buildings and I love the imagery. But also, you taught me a new word and I must say I found the word rather interesting. I didn’t know that the New Testament had different words for Christ! Always used to think it a Hebrew thing. Thanks!!

      Heaven on earth. An amazing promise!

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