I attended seminary in the 1970s. I had to take several classes in the history of Christianity, though in those days it was called “church history.” My professor taught the course largely as a history of Christian thought. We studied orthodoxy and heresy in the early Christian period, monastic and scholastic theology in the medieval period, the Reformation controversies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the evangelical awakenings of the eighteenth century, and the liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as its major twentieth-century critics (Barth and Bonhoeffer).
In general, we learned church history from a Christendom perspective. Questions of correct belief loomed largest, at least as I remember it. We studied it as a kind of history of the Christian family, which was our family.
In the beginning of my teaching career, I taught the history of Christianity in much the same way. My primary interest was Reformation theology and the evangelical awakenings, though I never totally neglected to tell the larger story. Students seemed interested enough, at least for a while.
But then students began to change, and their interests shifted. They started to question the attention to doctrinal precision that emerged during the Reformation period. They wondered about the emotion of the evangelical awakenings. Doctrinal faith seemed too abstract and narrow, emotive faith too fragile and insecure.
I was teaching a Christendom course, but my students were asking for something different. I discovered that they needed something different because they were (and still are) growing up in a world very different from the one that existed only a generation ago.
Together we—professor and students—found ...1
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