When Theology Comes Alive
An earlier version of this essay was given by Dr. Chris Armstrong (associate professor of church history, Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, and senior editor,Christian History & Biography) as a talk to the trustees of Bethel University on May 5, 2005.
Dorothy Sayers, a 20th-century, Oxford-educated dramatist, novelist, and lay theologian, wrote to wake up her sleeping Anglican church. She saw people inside and outside of the churches of her day completely unaware of how radical and powerful the gospel really is. And so she wrote essays, stories, and dramas that made the gospel come alive for people. She had a phrase she liked to use when she encountered people who thought church doctrine—"dogma" as it is still sometimes called—was dull and irrelevant. She would say, "The dogma is the drama!"
I love that. The dogma is the drama. What Sayers was reminding us was that if we are falling asleep in church, it is because we have no idea what dynamite we are sitting on.
And as I always remind my students, a wonderful place to go to see what happens when the Gospel's dynamite blows up in people's lives is Christian history. I'll put this idea in less violent form: Christian history is where theology comes to life.
As a historian working in a seminary, I have asked myself, who decided to make Christian history a part of Protestant seminary curriculums? Bible courses I understand. Theology is obvious. Preaching, counseling, Christian education all make immediate sense. But why Christian history?
To find the answer, we need to step into a time machine and travel to 17th-century Germany.
Quickly, we will see that theology was everything to Protestants of that time and place. Everywhere we find folks arguing heatedly over doctrine, ...