The Wisdom of Church History: An Interview with Michael Haykin

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Michael Haykin is professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Prior to this he served as Professor of Church History at Heritage College & Seminary and as Principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary. He is also the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Biblical Studies and has authored numerous books on church history and biblical spirituality.

“I sometimes wonder if Michael Haykin is one scholar or a conspiracy of brilliant minds masquerading as one man," says Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary. "After all, he is a pacesetter in the very different fields of spiritual formation, Baptist studies, patristic history, and beyond. He is one of the most recognized scholars in the world in each of these fields, having written and lectured extensively in each area, even while serving as a seminary administrator, popular conference speaker, and leader within the Canadian Baptist churches.”

Michael was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Sadly, most evangelicals don't seem to have a good grasp of church history. Why do you think this is so?

Well, in this they reflect their culture. North American society is not really interested in history as a source of wisdom. Entertainment, yes. But not wisdom. Then Evangelicals have prided themselves, and that rightly, as a people of the Book. But this has tended to make them want to skip over the past 20 centuries of history. Finally, the topography of North America militates against an interest in history. Contrast this with Europe for example where historical stuff abounds in public view.

What are some of the results of this lack of knowledge in the church?

Not knowing our history as Evangelicals means that the church is like a person with dementia. If we do not know where we have come from we have no idea where we are or where we are going. And since knowing the past is a vital factor in the cultivation of humility (we learn about how much we owe those who have gone before) failure to remember the past fuels arrogance. And finally a refusal to remember the past is sin, as God commands us to remember what he has done in days gone by.

What can pastors do to promote an awareness of church history?

Pastors can recommend books on church history and historical figures from the pulpit; they can quote church history figures in sermons and talks. They can do a small series of studies in Sunday School or mid week. They can invite an historian like myself in to the church to do seminars in church history: have a church history day once a year.

Is there a particular era of church history that especially needs to be rediscovered in today's church?

A particular area of research that I think is needed is how evangelicals have read and interpreted Scripture. There really is little on this.

I've really appreciated your books. Are you working on one right now?

I am currently researching Andrew Fuller. I have a book on Edwards just out and also one on revival among 18th century Baptists is shortly to appear. It is entitled Ardent Love to Jesus.

The Ongoing Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Bryan Galloway is Senior Pastor at Harvey Oaks Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska. Bryan graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in May 2009 with a Doctor of Ministry. His thesis-project was on the difference that Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes in twenty-first century preaching.

I'm grateful that Bryan was willing to answer some questions about Bonhoeffer and his ongoing legacy.

How did you get interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

I became interested with Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I was a college student at Bethel College in St. Paul, MN. Dr. Al Glenn introduced me to Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. I was fascinated by Bonhoeffer’s blunt approach to discipleship and fellowship; and by his story of a pastor who stood up to Hitler and Nazi polices.

What does Bonhoeffer have to teach us as preachers?

My D.Min. thesis dealt with the impact of Bonhoeffer on 21st preachers. There are six reasons why Bonhoeffer can impact preachers today:

  1. Scripture meditation;
  2. A devotion to Christian fellowship;
  3. An understanding of “Costly Grace”;
  4. Standing against evil in society;
  5. Serving Jesus even in the severest of trials;
  6. The grace of living well and dying well.

There are links on BonhoefferBlog where each of these six reasons are expanded on.

Everyone seems to claim Bonhoeffer as part of their own camp. Why do you think this is so?

It is amazing that Bonhoeffer has been by embraced by evangelical, mainline, Catholic and liberal Christians. I believe his story (opposition to Hitler; martyred for Jesus) has a broad appeal. How can you not be attracted to a Christian who was willing to take bold opposition to a monster like Hitler? He even posed as a double agent in order to eliminate Hitler. He was also willing to die in doing so.

Since Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran, he naturally appeals to that camp. He appeals to many camps because of his devotion to Christ and his commitment to the authority of the Word of God.

One theory to why liberals embrace Bonhoeffer is because they are ashamed how liberals in 1930’s Germany embraced Hitler. Eric Metaxas, of course, was accused by Clifford Green of hijacking Bonhoeffer to the evangelical camp. However, Bonhoeffer did resemble an evangelical because he affirmed the authority of the Word of God, the priority of prayer, the importance of fellowship; the importance of preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

How have people reacted to your work?

Since the introduction of my blog on Bonhoeffer back in February of 2008, I believe people have reacted positively. I get excited when people who know nothing or little of Bonhoeffer get excited for the first time. The legacy of Bonhoeffer seems to be growing year by year.

What resources would you suggest for those who want to learn more about Bonhoeffer?

Anyone who is interested in Bonhoeffer should read three of his works:

  1. Life Together;
  2. The Cost of Discipleship;
  3. Letters and Papers from Prison.

Also, there are excellent biographies of Bonhoeffer…

  1. Ferdinand Schlingensiepen: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945, Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (an excellent bio)
  2. Eric Metaxas: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (a great bio but he has been criticized on the certainty of some details)
  3. Eberhard Bethge: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Biography (This book is over 800 pages and considered the biography of Bonhoeffer)
  4. Mary Bosanquet: The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (This book I thoroughly enjoyed).

Thanks, Bryan!

Find out more at BonhoefferBlog.

Theology Pub Recap: Michael Haykin on the Church Fathers

We had our Toronto Theology Pub last night, and it may have been our best one yet. Michael Haykin spoke on rediscovering the Church Fathers. The Church Fathers have often been neglected, but we need them. Michael spoke on how we're impoverished if we neglect to learn from the Fathers, and he spoke of some of the benefits he's received from studying them:

  • he's been freed from the present
  • he's gained wisdom in his Christian walk
  • he's understood some New Testament passages better
  • he's learned piety

I was taking notes, but there's lots that I missed. The Church Fathers can provide depth in places that evangelicalism needs it. This is true doctrinally, with issues like the Canon of Scripture and the Trinity. It's also when it comes to piety. As well, they show us what true community looks like.

I'm really appreciate of Michael and his work. There are lots of applications to the church's current condition in what he said.

Check out his book Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church. He also mentioned Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction by Bryan Litfin.

I'm looking forward to our next pub on November 28.

Happy Birthday, John Calvin

On this day exactly 500 years ago, John Calvin was born.

John Calvin would not be happy with all the attention he is getting today. His will included instructions that he be buried in an unmarked grave. He didn't want his grave to become a shrine. To this day, the location of his grave is unknown.

Although Calvin has a reputation for being scholarly and combative, he was more than that. Nicolas des Gallars, a member of his pastoral team, described his ministry:

What labors, what long waking hours, what worries he bore, … with what faithfulness and intelligence he took an interest in everyone; with what kindness and good will he received those who turned to him; with what rapidity and openness he answered those who questioned him on the most serious of questions; with what wisdom he received, both privately and publicly, the difficulties and problems brought to him; with what gentleness he comforted the afflicted, raised those who were laid low and discouraged; with what firmness he resisted the enemy; with what zeal he brought low the proud and stubborn: with what greatness of soul he endured misfortune; with what moderation he behaved in prosperity; with what skill and enthusiasm, finally, he acquitted himself of all the duties a true and faithful servant of God, words of mine could never express. (Opera Calvini XXXVI, 15–16)

Calvin had (and has) his critics, but even they grudgingly respect him. Pope Pius IV, Roman Pontiff at time of Calvin’s death, said of Calvin: "The strength of that heretic [Calvin] consisted in this, that money never had the slightest charm for him. If I had such servants my dominion would extend from sea to sea." Jacob Arminius said that Calvin is “incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture,” and he recommended Calvin’s commentaries second only to the Bible itself.

I'm looking forward to reading his Institutes later this year. Happy birthday, John Calvin.