Category Archives: Phoenix Seminary Entries

Meet Karl Barth

Meet Karl Barth

– by Absalon Alvarez

In the picture above Karl had just received discipline for disobedience from his Father Friz.

Karl Barth’s Childhood Family

Karl Barth was born on May 10th, 1886.

He was the first child of Anna Katharina Barth and Friz Barth. His father was a Swiss Reformed professor of New Testament.

A troublesome child, Barth didn’t like going to school and for some time was the leader of a local street gang, engaging in feuds at school and in the neighborhood. (In the this family picture, Barth had just been disciplined by his father).

In 1904 Barth set out to follow in the footsteps of his father and started to study theology at the University of Bern. Later on he continued his studies in Germany at the universities of Berlin, Tübingen and Marburg. His school of thought was in Liberalism, and his approach to ministry in his early years was that of social gospel. While studying, he was also involved in social justice causes, including advocating for workers’ rights.

The Barth's, c. 1910

The Barth’s, c. 1910

In 1909, Barth became a Pastor in Geneva, and then in Fafenwill in 1911, where he served for a decade. In Safenwill is where Barth met his wife, Nelly Hoffman, and married in 1913.

Barth continued to be extremely involved in social work since, which was in line with his influences throughout seminary. These included such liberal scholars as Wilhelm Herrmann (idealist) and Adolf Von Harnack (social gospel).

The Manifesto of the Ninety-Three was a letter signed by 93 German intellectuals, from many academic areas such as science, math, arts, and theology. They signed this proclamation endorsement in support of the German military actions in the beginning of WWI. This is believed to have been the cause of Barth’s disillusionment with his professors, many of whom signed it. He believed that the lack of morals in their theology allowed them to be influenced to fit the political movements of that time.

Torn by the way liberal theology was shifting, and was being used and influenced by secular leaders, Barth decided to rethink his theological understandings. A visit with preacher Christoph Blumhardt seems to have motivated Barth to begin a journey to understand and do theology differently. Blumhardt’s understanding was that “the call of the Christian is still for him to give himself completely to the cause of the kingdom; to do everything in his power to help the world toward that goal. Yet, at the same time, a Christian must remain calm and patient, unperturbed even if his efforts show no signs of success, willing to wait for the Lord to bring the kingdom at his own pace and in his own way.” Blumhardt’s influence encouraged Barth to begin his theological work, and to begin writing.

In 1916 Barth decided to write a commentary on Paul’s epistles to the Romans. Published in 1919, it was intended for his own use, and for a small circle of friends. Instead, this work landed like a bombshell in the theological arena.

kb3His commentary brought to life certain subjects that had been muted by liberal theology. Barth wrote vigourously of the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. This would be central to his thoelogy from this time onward. In particular, he clearly lays out the radicalness of the Gospel. “Faith is awe in the presence of the divine incognito; it is the love of God that is aware of the qualitative difference between God and man and God and the world.”

Because Barth’s commentary received international attention, he was offered a job at the University of Goettingen in 1921.

1927 Barth’s theological journey moved to a different set of topics, which would become the collection of writings we know today as Church Dogmatics. One of Barth’s key theological themes in Dogmatics, his emphasis on the Word of God,  is expressed in this quote: “The object of theology is not Christian faith, but the word of God.” Barth had become convinced that the Christian theology had granted too much to philosophy. So he declared that the Word of God provides not only answers, but also questions. “The gospel is not a truth among other truths. Rather, it sets a question mark against all truths.”

Barth’s work mirrored earlier theological traditions of freedom and critical stance towards the task of theology. He insisted, however, that no matter how true or correct theology was, it always remains a human endeavor, and therefore must always be seen with a combination of freedom, joy, and even humor.

In that time that many people believed that theological systems were a thing of the past. Church Dogmatics showed there was still room and value for systematic theology. For many, Barth’s theology served as an antidote for liberalism.

friedrichcochDuring the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party in 1933, the German church struggled against the belief of so-called “German Christians” who believed in the perfectibility of the human race. This conviction, which was rooted in natural theology, had become part of Hitler’s political agenda for the Third Reich. It was believed that the German church had a divine calling to reinterpret Christianity, particularly in terms of opposing Judaism. This gave credence to the establishing of numerous anti-Semitic policies.

kb4In protest, Barth and others gathered in the city of Barmen for what they called “ the witnessing synod.” The fruit of their meeting was what is known as tthe Barmen Declaration, written by mostly Barth. This meeting and declaration gave rise to what is known as “the Confessing Church”, the movement eventually led in part by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the years ahead, they would start an underground movement, and even make plans to assasinate Hitler.

After the WWII, Barth’s influenced remained considerable. He served as an important voice for the German church in their attempts for reconciliation with church bodies around the world. And, though he didn’t embrace a Fundamentalist understanding of the infallibility of the word of God (he believed in the infallibility of Jesus Christ, revealed in the Word), he modeled how a high regard for the scriptures could still be legitimately held in modern theological studies. Even though Barth died in December 10, 1968, his legacy and impact continue to have influence in theology today.


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Meet J. Gresham Machen

Meet John Gresham Machenjgmpaint

– by Joel Sienkiewicz
John Gresham Machen was an influential theologian who lived during the eve of modernism. He not only made a significant impact during his time against many of the “heresies” of his day, but his work also has had lasting significance even to this day. Machen is most famous for his book Christianity and Liberalism. and the establishment of Westminster Seminary.

He was born to Arthur Machen and Mary Gresham in Baltimore in the year of 1881. Both of his parents were religious but differed in their expression – his father was an Episcopalian, and his mother a Presbyterian. Throughout John’s upbringing he was the recipient of significant religious influence. His mother taught him the Westminster Catechism as he was growing up, and his family regularly attended Franklin Street Presbyterian Church together.

jgmMachen had a somewhat privileged upbringing. His father was an influential lawyer, and secured for him a quality, private education at Johns Hopkins University. In 1902, after graduating from Johns Hopkins, he chose to attend Princeton Seminary, where he simultaneously pursued a Master of Divinity and a masters degree in Philosophy.

Upon graduating, Machen joined the Princeton Seminary staff as a scholar and lecturer. He was hesitant, but agreed to join the staff on the condition that he would not have to sign a statement of faith. Throughout Machen’s theological education he was heavily influenced by B. B. Warfield, whom he called “the greatest man he had ever met.”

While teaching at Princeton the First World War broke out. Instead of serving as a soldier, Machen chose to serve in an unconventional way – by volunteering with the YMCA.

x and LAfter the war, he returned to Princeton Seminary and continued his work. By this time, he began to gain a reputation for being one of the few theologians who was able to debate the rising modernist ideas within the Christian world. In doing this, Machen composed two of his most famous works. The first one was called The Origin of Paul’s Religion, composed in order to combat the idea of modernist theologians that Paul the Apostle had fundamentally changed the religion that was handed down to him by Jesus. His other work, Christianity and Liberalism, aimed at critiquing the basic ideas of theological liberalism and showing the vast distance this theology had traversed from true Christianity.

While at Princeton Seminary there was a big controversy between the Modernists and the Fundamentalists. This controversy occurred not only in academic institutions, but also in most denominations, including his own Presbyterian church. The Modernists were trying to reinterpret and reshape many of Christianity’s foundational doctines in order to reconcile them with modern practices and the modern world view. The Fundamentalists were the more conservative thinkers who were standing up for more traditional views of Christian doctrine. Machen fell within the camp of the Fundamentalists.

Photo opposite page 30 in the Catalogue of Westminster Theological Seminary, 1929-30.

In the end, the conflict proved to be irreconcilable, resulting in Machen and several other Fundamentalists leaving the Presbyterian denomination and starting the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Machen also left Princeton Seminary and founded Westminster Seminary, a school that is still functioning to this day.

In the end, Machn is best known for his engagement within the Fundamentalist/Modernist controvery. His legacy lives on through his writings, as well has through the flourishing of Westminster Seminary.


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Meet Francis Schaeffer

– by Jeremy Arntz

fs 4Francis Schaeffer was a complex man whose legacy makes an intimidating study for the seminarian who is only beginning to understand the long road of a life committed to vocational ministry. Schaeffer’s Christian experience ran the full gamut from unchurched to believer, pastor to missionary, and conversationalist to lecturer; further, he pastored Presbyterian churches in the United States and also opened student communes in Europe. Schaeffer’s prismatic plethora of experience culminated in one of the most exciting and refreshing evangelistic approaches stemming from the Fundamentalist movement. A study of Francis Schaeffer’s legacy is polarizing which is perhaps reminiscent of the man himself and his Christian journey.


A consideration of Francis Schaeffer’s beginnings must look at not only his upbringing but also his early experience with the faith. He was born to working-class parents in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1912. He later intended to follow the path of his father as a tradesman, but when he came to study both philosophy and the Bible concurrently, a spark was struck which led him to the notion that would become absolutely critical in his experience of which, at the age of 17, he wrote in his diary: “All truth is from the Bible.”[1] Thus, the stage was set for his formative years at seminary which came under the tutelage of J. Gresham Machen at Westminster Seminary who was one of the foremost voices in the debate against liberal theology at the time. Schaeffer’s commitment to Biblical truth was such that he left Westminster and enrolled in the foundling Faith Theological Seminary which had come into existence as a consequence of a rift gone schism which found Machen expelled from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.; resultantly, Schaeffer became the first minister of the newly organized Bible Presbyterian Church.[2] It is important to understand that Schaeffer’s early theological beginnings resulted in a fundamentalism deeply rooted in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy which had emerged in opposition to the notions of liberal theology that were widely courting much of Christian and secular academia at the time. It is likely this deeply rooted belief in biblical truth across all experience would result in Schaeffer’s singularly desirable conversational apologetics later in his ministry; however, the direct result of his fundamentalist underpinnings was a period of approximately nine years during which he served to pastor Presbyterian Churches in Pennsylvania and Missouri. Regardless, his beginnings, both in life and ministry, served to uniquely prepare him for the powerful impact that he would come to have on evangelicalism.


Francis Schaeffer’s mainstream impact on evangelicalism actually sprang from work that he began in the field of missions following his time in the pulpit. In 1945 he and his wife Edith were approached by the Independent Board for Foreign Missions about “[building] networks among Bible-believing churches, pastors, and institutions.”[3] This would begin the span of time and events that led to the Schaeffer’s establishment of L’Abri which was a student commune in the Swiss Alps. In explaining the driving force behind the establishment of the communal home Schaeffer wrote: “This was and is the real basis of L’Abri. Teachinfs l'abrig the historic Christian answers and giving honest answers to honest questions.”[4] At L’Abri, Francis and Edith opened their home as an extension of community and hospitality that expressed Christianity in terms of love while, at the same time, Francis conversed with European students who were being educated in a secularized system of philosophy that was long on man and almost totally devoid of God. This is where Schaeffer truly excelled because, in the words of Barry Hankins, “his training within the Reformed branch of American fundamentalism by scholars such as J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius Van Til” allowed him to “engage [young Europeans] through discussion at the level of ideas and not merely tell them to straighten up and get right with Jesus.”[5] At the very core of Schaeffer’s conversational apologetic evangelism is this notion of engaging in discussions at the level of ideology, and this approach stemmed from “Schaeffer’s view that American fundamentalism expended too much time and energy attacking any semblance of liberalism and not enough constructing a positive response to modern ideas that competed with Christianity for people’s hearts and minds.”[6] Thus, L’Abri fused fundamentalism with community and hospitality which would have been a paradox of incalculable impossibility in America but was perfect for its time in Europe.


hswtlEventually, Schaeffer’s work in Europe found an audience in America as a result of recordings of his conversations and books which were primarily written from transcripts of his recorded lectures and conversations.[7] His conversational style of ideological apologetics found a ready following among American evangelical students which is articulated by Michael Hamilton writing for Christianity Today in a 1997 article which reads: “Historian Mark Noll remembers the Wheaton talks as the most stimulating campus intellectual event of his student years. Francis Schaeffer tore down the gospel curtain that had separated evangelicals from contemporary cultural expression, giving Christians object lessons in how to interpret sculpture, music, painting, and literature as philosophical statements of the modern mind.” Thus, the veil was torn between evangelicals and the mainstream, for Schaeffer’s notion was that the arts are really philosophical expressions hailing from society; therefore, they are also cultural ideologies which are open for Christian discussion- or at least they are according to Schaeffer’s style of conversational apologetics. This train of thought deeply appealed to the evangelical students of the time; after all, this was the mid 1960s and the fabric of America was being stretched as never before- particularly in artistic expression. In effect, Schaeffer’s evangelism gave the green light to engage people in the areas that were most culturally relevant which is a topic of concern up into our present day. It is extremely important to understand all of this in light of Schaeffer’s never-ending belief in biblical inerrancy. The interpretation of which Schaeffer spoke must not be mistaken in any way that would lead one to believe that he held to the notion of subjugating the authority of God or his word; rather, Schaeffer’s notion was that the interpretation of art was subject to biblical truth. Essentially, art was another opportunity for discussion at the level of ideas, and his part of that conversation remained from a point of biblical inerrancy which informs the human condition. Clearly, the veil of which Mark Noll spoke was rent asunder by Schaeffer’s notions which allowed evangelicals to engage with seculars in ways that fundamentalism in America was never able to do.


Francis Schaeffer succumbed to lymphoma on May 15, 1984 in Rochester, Minnesota. He and Edith had spent almost a decade in Rochester following the discovery of cancer in his lymph system, and during this period “the shadow of death intensified his concern to do what he could to try to reverse the horrific trend of easy abortion.”[8] His work toward preserving the life of unborns brought him to be associated with America’s religious Right, and during this period he came to be known as “the philosopher of the Moral Majority.”[9] Suddenly, Schaeffer was a leader not only involved in political issues but an advocator of civil disobedience which many viewed as an endeavor in hypocrisy, but for Schaeffer- ever the product of fundamentalism- “the battle lines were not drawn around the inerrancy of scripture… such a position could be held coldly, without love. Rather, for him the watershed issue was obeying the Bible.”[10] It is in this that Schaeffer’s ideas become confused especially by American evangelicals who are often polarized into either the fundamentalist or anti-fundamentalist camps over the doctrine of inerrancy. Perhaps this is one last legacy that Schaeffer left behind with his passing- that one can seek to obey the Bible and lovingly engage with others about the issues that face man while remaining firm about God’s truth as inerrantly preserved in Scripture.


Francis Schaffer’s work can have a polarizing effect as the result of his widespread path through Christian ministry. From his fundamentalist beginnings to his politically active ending, his is a study in variety; ultimately, one cannot help but feel a ring of truth to his particular style of apologetics which were deeply rooted in love, community, and conversational truth. Perhaps this unlikely fusion was made possible by the prismatic plethora of pursuits that defined his life in ministry.

     [1] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Handbook of Evangelical Theologians (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1993), 248.

     [2] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 248.

     [3] Michael Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” Christianity Today, March 3, 1997,

     [4] Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” Online.

     [5] Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, Library of religious biography (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008), 231.

     [6] Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, 232.

     [7] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 252.

     [8] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 257.

     [9] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 258.

     [10] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 258.


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Meet G. K. Chesterton

Meet G.K. Chesterton

– by Shane Fuller

GK 3“He said something about everything and he said it better than anyone else.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who is commonly and most often referred to as G. K. Chesterton, was born in 1874 and lived until 1936. He would go down as one of the best writers in the 20th Century.

He was born in London and educated at St. Paul’s. Surprisingly, Chesterton never attended college, but went to art school instead. He began writing when, as an art student, he was asked to contribute a few articles to an art magazine where he critiqued some new pieces. From those humble beginnings, Chesterton would go on to write over 100 of his own books, while contributing to over 200 more. He also wrote hundreds of poems, five plays, five novels, nearly 200 short stories. Chesterton, who considered himself more of a journalist than a writer, also wrote weekly columns for 43 years of his life. Few in history have been such prolific authors…and he didn’t start publishing until 1900.

Chesterton had a spouse who anchored his personality, writing, lifestyle, diet, and many other things. His wife, Frances, seems to have single-handedly kept G. K. on track with his personal schedule. One letter even has Chesterton writing to his wife about where he was, and asking her where he ought to be instead.

He was as amazing a character as any of his fictional creations. G. K. was over six feet tall, and weighed nearly 300 pounds. He wore a cape and a crumpled top hat. Almost every picture that exists of G. K. has him sporting a mustache and glasses. He
Quotation-G-K-Chesterton-religion-thankful-Meetville-Quotes-139598would commonly walk with a cane, and nearly always kept a cigar in his mouth. He was incredibly large, loud and friendly, often was bellowing out laughs through his cigar and mustache.

Chesterton continues to have the same type of impact on his world as he did with his contemporaries. For example, C.S. Lewis, who was a staunch atheist, was brought to faith through the reading of Chesterton’s little book The Everlasting Man. Another example has a man living in British-ruled India, who became inspired by a Chesteron writing, and through it was led to start a movement, which eventually ended British rule in India The man: Mohandas Gandhi. And if these accounts are not amazing enough, one can simply read the praises that came from other intellectuals of his day: George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Elliot,Dorothy Sayers, and H. G. Welles. Shaw, who had a friendly rivalry with G. K., once described him as “a man of colossal genius”. Elliot affirmed that “Chesterton deserves a permanent claim on our loyalty.”

Perhaps you’re wondering, “why have I not heard much of this Chesterton figure?” One reason may be that he has always been hard to label – either as a man of faith, or a politician. Another may be that he often put forth challenging ideas about controversial topics. For example, Chesterton is famous for arguing the cause of the common man. He was fond of defending the poor, and the family. Chesterton, always a lover of the arts, would also write often of the beauty he found in things that society would not find so beautiful. He defended Christian thought and morals in a day of growting secularism, and championed the Roman Catholic faith in the land of the Church of England. He also wrote regularly against such GK 9things as materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and agnosticism. Since all of these have grown stronger since his day, it makes sense that G. K. and his arguments may have lost favor over the years.

Where does Chesterton fit in the narrative of Church history?

Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church. We can certainly be pleased with his role in the conversion of C. S. Lewis. But, well beyond that single instance, Chesterton was publicly bold in his defense of Christian thought. Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church, but ultimately converted to Roman Catholicism. But, he preferred to be called “orthodox” (His most widely read book to this day is Orthodoxy, in which Chesterton defends “orthodox” Christian views). From this platform of defending a traditional Christian understanding of truth, Chesteron would argue against the pride and willfulness of modernistic thought. For example, he stated that “the worship of will is the negation of will”. When one lifts up one’s own will as supreme, then one must respond to another’s will with a like deference, saying “do as you will”. This means that “I have no will in the matter” of another — meaning one’s will is acutally negated, and doesn’t matter.

GK 9aHe also defended Christian ideals like fighting for a Biblical anthropology. A popular topic in London during his time was eugenics. Eugenics proposed the termination or sterilization of people with limited mental capacity. Also, leading thinkers in London had begun to think of the poor as a race of people that had failed to produce good offspring. Chesterton was vehemently opposed to these ideas, writing books, essays, and poems in defense of those who were challenged mentally and economically.

GK 8 cathG. K. also wove himself into Christian history through his work as a biographer. In his personal study of Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton skimmed through one book … and then penned what is perhaps the greatest biography written on the man.

As for his conversion to Catholicism, Chesterton’s main reason was the church’s catholicity: He very much enjoyed being a part of something that felt bigger than him, and his country, and his century. Chesterton didn’t consider himself a child of his age, but instead a product of the truths and traditions that had survived the centuries before him.

As for this sort of thinking, who can blame him?


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Meet Nestorius

MEET NESTORIUS – Saint or Heretic?

– by Qi Li

n1Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431, was a native of Syria and a theologian of the Antiochene school. Although he earned his fame as a pious monk and eloquent preacher in the early 5th century, he is known to people of later times more due to the Nestorianism controversy which bears his name.


Very little is known of the early years of Nestorius. He is believed to be born in 391 in Germanicia of Syria (Kahramanmaraş of Turkey today), and was trained under Theodore of Mopsuestia.

Some sources hold that Nestorius was also a student of John Chrysostom, as the latter had been a close friend of Theodore. This could be possible but the chance would be slim, given that Chrysostom left Antioch in late 397 to become bishop of Constantinople. Still, when making a comparison between the life of Nestorius and Chrysostom, there are many interesting similarities: Both were trained at the Antiochene school, both gained a great reputation as an outstanding preacher, both were appointed to the See of Constantinople, both were blunt and made themselves enemies of political powers as well as some of the ecclesiastical leaders, and both were eventually banished and died in exile.

The major difference between the two was their Christology. Nestorius’ views evoked fiery debate which led to the third Ecumenical Council, the Council of Ephesus in 431, when his doctrine was declared heretical, and he was deposed. A simple man who had no interest in public power and prominence, Nestorius withdrew to his monastic life in Antioch. But he was not left in peace and was later exiled to Petra, a remote city in Upper Egypt in 436. There he remained for the rest of his life, and died in 451.

The Christology Debate

The Christology debate mainly involved theologians of the Antiochene school and the Alexandrian school over the doctrine of Jesus’ incarnation. It was evoked by Nestorius’ rejection of the use of the term “theotokos”, a title for the Virgin Mary which means “bearer of God”. Nestorius declared that calling Mary the “Mother of God” implied that the Godhead is passible, and that attributing the characteristics of the flesh (such as sacrifice, sweating, hunger, etc.) to the Godhead is blasphemy. He suggested the term “Christotokos”, which means “bearer of Christ”, and insisted on attributing divinity to the Godhead and humanity to the manhood accordingly.

Nestorius didn’t make his first discussion clear of confusions, and left the impression that Jesus Christ was divided into “two persons” (or “two sons”). Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, immediately sensed the potential danger of making Christ a mere man, and therefore wrote to Nestorius. There were three letters from Cyril to Nestorius, and it was in the second letter where Cyril fully explained his incarnational doctrine, encouraging Nestorius to base his teachings on the Nicene Creed. Sent in early 430, this letter is one of the most important Christological documents of the early church, and later formed part of the Chalcedonian Formula in 451.

Expounding the idea of the Word of God being made flesh and made man, Cyril wrote, “The Word, in an ineffable and incomprehensible manner, ineffably united to himself flesh animated with a rational soul, and thus became man…While the natures that were brought together into this true unity were different, nonetheless there is one Christ and Son from out of both…And so, we must not divide the One Lord Jesus Christ into two sons.”  [1]

As for calling Mary the “Mother of God”, Cyril explained, “This does not mean that the nature of the Word or his divinity took the beginning of its existence from the holy virgin, rather that he is said to have been born according to the flesh insofar as the Word was hypostatically united to that holy body which was born from her endowed with a rational soul.” [2]

In responding to Cyril, Nestorius also clarified his ideas by saying, “Christ is a term that applies to both the impassible and the passible natures in a single persona…impassible in the Godhead, but passible in the nature of his body.”[4] He also reaffirmed the doctrines they shared in common: “I applaud the fact you make a division between the natures according to Godhead and manhood, admitting their conjunction in one persona; and also that you deny that God the Word had need a second generation from a woman; and that you confess that the deity cannot undergo any suffering. All this is truly orthodox.” [5]

n2Obviously, Nestorius held to the orthodox understanding that Christ is one persona with two natures. To accuse him of dividing Christ into two sons is, at least, a misunderstanding. For Nestorius, the issue at stake is to make a distinction between the two natures in an effort to protect the deity as impassible. As shown in the above chart, the major difference between Cyril and Nestorius’ standpoints lies on how the union of the divinity and the humanity is described. Nestorius’ treatment, typical of the Antiochene thinking, attributes the lowly things experienced by Christ (such as birth, fatigue, sorrow, suffering, death) to his human nature, and the glorious things (pre-existence, miracles, rising from death) to his godhead. But for Cyril and the Alexandrians they insisted that “all the sayings in the Gospels are to be attributed to one prosopon (person), and to the one enfleshed hypostasis of the Word”.[6]

Nestorius’ treatment is not without weakness, but it should not have been understood as heretical. Apparently his argument had been based on the premise of “One Christ and Son”. Emphasizing on the impassibility of the godhead does not necessarily imply that the one who died on the cross is not God the Word but the man Jesus.


Council of Ephesus, 431

The Condemnation

Neither of the two incarnation doctrines is perfect, and neither is necessarily wrong. However, it was not Cyril’s interest to reach a compromise on this theological issue. With his political skills and maneuver, Cyril gained support from the synod of Rome, as well as the royal family, in addition to his own Alexandrian camp. In his third letter to Nestorius, which served as an ultimatum, Cyril conclusively condemned Nestorius as a heretic, and called for him to recant. Like Chrysostom before him, though popular with the public, Nestorius had made a number of enemies – through stern words about heresies, and criticisms against the rich and powerful. Before Nestorius got a chance to respond to the third letter, the Council of Ephesus was held in late 431 to his great disadvantage. With the absence of the majority of his supporters, and without being given a chance to defend himself, Nestorius was condemned and deposed from his office.

As pointed out by several contemporary theologians and Christian historians, the Christology debate here was more personal and political than theological. Among the five patriarchates, Antioch and Alexandria were more prominent than the others in the development of Christianity in the early centuries. By the late fourth century, Constantinople had become the capital of the Eastern Empire and with its rising importance, the Antiochenes and the Alexandrians became rivals to hold that important office.[7]  It was under such circumstances that Nestorius became the patriarch of the capital. And now, he was confronted by the more politically experienced opponent, Cyril – who is said to be trained by his uncle Theophilus, the bishop who orchestrated Chrysostom’s banishment!

It is noteworthy that Nestorius was not the first to reject the Theotokos title. His teacher before him, Theodore, also called it into question. This is why Theodore is actually called “the father of Nestorianism”[8]. His influence on Nestorius contributed at least partially to his own posthumous condemnation on the Second Council of Constantinople in 553.

Works and Reevaluation

Nestorius’ extensive writings include seven sermons, eleven letters and numerous fragments.[9]  Due to his condemnation, most of his writings had been destroyed, with only one work, the “Book of Heraclides” (Bazaar), being preserved in full. Written in the latter years of his life, the book is an autobiography as well as an elaboration of his more mature theology. The discovery of this book in 1895 caused a reevaluation of his Christological views. Although no wide-spread agreement was reached on whether he was orthodox or heretic, it can be concluded from what he said in his Bazaar that he did not agree with what had become the traditional Nestorianism: he did not split Jesus Christ into two persons as did the Nestorians.[10]

[1] Readings in World Christian History: Earliest Christianity to 1453, ed. by John Wayland Coakley and Andrea Stark (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2004), p. 166.

[2] Coakley and Stark, p. 167.

[4] Coakley and Stark, p. 168.

[5] Coakley and Stark, p. 168.

[6] Coakley and Stark, p. 172.

[7] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and updated, 2nd ed (New York: HarperOne, 2010), pp. 298–299.

[8] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ, 1st British ed (Grand Rapids, Mich. Leicester, England: Eerdmans Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), p. 294.

[9] Hubertus R. Drobner and Siegfried S. Schatzmann, The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction, English ed (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), p. 464.

[10] <;


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Meet: Charles H. Spurgeon

“Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.” (Isa. 45:22)

CHS 1C.H. Spurgeon (1843-1892)

— by Anthony Whitlatch

Few throughout the history of Christianity in London, England have had as profound an impact on the Protestant church as Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Born June 19th 1834, in Kelvendon, England (in the county of Essex), to John and Eliza Spurgeon, Charles was the first of seventeen children (nine of whom died at birth). At eighteen months old, Charles was sent to live with his grandparents in Stambourne, England. C.H. Spurgeon’s grandfather, James Spurgeon, was the minister at the non-conformist meetinghouse in Stambourne (a congregational community no aligning with the Anglican Church). Charles obviously received much influence from his grandfather in these early years and in subsequent years as he returned to spend holidays in Stambourne. One story C.H. Spurgeon recounts later in life is his first encounter with the “bottomless pit” (Revelation 9). As he read this story aloud, he recalls asking his grandfather about the bottomless pit, but receiving no answer. After multiple nights reading the same passage and asking the same question about the “bottomless pit,” his grandfather finally inquired the reasoning for Charles’ questioning. In response young Spurgeon asked, “If the pit has no bottom, where would all those people fall who dropped out at the lower end?“ From a young age, Spurgeon wrestled with the depravity of the human soul believing there was no depth which a man could sink which he could not sink deeper yet into depravity. This haunted Spurgeon. As an adult, he recounts having nightmares about the “bottomless pit.”

When Charles returned home (age six), his parents were living in Cholchester, England, and he had two sisters and one brother. His father was a normal English businessman by week and the minister of the congregational church in Cholchester by weekend. Although obviously influenced by his father’s ministering in the church, Charles’ mother also had a large influence in Charles’ as she pleaded to God on his behalf. Once his father told Charles a story of returning home to a praying wife who was pleading for her children, and specially interceding for Charles, her firstborn and strong-willed son. On another occasion, Charles recalls his mother praying this prayer with her young children, “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance they perish, and my soul must bear swift witness against them at the day of judgement if they lay not hold of Christ.” As Spurgeon recounts this story he says, “The thought of a mother bearing swift witness against me pierced my conscience and stirred my heart.” No doubt, the faithful intercession of Charles’ mother played a large roll in the salvation and ministry of C.H. Spurgeon.

CHSat23On January 6th 1850 (age fifteen), Spurgeon was pushed into Primitive Methodist Chapel by a snow storm. This small congregation (fifteen members) and this unknown (except to God) preacher would provide for young Mr. Spurgeon his grasping of “salvation by faith.” As the preacher read from the Scriptures, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else,” (Isa. 45:22) he then looked at Spurgeon in the crowd and said, “Young man, you look very miserable…. You always will be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment you will be saved… Young man, look to Jesus Christ! Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” It was on this day that the ruler of this world (Satan) lost the battle for one man’s soul and this one man would go on build the Kingdom of God in London and throughout England.

After his conversion he was convicted, through reading the Scriptures, of his need to be baptized, so he requested permission from his parents. On May 3rd 1850, he walked eight miles to be baptized by Mr. W.W. Cantlow, the closest baptist minister.

In August 1850 (same year as his conversion and baptism), he headed for Cambridge to attend school. At Cambridge, Spurgeon began teaching Bible in outlying towns. After Bible study in the morning and school work the rest of the day, he woNew_Park_Street_1889uld travel in the evening preaching what he learned in the morning. Recognition from this activity earned him the Pastorate at Waterbeach Church in October 1851 (age sixteen). In December 1853 (age 18), He was invited to guest teach at New Park Street Church in London. He was so enjoyed by the congregation and the leaders were so impressed by his teaching ability, they offered (and he accepted) the pastorate of the largest baptist church in London, at the time, in 1854 (age nineteen).

Within one year, Spurgeon packed New Park Street Church and they began construction to expand. Meanwhile, the congregation moved to Exeter Hall where Spurgeon was packing the 4000-5000 seat hall (this was the newspaper report from their second meeting at Exeter Hall).

CHS 4By 1856, after failing to return to their home church (the congregations meeting at Exeter Hall were too big for their “expanded” building), they began construction on the Metropolitan Tabernacle. For three years (1856-1859), while the Tabernacle was constructed, Spurgeon’s congregation met at Royal Surrey Gardens, a concert hall seating 10,000-12,000. He packed the Gardens twice every Sunday. The Tabernacle, 5,000 square feet larger then the Royal Surrey Gardens, had 3600 seats + 1000 more fold-able seats and an estimated 1000 more found their way into standing room only. From August 1860 to June 1891, Spurgeon ministered to hundreds of thousands the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Theologically Spurgeon was Calvinist primarily, but when asked, his doctrine was Jesus Christ. Confounded by the vastness of the Bible, he often found too much in his study to teach. He had conviction about believers baptism and therefore criticized the Anglican church for infant baptism. Most of his ministry was with the Baptist denomination, but eventually he resigned from the Baptist Union in 1877 claiming that they were allowing those who downgraded the Bible, miracles, the work of Christ, and creation into their community. He said to be in fellowship with these people was to live in sin. In separating, Spurgeon’s church became the largest independently ran congregation in all of England.

CHS 2For forty years and nine months, Spurgeon rocked Christendom with his teaching. His influence to the London community alone can he seen in that 60,000 people who showed up for his three day viewing upon his death. 100,000 people lined the streets for two miles between the Tabernacle and the cemetery, flags were flown at half staff and shops and pubs were closed on the day when C.H. Spurgeon was returned to the ground with a Bible laid on his casket opened to Isa 45:22:

“Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.”

– – – – –

Resources on Spurgeon

  • Tom Nettles – living by revealed Truth (Christian Focus)
  • Spurgeon, Memories of Stambourne
  • Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour
  • Spurgeon, “Compel them to come in”
  • Fullerton, W.Y. Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography.

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Meet Menno Simons

Meet Menno Simons

“True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love; 
it dies to flesh and blood;
 it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires; 
it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul;
 it clothes the naked;
 it feeds the hungry; 
it comforts the sorrowful; 
it shelters the destitute; 
it aids and consoles the sad;
 it does good to those who do it harm; 
it serves those that harm it;
 it prays for those who persecute it;
 it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord;
 it seeks those who are lost; 
it binds up what is wounded; 
it heals the sick;
 it saves what is strong (sound); 
it becomes all things to all people.
The persecution, suffering and anguish that come to it for the sake of the Lord’s truth have become a glorious joy and comfort to it.”  – Menno Simons

menno-simons-1-sizedMenno Simons was born in 1496 in Witmarsum, Friesland, a war-torn country that was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Not much is known about his early life. His parents were poor dairy farmers and he probably was taught at a local monastery where he learned about the Church Brothers*, Latin, and a little Greek. At the age of 28, he became a Dutch Catholic priest which he thoroughly enjoyed. For Simons, the priestly life consisted of “playing cards, drinking, and in diversions as, alas, is the fashion and usage of such useless people”.

But only after a year of being a priest, while going through the ceremonies of mass, a thought occurred to him that the bread and wine he was handling couldn’t be the real flesh and blood of Jesus. At first he dismissed the thought as coming from the evil one and prayed and confessed but the thought wouldn’t leave him. But like many priests of the day, he had little biblical knowledge. In fact, he purposely avoided reading the Bible. Concerning the scriptures, he said, “I had not touched them in my life, for I feared if I should read them, I would be misled.” So because he couldn’t shake the thought he had while serving the Eucharist, he decided to the Bible to look for his answer. Through his study, he came to the conclusion that the Eucharistic elements were not the actual body and blood of Jesus, but that they were symbolic representations.

In 1531, Simons heard about an Anabaptist who had been beheaded because he was rebaptized and later wrote, “It sounded strange to me to hear of a second baptism.” Again, he turned to the scriptures and after comparing the views of the Catholics, Luther, Zwingli and others, he changed his mind on infant baptism. He couldn’t find justification for it in Scripture. Even though he was also being influenced by the writings of Erasmus and Luther, he continued to be a part of the Catholic Church. In April of 1535, a few hundred Anabaptists who had taken refuge near his home were killed in a siege and the survivors were executed, his own brother being among them. This event undoubtedly made an impression upon him but it wasn’t until a year later that he renounced Catholicism at the age of 40 and embraced Anabaptism.

It wasn’t long after Simons embraced Anabaptism and was baptized as an adult by Obbe Philips (one of the leaders of the movement who later abandoned Anabaptism) and was asked to become an elder in the movement. He spent the rest of his life proclaiming the gospel of peace throughout Holland and northwestern Germany, mostly while in hiding. During this time, he was able to write 25 books and tracts along with many letters to strengthen the cause of Anabaptism. His book, A Foundation and Plain Instruction of the Saving Doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is considered to be his most influential book, sometimes compared to Calvin’s first Institutes due to length and style. It was instrumental in helping the Anabaptists gather together into one group of peaceful believers. It provided doctrine and ethics in simple language based on the teachings of the New Testament. His book was met with widespread acceptance among the Anabaptist community and helped gather them together into one group, therefore, preventing their disintegration.

burning_of_anabaptistsIt’s commendable that Simons gave up his easy going, priestly lifestyle for his convictions. Being an Anabaptist, especially one of their main leaders, wasn’t easy. He was always in fear of his life because of the continued persecution by both Catholics and Protestants who considered the Anabaptists to be heretics. In 1544, he wrote that he “could not find in all the countries a cabin or hut in which my poor wife and our little children could be put up in safety for a year or even half a year.” At one point, a reward of 2,000 guilders (gold coins, equivalent to $2,000 today) was to be paid to anyone who turned him over to the Catholic Church. Many of his close friends paid with their lives for giving him food and shelter, speaking with him, and even for reading his books.

Even though he was always under a constant threat, Simons was always able to remain a step ahead of those seeking to end his life. He lived until 1561 at the age of 65, dying a natural death, 25 years after being converted to Anabaptism. He was buried in his home garden.

To this day, Menno Simons is still considered the most influential Anabaptist leader and many of the core doctrines practiced and taught by Simons and the first Anabaptists are still observed today. Adult/believer baptism was what they were most known for during the time of the reformation. That is where they received their name, Anabaptist means “rebaptizers.” Since everyone was baptized as infants and the Anabaptists believed that only people who made a conscious decision to follow after Jesus should be baptized, they would rebaptize their converts.

This was also connected to their view of church and state. During that time period, countries and regions had state religions, meaning it was up to the people in charge to determine what form of Christianity would be practiced. When someone was baptized in an area controlled by Catholics, they would become a part of the Catholic Church and a citizen of that country. The same goes for protestant controlled areas. When an infant was baptized into a Lutheran state, that person became part of the Lutheran denomination and a citizen of that state. So by not performing infant baptism, the Anabaptists were subverting the state system and religion. Instead, they taught that Christian’s first allegiance is to be citizens of God’s kingdom above any man made state.

peacemakers1Since a lot of protestant churches now practice believer’s baptism and think that the separation of church and state is a good thing, those distinctives don’t really stick out as much as they used to. Modern day Anabaptists (Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, etc.) are mostly known for their stance on violence. They believe that when Jesus and Paul said to love our enemies and not to repay evil for evil, that Christians should actually listen to and obey those teachings.** While not and easy doctrine for most Christians, enemy love has been lived out by the Anabaptists for the last 500 years. The example that Menno Simons set along with the faithfulness of his followers throughout the centuries to follow in the footsteps of enemy love is a powerful witness to his legacy.

Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

– Andrew Harshman

* Matthew 12:46-50; 23:8-12

** Matthew 5:43-45; Romans 12:14-21

*** If you found any of the doctrines of the Anabaptists intriguing and would like to learn more about them, please contact me at

(This summer, The Evangelical Orphan will feature several postings from my students at Phoenix Seminary. They have be encouraged to meet long-lost relatives from our ecclesiastical family, and introduce them to us all – in class, and through this blog. We’re hoping these offerings will serve as a whet for your ongoing appetite to learn more about our history. Enjoy! -bh)


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