William's Reviews > Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years

Jesus Wars by Philip Jenkins
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's review
May 21, 2012

really liked it
Read from May 21 to 26, 2012 — I own a copy

Jenkins offers a good overview of the Christological controversies of the Fifth and Sixth Centuries with especially good emphasis on the Second Council of Ephesus (the "Gangster Council") and Chalcedon. The weak point of the book lies in Jenkin's virtually exclusive focus on the politics, intrigue, power-mongering, violence, and general nastiness that runs through this era of Church history. The book of written on a popular level and if "Jesus Wars" were the only exposure a reader had to this period he'd come away with a very skewed view of history and the characters involved. Yes, there's plenty for Christians to be ashamed of, but it's also true that many of these "scheming" bishops were actually very godly men. Jenkins rarely, if ever, mentions that side of the story.
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05/23 page 103
03/28 marked as: read
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message 1: by Jay (new)

Jay Hershberger I have the book and have only read the introduction. Question: how can we say that the bishops in question were "godly" if they resorted to violence to enforce the creedal formulas? If the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, and yet the bishops sanctioned violence (militias slaughtering monks who refused to embrace Chalcedon, or dragging nuns to the altar and force-feed them the Eucharist to achieve "in communion"), in what way could they be regarded as godly? Would it not be better to simply acknowledge that these men besmirched the faith, the church, and Christian history through their ungodly use of earthly violence to defend a faith that eschews such violence? Or was the Church's earthly compromise with the Constantinian paradigm the logical outcome of the spread of the gospel in the Roman empire and the good and right appropriation of the civil sword for the sake of the gospel?

William Jenkins does help put some of the problem in perspective by noting that they were products of their culture as much as we are. There are many places where culture influences Christians negatively and yet because we're so immersed in it we don't see the problem. Most North American Christians are steeped in commercialism and don't realise it; many others blindly support (and even fight in) unjust wars of aggression and can't see the sin their involved in. We're all blind to certain areas of sin in our lives, especially so those areas that are culturally influenced. It also needs to be said that Jenkins focuses almost exclusively on the negative. There were power hungry bishops with armies of monastic thugs behind them, but there were also many godly and peaceable bishops, priests, monks, laymen, and kings. Jenkins doesn't talk much about the latter.

Where the power-hungry and violent prelates and kings a poor witness to Christ? Certainly. But modern Christians have their own blind spots that hamper our witness to Christ as well. It's something of a depressing book to read, but then so is much of the Bible. It should teach us some humility and it sets before us an example to avoid in our own lives.

message 3: by Jay (new)

Jay Hershberger Well said. We all are products of our time and culture, and our sins often reflect this.

Nevertheless, it is unsettling and disturbing to learn that some of the foundational doctrines of the faith were put forth and advocated for by such bloody and ungodly means. By some Western Church standards, the lowly Eastern nun who refused to accept the Chalcedon formula, was then force-fed the Eucharist or died in rebellion to the enforced formula, then faced the judgment of God and was eternally damned. I have a hard time with that concept, especially when the bishops behind such actions are celebrated as defenders of the faith, and presumably went to their eternal reward as good and faithful servants.

Somewhere in all this, someone lost sight of Jesus...

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