In response to the hoorah over Precious Puritans, a new track from hiphop artist Propaganda, Nathan Finn blogs a reminder at Between The Times that we must not idolize Chrisitan heroes. They are all, after all, like each of us, flawed humans:
Every semester, I teach about some of the most well-known figures in the history of Christianity. Historical integrity, as well as a strong sense of human depravity, compels me to mention not only the good things these men and women said and did, but also their shortcomings. Origen castrated himself. Cyril of Alexandria was a thug. Martin Luther was antisemitic in his later years. A group of Anabaptist anarchists took over the city of Münster. Calvin approved of Servetus being burned at the stake. Puritans persecuted religious dissenters, including Baptists. Antebellum evangelicals owned slaves. Karl Barth probably had a long-term affair with his secretary. W.A. Criswell was a segregationist in his early ministry. Martin Luther King Jr. plagiarized portions of his dissertation. The list could go on.
Different students respond in different ways upon acquiring this sort of knowledge. Some are thankful that their heroes have been humanized, since there is always a temptation to idolize Christian leaders from bygone eras. Others really struggle with this. I can remember one student asking me in front of the entire class if I believed Martin Luther was “really” saved, seeing as he encouraged the nobles to kill anarchic peasants, gave approval to a Lutheran prince’s bigamy, and didn’t care much for Jewish people who didn’t convert to Christianity. Others students have questioned whether nineteenth-century Southern Baptists were “really” regenerate since many owned slaves and most approved of chattel slavery.
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