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The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Introduction
March 13, 2013
I have long had a love of history and so often find in the past the wisdom that informs and addresses present difficulties. Each generation—even each generation of Christians—suffers from self-obsession, and as we move forward in time and progress, we do well to keep one eye on the past, to consider not only where we wish to go, but also from whence we have come. Christianity has a long and storied past that testifies constantly to God’s enduring grace. We ignore it at our peril.
Though so much of Christian history has passed away, though so many of its people and objects have been lost to time, a few precious relics remain. When we look at these objects with careful eye, when we consider them in their context, we see in them the history of the Christian faith. In this new series of articles I have chosen twenty-five of these objects and through them wish to explore the history of this faith we hold so dear, the history of what God is accomplishing in this world, whether through princes or peasants, whether through triumph or trial.
Each of these objects offers us a tangible link between the present and the past, between the Christians of the twenty-first century and the Christians who lived and died in centuries past. In a few cases these objects are hidden away or in private collections, but more commonly they are there for all who wish to see them. We can travel to museums and galleries, look at these objects, and see in them a link to history—our history. This, then, is the history of Christianity in twenty-five objects.
The series will begin with the earliest relics of the earliest Christians and carry us to the present day. As we journey through the history of the church we will look at the importance of a peculiar little scrawl of graffiti and the creedal significance of an otherwise unremarkable carving. We will take a leap forward in time to consider the long labor of monks and the martyrdom of Christians who called for reform long before Luther. We will look at pulpits and paintings and posters and even pieces of machinery. And, of course, we will look to books and the remains of books, for perhaps nothing has so charted and maintained the course of Christian history as its books.
We will begin with a statue that represents the context in which the church was birthed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In this statue we see the promise of the spread of the gospel and we see a shadow of its most fearsome opposition.
Allow me a word about the format of this series. I intend to write one article on each of the twenty-five objects I have identified, with the first article coming tomorrow and one following every week or two as I am able to complete the research. I chose these objects with the assistance of a long list of books. I subsequently shared the collection with several professors of church history who have kindly offered helpful feedback. I write this series not as an expert on church history but as a student, eager to learn and eager to share what I have discovered.