Seven Summits in Church History

Augustine. Luther. Calvin.

Hubmaier. Edwards. Carey. Henry.

Some of the richest spiritual lessons have come to me by way of great biographies. Jason has chosen seven fascinating, critically important figures and distilled some of their most important contributions to our faith and life. It’s a delight to read. 

–J.D. Greear, Pastor of The Summit Church, author of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart and Gospel

In Seven Summits, Jason G. Duesing gives a brief introduction to major figures in the history of Christianity for churches and all readers.

The history of Christianity is like that of a great mountain range, with immense length comprised of peaks and valleys, enduring both stormy and prosperous weather. Certain figures in this history have risen to high peaks and represent significant moments in theological development. These figures are the hinge for major swings in the expansion of Christian thought.

Duesing offers a quick, yet insightful introduction to seven of the highest peaks worth climbing in church history. His biographical summaries include Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Hubmaier, Edwards, Carey, and Henry. By examining the peaks of Christian history in these seven figures, this book engages several key issues without overwhelming the reader.

It is brief but packed with pertinent information any student of history should know.

Seven Summits in Church History
Jason G. Duesing
Rainer Publishing, 2016
132 pages

Available today at Amazon from Rainer Publishing.

What People Are Saying About Seven Summits in Church History

For those intimidated by church history, or for those who want to learn more but don’t know where to start, this little book may be just what you need. Dr. Duesing offers a user-friendly introduction to seven sinners saved by grace who shaped the life of the church in significant ways. Think of those mini theological biographies as enticing appetizers designed to whet your reading appetite for more!

Justin Taylor, Vice President of Book Publishing at Crossway and he blogs at Between Two Worlds—hosted by The Gospel Coalition.

Jason Duesing’s Seven Summits in Church History delivers serious Christian history in a crisp, lively format. I recommend it to anyone wanting a reliable introduction to the history of Christianity, from the perspective of some of its greatest minds, from Augustine to Jonathan Edwards and more.

Thomas S. Kidd, Professor of History, Baylor University

Studying the history of the Church is vital to Christian life but often viewed as a daunting endeavor. With short, concise chapters on seven major figures in the history of the Church, Jason Duesing has produced an incredibly helpful book for the everyday Christian looking to explore Church History.

Kevin Peck, Lead Pastor at The Austin Stone Community Church, Austin, Texas

Jason Duesing has done it again! He has shown the importance of Christian history by giving us these succinct and accurate vignettes of seven of the most important figures among the people of God—from St. Augustine to Carl F.H. Henry. A great primer in Christian biography.

Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture.

Every movement needs heroes. Evangelicals stand to gain wisdom and perspective by standing on the mountaintops of church history and looking at our current setting in light of what God has done in the past. In this book, Jason Duesing provides an introductory guide to important figures in church history. This is a book that is both insightful and accessible and will serve to whet your appetite for further study.

Trevin Wax, Managing Editor of The Gospel Project, author of Clear Winter Nights, Gospel-Centered Teaching, and Counterfeit Gospels

If anybody’s looking for a tantalizing appetizer for the big world of church history, this little book on 7 of the heaviest hitters can’t be beat.

Jared C. Wilson, Managing Editor of For the Church, author of Gospel Deeps, Gospel Wakefulness, and The Story of Everything.

This is an excellent tool for the novice to the history of Christianity and also a great reminder for more advanced students that God changes history through people.

Michael A. G. Haykin, Professor of Church History, Southern Seminary.

You can purchase Seven Summits here.

For updates and more information follow Seven Summits on Twitter at @7SummitsHistory or take a look at the Seven Summits Facebook page.

Reviews of Seven Summits:

(Feb 2016) Books at a Glance by Cody Glen Barnhart

(Apr 2016) Evangelicals Now by Michael A. G. Haykin

(April 2016) LifeWay Pastors by Mark Dance

(April 2016) Hobbits and Handkercheifs by Joe Garner

(Aug 2016) Themelios 41:2 by Michael A. G. Haykin

(Spring 2016) SWJT 58:2 by W. Madison Grace II

Seven Summits Series Posts:

Making the History of the Future

In a recent foreword to a book on Baptist church doctrine, James Leo Garrett Jr. offers a somber word. He says, “The twentieth century was not the finest epoch in Southern Baptist history with respect to ecclesiological practice.” Referencing decades of emphasis on efficiency and unchecked church growth, Garrett laments a century that largely “found that ecclesiology was a weakness.”

While I do not agree fully with Garrett’s bleak assessment, I do think that Baptists in the twenty-first century have an opportunity to recover how believers should understand what the Bible says about churches—and that is a hopeful task. In short, regardless of the past, what matters most for the future is what we do with the time that is given to us.

In 1994, the now late Baptist philosopher and seminary dean, L. Russ Bush, gave an address titled “The History of the Future.” In it, he gave a helpful reminder, “We are living and making the history of the future. What we teach and do today will be what future Christians consider to be their heritage.”

Bush counseled against novel theological innovation “merely for the sake of newness,” for what we establish in the present will become the doctrinal foundation of the future. With this in mind, I am encouraged when I think about the present state of those working in Baptist theology. For many writing and teaching these truths today are engaging in the task of biblical recovery rooted in tradition rather than contemporary rootless invention.

For example, just this year we saw the arrival of The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement by Anthony Chute, Nathan Finn and Michael Haykin. This wonderfully engaging introduction to the work of God among people in Baptist churches is as enjoyable to read as it is informative.

The authors write with refreshing conviction and humility and yet attempt not to use “history to pressure others into conforming to a particular position” but rather to “provide a history that informs the reader of how Baptists have reached their conclusions.” The authors brilliantly achieve their goal, which makes this book a strong asset for laying a historically conscious foundation for understanding how believers have gathered in Baptist churches and why that matters. The story of the Baptists in history is a story that requires regular retelling.

Also this year, Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman edited Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age. Designed as a basic textbook on Baptist polity for students, pastors, and church leaders, this book is unique in that it makes the case for the vitality of church leadership and structure at a time when many believers dismiss these matters as largely unimportant. Dever and Leeman are joined by a short-list of veteran pastors and accomplished Baptist scholars who show why churches should recover bygone yet biblical doctrines of church practice.

For example, in a chapter on the need for regenerate church membership and church discipline, Thomas White concludes, “Without meaningful church membership, discipline will do more harm than good. Without the proper execution of discipline, meaningful membership can never be maintained. Without both of these practices, our churches will not properly reflect the glory of God or bear a strong testimony for the gospel. And our members will not take church seriously.”

Therefore, as I reflect on the present state of the recovery of Baptist theology for the future, I am encouraged by publications like these because they are representative of the following trends:

  1. The present discussion of Baptist theology understands that the Baptist ship is not the only group of churches who have set their sails in a Great Commission direction. Many today would agree with Carl F.H. Henry’s description of the single strength of Baptist identity—its “Bible-relatedness.” That is, Baptists have long been those who desire to conform the core of their tradition to the Bible and the Bible’s mandates for mission. Joyfully, these Baptist churches seek to work, wherever possible, with other traditions that desire to do the same.

2. There is no presumption that Baptists articulate or practice their tradition with perfection. Chute, Finn and Haykin conclude their volume this way. “The entire Baptist story consistently comes back to three key interrelated themes: promoting liberty of conscience, following Christ’s will in our individual lives and churches, and proclaiming the gospel everywhere. Baptists have not always lived up to these ideals, but when we have been at our best, we have embodied them.” Baptist theology built upon this kind of humility will serve future generations well.

3. These two books are a part of a larger and growing Baptist conversation that could not come at a better time. John Broadus, founding faculty member of Southern Seminary in the latter half of the nineteenth century, remarked that even in his own day there was “a widespread and very great ignorance as to Baptists.” That was saying something in a day when Baptist theologians roamed the nation like Marvel’s Avengers—defending their distinctives wherever they were threatened. Thankfully, today we, too, have a growing cadre of superheroes, like the authors of these two new books and many others preparing to join them, able to give us a helpful guide to combat our own ignorance as to the Baptist tradition.

4. The task of recovering a healthy understanding of church doctrine is not the end but merely a means to the end. When J.L. Dagg, another nineteenth-century Baptist theologian, said, “Church order and the ceremonials of religion, are less important than a new heart,” he was right, but he also did not mean that recovering doctrines of the church has no value. Indeed, the establishment of healthy churches only serves to ensure the potential of the regeneration of many more new hearts around the globe. For as churches are strengthened and seek, in cooperation with other churches, to fulfill the Great Commission, we will see even more the knowledge of the glory of God among all peoples as the waters cover the sea. This is the end of any recovery of Baptist theology.

Baptists today are living and making the history of the future. If the twentieth century left some ground uncovered in terms of faithful church practice, then those of us in the twenty-first have all the more reason to recover faithful practices to build a strong foundation for future churches. Making the history of the future in the present is an encouraging and hopeful task.

This article originally appeared in the Southern Baptist Texan on December 23, 2015.

C(H)AOS Theory: Directing the Air Traffic of Theological Education Administration

The forthcoming issue of the Southwestern Journal of Theology (56:1, Fall 2013) includes a short review I wrote sometime back on book that gives a unique perspective to service in the field of theological education. C(H)AOS Theory: Reflections of Chief Academic Officers in Theological Education is a compilation volume that arose out of the work of the Chief Academic Officers Society of the Association of Theological Schools.

While directed specifically toward Chief Academic Officers, much of the volume is applicable to anyone working in other positions of higher education administration. Where the volume discusses “academics” or “faculty,” for example, business officers, development officers, student services officers, etc., could easily read in their appropriate constituencies.

In her introduction, editor Kathleen Billman explains, “The title, C(H)AOS Theory, is a fitting name for the work contained in the these pages because it holds the name of the society from which it was created and hints at both the seriousness of the perplexities leaders face in tumultuous and every-changing times and the playfulness and partnership that bring some order, some ‘theory,’ to bear even on the thorniest problems.”

Here is my review followed by some selected quotations from the volume:

This collection of essays published by members of the Association of Theological Schools’ Chief Academic Officers Society (CAOS) is appropriately titled C(H)AOS Theory as it represents the reflections and experiences of those serving in positions commiserate only perhaps with the air traffic controller. In 33 chapters organized in three broad headings, “Reading Institutional Context,” “Nurturing Commitments,” and “Developing Competencies,” this volume addresses a variety of issues facing those serving as Chief Academic Officers in the specific venue of theological education.

Many of the authors cite Jeanne P. McLean’s Leading from the Center(1999) as one of the more helpful interpretations of how the role of the CAO had grown in importance for theological schools in the late twentieth century. C(H)AOS Theory provides a up-to-date reference handbook for the student, the faculty member, the newly appointed dean, the veteran CAO, presidents, and board members.

Particularly concise and worth reading are the chapters by Willie James Jennings of Duke Divinity School, “Leading from the Middle,” on relating to the CEO, Dale R. Stoffer of Ashland Theological Seminary, “Lessons from the Anabaptist-Pietist Tradition,” on faculty leadership and development, and Robin J. Steinke of Gettysburg Theological Seminary, “The Budget as a Mission Tool: Vision, Principles, and Strategies.” Rare is it that compilation volumes offering reflections and instruction from a diverse group of people provide a finished product with a majority of recommendable chapters. C(H)AOS Theory has chaotic chapters worth skimming to be sure, but overall the interested reader will find help and wisdom here for the task.

  • From Willie James Jennings, “Leading from the Middle,” on how an administrator in a middle position on the organizational chart can maintain a healthy perspective:
  • Universities are complex places, and one of the most complex positions to hold in a modern university is that of an academic dean in a university divinity school or a school of religion. The position places the academic dean at the intersection of several busy streets, and from that risky place you must direct a lot of traffic. In this regard, the academic deanship is an ironically ‘middle position.’ Its irony is clear only to those who are deans. As academic dean you are at the center of so much, but you are actually de-centered. That is, so much of what you are responsible for you do not control. It helps to remember this lack of control, because it can place assessment of your appropriate fit for the position in healthy perspective. Whether you feel at any given moment particularly competent (bordering on brilliant) or particularly inept (bordering on suicidal), it is helpful to recognize that the position has a life and personality independent of you that must be respected (89).

  • From Dale R. Stoffer, “Lessons from the Anabaptist-Pietist Tradition,” on servant leadership, communication, and collegiality for administrators:
  • Authority derives not so much from one’s institutional rank or status but primarily from the respect that comes because the people in a community of faith know that their leader values them and seeks their welfare (143).

    A trait that theological schools generally have in common with other institutions of higher learning is the tendency to wall off distinct disciplines from one another, thus creating the silo effect so common today in Western universities. One facet of working toward a greater sense of common vocation is to develop strategies for increasing conversation across disciplinary boundaries and for creative forms of teaching and learning that highlight integration (148).

    Servant leadership does not mean an abdication of the role of leader, but rather a willingness to lay aside the prerogatives of title and rank in order to lead people, through highly relational means, to goals that advance the welfare of each individual and ultimately of the community (149).

  • From Gary Riebe-Estrella, “The Dean as Administrator: ‘It’s All a Matter of Relationships,’” on how an administrator relates to the President/CEO.
  • If a dean wants to sleep at night, it is necessary to identify and accept the role of chief academic officer. The dean is not the president, and it is the president who makes the final decisions. A good relationship with the president depends on a non-begrudging acceptance of this distinction of roles. While the president’s vision for the school and involvement with the larger church and secular community context is only one of the avenues of traffic in the institution, it is the one with the motorcade! Vis-a-vis the president’s role as chief executive officer, the dean’s task is primarily one of facilitation rather than representation.

    The dean’s office is not the headquarters for a courier service that delivers messages from the president to the faculty or from the faculty to the president. Rather, the dean’s service to the president is in helping get inside the faculty’s corporate mind, allowing the president an inside sense of their motivations and morale. Equally, the dean needs to help the faculty understand the variety of pressures the president faces, what’s driving this particular solution, what underlies the president’s preoccupation with that particular issue. By directing the traffic and interpreting its flows to the parties involved, the dean is able to grease the wheels of collaboration. But again, that calls for relationships of integrity and trust with both the president and the faculty (253-254).

  • From Robin J. Steinke, “The Budget as a Mission Tool: Vision, Principles, and Strategies,” on the importance of administrators relating well to the CFO:

A pattern in some institutions is that the CAO simply receives the draft budget from the CFO and pleads for increases in some areas or reluctantly agrees to decreases in other areas. It can be helpful to become a student of your CFO early in your tenure as dean, requesting regular meetings to review detailed parts of the budget well before it is time to begin budget drafts. Deans can do a lot to honor the vocation of CFOs by respecting their experience and by demonstrating a posture of readiness to learn from them so that informed decisions about the budget can be shared (282-283).

Read more about the latest issue SWJT, “Biblical Theology: Past, Present, and Future Vol. 2” at swbts.edu/journal.

Ben Affleck is the Batman and Charles Spurgeon Still Speaks: Footnotes from Class this Week

In my Baptist history class this week I began to make the case that the most important reason for the study of church history is that it can change your life.

One of the ways I argue for this is to bombard the students with the claim, followed by seven supporting statements, that the study of church history is one of the most effective tools of personal sanctification outside of the Bible. History humbles. And its fixed facts are no respecter of persons, intellects, or achievements.

Thus, an early but difficult step we must take in the sanctifying study of church history is to admit that there is much we do not know.

As I’ve written elsewhere, just as Martin Luther quipped to Desiderius Erasmus, “Your thoughts of God are all too human,” the student of the history of Christianity soon realizes that there is a similar humanness to our thinking with regard to God’s work in eras other than our own. We are more equipped to discuss the world of popular culture than the near-ancient worlds of Christian history. We know with little effort that Ben Affleck is the new Batman, but wrestle to admit we really haven’t ever read a sermon by Charles Spurgeon.

The encouraging truth here is that the two worlds are not that different and ancient, when known, can help the modern. Knowledge of the old serves to warn us of the perils of our current situation, while at the same time giving a promise of hope that change can come. Studying the revival that was the Reformation reveals that the intervention of God in the lives and hearts of men and women can drastically change all that is accepted as the status quo. In all ages, sin is still sin and man is still man, but God is still God and there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).

These warnings and promises from the past, however, benefit us only when we first admit we do not have the knowledge of such warnings and promises. The admission of our ignorance can not be fully absolved by small confessions to the Google Search Engine or to Wikipedia in private anonymity. Rather, we should turn to God and ask for his help so that we can gain refining instruction from those who have gone before, both in the Bible (1 Cor 10:11) and the ensuing history of Christianity.

When we find that our lives are changed much by a nineteenth century sermon and less informed by the latest Hollywood mega-deal, we will realize the sanctifying blessings that come from the humbling of history. What a joy then to share with others why and how we’ve discovered that Spurgeon is the Batman we need.

Photo: Grave of C. H. Spurgeon, West Norwood Cemetary, London, May 2013.