With the recent release of Seven Summits in Church History, designed to give a brief introduction to major figures in the history of Christianity for churches and all readers, I have asked several friends, pastors, and scholars to answer:
Who are your “Seven Summits”? Or, what figures in church history would you enjoy sharing a meal with?
On Fridays over the next few weeks, I will share their responses and would love your thoughts and invite you to join the conversation in the comments.
Today, it is my delight to share who Malcolm B. Yarnell III and James M. Hamilton, Jr. think are seven summits in church history worth knowing:
Malcolm Yarnell’s Seven Summits:
The seven summits of Christian history for me represent a broad and diverse group. Here are some of the conversations that I look forward to having with the saints in glory:
- Abraham: Yes, I know you said, “church history,” but all people are saved only through the mediating work of Christ on the cross. In that sense, Abraham and the other pre-incarnation believers in the coming Messiah may properly be classified as “proto-church” Christians. I would love to hear Abraham speak directly about the grace of God that came to him even in the midst of his own repetitive failure of courage, of his profound privilege to see the trinitarian appearance in Genesis 18, and of his gut-wrenching encounter with God on the slopes of Mount Moriah. To speak to the man who defines for us what it means to be “justified by faith” will be a profound privilege.
- John: While I look forward to meeting Peter, Paul, and the other apostles, I especially want to sit with the writer in the New Testament who has shaped my own theology so. The crispness of John’s realization-that this man whom he had heard with his own ears, seen with his own eyes, and held with his own hands-that this man is also the eternal Word begotten of the Father before the ages-still shocks me and shapes my whole reality. I want to see the hands that held our Master dear and close to him during that last supper, and I want to thank John for witnessing with such poetic power to me about the One whom he saw, he heard, he touched.
- Gregory of Nazianzus: Gregory is known in church history simply as “the Theologian,” and that for good reason. While reading Gregory’s works, including his famous “Five Theological Orations,” one will hear a particularly and peculiarly powerful proclamation of God the Trinity. Gregory helps us to begin comprehending, nay merely glimpsing, the incomprehensible. He teaches us how to detect the lineaments of the revelation of the divine nature as a three-personed relationality through a proper reading of the biblical text. In the light that he perceived and poetically portrayed I have seen again the Light that created, entered, and will conclude the world. I also look forward to commiserating with a man who likewise understands what it means never to have known a public place of peace.
- Patricius and Monica: Yes, rather than their son, Augustine, we should hear how his parents understood their son’s development into the man who would become the theologian that, for good and for ill, shaped all of Western thought. I want to hear Patricius describe the incredibly perverse philosophies/theologies that he paid good money for Augustine to learn. Why was Augustine so attracted to the dualisms of Mani? How exactly did he garner his innovative doctrine of libertarian free will, indeed of the whole human being, from Plotinus? I want to hear Monica describe the transformative grace of God that came to Augustine after years of tearful prayers for her brilliant and wayward son. After that, perhaps we can listen to Augustine with some discernment regarding his own extra biblical theological constructions, especially as he paved the way for then responded to the Pelagians.
- Abelard and Heloise: Wouldn’t it be interesting to gather these two long-separated theological love birds, sit them down together, hold their hands, look them deep in the eyes and say, “So, you two, tell us how you really feel about sweet Uncle Fulbert?” (Okay. Not really. We would never be that cruel. The reader just needed a break from the routine. Check the history books if you want more detail. Not a pretty story. Back to business…)
- Michael Sattler: Yes, while multitudes of evangelicals are making medieval-like pious pilgrimages to visit the irascible Augustinian monk in Wittenberg or exalt in the presence of the supremely confident lawyer in Geneva, I want to stop for a moment in out of the way Horb and sit at the feet of a man who knew God with his whole heart, submitted his will entirely to the Word of God, and paid the price for teaching a more pristine theology than any of the other Reformers ever grasped. I want to see the tongue that was torn and the flesh that was ripped before looking at the hand that was raised through the fire as a sign that God gives his witness grace to persevere even through the worst that man can do to him. Then, Michael will take his blessed hand and he will point my wet eyes toward the source of all Christian truth and courage, the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Among all the theologians of modernity, it is Bonhoeffer who has challenged me most to be like Jesus in the midst of a culture and a church that is far less interested in the ways of God than in their own ways. This is not to say, mind you, that I agree with everything that Bonhoeffer said, but what a beautiful and courageous soul he has alongside a keen and restless mind. I will rejoice with him in our Savior’s presence.
- Bertie Mills: Bertie never preached a sermon and never wrote a book. She was not extraordinarily handsome nor was she particularly bright. She never led a meeting and few people outside of 20th-century Bossier City, Louisiana had a clue as to who she was. Like so many of the best Christians on this planet, she will never receive the accolades of the scholars and the pundits. But from her loins came over 100 descendants who professed Jesus as Lord. She was faithful to her Savior for over 100 years on this planet, and it was in her house that the Lord called me back to faithfulness. I just want to tell her, “Thank you for living consistently for the Lord in your family and in your church. I wish we had all been more like you. You are the summit of church history because you kept pointing us to Jesus.”
Malcolm B. Yarnell III is Professor of Systematic Theology, Director of the Oxford Study Program, Director of the Center for Theological Research, and Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. A prolific author of scholarly articles and academic works, he is the author of the forthcoming work God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits and is scheduled for release in April 2016.
Jim Hamilton’s Seven Summits:
This is going to be a pretty non-theological (although chiastic) answer. (Note balancing aspects of structure, parallel language, and the way the centerpoint of the chiasm is the best and most important thing I say):
Two of the seven I’d like to spend a day with would be Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. And wouldn’t it be great if it were a day in Spring Training, maybe the spring heading into Jackie’s first year in the Big Leagues? I wouldn’t want to intrude on their lives, just be a fly on the wall, so to speak, to watch them in action.
The third Christian from church history that I think it would be fascinating to spend a day with would be William Shakespeare. From what he wrote, I’m pretty confident he was a genuine believer, and our lack of hard evidence on him results in biographers doing a lot of guesswork based on the plays. Could I bring some biographical facts back to the future with me?
My fourth choice is the person that I’d spend every day of church history with if I could. Her name is Jillian Ashley Hamilton, and she is spectacular. I’m so blessed to be her husband.
Balancing Shakespeare, I’m also pretty confident that the poet who wrote Beowulf was a Christian, and it would be fascinating to enter his world for a bit. Here too it would be nice to bring his name and some info on him back with me.
And I’m going to close it out as I opened, with another pair, two of my favorite people. This time I don’t want to be a fly on the wall but to interact with them–maybe next fall at ETS we can pull it off on whatever unique excursion you’ve good cooking, because my last two are Denny Burk and Jason Duesing.
James M. Hamilton, Jr. is Professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. His most recent work is What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Pattern.
Who are your Seven Summits?
Join the conversation in the comments below and learn who are my Seven Summits and more about the book here.
Other posts in the Seven Summits series: