Friday, 1 July 2016

The Apostasy That Wasn't, by Rod Bennett

I remember my father, a convert to Pentecostalism from Catholicism, explaining to me the 'origins' of Catholicism when I was a boy. He told me that after the Roman emperor Constantine became a Christian, lots of worldly people became Christians and the Church became more and more corrupt. When I grew up and studied church history for myself, I discovered that was not what actually happened, but unfortunately in the minds of a lot of Protestants this is the vague impression they have. Wilder people like Dan Brown have even more bonkers ideas about how Christianity 'changed' under the rule of St. Constantine.

The aim of this book is to provide a more accurate, but also a very readable account of the key period of the Council of Nicea and the events that follow it. It is essentially a history of the Arian controversy. A very important point that he makes, is that the Arians were not advocating the view that Jesus Christ was just a holy man or righteous teacher; they believed that he was created, but a divine or semi-divine figure from heaven, like an angel (as the Jehovah's Witnesses do today).

I have never read such a lively and enjoyable presentation of church history. It feels very much like reading an historical novel. Bennett really brings the key figures of the Arian controversy and the fourth century to life. It also powerfully shows how close the Church came to descending into total heresy, yet was powerfully preserved by God through faithful men like St. Athanasius. One minor quibble is that Bennett's telling of the early life of St. Athanasius departs significantly from conventional biography.

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