Monday, August 26, 2013

My Reflections on the Worst of the Worst- "Under God" 4

On January 21, 1776, Peter Muhlenberg preached from his pulpit that it was time for Virginians to get involved in the war. After his closing prayer, he removed his vestments (presumably he was Anglican) and announced that he was joining the ranks. On his way out of the church he gave an implicit challenge to his congregation: "if you do not choose to be involved, if you do not fight to protect your liberties, there will soon be no liberties to protect." (21) Three hundred men from his church consequently joined the military struggle against the British (20-22).

This story of course raises important questions. Was Muhlenberg right to preach war and revolution from the pulpit? Was he right to encourage his congregation to follow his example and go kill redcoats?  Was it truly, as Muhlenberg said quoting Ecclesiastes 3 "A time of war"? Was this the Christian thing to do?

Let's consider for a moment the alternative perspective presented by the preacher Jonathan Boucher. Boucher was an ardent supporter of the rights of the colonies. He argued that Britain had no right to treat the American colonists as anything less than full citizens, that the Stamp Act was an illegal and tyrannical act imposed on innocent civilians, and that George Washington was a pretty swell guy (the two were good friends).

And yet, Boucher preached obedience to the government of England and submission even to tyrannical laws. He preached the following (while wearing pistols openly, since as we got closer to revolution his preaching became increasingly unpopular) in 1775:
Obedience to government is every man's duty, because it is every man's interest; but it is particularly incumbent on Christians, because (in addition to its moral fitness) it is enjoined by the positive commands of God; and, therefore, when Christians are disobedient to human ordinances, they are also disobedient to God. If the form of government under which the good providence of God has been pleased to place us be mild and free, it is our duty to enjoy it with gratitude and with thankfulness and, in particular, to be careful not to abuse it by licentiousness. If it be less indulgent and less liberal than in reason it ought to be, still it is our duty not to disturb and destroy the peace of the community by becoming refractory and rebellious subjects and resisting the ordinances of God. However humiliating such acquiescence may seem to men of warm and eager minds, the wisdom of God in having made it our duty is manifest. For, as it is the natural temper and bias of the human mind to be impatient under restraint, it was wise and merciful in the blessed Author of our religion not to add any new impulse to the natural force of this prevailing propensity but, with the whole weight of his authority, altogether to discountenance every tendency to disobedience.
Shortly after delivering this sermon Boucher fled to England, fearing for his life.

So, on the one hand we have the Reverend Muhlenberg, preaching revolution and joining the Continental Army--and encouraging his flock to do the same. On the other hand we have the Reverend Boucher, preaching submission to the governing authority and obedience to even unjust laws, then fleeing for his life to the country which he believed the Bible had commanded him to obey. Who was right?

The short version is, I don't know. I do know that at the end of the day we as Christians should not be thinking in terms of "this preacher supports America (or, for that matter, Britain) therefore he is right." If that's our category for "good preaching," we've already gone off the rails somewhere. Rather we should be asking questions like "does this preacher clearly and faithfully exposit the Scriptures in a Gospel-centered and Christ-focused way?" Anything else and we run the risk of making idols of politics and country. And while that may be the way our civil religion demands we operate, for those who embrace the true religion of the cross that can never be more than a shallow and sinful substitute.

As a brief concluding aside, I think this whole question brings up an important point--and one which I like to think both Muhlenberg and Boucher would agree on. In any given war, a Christian always has more in common with a Christian on the other side of the lines than he does with other citizens of his own nation. The forgiveness that comes through the blood of Christ creates a bond that we share which transcends anything like national or cultural boundaries and ties us together a family tighter than anything found in the world. Which in a sense adds yet another level of tragedy to war, as you may very well have a Christian trying to kill another Christian in combat. The tragic result of the reality of sin in the world is that two people who have been reconciled to God and forgiven for their rebellion against him may find themselves locked in a mortal struggle-- possibly even with an ethical obligation to pursue that struggle to its bitter end. Such a circumstance is deplorable and can only leave us with the cry "come, Lord Jesus!" as we long for the day when there will be no more war.

Friday, August 23, 2013

On Light and Darkness

I recently finished reading a book (which will remain nameless and author-less, for the purposes of this post) in which the Gospel was explained purely in terms of light and darkness. That is, Jesus was repeatedly described as "the Light" and we are described as in need of rescue because we live in the "darkness." When the book explains the nature of sin, it explains that sin = darkness.

And of course this is perfectly Biblical language. After all, Jesus is the Light that shines into darkness, the true Light which enlightens everyone, and has no darkness in Himself. That Jesus took the darkness in us on Himself on the cross (sorry for the preposition overload) so that we too could walk in the light is a useful and, again, a Biblical way to articulate the Gospel.

Yet, this is a problematic way if it is the only thing we do. Light and darkness are indeed important Biblical ways to articulate key doctrines, but using this language exclusively does what the Bible most emphatically does not do: it robs the Gospel of its moral language. To say that we are in "darkness" without going on to explain the moral depravity of that condition doesn't really convey the whole truth of the human state. We are in darkness, but that darkness is not a mere absence of the light, it is a wickedness that exists in active rebellion against God. John 1 and I John 1 both have to be read along with Romans 1 and the whole law of God. We are not merely ignorant because of the absence of light, we are evil because we have broken God's law.

Only when we understand the fullness of the Gospel in these terms, can we get the full impact of what it means for the Light to shine in the darkness. The substitutionary atonement on the cross is fundamentally a moral and judicial event, where all of my "darkness"--with darkness meaning moral depravity and rebellion against God--is taken by the one who is perfectly Light--with "light" meaning perfectly moral, good, and holy. The language of light and darkness brings a sense of wonder and triumph to the table, but the moral and judicial nature of the Gospel tell us why it is a triumph, and what sort of triumph it is.

Which leaves me in a bit of a bind as far as how to rate this book (theologically, at any rate). Again, it's using perfectly Biblical language. The issue is that it is incomplete. It's as if someone were to try to explain the Gospel using only farming imagery. You could do it, and even be Biblical in your language while doing so, but I think at the end of the day something would be left out. Which isn't to say that one couldn't come to Christ by that means, just that, well, something's incomplete about the explanation of Christianity.

And I see that I'm starting to repeat myself, so I'll cut the post short here. Really, I'm just using this as a chance to help myself think through this issue...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Reflections on the Worst of the Worst- "Under God" 3

Apparently, God saved George Washington through numerous battles, especially the battle near Fort Duquesne in the French and Indian War when Washington had several horses shot out from under him several bullets pass through his coat without causing any harm.
Why did God do this? So that George Washington could become President of the United States, of course. At least, so says the pagan quoted in Under God:
Listen! The Great Spirit protects that man [pointing at Washington], and guides his destinies--he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire. (13)
Did God protect George Washington through first the French and Indian and then the Revolutionary Wars? Of course.
Did God do this so that Washington could become President? Apparently so, since that's what happened.
But should we stop there? To be fair, the authors of Under God do not stop there, they go on to point out that Washington was very grateful to God (though Washington says "Providence" in the citation provided) for his preservation, and that this whole story (including Washington's gratitude) used to be found in American history textbooks.

So what happens if we ask a slightly different set of questions:
 Did God protect Osama bin Laden through the war with the USSR in Afghanistan? Of course.
Did God do this so that Osama bin Laden could become the leader of Al Quaeda? Apparently so, since that's what happened.
And I suspect we can assume that bin Laden was likewise quite grateful to God for his preservation, though I suspect that particular side of the story will not be found in American history textbooks for, well, ever.

Hopefully you can see how this view of history quickly becomes very problematic. If we don't have some other way of deciding what matters, we have trouble seeing the difference between George Washington and Osama bin Laden. Fortunately, as Christians we do have another way of deciding what matters.

Let me explain by way of a big-picture view of history. In the Christian perspective, the teleology of history (goal towards which all human events are moving) is the glorification of God in the salvation of His church. This means that every human event that happens in history is being directed by God towards this end. And while we do not necessarily understand how these events exactly bring about that end, we know at least that none of them are ends in themselves. God did not preserve George Washington through the French and Indian War only so that he could be president, He preserved Washington ultimately so that the Gospel would reach those who have been set aside for salvation.

The problem is that we lack the perspective to say more than this on this side of heaven. Because of this lack of perspective, our temptation is to commit idolatry by pointing out what we can see (say the creation of a nation, be it ours or someone else's) and declare that event, person, or action to be God's teleological end. (Some people go so far as to identify this end of history with themselves, but that's perhaps a blog post for another day.) As Christians we must resist this temptation, even when we see others go down that road. We should instead simply confess that we do not understand how every event in history moves towards the salvation of the church, but that we believe it does despite our ignorance.

Someday we will glorify God for his hand at work in history, but it will not be finally for the creation of America. We will praise and glorify God for his creation of a spotless and pure bride from a rebellious whore by means of the blood of Christ. The historical steps to that end are important and should be a source of great delight and interest to Christians, but we should also remember that they are mere steps, and that it's not our place to decide that one step is more important or valuable than another. Such things are best left to God.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Reflections on the Worst of the Worst- "Under God" 2

Finished the Introduction (yes I know, it was all of four pages long-- give me a break, I've been busy).
The overall point of the Introduction is that we have a "dual heritage" (8). That is, we have a history that is both good and evil mixed together. On the one hand, we have those freedom- and God-loving founders (especially in New England), which is good. On the other hand, we have slavery, the destruction of the Native Americans, and those greedy Virginians in Jamestown, which are bad. After all, "many people came to America" (pg 8, who could ever disagree with so profound a statement?), and we should expect to find a mixed bag of good and evil. And yet, the authors assure us, "our forefathers recognized God's hand in the shaping of this nation." That the "God" recognized by the people varied depending on when or who we're talking about is apparently less relevant. The Triune God of the Puritans is very much not the same God as the crypto-Unitarian god of John Adams, or the Deistic God of Thomas Paine, Ethan Allan, or Thomas Jefferson. Across the space of 150 years, culture and theology changes quite a lot...

Fortunately, the authors are going to give us a guide.
When we decided to embark upon creating a book, we decided to use King David from the Bible as our model. He was a man after God's own heart, but he was also a murderer and an adulterer. (9)
I feel that I should point out that he was also a freakin' king. Now granted, I don't yet know exactly what they mean by using David "as our model," but given that one of the few aspects of American government that actually was unique for the time was the jettisoning of aristocracy, it seems odd (to say the least) to choose a monarch as the model for a book about America. of course, using someone from the book of Judges would probably not serve their purposes well either...

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Beginning of My Reflections on the Worst of the Worst

So I have recently come into possession of a stack of books dealing with various aspects of the relationship between Christianity and politics. To be sure, I already possessed such a stack after several years of teaching and learning Christian political thought. The difference is, the books that I've collected so far are by-and-large a mix of classics of the discipline, books I've had assigned for coursework, and books that have been sent to me for review by publishers (this last category is by far the smallest). With certain notable (and terrible) exceptions, I have managed to avoid the worst of the "America is God's Country because We are So Good and Noble and Awesome" books. For that matter, I've managed to avoid many of the best of them. Until now.

On one level, I was tempted just to give this new stack of books away. Or throw them away. Or, I don't know, something. But after some thought I decided that this is probably a good opportunity for me to both try to be faithful to the blog (which has been let slide far too much this summer) and to get in touch with what the bulk of Christians in America seem to be reading. As I've noted on another blog, I really haven't encountered much of this vein of Christian thought. Now that I've taken a job on the edge of the Bible belt, I suspect it will only be helpful to take in a bit more of this reading.

It will also, I suspect, be a bit infuriating. Which is why as I slowly work through this stack of books (before giving them away) I hope to record some of the more throbbing-vein-inducing moments here for my own catharsis and the amusement of others.

The first book on the list? Under God by dc Talk's Toby Mac and Michael Tait with WallBuilders.
Honestly, the list of authors is enough to get a reaction before I've even cracked the cover.

Seriously, when I sit down to read a good book on Christian political thought, my very first thought is always "I wonder if that Christian band I was vaguely familiar with back in the early 90s has written anything about it yet?" Well, that question has been answered. That the book is written "with WallBuilders"--the organization headed by that guy who has even been disowned by a Christian publisher-- is just frosting on the cake.

So, without further ado, here we go!

[2 minute break]

Two paragraphs. That's how far I think I can get in this post, otherwise I truly will start ranting. Why you might ask?
...The American Revolution was truly revolutionary.
"Government of the people, by the people, for the people" was a very radical concept. No one could have dreamed the impact it would have. in our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, one of the most profound ideals set forth was that 'all men are created equal.' Today, it is hard to truly understand how radical the introduction of that concept was. It helps to go back to the eighteenth century and gain a greater understanding of what the world was like. Kings and queens were the rulers and conquerors of the day. Justice and wealth was held in their hands. Our forefathers sought to take some of that tightly bound power and distribute it so that many who could never dream of hope and opportunity would find peace and prosperity through a freedom that was built upon the principles of God. (7)
It... would perhaps be too much of an exaggeration to say that every sentence cited here is complete bunk.
But every sentence cited here is complete bunk. (And I should point out that at this point I am speaking with my political scientist hat on, not yet explicitly as a Christian.)

So what's wrong with this opening salvo on the part of the author's of Under God? Leaving aside the fact that "government of the people, by the people, for the people" is a quote not from the Declaration (as implied) but from good ol' Abe Lincoln four score and seven years later, first I have to point out that the idea that "all men are created equal" is by no means radical or an invention of Jefferson in the Declaration. There is a very long tradition of holding to the equality of men that comes both from pagan philosophy and from historic Christian theology (think of the Luther's priesthood of all believers as just one articulation of the Christian view of equality).

Second, the idea that prior to 1776 the world was governed by kings and queens who ruled with an iron fist and laughed while the peasants begged for a scrap of bread is simply silly and false. While it's true that George III was portrayed as a tyrant by the American revolutionaries, keep in mind that the bulk of the Declaration of Independence is dedicated to explaining that George is a tyrant because he has stripped the colonists of rights and freedoms that other Englishmen already had. In other words, the American Revolution did not start as an attempt to do something new, it started as an attempt to get back to traditional and established English freedoms. Of course, this isn't to say that there was nothing new about the American experiment--I don't want to go too far the other direction and claim that it was the same ol' thing all over again. But the implication that there was no freedom, justice, hope, peace, opportunity, prosperity, etc in the world prior to the American Revolution is simply absurd, and something which the citizens of the Dutch Republic, the various republics of the Swiss Confederation, and older states like Athens and the Roman Republic would find horribly offensive.

As for the last statement in the cited paragraph, that our forefathers wanted to take power from the kings and distribute it to the people... well, some of them did. Some of them did not. Alexander Hamilton, for example, at the Constitutional Convention proposed establishing a monarchy. (He may have been joking or trying to make an ironic point, historians aren't completely sure what was going on there.) John Adams was a fairly staunch defender of aristocratic ideals, and of course we should note that there is precious little popular involvement in the government actually set up by the Constitution itself. To be sure there were some Founding Fathers who were more or less dedicated to radically democratic ideals (Jefferson and Thomas Paine, to name a couple of the more well-known ones), but they by no means dominated the era. It's better to say that the Founders were a mixed bag of beliefs and ideas, which frankly is one of their greatest strengths. We have a very blended Founding, and we're the better for it.

The point of all of this isn't so much the fact that the history presented here is sketchy (though that is a concern), the point is that this sketchy history is being used to suggest that America and our political institutions hold a special place in the world as a force of good, freedom, prosperity, et al. and that we are somehow exempt from the general condition of all nations in the world. An agenda is being outlined by means of questionable history (and yes, I stole that idea from Thomas Kidd's blog).

And... and... this book is going to take me forever to get through at this rate. I could keep going, but I suspect it's best to save some energy for later entries.

Disclaimer: I am in no way questioning whether or not the authors of this or any other book that I cover are Christian. (Unless I do so explicitly.) I'm merely commenting on their political philosophy and historical interpretation. I won't repeat this disclaimer in the future, but please do know that it holds.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Minor Rant in Response to Thaddeus Kozinski's "The Relative Absoluteness of Truth"-

So, this post has been percolating for a while now, but thanks to certain life-events (as in, a new job, moving cross country, visiting relatives, prepping for classes, and so forth) I just haven't had time to give this the attention it deserves. I still probably haven't given this the attention it deserves, but I also think that I shouldn't let it keep sitting around. And so without further ado:

I was recently [i.e. last February--told you it's been a while] privileged to be a discussant at the Ciceronian Society conference, where I was asked to comment and lead a discussion on, among others, Dr. Thaddeus Kozinski's paper titled "The Relative Absoluteness of Truth." His paper is interesting, well-written, and worthy of more response and discussion than it got at the conference (he was part of a three-person presentation, and there just wasn't time to hit everything in each of their papers). You can (and should!) read the whole thing here. For those who don't, here's a brief summary:

In broad strokes, Dr. Kozinski's argument is that when engaging in apologetics, we should remember that we are not neutral actors searching for the absolute and universal truth with objective rationality. Instead, we are shaped by tradition and inherited beliefs that we assume without much reflection. Which is fine, he argues, since our knowledge of the absolute and the universal comes through tradition and the particular in any case. But! If we want to figure out which aspects of the things we think we know are actually "true" Truth, we have to take a step back and examine our traditions and the ways in which we have inherited patterns of thought. We have, as it were, to become temporary relativists in order to arrive at a more certain knowledge of the ideal. Doing so is not so much a preparation for loosing our moral foundations (as is normally the charge laid against relativism) as it is a way to work towards humility, and possibly even a precursor to conversion. "Conversion", in this instance, being conversion to Catholicism.

For example, Dr. Kozinski notes that when engaging with Evangelical Protestants, he has noticed that we (I being an Evangelical Protestant, albeit not one he has personally engaged) are rarely aware that we are thinking and believing within a tradition that has taught us to hold beliefs like sola scriptura. If we would only stop and reflect on the fact (well, "fact") that we hold this belief solely because we are raised in a tradition that teaches it, we will be in much better shape to both search for absolute truth and be more open to conversion to the "real" truth of Catholicism, whose tradition is of course the right tradition.

I have two points in response which I couldn't bring up at the time. It was an academic setting and I was a discussant, and neither of these is particularly academic-discussion worthy. For those who don't know, being a "discussant" means that you've read the paper in advance before the conference (often only the night before) and have prepared a couple of comments or questions intended to highlight critical points and give the presenter opportunities to bring out broader implications of the his work. In other words, the discussant is supposed to ask questions that make the paper writers look good. (Unless of course they've committed some sort of critical error--bad information, a faulty logical conclusion, etc. Fortunately, none of the papers I read did those things--they were all excellent and well written!)

That said, I had thoughts that weren't academically germane, but are totally blog-ally germane.

First, a technical-ish point that may be less of an actual "point of contention" and more me just being nit-picky (hence my not raising it). Dr. Kozinski suggests that his idea is one which is "seldom discussed." Granted, I'm not really up on my Catholic apologetic literature, but I would point out that in fact there is a major stream of Christian apologetics dedicated entirely to doing exactly what Dr. Kozinski says apologists should be doing. "Presuppositionalism" is the apologetic school of thought which argues that the primary point of evangelism should be challenging the individual to examine their own presuppositions. This stands opposed to "evidentialism," which argues that a rational presentation of logical arguments and evidence should be the chief tools of witnessing (though Dr. Kozinski does not give it that name, this is the kind of evangelism he is arguing against).

Anyway, that's less of an issue. I don't really expect a Catholic academic to have much exposure to folks like Schaeffer, Van Til, Frame, and the others in that stream of thought.

Here's the thing I really wanted to stand on a table and shout: I know you are, but what am I? The charge levied against Evangelicals is actually something which Catholics are actually more guilty of. At least, the majority of the Catholics I've encountered are. (I suppose the ones I've run into aren't necessarily a representative sample, but I think almost eight years at Catholic University--including seven years of going to the Basilica every Saturday and meeting up with dedicated Catholics, as well as eight years of working with and teaching Catholic undergrads--should make these observations worth something.)

An important note: There is a stereotype that Catholics are bad at reading and knowing the Bible. This stereotype is true (at least, according to both my experience and according to my Catholic friends--again, I'm not really making any objective and absolute claims here), though in fairness Catholics have been getting better at this since the encouragements of Vatican II. I mention this not as an aside, but as something which will be critical in just a bit. Again, Catholics are not terribly well informed when it comes to the Bible. Hold that thought, we'll be back to it.

I got my first real exposure to any kind of thoughtful Catholicism several years ago when I moved to Washington DC to attend The Catholic University of America. In response to my admittedly uninformed Protestantism (I could have explained the Gospel, maybe, after a while and some prompting, but that was about the extent of my theological formation), some of my older Catholic classmates made the claim that they knew that the Catholic Church is the true church, existing in unbroken succession from Peter to (at the time) Benedict. If only, I was assured, I took the time to examine the Catholic liturgy, to see the tradition on display in the mass, and to explore the development of the Catholic hierarchy, I would understand that as a Protestant I had separated myself from the only valid historical Christian church. While I never really bought any of those claims, I at least thought the challenge to study church history was a valid one. (My undergraduate institution had only offered limited opportunities to do so.) So over the next few years I accepted the challenge and took a number of classes at CUA (if you're a student there--the series of courses by Dr. Minnich covering the church from the Renaissance through the Counter Reformation are fantastic), sat in on the introductory Sunday School overview of church history at my own church, and did a bit of study on my own (some of the resources I used are listed below).

As I learned more about church history and discussed some of these issues with my Catholic friends, a conversational pattern that developed looked something like this:
1) A topic of conversation would come up.
Example: The nature of the Lord's Supper: Is it a symbolic ceremony, an actual sacrifice involving the "real presence" of Jesus' body and blood, or something in between? 
2) The Catholic will claim that his Church simply holds to what has always been taught without change.
Example: Transubstantiation has been taught since the early church. Perhaps we don't always have a record of it (since texts get lost and all), but even if it's just the oral tradition we can trust that the church has never changed on the subject. 
3) I point out that this is not in fact historically the case, usually based on something I learned at CUA.
Example: Transubstantiation in fact has not always been taught by the church, and the record of the development of the doctrine is not lost to history. It was actually a major subject of discussion in the 8th and 9th centuries, and was little developed to any extent before then. (The major discussants were Ratramnus and Radbertus.) The Early Church certainly practiced the Lord's Supper, but never really gave an in-depth articulation of what they thought was going on in the ceremony. Since the 9th century, there has been no unity on the question among Christians. (For every Aquinas claiming a real presence of the body and blood of Christ, there has been a Wycliffe claiming that it's symbolic.) 
4) The Catholic replies that they are ignorant of the actual historical substance of the conversation, and instead are simply going along with what they have been told by the church or taught in CCD (the education given to Catholic children and converts). 
This applies to functionally any point of theological contention, be it images, the role and person of Mary, ecclesiology, etc. This is not of course true of every Catholic or every subject, but it has been a general pattern.

Now, my point is not to run down the historical ignorance of Catholics regarding their own tradition--Dr. Kozinski is quite right to point out that the problem is equally severe in the Evangelical world (how many of us have actually read any Calvin or Luther, or even know who Charles Spurgeon is for that matter?). My point is that in the context of his arguments, Catholics are actually more reliant on a blind faith generated by their tradition than most Evangelicals. This is because Catholics not only don't know their tradition, they don't know their Bible either.

While Evangelicals are ignorant of the historical forces and traditions that have helped to shape our faith, we at least have a knowledge of that which on which our faith is built, that is, the Bible. True, we don't know our history, but at least we know our Bibles. In trusting to the "tradition" Catholics have tended to know and care less about the content of Scripture. But in likewise not really knowing anything about that tradition, Catholics end up knowing neither Scripture nor history and so have a faith that is blinder than anything we Evangelicals could summon even if we really tried.

So while Dr. Kozinski's challenge to examine our own presuppositions is a valid and useful one for Evangelicals, it is an even more valid one for Catholics. While we Evangelicals do not always know our own historically-formed presuppositions, we at least know the truths of Scripture which those presuppositions help us to understand and embrace.
We should work to correct this ignorance on our part as Evangelicals, and Catholics by and large would do well to do the same. Of course, they should correct the problem of the knowledge of Scripture first--that is a much more critical lack than the epistemological/historical one.

And, there you go. That's the rant I did not deliver several months ago. Admire my restraint!

If you want to expand your own historical knowledge, here are some good places to start:

R.W. Glenn's lectures
Covenant Seminary (free with registration)

Not free, but worth the $:
Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church (8 Volumes, Apostolic Church through the Swiss Reformation; The first volume should be skimmed, but the other seven are fantastic! Also available for free here or on a cheap Kindle version here.)
Steven Tomkins' A Short History of Christianity (Comes recommended by J.I. Packer and Monty Python's Terry Jones!)
Justo Gonzalez's The Story of Christianity (A quick, fun read! Gonzalez has also written a survey that's a good introduction to the whole subject.)