Monday, February 22, 2016

A Christadelphian Reading List

In a previous post, I mentioned the "enormous amount of material" I'd read to learn about the Bible, and my community's views on the Bible. This post will summarize that, in case you're curious. It really is "enormous," so you probably won't read much of it, but you might find interesting bits to skim. I'll summarize them here, and give links you can read online. (Note: various folks post these books on their web sites; linking to them doesn't mean I agree with them or that they represent the Christadelphians.)

1) Elpis Israel, John Thomas, 1848. (read online)

This is the "original" Christadelphian book: the Christadelphians grew out of the readership of a magazine by John Thomas, most of them Campbellites. Thomas gradually parted ways with Campbellite teaching over a couple of decades, until he was finally expelled. Somewhere along the way his readers asked for a summary of his views, and he responded by writing this book.

As the first book it's highly respected, but it doesn't dictate Christadelphian belief (except in the eyes of a very small minority). There are things in the book that few would agree with today. Although someone who agrees with John Thomas will certainly not be considered a heretic, however in the minority he may be.

That's especially true of Part III. It's a good overview of Thomas's views on Bible prophecy. Till recently a majority of Christadelphians agreed with him. A growing minority disagreed with almost everything he said, and they were free to do that without repercussions. At this point I'm not sure whether Thomas's views are the majority view or a minority view.

2) Christendom Astray from the Bible, Robert Roberts, 1884. (read online)

Originally called "Twelve Lectures," this book is based on a series of lectures by Robert Roberts spelling out the basic teachings of the Christadelphians. As the title implies, it mostly talks about "standard" Christian beliefs that Christadelphians disagree with, like the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, a supernatural devil, heaven-going, hell, etc.

3) God's Way, John Carter, 1947. (read online)

When my family started our first Bible study with the Christadelphians, this was the book we used. It's shorter than either of the previous two. It's more readable than Elpis Israel, which is very much a 19th Century book. And it's more upbeat than Christendom Astray: instead of attacking mainstream Christian teachings it first positively advances Christadelphian teachings. And then it attacks mainstream Christian teachings. Each chapter has a "Part II" that compares the teaching in Part I with mainstream Christian teaching.

4) Phanerosis, John Thomas, 1869. (download PDF)

The linked PDF is prefaced with about 30 pages defending the book from critics. The book itself begins on page 29. As you can guess, some of the material is controversial.

This book outlines what Thomas saw as the core teaching of the Bible: that God's entire purpose is to make people into "His image," reflections of Himself, and that He operates through agents who get to speak in his name, or even in select cases be equated with God himself. Jesus, and the angel in the burning bush, would be two examples of this. Both are called God and/or referred to themselves as God, but neither actually was God. This doctrine drives Thomas's interpretation of Bible passages that seem to identify Christ with God, since Thomas rejected the doctrine of the Trinity.

While Thomas's view here is defensible, and some modern theologians who aren't Christadelphian would agree with him, there are defects in this work. In a way, these defects speak to a fundamental handicap of most Christadelphians. Thomas bases his idea on careful arguments about the original languages, mostly Hebrew, but Thomas himself was not a Hebrew scholar. He was a layperson who was decently competent with reference materials and at least somewhat read in the scholarship of others. Not all of his arguments hold up. To this day few Christadelphians are scholars of the original languages, and we continue to labor out of our depth in this area.

5) Other misc. works by John Thomas (see here for quite a few of them)

John Thomas wrote rather prolifically, and a well-read Christadelphian would be at least familiar with a lot of it. He also edited more than one magazine, over more than twenty years, which are still available. See here for example; they have eleven years' worth of his Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come.

I've read almost all of this material over the years. Obviously most of it I've read only once, and I probably skimmed a fair bit of it, so only so much has stuck with me, but as you can imagine it's enough to keep one busy for a very long time.

One of the funniest things in the collection is an actual catechism written by Thomas. It's funny because a lot of his writings savaged the Catholic church, especially for its creedal nature. The Christadelphians also adopted a statement of faith (i.e., a creed) in 1877 (PDF), six years after Thomas's death.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Making of a Christadelphian, Part 3

This post is really part four. This series starts with an Overview of the Christadelphians, followed by my own story leading up to my baptism, and then a description of our theology masquerading as the story of my early post-baptism Bible study.

I was somewhat (but not terribly) unusual because I got baptized at age eleven. I was even more (but still not terribly) unusual because I was a convert, who got baptized at age eleven. This put me in a weird position in our community. As I said in my overview, we are a lay, patriarchal, millenarian, unitarian, evangelical, apolitical, community of Bible students.

The first problem was what to do with an eleven-year-old brother in a patriarchal community. Kids my age attended Sunday School, and Sunday School was generally taught by women. But the rule in our community is that women don't teach men, by which we mean baptized males. So as soon as I was baptized I was pulled out of my Sunday School class--but nobody really knew where to stick me. For a while they tried putting me in the adult Sunday School class, but I didn't enjoy it much. Then they found a brother willing to teach me for a while, which lasted until he finished his degree and moved away. Then they decided the solution was to make me a Sunday School teacher myself, and from then on I taught a precocious five-year-old one on one. This lasted about a year, until my family moved away and we stopped attending for a while.

The second problem was what to do with an eleven-year-old brother in a lay community. Every baptized brother (remember, patriarchal) is normally expected to take a turn leading the services on Sunday, giving the sermon, leading Bible readings, etc. This problem was handled by ignoring it: they simply didn't ask me to do those things because I was "too young." That's sensible enough, but it came up surprisingly often. Do you? You don't? Why not? When will you?

After a year or so they started calling me up to do the scripture readings. That was all, until I was about sixteen. A few things happened around that time. I started attending Community College full-time at 15 1/2 (a story for another time); I found a nursing home that would hire me as a nurses' aide at 16; and the church decided that it was about time I started giving sermons. This lasted a couple years, until I transferred as a junior to Brown; at that time the church secretary, who disliked my family, unilaterally dropped me from the speaker list. ("Oh. I didn't realize you'd be coming home every weekend and attending church. Too late now, though.")

Over the years between ages eleven and eighteen I was doing the "catch up" Bible study described in my previous post. On the one hand I covered an enormous amount of material (which I'll give links to in a future post for the curious). On the other hand, it was pretty much all Christadelphian material. So while it felt like an enormous education, and in some ways it was, this education took place in a bit of an echo chamber. There was an enormous amount of material I wasn't learning, which I'll get to in the next couple of posts.

The effect of all this was that I wasn't only learning about the Bible; I was also learning about my community and its views and standards. And I wasn't only learning about these things; I was also starting to enforce those standards on myself and others. That's what I'd like to look at in my next installment.