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Pliny the Younger and Worship in the Ancient Church

What was worship like in the early church? Did it differ significantly from our present practices? A letter written by a Roman official in 112 AD provides a window into these ancient Christian liturgical practices.

Pliny the Younger was appointed governor of Bithynia in 111 AD by the Emperor Trajan (98–117). Trajan knew that there was social unrest in that province, with a growing number of political factions causing divisions within the city. Among other things, he tasked Pliny with dissolving all associations or clubs in service of keeping the peace. This led him into a quandary regarding the Christians.

In one of the cities, trouble of some kind had arisen regarding the Christians, who were in several cases brought into court and accused of atheism, sexual immorality, incest, and even cannibalism. Pliny the Younger’s letter offers a window into the liturgical practices of ancient Christians and how they were often misunderstood by the world.

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Worship and Ecclesiology While Stuck at Home

In this special quarantine episode, we discuss the theological issues and lessons learned from the initial weeks of staying at home during the global COVID-19 health crisis. Though many Christians are prevented from gathering physically to worship on the Lord’s Day, the Lord has promised that his church shall never perish. While our worship practices may be irregular for a time, God has provided means by which he cares for his people.


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2019 Highlights

Since Christ the Center began nearly twelve years ago, we have taken time to look back on the highlights of the year. Given that we now post highlights from each episode every week we have taken an analytic approach. These are this year’s top ten clips from Christ the Center as determined by YouTube views.

  1. Episode 614 — Bracy Hill, Nimrod, the Mighty Hunter
  2. Episode 600 — Glen Clary, Praying in Tongues
  3. Episode 580 — Camden Bucey, Liberation Theology
  4. Episode 603 — Cornelis Venema, Karl Barth and the Doctrine of Election
  5. Episode 600 — Glen Clary, What Is Cessationism?
  6. Episode 598 — Christopher Watkin, The Problem of the One and Many
  7. Episode 603 — Cornelis Venema, Augustine and Pelagius
  8. Episode 578 — Carl Trueman, Luther and Zwingli at Marburg
  9. Episode 619 — Alan Strange and Brian DeJong, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Churches in North America
  10. Episode 613 — Will Wood, Schools of Biblical Criticism

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Karl Rahner

Karl Rahner book cover

Jeff Waddington, Glen Clary, and Lane Tipton speak with Camden Bucey about his book, Karl Rahner, and contemporary issues regarding Rahner, modern Roman Catholicism, and contemporary theology.

Arguably the most influential Catholic theologian of the twentieth century, Karl Rahner (1904–1984) developed a theology that has influenced much of post-Vatican II Catholicism and its modern inclusivist approach to missions. 

Despite his impact, little has been written on Rahner from a Reformed perspective. In this introduction and critique, Camden Bucey guides readers to an understanding of Rahner’s theology as a whole. Beginning with Rahner’s trinitarian theology, he moves through each of the traditional departments of theology to show how Rahner developed one basic idea from beginning to end.

Rahner set out to explain how God communicates himself to humanity, whom he created specifically for the purpose of fellowship with him. Once we trace this thread, we gain a deeper understanding of his thought and its reach today.

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Endorsements for the Book 

“If you want to understand present-day Roman Catholicism, you must come to terms with Vatican II (1962–65). Everything that Rome now teaches and does is filtered through it. But if you want to understand Vatican II itself, you need to know about Karl Rahner. . . . Part of the confused and naive attitude of contemporary evangelicals toward Rome depends on the lack of awareness of both Vatican II and Karl Rahner. This lucid book is a helpful introduction to this seminal Roman Catholic theologian whose language contains all the key Christian words (e.g., Trinity, Christ, humanity), but whose meaning is significantly different from that of straightforward biblical teaching. It is time that Reformed theologians do their homework in grasping what is at stake with contemporary Roman Catholicism.”

—Leonardo De Chirico, Pastor, Breccia di Roma; Lecturer, Historical Theology, IFED, Padova, Italy; Director, Reformanda Initiative 

“Roman Catholic apologists often boast about their church’s antiquity but seldom mention modern Roman Catholic theology, which often sounds as modern as liberal Protestantism. Karl Rahner, one of the most influential Roman Catholic theologians of the twentieth century, whose prominence was evident at the Second Vatican Council, is one of the best examples of Roman Catholicism’s modernity. Camden Bucey’s fair-minded and careful assessment of Rahner’s theology is valuable in itself, but doubly so for anyone wanting an introduction to modern Roman Catholicism’s own contribution to liberal Christian theology.”

—D. G. Hart, Distinguished Associate Professor of History, Hillsdale College

“Though Karl Rahner is among the most significant Roman Catholic theologians of the twentieth century, he is little known (and seldom read) by evangelical and Reformed theologians. Camden Bucey’s fine study offers an excellent summary of Rahner’s Trinitarian theology that promises to redress this problem. He not only provides a helpful explanation of Rahner’s well-known Trinitarian axiom (‘the “economic” Trinity is the “immanent” Trinity’), but also locates it within the broader context of Rahner’s anthropocentric theology. While Bucey critically engages Rahner’s theology from a Reformed perspective, he does so throughout in a careful, irenic, and constructive fashion.”

—Cornelis P. Venema, President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary


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The Law and the Spirit in Old and New Covenants

Glen Clary and Camden Bucey speak about their addresses at the recent theology conference. Glen covered the topic of ascending the mountain of the Lord and the role of the tabernacle and sacrificial system in the Sinai Covenant. Camden compared Galatians 2–4 with Romans 7–8 in order to address Paul’s phrase that “the law is Spiritual” in Romans 7:14.


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Cessationism

Glen Clary and Camden Bucey speak about the ministry of the Holy Spirit and cessationism. We discuss how the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is a unique event of redemptive-history just as unrepeatable as the death and resurrection of Christ. As individuals are effectually called and united to Christ by faith, they are incorporated into the Spirit-baptized body of Christ.


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