Was the First Church the Right Church?

This post is part of the Patheos Book Club. Check out the Book Club for more posts on this book, an interview with the author, and for responses from other bloggers and columnists.

He doesn’t say it the way that I say it, but I think that Chuck Gutenson is onto something.

Gutenson’s new book, The Right Church: Live Like the First Christians, presses modern-day Christians to look to to the earliest church fro guidance in the vexing issues of our day. I’ll pick my nit right off the bat, then get to the good stuff: Chuck’s writing is too dependent on evangelical idioms and phrases. Other than that, this is a book that I can recommend.

I’m a big fan of church history, and I share Chuck’s concern that modern American Christians are woefully ignorant of what’s gone before us. Any effort to get Christians to read about and learn about the early church is commendable. And that’s exactly what Chuck does in this book.

Evangelicals — who, it seems, continue to be pro-G.O.P., pro-big military, etc. — will be chastened by what Gutenson writes in his chapter on war:

“Prior to Constantine, the church largely viewed participation in war as inconsistent with Christian faith. And, prior to 200, the rejection of Christian participation in war was overwhelming.”

Liberal Christians will be challenged his chapter, “Society and Government,” in which he charges the modern church with making an exchange with the government: Give us a privileged place in society (tax breaks, civic duties), and we’ll give up our prophetic voice.

So I think that makes for a good book, if both sides of American Protestantism are challenged. That’s not easy to do, but Chuck Gutenson — with some help from the early church — has done just that.

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