Michael Kruger shares insights from his book Christianity at the Crossroads and encourages Christians today to fearlessly engage their culture.
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I’ve just recently finished a book on Christianity in the second century. It’s called Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church. And it’s been a fascinating journey into the world of the second century and what Christians were dealing with during that time. It’s a really unique time. Christianity was, for the first time, standing on its own two feet without the help of a living Apostle to guide them. They were, in a sense, like a newborn just learning to walk and figuring out their way.
One of the things that’s interesting about the second century is how hostile the environment was that they were in. Christians were getting pressure from all sides. The movement was small and fragile. It was shaky, and from a human perspective, it wasn’t at all clear that they were going to make it.
Now, of course, from a divine perspective, it was clear the church was going to make it. From a human perspective, it wasn’t at all clear the second-century church was going to even survive at all. And as we look back on that, there are so many lessons that we can learn today.
Another thing the second-century Christians found themselves facing is being social misfits. They didn’t belong. They didn’t connect with any particular cultural identity. They seemed out of place. And I think anyone living in the 21st century today can relate to that. They feel like they don’t fit, they don’t belong, they don’t feel like this is their home. And that’s something that second-century Christians really felt, and we can recover a little bit today. We should remember that we’re not alone when we feel that way.
A third lesson I think that we can take away from the second century is this idea of how to handle persecution and resistance. The second-century Christians really faced a ton of resistance—both legal and political on the one hand, and intellectual on the other—and they handled it with grace and dignity. They persevered through many, many trials and persecutions. The number one thing they did in the second century as they faced that persecution, is they did not give in. In other words, they did not worship the Greco-Roman gods like the culture wanted and that’s a great lesson for today, just to be reminded that our culture today wants us to bow down to all kinds of idols. And Christians today can say, “No, we worship Jesus and Jesus alone,” just like the Christians responded in the second century.
One other final thing I’ll mention that I think is a takeaway from the second century is how much they were committed to Scripture. They were known as a “bookish religion.” They were guided by a text and were textually centered. In fact, they were known for this so much so that the Greco-Roman culture around them didn’t really know what to do with Christianity because it didn’t even look like any religion they ever saw. It looked more like a philosophy. That idea of being a bookish textually centered religion was a stunning thing in the ancient world, and we need to make sure we don’t ever lose that in the modern day, that we always put Scripture first as our ultimate authority in everything and that we are focused on the Bible as the guide to everything we do.