Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Defending Constantine - Dr. Peter Leithart
Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom by Peter J. Leithart
IVP Academic 2010
Read it Again: At least portions.
Recommend It: Yes.
What to Expect
Defending Constantine is organized somewhat like a backwards Against Christianity. The first portion sorts through history and what accounts we have of the times of the early church, before, after, and during the reign of Constantine.
The entire book is theologically grounded and continually shows the tension and relation of Church and State. Many portions read like an essay or thesis against writers and thinkers like John Howard Yoder. Other sections are simply history with thoughts from an open Bible.
Defending Constantine is a history lesson, argument, and theological discussion wrapped up in a fascinating character and time in history.
A few sections may take some persistance, but the whole book is well worth the read and is organized with typical Leithart clarity and infused with scattered humor.
I didn't know near as much as I wanted to/needed to about this era of history, so I was delighted with this book.
The scale of research, quotes, and organization alone was an impressive feat. Dr. Leitart attacks hard questions and arguments while looking through a wide scope of history and constantly referring to the Bible.
I am perpetually confused about what the relation of church and state should be and he addresses this even more in Defending Constantine than in Against Christianity.
The book gave an extended lesson on how theology, even minor ideas, affects the outworking of much of what we do. I found the discussion on pacifism particularly intriguing.
Dr. Leithart's arguments against John Howard Yoder are an interesting look into debate and thinking. By the end of the book, he has turned most of Yoder's arguments against Yoder himself.
This book was perfect for me on a number of levels, but it was well worth the time for the early church history alone.
Don't expect heroes to be perfect. But when imperfect people bow the knee to Christ, they can do great things...and who knows the consequences.
From the Book
"The church is a polity, and thus any ethical or political system that minimizes or marginalizes Jesus and his teaching hardly counts as Christian."
"In the end it all comes round to baptism, specifically to infant baptism. Rome was baptized in the fourth century. Eusebian hopes notwithstanding, it was not instantly transformed into a kingdom of heaven. It did not immediately become the city of God on earth. Baptism never does that. It is not meant to. Baptism sets a new trajectory, initiates a new beginning, but every beginning is the beginning of something. Through Constantine, Rome was baptized into a world without animal sacrifice and officially reognzized the true sacrificial city, the one community that does offer a foretaste of the final kingdom. All baptisms are infant baptisms.