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Three Questions (Diognetus 1)

Summary

In the opening chapter of the letter, we learn that Diognetus has three “clear and careful” questions about the Christian faith.

  1. What do Christians believe about God and how do they worship Him?
  2. What is the nature of the heartfelt love they have for one another? (We will soon find that this question could also be phrased “How do Christians interact among themselves and within the wider world?”)
  3. If Christianity is true, why would God have waited so long to introduce it to the world?

Notes on the Reading

Who is Diognetus?

There are some throughout history who have held that the intended recipient of this letter was none other than Diognetus, the tutor of Marcus Aurelius. Whether this is the case or not is difficult to determine historically. What we do know is that Diognetus at least represents somebody within the Roman empire who is curious about the Christian faith.

Disregard the World? Despise death?

Though we will learn more about what the author of this letter means by these two phrases, it is worth highlighting the nuances of two Greek words used by the author.

The word translated as “disregard” means literally to overlook someone or something. To disregard the world appears to mean to intentionally overlook the ways of the world (i.e. those ways of living that are in contrast with the Christian faith) as viable ways of living.

The word translated as “despise” means to look down on something because it has little value or power.

Prayer for Speakers and Listeners

The author ends this opening chapter by asking God to allow him to speak in a way that benefits those who are listening. He also asks God to allow his audience to hear him in a way that leaves the speaker without regrets. These are two good prayers to keep in mind for those who speak and those who listen.

Discussion Questions

  1. What three questions do you think Diognetus would have about our faith if he were alive today?
  2. If you were responsible for answering these questions, what percentage of the letter would you devote to answering each question?

Reading for next week: Diognetus 2 and Acts 17:22-31

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What is the Epistle to Diognetus and Why Should I Read It?

What is the Epistle to Diognetus?

The Epistle to Diognetus is an ancient (probably 2nd or 3rd century) letter written by an anonymous Christian to someone in the Roman Empire who has questions about Christianity.

Why is now a good time to study this anonymous Christian letter?

Regardless of what outcome you expected or hoped for in the 2016 Election, you likely noticed the same thing I did along the way: we Christians need to think better about how our faith should drive our interaction in a pluralistic society. Put in biblical language: how should Christians today be in the world but not of the world. The Epistle to Diognetus was written, in part, to answer this very question.

Throughout Diognetus we see glimpses of an early Christian community living within the Roman Empire in a way that is inspiring and worthy of emulation.

(You can read more about how I read this letter with my Senior Theology class at Coram Deo Academy in the days following the election.)

Why study an ancient text (vs. modern)?

It is easy to assume that all modern industries and cultural spheres are operating at the “state of the art.” We often assume that the way we do things now is the best they have ever been done.

In some areas, this is likely true. Automobiles are safer, more reliable, and more efficient than ever before. Space exploration is beginning to bridge the gap between science and science fiction. But is everything at the state of the art? What about education? What about our ability to think well and speak clearly about things that really matter? What about Christian political theology?

We are studying an ancient text because some problems are so big they require the wisdom of those who have come before us.

Why study an extra-biblical text (vs. something from the Bible)?

We can never really exhaust the beauty and relevancy of the Christian Scriptures. So why would we spend a semester studying an ancient Christian epistle and not a New Testament epistle?

New Testament epistles were written to a specific audience for a specific purpose, and we simply do not have a New Testament epistle whose purpose matches that of the Epistle to Diognetus.

The Epistle to Diognetus relies heavily upon and only makes sense in light of the Christian Scriptures. Most weeks we will actually read a passage of Diognetus along side a passage of Scripture.

For Next Week: Read, and annotate, the opening chapter of Diognetus.

Click here to download the Handout and reading for next week here, or view below.

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All Saints’ Day and Classical Education

One of the greatest encouragements of All Saints’ day is that an unfathomable majority of the Saints are never named as such.

Different Christian Traditions have various official and unofficial ways of canonizing or otherwise recognizing the faithful departed whose lives of holiness have made a profound impact on the Body of Christ. Some of these Saints even have Feast Days on the Church Calendar to recognize their life and work. But a vast majority of the People of God throughout the ages who have lived quiet and holy lives are not recognized with a Feast Day.

This is part of the point of All Saints’ Day: to recognize the unrecognized Saints throughout history, in an attempt to encourage every Christian to be an unrecognized Saint.

This is a daunting vocation: become a saint. It should stir within each of us a sense of impossibility.

But perhaps the first—and final—step to living a holy life worthy of the title “Saint” is a recognition of how impossible that task truly is. It is also hard to imagine a Saint that does not spend serious time each day in prayer and the reading of Scripture. But I think there is another significant step to becoming a Saint, one that St. Paul teaches us in his epistle to the Corinthians: imitate people who imitate Christ.

Classical education, at its best, introduces students and their teachers to many such people. Some of these people are flesh-and-blood figures in history, and others are mere fiction. In his wisdom, God has allowed us to learn faithful endurance from both St. Monica of Hippo, the mother of St. Augustine, as well as Samwise Gamgee, the friend of Frodo.

when you choose an incompetent sleazebag

If religion and science are correct — or if it is even probable that they are correct — when they claim that the being inside a pregnant womb is human, the government has the constitutional right and the moral responsibility to intervene.

And when you choose an incompetent sleazebag as your party’s presidential nominee, it turns out you forfeit the opportunity for that case to be made on national television.

Better luck next time, GOP. But hopefully there won’t be a next time for the GOP.

On using Email as Email

You may have noticed a delay in my response-time for emails lately. This is because I started using email as its namesake suggests it should be used: as an electronic mailbox.

As technology advanced in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the smartphone transitioned from an executive novelty to the norm, very few of us—including myself—stopped to ask whether this was actually a good thing. We can access email 24-hours a day on our phones, but should we? Are humans the type of beings who are able to flourish when we are never truly disconnected from our work? I would suggest that we are not. I know with certainty that I am not.

My tendency, over time, became to use email as a slower version of instant messaging. I had email access on my phone and on my computer, and each of these devices notified me the instant a new message arrived. I then replied as soon as I possibly could, often feeling as though my work was not finished until I responded to every new email that arrived. This, as you can imagine, led to a sense of never feeling like I was “off-duty.” I am not alone in feeling exhausted by the “always-on” approach to email.1

All of this means that I am now using email as an electronic mailbox. Like my actual mailbox, I may check it occasionally throughout the day if I am expecting important information. Otherwise, I will likely only check it once or twice. This means that I no longer have email or internet access on my phone. (Pro-tip: you cannot really disconnect from email after-hours if you have any possible way of accessing it on your phone. iOS 10 allows you to delete the native Mail app and disable the App Store and disable Safari. I could not break my email-checking habit without making it impossible annoyingly difficult to check email on my device. You might need to do this as well.)

If you need to contact me immediately, you should probably give me a call. If you do not have my phone number, then I am probably not the person that is best equipped to handle your emergency.

If you are thinking, “I would love to do this, but my industry does not allow it,” then I would suggest two things:

(1) I thought the same thing; you are probably wrong, or

(2) You are right, but I imagine you can find a way to limit the “always-on” email mentality to regular work hours.

 

  1. See Fortune Magazine’s article “How Checking Email After Work Is Burning You Out” or read the results of one of studies it references: ”Anticipatory stress of after-hours email exhausting employees.”

Sermon: The Call of Abraham

Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, TX. September 18, 2016

Genesis 12:1-9

Sermon: Righlty Ordered Loves

Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, TX. June 26, 2016

1 Kings 19 | Luke 9

Sermon: An end that is a beginning

Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, TX. May 15, 2016 (Pentecost)

Acts 2:1-11 | John 20:19-23

 

Archbishop Justin’s Address to the General Synod

Thirdly, the future of the Communion requires sacrifice. The biggest sacrifice is that we cannot only work with those we like, and hang out with those whose views are also ours.  Groups of like-minded individuals meeting to support and encourage each other may be necessary, indeed often are very necessary, but they are never sufficient. Sufficiency is in loving those with whom we disagree. What may be necessary in the way of party politics, is not sufficient in what might be called the polity of the Church.

Watch or read the entire address here.

Sermon: From Law to Logos: The Sobering Beauty of Freedom in Christ

Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, TX

December 27, 2015 (First Sunday after Christmas)