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Robert C. Cooley Center Fall Lecture

Please join us on Tuesday, October 27, at 7:00 PM on the Charlotte campus, for our annual Fall lecture event.  This year, Dr. Donald Fairbairn, the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity and Director of the Cooley Center, will deliver a lecture entitled, Orthodoxy and Heresy in the Early Church: What Did It Mean to Win?

It is often said that “history is written by the winners.” When people make this claim, what they normally mean is that the groups that won out politically in any given conflict gained the privilege of writing the history of that conflict from their point of view. That is correct, but there is another important dimension to the writing of history that gets little attention, but is very important to Christians who care deeply about truth.  This is the fact that history as written today is written by today’s winners, the scholars who are in cultural ascendancy within the realms of academia today. And for the most part, those in cultural ascendancy today believe that “orthodoxy” and “heresy” were arbitrary constructs in the early church. To most scholars, it makes no difference whether this group or that group was right in a given controversy within the early church, either because those scholars believe “right” doesn’t mean anything—all theological or religious “truths” are just as valid—or because those scholars don’t believe there is any spiritual reality to begin with—the material is all that exists. In other words, most scholars are relativists or materialists, and they can’t even imagine that esoteric theological disputes could make any real difference. So they assume that the winners of the disputes must have won merely because of political factors.

The need, then, is to recognize that today’s cultural winners—the ones who write most of today’s histories of the origins of Christianity—fundamentally disagree both with us—Christians who believe there is such a thing as truth and that truth matters for the salvation of the world—and with everyone in the early church. No one—whether called “orthodox” or “heretic” in ancient times—believed that it didn’t matter what one believed about God or mankind. Everyone believed that the salvation of anyone depended on God’s really being the way they claimed he was.  In contrast to today’s “winners,” then, the entire early church believed that the great theological struggles mattered, because God had to be this way in order to save us. So for them, to “win” meant “to be right about who God is, who Christ is, who we are before God.” And we agree with them, in sharp contrast to most scholars who write today’s history that then trickles down to what you read in books and news magazines, see on the History and Discovery channels, etc.

This lecture will explore what it meant then—and what it means now—to “win.” In the process, the focus of this lecture is to help strengthen our confidence that the way the church has told the story of God and the Bible—and its own story—is true.

For any questions concerning the event, please contact Mark Poe at [email protected]