E: Erasmus: The First Emergent Christian?

His last name was Erasmus. I imagine you’d prefer to be known by your last name, too, if your first name was Desiderius. But actually, he chose his name for himself! He had been born Gerrit Gerritszoon, which is Dutch for Gerard Gerardson. His parents died while he was still a child, and he spent six years being educated in a monastery. Later, as an adult, he was a Greek professor at Cambridge. In 1516 he published his annotated Greek New Testament – one of the first ever. He was reviled within the Catholic community because he criticized abuses within the Church and called for reform (though he was a priest and remained a Catholic his whole life). The arising Protestants, too, treated him hostilely, because he interpreted Scripture and Early Church Fathers from a humanist, rational perspective, but still rejected the idea of “faith alone” and retained a respect for traditional faith and the authority of the pope.  

Erasmus was not fully accepted by either side of the Church; nevertheless, questions raised in his annotated New Testament were influential in both the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counterreformation. This man loved God, and it is quite evident that he loved God’s Word. His individual, middle-of-the-road way of seeing things was not popular. This is sad, since he might have been a bridge-builder between those of faith who were not seeing eye-to-eye in theological matters. 

This kind-of reminds me of contemporary “emerging” or “emergent” Christians, which come from and/or exist within many mainline Protestant groups. The great and psowerful Oz that is Wikipedia says, “What those involved in the conversation [of emerging Christianity] mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community.” The emerging Church is associated with names from both conservative and liberal wings, such as Dan Kimball, Rob Bell, Donald Miller, Phyllis Tickle, and Brian McLaren.  

[To give a brief definition and a point of clarification, I’ll mention that in his 2007 ChristianityToday article Scot McKnight pointed out that the emergING church is a global, church-centered movement of Christians contextualizing their faith into their postmodern surroundings, while the EmergenT stream is an actual organization of the intellectual and philosophical network of the wider movement. However, the terms are often used interchangeably.] 

In Fall 2008 I took a World Christian History course wherein I learned a couple of things that first turned me in an “emerging” direction, and still influence my thoughts today.  

1) I learned that in the Catholic Church, icons/iconoclasts and many other elements of the worship service, including Communion, were first used as tangible means of teaching discipleship through the senses to predominantly illiterate people. This makes “sense” (pun intended) – people retain more of what they see, hear, and DO than they retain of what they see, hear, or see and hear, without doing. Music, liturgy, memorizable catechisms, ornate stained glass windows – these were all ways of reinforcing theological and devotional meaning to ordinary Christians. 

2) I once asked about evangelistic methods used during medieval times, and the professor replied there were none; there was no evangelism. I naturally inquired why, and he replied that nominal Christianity was the standard back then. A nation declared its religion, and all its citizens were sort-of “grandfathered in,” if you will. If a nation was a “Christian nation,” all its citizens were Christians, thus all were presumably going to heaven, thus there was no need for evangelism.  

This got me thinking. Most people were illiterate…they only knew about God what their priests and religious authorities taught them. Certainly all these people did not go to hell?! Certainly those who did their best to live devoutly and “Christianly” were, as we call it, saved! AND, in direct contrast to what I was taught growing up, the elements of Catholic worship (such as icons) were not idolatrous! They were introduced so people could have a tangible, visible reminder of their faith! So…shocker!...adherents to my own denomination were not the only people who loved God (or whom God loved, for that matter). 

This was the beginning of my broader thinking about who constitutes the Kingdom of God.

Mother Teresa is my favorite. I thought this was a
great icon by Marysia Kowalchyk.


  1. Thanks for a most pleasurable read. Much of the information I didn't know. We learn something new every day.


  2. Wow-so informative! Visiting from the A-Z today...I like your theme!


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