Did the Apostle Peter Really Write 2 Peter?

Here is a thorny question that Christians seldom consider, but it is pretty important: How do we know if the Apostle Peter actually wrote 2 Peter? Let us take a deep dive into exploring the answer.

Christians have long believed that there is an authoritative New Testament “canon”, or rule, by which the teachings of the church can be measured. Protestant scholars speak of the “self-authenticating” nature of Scripture, and Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scholars speak of the magisterial authority of popes and bishops that have received the twenty-seven books that we have in our New Testament canon.

However, many Christians wrongly assume that the table of contents in their Bibles were somehow dropped down out of heaven, like the tablets of Moses at Mount Sinai. Rather, the development of the New Testament canon was a process that happened over many decades during the history of the early church. The 2nd century heretic, Marcion, had first developed his own list of authoritative New Testament books, but others in the church believed that Marcion’s list was far too restrictive. Others proposed that certain popular books read in church could be included within the New Testament canon, but doubts arose as some questioned the apostolic authenticity of those certain books. It was not until the last quarter of the 4th century C.E. when the church across the Roman empire finally received our list of twenty-seven books.

How then was a book received into the New Testament canon? Generally, a New Testament book needed to conform to the “rule of faith,” a common body of teaching that could be traced back to the early apostles of the Christian movement. Furthermore, a New Testament book must have been authored by one of those early apostles, or someone who moved within that early circle of apostles.

This document, Papyrus Bodmer VIII, is considered to be the oldest copy of 2 Peter we possess. It is dated to the 3rd or 4th century. Scholars are divided as to the date the original manuscript for 2 Peter was written…along with actual identity of its author. (credit: Wikipedia)

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Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis. A Short Review

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, associated with turkey, stuffing, football, and time with family and friends. This year for me, it is also a time to remember some American history about the founding of the republic.

Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers is a Pultizer Prize winning book detailing some of the more important incidents in the founding years of America. Ellis relates to the reader several stories that show how men like Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others all worked together to form the American experiment. Sometimes those efforts were in harmony with one another, at other times, not so much. Such tales include the infamous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, and the story of how George Washington issued his famous “Farewell” address after serving as America’s first president.

I normally review books that have theologically-minded content, whereas Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation is mostly political history. But theological potent topics are not avoided by Ellis. The story of how the debate over slavery nearly divided the early American republic is carefully handled by Ellis, as appeals to the Bible were part of that contentious debate. That “revolutionary generation,” from Adams to Jefferson, was not able to resolve the issue, and they essentially agreed not to talk about it, preferring that the next generation handle the matter.

Ellis’ insights into the “founding brothers” reveals a wide-breadth of research. For example, I gained a better understanding as to how Thomas Paine, the author of the American Revolution’s most popular pamphlet, loaded with arguments from the Bible, Common Sense, became increasingly unpopular as a political critic. When Washington announced that he would no longer serve as president, due to failing health, Paine caustically wrote a newspaper article asking if Washington had become a traitor to the cause of the Revolution. Paine also prayed for the President’s imminent death! Wow. This little nugget of information helps to explain why Paine had the boldness to wage a full-scale attack against historically orthodox Christian faith, with his book promoting Deism, The Age of Reason.

George Washington has been remembered as someone who was “untouchable,” but the division between Washington and Paine illustrate the beginnings of partisanship that still plague our 2-party political system today, Washington being on the more “conservative” side and Paine on the more “liberal” side.

My favorite part of Founding Brothers was Ellis’ description of the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, during the early years of the American experiment. Adams and Jefferson, who eerily died the same day, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, were originally close friends during the Revolutionary War period. But their friendship broke apart when Adams served as President and Jefferson served as Vice President. It would take close to a decade before their friendship would begin to mend, through a series of letters shared back and forth between the two men, in the waning years of their lives.

My biggest take away from Founding Brothers was in realizing just how much these “founding brothers” had in common. Though very few of them would have considered themselves as fully embracing an historically orthodox commitment to the Christian faith, they nearly all largely held to a common Judeo-Christian worldview, with respect to the importance of public virtue and in sharing similar moral values. For example, while both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson viewed the Christian notion of the afterlife as being nothing more than a metaphor, both men embraced the moral teachings found within the New Testament as being foundational for the success of American democracy. It is difficult to imagine how the American experiment could ever be successfully re-created in our day, when so many fundamental assumptions linked between Western culture and Christianity are under contention, in popular discourse.

If you like learning about the history of the “Revolutionary Generation” you will enjoy Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers.


Still Time to Care: Moving from Cure to Care for Those with Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction

When did Christians move from an ethic of care to an ethic of cure of unwanted, same-sex attraction persons? And what can Christians do to move back towards an ethic of care?

These are the central questions addressed in pastor Greg Johnson’s Still Time to Care: What We Can Learn from the Church’s Failed Attempt to Cure HomosexualityBefore the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, talk about “homosexuality” was largely a taboo subject. But in Johnson’s book, he chronicles numerous anecdotes of Christian leaders caring for persons who experience unwanted, same-sex attraction, in those years.

 

How Christians A Few Decades Ago Cared For Same-Sex Attracted Persons

One of C.S. Lewis’ childhood friends, Arthur Greeves, would have then probably classified himself as a “homosexual.” Lewis, perhaps the most well-known English speaking Christian apologist of all time, greatly treasured his friendship with Greeves, above all others. When Lewis became a believer in Jesus, Lewis first entrusted his story of conversion to Christianity with Greeves. Even though Lewis fully supported the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, and Greeves never experienced a change in his sexual orientation, Lewis never wavered in his friendship with Arthur Greeves.

When Francis Schaeffer first entertained guests at L’Abri in the 1950s, many seekers of truth who struggled with unwanted same-sex attraction were welcomed at the famous Swiss Christian study center. Schaeffer’s focus was on engaging seekers with their larger faith questions, as opposed to singling out issues regarding sexuality. When a high-profile member of President Lyndon Johnson’s administration was outed out of the closet as being a homosexual, Reverend Billy Graham urged Johnson to have compassion on the man as a human being, as opposed to categorically rejecting him out of condemnation.

These are all examples that author Greg Johnson has in his book of Christian leaders, who while upholding the biblical teaching that reserves marriage as being between one man and one woman for one lifetime, nevertheless modeled how other Christians can serve others by choosing to care for those who experience unwanted same-sex attraction.

This all seemed to change by the late 1970s, when such efforts to care for others were replaced by efforts to cure homosexuality, by offering the promise to make homosexuals into becoming heterosexual.  The so-called “Ex-Gay” movement was born.

 

How the “Ex-Gay” Movement Changed the Popular Narrative for Christians… and How It Eventually Failed

At the head of the “Ex-Gay” movement was Exodus International, an umbrella organization encompassing many smaller ministries that sent the message that “change is possible,” suggesting that certain techniques could be followed that could change someone’s sexual orientation. Exodus International was dissolved in 2013, when its then president, Alan Chambers, publicly stated that Exodus had oversold its claim that “change is possible.”

What led to the rise and then ultimate fall of Exodus International? As the story unfolds in Still Time to Care, groups like Exodus International were using reparative therapy (what others call conversion therapy) to try to change someone’s sexual orientation. Reparative therapy is based on a controversial application of Freudian psychology, based on the assumption that homosexuality is a correctable mental health ailment. In 2012 however, Chambers had declared, after years of Exodus trying to use reparative therapy, that “the majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.” Popular media outlets, like with Netflix’ 2021 documentary Pray Away, features interviews with other former Exodus leaders coming to the same conclusion as Chambers (Unfamiliar with the documentary? Preston Sprinkle interviews Tony Scarcello about it on YouTube).

Author Greg Johnson uses the analogy of a “Potemkin Village” to describe what Exodus had tried and failed to achieve. In 1787, Grigory Potemkin was a provincial political authority in Crimea and a love interest in the Russian Empress, Catherine the Great. When Catherine the Great toured Crimea via boat along the Dnieper River, Potemkin sought to impress the Empress by dressing up peasants as wealthy merchants and setting up temporary village facades alongside the riverbanks, giving the illusion that the area was experiencing prosperity, despite the actual desperate poverty of the region. Once Catherine’s entourage left one of these temporary villages, Potemkin had his hired peasants breakdown the village facades and move them down the river ahead of Catherine, and then reassemble the same village in another location, in an effort to continue to impress Catherine as she resumed her river tour.

Exodus International, collaborating with other ministries like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, had for years paraded individuals at fund-raising events and conferences as examples of those whose orientation had changed from gay to straight. In many if not most of these cases, those same individuals would later renounce their “conversions” as yet mere facades, repeated examples of a Potemkin Village. Tragically, Johnson also documents other former Exodus leaders who committed suicide, to further hide the shame of such facade conversions to heterosexuality.

The meteoric rise and fall of many Exodus leaders and the rebound effect throughout the larger culture has been nothing short of spectacular, particularly over the last decade. For example, when President Obama first took office in 2009, he was publicly committed to honoring traditional marriage as being between one man and one woman. But by the end of Obama’s second term, the broader cultural views about marriage had dramatically shifted, along with the President’s. Prohibitions against same-sex marriage, at the federal level, were declared unconstitutional. The language of “LGBTQ” was no longer a taboo in polite, civil conversation, becoming an accepted dimension of post-modern culture. All of this happened during those waning years of Exodus International’s dissolution.

Estimates vary, but Johnson notes that about 700,000 persons over a near 50 year period went through some sort of reparative therapy. Various studies over that period indicate that despite recorded claims of high-success rates, the actual success rate for changing one’s sexual orientation has been extremely low, perhaps as low as 2%. That means that some 98% of those 700,000 persons have walked away from reparative therapy with an extremely disillusioned, if not outright angry attitude towards the “Ex-Gay” movement.

 

Changing the Emphasis From “Becoming Heterosexual” to “Becoming Holy”

Pastor Greg Johnson laments the once well-intended yet ultimate failure of reparative therapy organizations. But he is hopeful that Christians can and are returning to an ethic of care, as opposed to an ethic of cure. The goal for ministry with those who experience unwanted sexual attraction should not be to try to “pray the gay away,” and convert someone from being a homosexual to becoming heterosexual. Rather, the emphasis should be on becoming holy.

What makes Still Time to Care so invaluable a resource is that pastor Greg Johnson himself is one of those persons who experiences unwanted same-sex attraction. However, instead of following the cultural trend affirming same-sex marriage, Johnson still believes in the traditional, Christian sexual ethic of marriage being between a man and a woman, for a lifetime. For those like Johnson, this might mean a life of celibacy, surrounded by supportive friends. For others, it might mean living in a mixed-orientation marriage, where one spouse is heterosexual and the other is not.

Johnson believes that even those like himself can flourish as Christians and human beings, while seeking to mortify the flesh against the spiritually devastating effects of sin, and by resisting temptation. However, the key to doing this is by being apart of Christian communities that offer emotional and spiritual support along that journey towards sanctification and holiness. In other words, one can live without sex but you can not live without friends.

While many churches wrestle with the wider cultural trends to affirm same-sex marriage, and entire denominations are splitting over the issue, Still Time to Care offers a vision for historically, orthodox Christians to return to an ethic of care, inviting people to share their stories and be a part of authentic Christian community.

Greg Johnson’s Still Time to Care offers a history of how the “Ex-Gay” movement created a Potemkin Village for almost 50 years, a great facade to look at, but not much really behind it.

Sadly, too many Christians still get hung up over terminology. Granted, most sensitive thinkers tend to shy away from terminology like “homosexual,” as that term sounds too clinical and impersonal. However, when it comes to historically orthodox-minded believers in the midst of the struggle, should such persons be called “celibate gay Christians,” “single gay Christians,” or “Christians who experience same-sex attraction?”

There are some who argue that any of the above language is somehow still a concession to worldliness, and therefore inappropriate for Christians to use about themselves. Thankfully, there are newer Christian ministries, like Revoice, that are trying to help Christians move past such debates over terminology and towards providing supportive communities for believers at all stages along the journey. Greg Johnson’s message is hopeful: Yes, there is still time to care!

 

Moving From a “Sexual Prosperity Gospel” to a Gospel of Care

Lest someone think that books like Still Time to Care represent some type of “trojan horse,” a harmful ideology being injected subversively into the church, one should note that Greg Johnson includes a whole chapter carefully dismantling the revisionist arguments presented by those like Western Seminary’s James Brownson, in his Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships, and Karen Keen’s Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships. For example, Brownson borrows from William Webb’s “redemptive-movement hermeneutic” argument to make his case for same-sex marriage. Keen states in her book “The biblical authors don’t write about the morality of consensual same-sex relationships as we know them today…. To say that the biblical authors object to prostitution or pederasty is not to say that the authors object to monogamous, covenanted relationships.”  Sadly, a wide range of evangelicals, including former Christianity Today editor David Neff, author Tony Campolo, the late Rachel Held Evans, and MOPS speaker Jen Hatmaker have embraced such revisionist arguments, thus undermining an historically orthodox sexual ethic. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.  (See this short essay by Johnson summarizing his critique of this form of revisionism).

Christians, who desire to uphold the historic Scriptural teaching on marriage, may still find themselves at a loss in terms of how to care for persons, experiencing such sexual attractions, who either embrace revisionist views on Christian marriage, or who reject Christianity outright. The old Christian adage of “loving the sinner, and yet hating the sin,” can ring very hollow in the ears of those disillusioned by the unthoughtful efforts of Christians to try to change them. However, one can still have a positive relationship with someone else, even if there is no agreement on the definition of marriage. Learning to care about others does not necessarily entail having perfect agreement on these matters. Rather, caring does require learning how to listen to others, and empathizing with their story.

Is change still possible, for altering someone’s same-sex orientation? I would not want to preclude the idea that God performs miracles (I believe God does), but we must very careful here: My conclusion from reading Still Time to Care is that yes, it might be possible, but not likely. That might sound pessimistic, but it is better to be realistic than misleading people with a false hope, however well-intentioned it is. We can not try to “force God’s hand” to do something which does not appear to be within his sovereign plan and purpose. Furthermore, even if some do claim a radical transformation, in terms of sexual orientation change, it is wholly inappropriate to promise that everyone will have such an experience.

Just as the “prosperity gospel” offers a false hope that any and everyone who follows Jesus will have the best health, the best career, the best automobile, and the best marriage, and so on, so it is with a “sexual prosperity gospel” associated with the “Ex-Gay” movement, that promises that following some religious formula will automatically lead to a sexual orientation change. An inappropriate emphasis on seeking after such change can be a setup for future failure, in a person’s walk with Jesus.

Though some still cling to the optimistic aspirations of the “Ex-Gay” movement, focusing on sexual orientation change, like Andrew Comiskey’s Desert Stream Ministries, Andrew Rodriguez’ PyschoBible, and Stephen Black’s First Stone Ministries, and others affiliated with the Restored Hope Network, the personal failures left in the wake of Exodus International’s demise have left a negative taste in the mouth of thousands and thousands of people, a tragic situation which is difficult to ignore. Admittedly, even those in the Restored Hope Network are shying away from reparative therapy these days, while still pursuing other possible avenues for change. The sad tales that Still Time to Care documents continues to serve as warnings for us all.

On the other hand, efforts like pastor Greg Johnson to promote care, as opposed to cure, are welcomed by those disillusioned with the “Ex-Gay” movement. A renewed emphasis on listening, community, and encouraging friendships is deeply needed, particularly as hostility towards historically orthodox Christians views on marriage increase in our culture. We need a new generation of C.S. Lewis’, Francis Schaeffer’s, and Billy Graham’s who can demonstrate what it really means to care for others in the name of Jesus.

Look here for more information about Greg Johnson’s book, Still Time to Care. I listened to the audio version of the book, but  the print and Kindle versions of the book should be released in December, 2021.

For more posts on this topic, please consider the following blog entries at Veracity:

Looking for more help if you struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction, or if someone you love has that struggle?

  • The Revoice Conference. Sponsors an annual conference where fellow Christians, who experience same-sex attraction, but who want to uphold the historic Christian ethic can find support.
  • The Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender. Directed by author and theologian Preston Sprinkle, the Center provides valuable resources for parents, individuals and churches, in the areas of sexuality and gender identity, with endorsements from trusted authors and leaders like Jackie Hill Perry, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, and Karen Swallow Prior.

Halloween is Not Pagan

All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, is upon us again, along with a plethora of social media stories about the supposed pagan origins of Halloween. A quick Google search gives you countless reports of Halloween originating from an Irish Celtic new year festival, Samhain, and being connected to ancient pagan worship practices. I remember first hearing this story given by a well-meaning local pastor who visited a Christian college fellowship back in the 1980s.

Admittedly, I can understand why many Christians today have serious misgivings about Halloween. As a high school teenager years ago, I was part of the problem. When I could hear young trick or treaters walking down our street, I would put my Pink Floyd Echoes album on my turntable, and crank up the speakers to scare the kids. Halloween has indeed become a time of mischief, and the glorification of the occult.

However, if you take a closer look at history, the development of these darker traditions and celebrations popularized by contemporary Wiccan and neopagan groups actually originated in a mishmash of superstitions and religious practices that have arisen since the 19th century, primarily here in America. Contrary to the popular idea that Christians “stole” Halloween from pagan cults, like the Druids, the real origin of Halloween goes back hundreds of years prior to today’s “trick or treating,” when Pope Gregory in the 9th century instigated the move of the Western date for All Saints Day from the springtime to November 1st. This had nothing to do with the Irish Celts. If anything, the Irish more probably picked up the November 1st date from the English, as the Irish were known for celebrating All Saints Day on April 20, which is actually closer to the Christian practice in the springtime, more common in the Christian East.

Christian apologist and YouTuber Michael Jones at Inspiring Philosophy has a helpful short video sorting out fact from fiction about Halloween. For a concise and highly educational article summarizing the same, I would recommend a new blog post by Tim O’Neill at HistoryForAtheists, who specializes in debunking bad history being promoted by atheists and other skeptics.

In the meantime, have a wonderful All Saints Day (and its eve), which might better be remembered as Reformation Day!


Introducing… The Cambridge House at the College of William & Mary

What is a “Christian Study Center?”

Tracing back to Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s L’Abri, there is now a growing movement to establish centers for Christian study, physical presences near leading American universities, where conversations can take place to engage the secular campus with the story of the historic Christian faith. In fact, a new one is being established near the Williamsburg, Virginia campus of the College of William and Mary. It is called the Cambridge House, and I am excited to be part that movement.

According to Charles E. Cotherman, author of, To Think Christianly: A History of L’Abri, Regent College, and the Christian Study Center Movement, a “Christian Study Center” is a “local Christian community dedicated to the spiritual, intellectual and relational flourishing via the deep cultivation of deep spirituality, intellectual and artistic engagement, and the cultivation of hospitable presence. To be a study center, each of these four elements — spiritual, intellectual, relational, and spatial — must be cultivated” (Cotherman, p. 8).

What was just a few generations ago only a higher education opportunity made available to the cultural elite, has now become almost a rite of passage to adulthood, for a growing number of Americans across diverse backgrounds. The college students of today will become the social, political, business, and intellectual leaders of tomorrow. What part will Christians today have in having conversations that shape the kind of world we will live in 20 to 30 years from now?

I agree with Cotherman that Christian study centers are a vital component for connecting Christians in a local community with the world of their neighboring college campus to make those conversations happen. In the forward to To Think Christianly, Ken Elzinga, an economist at the University of Virginia, and one of the leading founders of the Center for Christian Study in Charlottesville, Virginia, observes that what makes a “study center” unique is that it is a center, a “place having a geographical footprint.” Such a center is a “safe place” where one can bring their disagreements and doubts, to meet with the scornful Nathaniels who ask “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?,” (John 1:46) as well as the doubting Thomas’ who wonder if the resurrection of Jesus is really true.

Furthermore, a “study center” is not just about students, but it is also a place for Christian faculty and college staff to congregate, and build a wide-ranging experience of community.

Unlike the many campus ministries, like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and CRU, that often require working with the local university for obtaining meeting space, a “Christian study center” is owned by a non-profit entity, to make such a space available, ideally within walking distance of a college campus. In the case of the new Cambridge House at the College of William and Mary, at 930 Jamestown Road, this new center is just a five minute walk away from the Mason School of Business, and around the corner from the student Ludwell apartment building complex.

But a “Christian study center” is more than a place for stimulating conversation, as it can be a place for prayer, and a place for meditation and study, a short distance away from the hustle and bustle of a college campus. It can also be a place for exploring one’s vocation, to help discern God’s calling for an individual or group in our world.

Finally, according to Elzinga, a “study center” is irenic, “marked by relational warmth and hospitality.” Instead of viewing a secular university as an adversary, a “Christian study center” can engage the campus environment as a partner in dialogue, to help move conversations forward, for the benefit of all, believer and non-believer alike.

As the Cambridge House at William and Mary gets established, having a book like To Think Christianly available now helps to provide the historical context for understanding why several dozen study centers are starting to pop-up across college and university towns across the country. After all, what does it mean “to think Christianly?”

Cotherman examines the history of this movement by first focusing on the story of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, and the work of L’Abri, an alpine retreat center at a Swiss chalet founded by the Schaeffer’s in the mid-1950s. The Schaeffer’s were a product of mid-20th century American fundamentalism, when denominational bickering and Francis Schaeffer’s own crisis of faith led this missionary couple to establish L’Abri, which is French for “the shelter.”

Francis and Edith Schaeffer opened up their Swiss home to young people over the following decades, offering hospitality for short-term guests, as well as opportunities to work for the upkeep of the center for longer-term visitors and future staff. Edith in particular took great care to make sure dining ware placement at meals was done with excellence, with attention to detail, as conversation over meals were an essential part of the L’Abri experience. Francis had an appreciation for the history of art, providing many opportunities for conversation among philosophically inclined skeptics. This was no sterile classroom setting, but rather, a living, breathing community that put out the welcome mat for all seekers of truth.

But what the Schaeffer’s became most known for were for the talks given at L’Abri, and the informal conversations that followed, discussing the implications of a Christian worldview with respect to contemporary challenges to such faith in the 20th century. The content of these talks eventually became the substance of books published by InterVarsity Press, which led the Schaeffer’s towards giving lectures across the evangelical world.

In the early years, the Schaeffer’s L’Abri was a “faith-based” ministry, not asking others directly for funds, but rather, the Schaeffers appealed to God in prayer for the Lord to meet all of their needs. By the 1970s, as word of L’Abri spread and brought many more guests into the fold, and the “counter-cultural movement” was in fashion, Francis ‘”took to wearing beige Nehru jackets, odd linen shirts, and mountain climbing knickers” while wearing his hair long and growing a goatee‘ (Cotherman, p. 39). Through the Schaeffer’s, Christ was meeting the counter-culture!

But Cotherman’s story only begins there with L’Abri. Cotherman also chronicles the work of James Houston to establish Regent College in Vancouver, and the subsequent development of the Cornerstone house at the University of Maryland and the C.S. Lewis Institute. Begun in the late 1960’s, Houston’s work at Regent College paralleled L’Abri, but also differed in substantial ways. L’Abri was located away from university settings whereas Houston believed that study centers were best served by being located adjacent to a college campus. Houston was an academic, having done advanced degree work in geography, whereas Francis Schaeffer had no academic training beyond his theological studies. Schaeffer gained most of his knowledge of modern philosophy and art from magazines, as opposed to reading peer-reviewed scholarship found in academic books.

James Houston was concerned that Schaeffer’s L’Abri tended towards creating a type of evangelical celebrity culture and intellectual isolation, whereby a teaching “guru” like Schaeffer was the center of discussion. Alternatively, Houston believed that study centers should participate in academic discussions on college campuses, and he worked towards having a good relationship with the nearby University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, even himself teaching classes there on occasion.

Houston’s vision for Regent College was primarily oriented towards lay education, as opposed to providing seminary education for ordained clergy, thus making theological teaching available to a wider spectrum of people. Part of the early, original ideal was to offer a one-year program of study, particularly for recent college graduates to participate in, before pursuing careers in a variety of professions. By focusing on lay persons, study centers like Regent College, and others, have been able to side-step the thorny issue of women’s ordination, and have continued to improve over the years in providing opportunities for both young men and women to grow deeper in their faith and intellectual life as Christians, living out their vocations in a secular world, as well finding new ways to diversify the ethnic and racial make-up of their communal lives.

The Cambridge House, at the Crossroads, at 930 Jamestown Road, in Williamsburg, Virginia. With close proximity to the campus of the College of William and Mary, the Cambridge House is one of the newest Christian study centers.

Cotherman, to varying degrees, also tells the stories of other study centers, such as New College Berkeley, in California, and R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Valley Study Center in Stahlston, Pennsylvania. The example of R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier is particularly insightful, as it shows some of the challenges that study centers face in figuring out what type of focus each study center should take. There are a wide-variety of approaches!

R.C. Sproul had been forced to delay the completion of his doctoral work in theology at the Free University in Amsterdam, due to family emergencies. This event triggered a series of decisions that helped him to cross paths with Francis Schaeffer, and consider establishing a L’abri-like study center in Stahlston, Pennsylvania.  This Ligonier study center sought to offer a wide variety of classes and seminars aimed at providing good, intellectual Christian content, not often found in local churches, while seeking to create a hospitable environment for speakers to share their lives together with their students. In those early part of the 1970s, Ligonier attracted well-known evangelical Christian speakers to offer talks, that had a cross-denominational appeal, albeit leaning towards a Reformed theological tradition.

Ligonier was able to take advantage in the growth of technology, to get R. C. Sproul’s Ligonier content out to a wider-audience, and video-tape recording made this development possible. But as Ligonier’s influence as a study center grew, it also changed its style and focus for ministry. Opening up the homes of speakers for Christian hospitality gave way to a more formalized approach for Ligonier. In the early days of video taping R.C. Sproul’s talks, Sproul appeared nicely tanned, sporting a countercultural appeal with plaid pants, turtlenecks, sunglasses, and long hair. But by the time Ligonier moved their operations to Orlando, Florida, in the 1980s, Sproul was appearing before taped classes with a polished suit and tie look. Gone were the days when volleyball games were followed by casual meals around a dinner table, that allowed for deep spiritual conversation. Now, large, well-attended conferences were giving evangelical audiences a hefty, hearty diet of theological training for which they were starving to receive.

Is a study center a place for theological and philosophical discussion? A place where Christians and skeptics can ask their questions? A place for prayer? A place for hospitality? A place for Christian learning? The answer for each of these questions can indeed be “yes,” but each study center wrestles with trying to flesh out what is distinctive to each discrete instance of a study center. The value in reading To Think Christianly is in helping people interested in the study center movement to tie all of these things together.

All of this serves in Cotherman’s story as the backdrop for the eventual late 1970’s founding of the Center for Christian Study, in Charlottesville, Virginia, adjacent to the University of Virginia campus. The Charlottesville house has served as an intriguing model for what study centers across the country can do, in the local campus communities. Over the years, the Charlottesville house has offered residential living for students, a large library filled with Christian books and material for deeper study, quiet study areas for students as well as kitchens for providing meals and snacks, meeting spaces for prayer groups and Bible study groups, and even a Christian bookstore.

In the wake of its success, a Consortium of Christian Study Centers, originally led by Drew Trotter, was formed, and the Cambridge House near the College of William and Mary is among the Consortium’s newest members. In Virginia, the Cambridge House joins other new study centers near campuses like the University of Richmond, and Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg. What will the Cambridge House eventually look like, in terms of its distinctives? All of this depends on how God moves among the students, faculty, staff, and local churches and interested individuals, in figuring out how to invest in this exciting experiment.

Check out the Cambridge House Christian Study Center today, near the campus of the College of Wiliam and Mary!


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