Updated: Sep 14
Objects tell a story.
An old low German Bible, pieces of sea glass, and an arrow head; Tanzanian fabric that hang as curtains, a small Zanzibari wood chest, a stuffie that slept with my daughter all three months we were in hospital. These objects sit on my shelves and around my home, reminding me of people, of seasons in my life and lessons I've learned along the way.
These are pieces of my history, my family's history.
There are tangible historical objects available for us to view in museums across the world. They too act as pieces of remembrance, teaching us how history has shaped the world today.
Tim Challies embarked on a project to “travel the world to search for historical objects that tell the story of Christianity.”
He ventured to 5 continents, visiting museums, buildings, meeting with various people along the way, to tell us “the epic story of what God has done and continues to do in our world today.”
Many of these objects I may never have known existed, or wouldn’t have thought twice about. From the Augusta Prima Porta statue in Rome, Thomas Cranmer’s Shackle in England, to David Livingstone’s Writing Box in Zambia, Challies takes us across the world to discover these objects, and the stories that they leave behind for believers today.
These objects remind us of 5 stories that we hear, both in Scripture and through history:
1. God Preserves His Word
We see through the Book of Kells, the Gutenberg Bible, Erasmus’s New Testament, and the Tyndale Bible, the great care God has taken to preserve His Word through the generations. We see how it has been translated, made widely available, and the cost it took for it to be available to us in this way. The last chapter of the book is about the YouVersion Bible app, which now puts Scripture at the fingertips of everyone with a smartphone. Challies reflects,
"we are reminded that you and I are Christians today only because God has preserved his Word, the Bible."
What an amazing privilege we have as believers, to carry God's Word with us. May we be people whose "delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night" (Psalm 1:2).
2. Faithful preaching of God’s Word
Revivals and reformation led by teaching true to the Word of God has spurred on the Christian faith over the centuries, shaping who we are and who we are becoming. The legacies of John Knox, John Calvin, Martin Luther and Billy Graham show us that great preachers have carried the message of the Gospel, sometimes through very difficult times, bearing fruit for His kingdom. We are reminded that,
“All God needs to carry out his work is a faithful believer who will faithfully preach his gospel”
Will we continue this legacy and be faithful to His Word, and faithful to carry its message in this time and this season?
3. Steadfastness in Suffering
Here's a story that we often find hard to face. The presence of suffering in our world. We need not look further than our Savior to recall that God's purposes are sometimes fulfilled in suffering. We see through the life of Marie Durand, Thomas Cranmer, John Bunyan and Nate Saint, that the willingness of God's people to suffer has the divine ability to further His kingdom work. Challies notes that,
“Because the gospel’s greatest advances often are met with the greatest suffering, it’s also a story of God sovereignly using suffering for his purposes and for the advance of his mission.”
May we reflect on the model of Christ, and the faithfulness of these believers in the midst of persecution and suffering, to trust God's purposes in our own lives and also be willing to endure suffering for the sake of the Gospel.
4. Unity of Believers
Hymns that were written by John Wesley, generous gifts that were bestowed by a wealthy Countess, the blessings, talents and abilities God has given us prove a stark reminder of the unity among the church.
“Wesley’s simple organ reminded me that when I stand to sing and worship today, I do not stand alone.”
The Countess of Huntington gave very generously out of her wealth to support missions, evangelists and seminary students. The gifts God has given to us are meant to serve those around us, and through the lives of these, we recall the privilege to serve others with what we are given.
5. The Sobering Reality of Sin
By far the Slave Bible impacted me the most. I did not know that this object existed. That Christians would modify a Bible, in order to preserve their practice of slavery is a piece of Christian history that has left a legacy in much need of confession, repentance and reconciliation. Challies writes,
“Far from an object to celebrate, it’s a sober reminder of the lengths human beings will go to hide and cover their sin…it told me of the evils of slavery and the long legacy of this horrific practice within “Christian” nations. Knowing that this great evil was often perpetuated by those who called themselves after the name of Christ humbled me. Likewise, considering that many of those who disagreed with slavery remained silent rather than risk their reputation by speaking up humbled me. And the Slave Bible reminded me that Christians must teach and know and proclaim the whole counsel of God in every generation.”
Given the current events, it seems fitting to continue learning about this painful part of Christian history, to recognize what has happened in the past, and bend our knees before the Father. My unawareness of the slave bible somewhat proves a point, that my lack of understanding and knowledge about history leaves me ignorant to the grieving of generations before me, prodding a more intentional approach to listen and learn.
I thought this book was a very interesting read. I give it 5 stars. It is one I will come back to, and one I will read with my kids to help them discover different parts of the world and the believers who have gone before us to glorify God in their work, their suffering and their gifts.
This book will be of interest for the believer who wants to learn more about church history through a discovery of objects around the world. There are 33 chapters, each are short and manageable for a quick read. A video documentary was also put together, which you can find at www.epicchristianhistory.com (the video on the trip to India was free to watch click here).
These tangible pieces of history represent the work of God in the world, spanning continents, crossing cultures and enduring through chaos.
How does the epic story of what God has done, impact you today?
Thanks to Zondervan and Netgalley for the advanced reader copy of this book, and the opportunity to post an honest review!