One of the first things I learned as a new Christian was the importance of Bible study. And while knowledge of the Bible was a good thing in and of itself, I was told, the really critical thing was application – applying the Bible to my life. It was knowledge, yes; but it was also knowledge and application. It was faith, yes; but it was also faith demonstrated in works.
It sounds so simple and obvious. It is. But it’s not. The not-surprising thing is that we have to relearn this core understanding with each generation. What is surprising is how counter-cultural this idea actually is in practice.
And this is Christianity’s history as well. “In every place (where it has seen explosive growth),” writes T.E. Hanna in Raising Ephesus: Christian Hope for a Post-Christian Age, “Christianity was a powerful counter-cultural movement whose presence took root at the margins and whose impact derived not from privilege or influence, but from an embodiment of the life-transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.” Hanna points out that Christianity is not dying today, but its geographic center is shifting – from what we consider the Western nations to China and the nations of the South – South America and Africa.
It happened just this way in a city in the Roman Empire called Ephesus, near the Aegean coast of what we know today as Turkey. It is the idea of understanding, application, and growth – what empowers an individual’s faith and ultimately transform society and culture – that permeates Raising Ephesus, one of the best studies of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians that I’ve read.
Hanna divides his study of Paul’s letter into five parts: Remembering Hope; Recovering Identity; Redeeming Community; Reclaiming Mission; and personal application, which he calls Raising Ephesus. Each section combines solid understanding of the text and contemporary and often personal examples with a straightforward, engaging style. The study is easy to read, but that doesn’t mean is isn’t packed with insight.
One brief example: In the section of the study on Redeeming Community, Hanna points out how entrenched the myth of individualism is in Western and especially American culture. It’s so entrenched, in fact, that we think it must be in the Bible, somewhere. The myth has permeated the church. “This results,” he says, “in Christians who replace spiritual growth with isolated, self-help projects. These are Christians who believe they can serve God without having to actually seek God.” Ouch. And then he explains how Paul explained the concept of community to the Ephesians.
Hanna, who blogs at Of Dust and Kings (one of my favorite blog titles), is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary who is currently the pastor of a small congregation. He says this about himself at his blog: “I’m passionate about reclaiming authentic Christianity in the midst of a culture that has lost its way.” A relatively short work, the book also has an accompanying five-booklet devotional series entitled Ancient Faith for a Modern World.
Raising Ephesus is the kind of study that encourages me to hope Hanna will undertake similar studies. Solid, insightful, and full of understanding, it is also highly readable and applicable.
Painting: Miracles of St. Paul at Ephesus by Jean Restout (1693)