Growing up Protestant, I had a distorted view of Christian history. I essentially believed that after the death of the last apostle, the teachings of Jesus were quickly distorted and even lost, not to be recovered until Martin Luther proclaimed them in the sixteenth century. And without much though about the intervening centuries, I assumed that my twentieth-century Protestant beliefs fell right in line with Jesus and Luther. The span of years 100-1500 and 1540-1980 were theological black holes of history.
Of course, this view is full of problems. For one, it completely denigrates or ignores centuries of great saints and theologians who grappled to understand and explain Christian doctrine. The work of theological giants like Athanasius, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas is thrown aside like a used McDonald’s wrapper. The work of a few men—the Reformers—is held up as an example, but even then this distorted history, commonly held among Protestants, forgets that they depended on many before them, and that Protestant teaching today goes well beyond them.
As I grew older and my study of history became more comprehensive, I realized how stunted my previous understanding was. And as I looked into the history of Christian doctrine more deeply, a disturbing question surfaced: does doctrine change over time?