Mission of Unlikely Pilgrims-Dan

We are the most unlikely of pilgrims.  We serve our nations, our communities and our cultures with a selfless love.  However we do belong to these places.  We are only serving these places as we journey to our home.  By the Holy Spirit we were made to not belong here, so that we might be part of God’s redemptive plan to reclaim these places for his kingdom not yet come.

Our pilgrimage is quite unusual as we are not from the kingdom to which we are traveling.  Having been born in this world, the Holy Spirit has born us again to a new world.  CS Lewis paints a compelling metaphor with the Pevensy children who belonged to England in the 1940’s.  In the moment Aslan brought them to Narnia, he made London foreign and Narnia home.  Yet when they returned to London they had to live as Aslan’s representatives in a city that was now foreign.  It was Christ who made the Roman world foreign to his disciples the moment he called them.  As citizens of the New Jerusalem Peter, Paul, and John obeyed their authorities and suffered ignominy as outsiders, yet cared for the people around them.  The Christian has hard work to do as he serves his king in a foreign land. 

The Christian, however, is not alone on this journey.  According to Augustine and Paul, the Christian is part of a historic pilgrim community called the Church which the Holy Spirit has built upon the Scriptures.  The Church, the expression of Christ’s kingdom and culture, is a a home away from home for his people in every nation around the world and across the millennia since his ascension.  Thus Christians should seek to learn from those who, in ages past, committed themselves to this same journey.  For that matter literature, philosophy, art, music and a host of other disciplines provide ample opportunities through which to develop the wisdom necessary for remaining true citizens of Christ’s kingdom while living in the city of man.  All these resources must be understood in the light of the Holy Scriptures which lay out the history, culture, theology, and philosophy of our heavenly citizenship. 

Thus as unlikely pilgrims our responsibility is to navigate or negotiate the cities of man so that we remain true citizens of Christ’s kingdom while serving well the cities we temporarily inhabit.  It might be the tendency of pilgrims to try to become the leaders of the world so that they might transform the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of their God.  But this is not the Christian position.  We are ever foreigners.  Through our jobs, our political engagement, and our social positions we work to achieve a diplomatic footing which allows us to advance the good causes our cultures take up while always remaining true to our King’s values.  In one sense we are outsiders to both places of residence.  We are outsiders to the cities of man that we must inhabit on pilgrimage, and expatriates to the kingdom of heaven we serve it in exile. 

And so we are unlikely pilgrims on their way to an unlikely kingdom.  We belong to the King of all creation who will not establish his final kingdom by annihilating all human kingdoms but rather by redeeming them through his sacrifice.  We follow our King while we live in the nations that will one day be the nations of our God and King.   

Mission of Unlikely Pilgrims-Mark

Why Unlikely Pilgrims

In a world that is becoming more polarized by the day and where there is so much vitriol online, we seek to provide a space for winsome dialogue.  We desire to be a place where we embrace, Pilgrim theology (theologia viatorum) or as we like to call it, humble theology.  The origins of pilgrim theology can be found in the writings of the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”  Paul informs us that our knowledge about the things of God in this life will always be inferior to what our knowledge will be in the heavenly realms.  Rooted in Hebrews 13:14, “For here we do not have a permanent city, but we are looking for the city that is to come,” St Augustine picked up on this concept in his work, The City of God where he shows the believer is always on pilgrimage and seeking understanding while longing for their true heavenly homeland.  Thomas Aquinas referred to this theology on pilgrimage as in via (on the way) as we seek our knowledge in patria, (in the heavenly home.) 

Reformed theologians building on medieval theology, developed pilgrim theology further. One of the best examples of this was, Franciscus Junicus, A Treatise on True Theology, where Junicus differentiated between archetypal theology, the knowledge of God that is only known by God and ectypal theology which is theology known by humanity.  He further differentiated between ectypal theology before the fall and after the fall when human knowledge and reason became tainted by sin.  In keeping with this reformed tradition of pilgrim theology, more recently Michael Horton has entitled his systematic theology, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way.  For Horton, pilgrim theology should by nature be humble theology because pilgrims should be aware of their limitations due to being created and a fallen creation to boot.

We believe, pilgrim theology is not only humble theology, it is also sapiential theology or wisdom theology.  The pilgrim is one who is engaged in faith seeking understanding.  Jarslav, Pelikan describes the pilgrimage this way.  Christian doctrine (or understanding) is what the church believes, teaches, and confesses as it prays and suffers, serves and obeys, celebrates and awaits the coming of the kingdom of God. God’s people should be people are humbly seeking wisdom and understanding.

While pilgrim theology can be the individual pilgrim or the collection of pilgrims, the church, understanding theology while on pilgrimage, we can also study the history of pilgrims on pilgrimage or Historical Theology or Church History.  There are valuable asserts to be mined studying how God’s people developed their understanding of God over the course of 2000 years.  As Dan and I are both historians we seek to use this story of pilgrimage to better understand how we should be doing pilgrim theology in the 21st century. 

We are “unlikely” because God always chooses his pilgrims from the margins.  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, that God revealed the gospel to the lowly and that the gospel is foolishness to the wise and lofty. Those God has elected to be pilgrims are called to accept a gospel that is absurd to the powerful.  We are fools for Christ.  Even in the body of Christ, it is often those on the margins who are best positioned to do pilgrim theology. Therefore, we need to prepare ourselves to hear from them.

UnlikelyPilgrims.com is a space on the web where God’s people can come together and discuss how to do pilgrim theology on the way and gain wisdom as they sort out how to negotiate the seduction of living in the city of man while being citizens of the city of God, by listening to saints from the past and present.

Who we are

I (Daniel R. Spanjer) is a professor of history at Lancaster Bible College and an elder at Wheatland Presbyterian Church.  I earned a Masters of Arts in Theology from Reformed Theological Seminary and myPh.D in American Cultural History from the University at Albany, SUNY.  My interest as a historian has been in intellectual history which has allowed me to focus on religious history in the Atlantic world.  I successfully defended my dissertation on the intellectual life of Lyman Beecher in 2016.  Most of my job requires me to teach and lecture, which I thoroughly enjoy, but I have written for the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States, numerous articles for the Echo, as well as Faith and Freedom Society at Grove City College.  I grew up on a farm where I trained to be a mechanic and still enjoy getting grease on under my nails.  While my church and family responsibilities keep me busy, I like to work on cars and yards when I have the time.  I am also the co-creator of the Alcuin Society at Lancaster Bible College and the Unlikely Pilgrims website and podcast.  I am married to Tara and have three lovely girls, Meghan, Emily, and Katelyn.

I (Mark Draper) am a Church History Professor and Research Librarian at Lancaster Bible College and Capital Seminary and Graduate School. In addition, I direct the Historical Theology track in the Th.D program at Evangelical Seminary. I am originally from Philadelphia where I studied History at Temple University, Library Science at Drexel University and Christian Thought at Biblical, now Misiso Seminary. My wife Dawn and I then moved to Chicagoland where I completed Ph.D in Historical Theology at Trinity International University. Dawn and I currently reside in Lebanon, PA with our dog Moose. When not teaching, writing or working with technology, you will find me bicycling around central PA.

Contact us at unlikelypilgrims@gmail.com

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