The story of the ten lepers in Luke's Gospel explicitly involves the healing of a religious "alien" ("Now he was a Samaritan"), who alone is praised by Jesus. There are interesting points of contact here with the reports of the praise Jesus gives to two other "aliens," the Centurion (Luke 7:9, Matthew 8:10) and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28). Those who have argued against the Barthian position in religious studies have tended to use this as evidence. They have also pointed to evidence gained from a comparative study of healing/miracle stories in other religions, in both the ancient and modern worlds.

This raises a very crucial issue within comparative theology, namely, what if anything is distinctive about Jesus within the Synoptic Gospels. Specifically in relation to healing stories, there are clearly many parallels with other "healers" past and present. There is even evidence of this within Luke's own story in the command "Go and show yourselves to the priests." It is a feature of a number of healing stories (e.g. Mark 1:40-5) that Jewish cultic ritual is part of healing.

So what is distinctively "Christian" about the healing stories in the Synoptic Gospels? Some have argued that it is the specific link that Jesus makes between healing and the apocalyptic Kingdom of God that is most distinctive. So the next two verses after this story in Luke reinforce the point that "The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:20-1). More dramatically still is the earlier saying of Jesus in Luke's Gospel that "if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20). A comparative study of such sayings in the context of healing can help to see both continuities between early Christianity and other religious traditions and points of distinctiveness.

Faith and Church History

The changed constituency of the Western academy has also had a radical effect upon the teaching of Church history. In a mono-confessional context Church history is typically interpreted in the light of particular denominations. Anglicans pay particular attention to Anglican divines such as Hooker, Presbyterians to Knox, Methodists to Wesley, and so forth. Church history is thus focused upon those people or events considered most significant to that faith community. More polemically, this focus is sometimes portrayed as the path of "orthodoxy" to be contrasted with the errors propagated by other Christians. As a result Church history in such mono-confessional contexts constitutes an important feature of identity, reinforcing boundaries between faithful Christians and others.

Yet in a pluralist environment Church history becomes more complicated. It is not, of course, value free: particular people and events are still selected for discussion and others are not; those selected are given different amounts of time and consideration; and the perspectives of different historians inevitably shape their interpretations of the significance of these people and events. Once it is conceded that selection and interpretation are inextricably involved in any study of history, and especially in any study of Church history, then absolute detachment is no more possible (or perhaps even desirable) here than it is in religious studies. Even within the pluralist context of the Western academy today, faith, or rather a multiplicity of faiths, is still a part of Church history.

However, the multiplicity of faiths involved in Church history today does entail a greater attention than in the past to divergent branches of Christianity set in a variety of cultures. Any serious study of Church history within the modern academy pays attention not simply to Western Christianity but also to Christianity in non-Western countries. The history of Christian missions, for example, is not simply relegated to a separate discipline of mission studies, but is part of a global account of Christian history. In addition, sociological studies of new religious movements, cults and sects in both Western and non-Western countries form a part of this global account. And, within accounts of early Christianity, previously discredited movements such as that of Gnosticism are treated with a new seriousness. Christian history is depicted less as the history of the successful "orthodox" and more as a varied and pluriform family of interrelated movements arising from the New Testament.

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