Andy Miller III
Cover Image for Cultural Christians in the Early Church with Nadya Williams

Cultural Christians in the Early Church with Nadya Williams

November 30, 2023

Nadya Williams is a military historian and has written a fascinating new book called “Cultural Christians in the Early Church.” She argues that cultural Christians were the rule, rather than the exception, in the early church. This was a fascinating conversation that I think you will enjoy.

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Welcome to the more, to the story. Podcast. I'm so glad that you have come along. This is gonna be a great show. And I hope that you saw the title and clicked into this. And if this is the first time you've checked out this, podcast. I encourage you to look at our catalog and all the things that we've done before. More than 150 interviews with interesting people who are studying interesting subjects. And we are trying to get

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Andy Miller III: more to the story. Get to that story that is deeper. And today we're gonna be looking at this book, cultural Christians in the early church. But before I introduce my guests I want you to know that this podcast is brought to you by Wesley Biblical Seminary, where we are developing trusted leaders for faithful churches, and this is an exciting moment in our history as we have more students than we've ever had. We just have added 350 students

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Andy Miller III: there. If you sign up for my email list, I will send you a free tool called 5 steps to deeper teaching and preaching. Now, that doesn't mean you get out easy, but it is a tool for you to study Scripture more inductively, with the aim of finding a creative way to present to your congregation. So I'd love to share that with you as a 45 min teaching like a video teaching and a tool that you can use along the way.

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and you'll find 2 small group resources there, their video courses. One is on the book of Jude, and another is a study a theological study of the doctrine of the afterlife, and it's 5 sessions I love for you to check that out at Andy Miller. all right. I am glad to welcome into podcast Nadia Williams, who is a military historian of the Greco-roman world.

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Nadya Williams: and she's a book reviewer at Current. She's taught at institutions in the past, has several books out. It's written for a variety of periodicals, Nadia welcome to the podcast

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thank you for having me.

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Andy Miller III: We have I've had on. You know I've had 150 interviews, but I've never had a military historian. How exciting! I'm so excited! I've never talked to somebody who probably I have some Old Testament scholars who do some military history conquest that type of stuff. But it's fascinating. I'm curious how you got into this field. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

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Nadya Williams: Yeah. So I started undergraduate knowing that I wanted to major in classics, and I really loved Virgil. And then the first class that I took in ancient history. I was hooked, and I knew that I still wanted to study the classical world, but I really wanted to study history, and I had a fantastic professor, Ted Blendin, who was a military historian, and I took a lot of classes with him, and by the time I got to graduate school I knew that that's the area I wanted to study

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and really military history in a lot of ways is the best way to understand the ancient world, because it was a really just.

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Nadya Williams: a very warlike place and it's both in an exciting way. I mean a lot of times when we think military history, we think like all the cool battles. But then you also think like, what does this say about how people thought about personhood and just kind of human life and humanity? And that's where studying the early church and bringing this background as a military historian has actually been very helpful in seeing the differences in world view.

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Andy Miller III: Yeah, so it's not like you only study, you know, battles and what's happening there? I make sure that's a part of it. And and I've even seen some of your other articles, even a recent article you had where you led into it. I'm just gonna go ahead and highlight the one that I that I saw talking about the catapult, and I you got my attention right like thinking about what the catapult does. But then, in this article, in in your probably

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Andy Miller III: had in mind some of the events that are happening. We're we're recording this in October 2,023, and some of the challenges that civilians are being like

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Andy Miller III: killed sadly in Israel and Gaza, and all these things that are going on. And and so you got me in with the catapult. But then, thinking more deeply about what it means to be people created in God's image and and kind of like thinking through even concepts within just war theory within that. So like even just in this short, probably 500 750 word article. I see that emphasis. Now you have an interest in some of the things that are happening to

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Andy Miller III: in Israel and Gaza. I know that's at or on the talk about. But tell us a little bit why, that's interesting to you.

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Nadya Williams: I was born in the Soviet Union. When there was such a thing and when I was almost 10 years old, right before the Soviet Union collapsed, my family immigrated to Israel. So I grew up in a secular Jewish home, first again in Russia, then in Israel, and moved to the Us. When I was in high school.

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Nadya Williams: And so right now it's been really eerie disturbing, like, you know, put in, like all of those adjectives, to see things first. The Ukraine war. My my mom grew up in the Ukraine and now in Israel, and seeing that a lot of the same people groups

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have been suffering from both the rampant anti-semitism, and just the horrific attacks on civilians. It's just really troublesome, and whatever side you take, the whole point is, God sees every person made in his image, and seeing those kinds of attacks on civilians in particular, is really like that should worry us and disturb us

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Andy Miller III: as people who appreciate God, God's creation of humanity. That's yeah. It's absolutely. And and so a, as we're like thinking about this, like sometimes as you highlighted in this other article, which I'll post a link to. By the way. There's a way that the just war tradition can just easily kind of say, well, this just kinda happens sometimes. And so I appreciate you highlighting that there are consequences that come even from

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Andy Miller III: military technology that are unexpected. Now, now, you indicated like growing up in a secular Jewish environment. But you're a Christian now. So can you tell us a little bit about your conversion to Christianity.

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Yeah, I came to Christ as an adult. I was 30, and it was one of those things where? All of my life. And you probably hear about this with immigrants, especially with immigrants from places like Russia. Where academic excellence is kind of your God, basically. And the whole idea that was drilled into me from young age is like, obviously you have to make really good grades, and your life will go great

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Nadya Williams: and then, when I was 30 I landed. I just landed a 10 year track position. So in some ways it seemed like my life was going well. But other things were not, and I was suddenly realizing kind of I call it deconstructing my unbelief. That I was realizing that I was looking for something, and eventually that

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Nadya Williams: a period of many months of reading led me to Christianity. And yeah, any any particular book that was helpful along the way I need you said many months. Absolutely. There were ultimately, what was really just convicting to me was reading the Gospels, just reading through all 4 Gospels, and realizing like this is true. It was just

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Nadya Williams: one of those one of those things that's like as rational, you know, 20 first century people. It's really awkward to talk about those moments when you feel like something an external force takes over completely, and that's what it felt like just the moment of conversion. Not everybody has one. But I definitely felt one.

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Andy Miller III: Yeah, thank you so much for sharing that. And I'm interested. This book that you have this come out coming out through Zandrevin. Probably about the time that this is being released is a really great cover, by the way, too. But I'll just read the title again, Cultural Christians and the early Church.

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Andy Miller III: Now those those phrases don't normally go together. We're gonna talk about that. A historical and practical introduction to the Christians in the Greco Roman world, and on the cover is a golden chariot

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Andy Miller III: kind of in a cartoony type of way. And then there is a license plate, a modern license plate that, says WWJD. And so this is fascinating me, and and this cap encapsulates me your thesis, in a way. So so tell us, how does this like history of yours then fit in to this book?

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Nadya Williams: So the entire time that I was writing this book I was living and teaching in the Bible Belt, where obviously everyone goes to church on Sunday. But the problem is what happens the other 6 days of the week. And that's the con concept of cultural Christianity where for a lot of people, there's this like cultural tradition that yes, we go to church on Sunday, but there isn't necessarily an expectation that this is something that permeates every aspect of your life.

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Nadya Williams: I mean for plenty of people obviously does, but not everyone So in the Bible belt. You do see that cliche of cultural Christianity, and a lot of times. We think that obviously this is the sort of thing that can only happen in the modern world, and only in a culture that is very much like saturated with

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Nadya Williams: churchgoing and everything connected to church. And my point is in reality, if you look closely already at the New Testament, and other stories from the first several centuries of the Church. What you see is that even people for whom? It costs something to be a Christian in a hostile environment. Even so.

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Nadya Williams: the allure of culture was always really just there. Because you can't, you can't help it. All of us are products of the world we live in, and Christianity has always been a counter counter-cultural religion. But the problem is, it's always really difficult to swim against the tide.

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Andy Miller III: Yes, this is so interesting, because our picture often, and I'll say, like probably mine, too, has been to look at the early Christians in the early church through a hegeographic lens like. So we think how wonderful they were. They they went, and they sacrificed themselves to lions on, you know, and they stood up for their faith and said, Jesus, Lord, even that meant that their life

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Andy Miller III: was at stake, and and that was true in many cases. But yet you highlight that the fact that no? Well, that's true. But there also was this poll back to the world in the midst of this, so you have hints the cover of your book has this golden chariot

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Andy Miller III: yet they're still saying, What would Jesus do on the back of it? So we anachronistically. So we take our time, and we insert it back onto another period inappropriately. And so the cover book does that, too. So this interesting to me? Why is it? I mean? What's the picture that most people have in your view, as you've been thinking about this period of early Christians, and and what's wrong about it.

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Nadya Williams: So

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Nadya Williams: I think a lot of it is just the problem of evidence. Like, you were saying the Hagia Graphic lens because we can name actual martyrs. We have names. We have stories, really vivid stories of very graphic, horrific suffering and executions, and all of them are true, except

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Nadya Williams: there are all these thousands upon thousands upon thousands of nameless multitudes who were part of the early churches. And the whole point is they're nameless multitudes for a reason. The average people just like today, you know, if you were to try to write the story of any congregation today through just like somebody famous.

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Nadya Williams: it's not going to be necessarily representative of every person in the queue on Sunday. And that's the point that I'm trying to get at. So you have these like, so called and I guess in some case justifiably heroes of the Faith. But you also have all of these people who are struggling with what does it mean to be a Christian in the day to day. How do you interpret all of this? And

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Nadya Williams: so letters so, for example, like Paul's letters to the early churches in the New Testament, where a treasure trove of information for me in this regard, because you get you get those letters that at times are pretty like serious rebukes, and you realize, like these are people who are struggling like in Corinth. You have a city that is very much a pinnacle of Greco Roman culture. So no wonder that people in the Corinthian church are very much.

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Nadya Williams: culturally like very distinctly, culturally, Greek. And here they are trying to live this new life and are struggling with figuring out like, well, what kind of things should we just not do anymore that everyone else around us is doing

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Andy Miller III: absolutely. Yeah. It's interesting that like, when you think about the challenges in Corinth. Just last week we I had Dr. Robert Gagnon on who's an expert in human sexuality. And he kind of emphasizes, too, like.

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Andy Miller III: there's this issue that is very analogous to our current situation, that with the incestuous man in one Corinthians 15. And I often try to say to people, and I try to get students that I'm training and preaching to think about that

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Andy Miller III: even though these letters are very rational, and they're describing things of like in in that has this letter, this rhetorical form in it. There's a whole story going on behind this letter. Is there anything that surprised you, I mean? And also you come to the

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Andy Miller III: New Testament, not as a cultural Christian, not as somebody who was raised in it with a Wd. Jwjd. Brace it like me. What are some of the things in even in Scripture that gives us a a hint of what's happening in in how there are cultural Christians even in the New Testament.

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Nadya Williams: I think the most helpful thing for me in reading these letters was coming to it as a classicist with my background in Greco Roman literature, and recognizing a lot of the echoes of Greco-roman culture that Paul probably also noticed. So like the whole idea with singling out the man who's having a relationship with his step, mom,

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Nadya Williams: that kind of incestuous relationship. There are several stories in Greek mythology that relate to that. So, for example, you might think of Oedipus, who marries his mom without realizing it, and I'm sure Paul's original audiences were thinking like, this is bad.

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Andy Miller III: okay, Idiopus. I say, Oedipus. So okay. But I've heard both. That's totally fine. But the the whole point is, we have this really famous one of the most famous

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Nadya Williams: tragic heroes or anti heroes, if you wanna call it that? Who had been through that kind of situation, except in his case. The mitigating factor was, he didn't know what he was doing. But here's but here's a situation where somebody does know that this is incestuous. And that's kind of why Paul is dwelling on this in such detail that this is somebody who is

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Nadya Williams: following the culture, except he is doing something that even the Greeks knew was wrong. So it's like making it doubly bad.

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Andy Miller III: Yes, interesting. I want to read this. The introduction! The very first paragraph of your book. Is that all right? If I do that, I hope I'm not giving too much away. This is this is a great one, so you say, in the middle of the third century, Ce. A North African bishop wrote a treatise for the women of his Church, exhorting them to resist such culturally normalized, yet in modest behaviors in their cosmetology, Roman city

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Andy Miller III: as mixed bait, public bathing in the nude and wearing excessive amounts of jewelry and makeup. Okay, that sounds kind of

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Andy Miller III: relatively like something that if that was happening in my church I might speak out against. But then it goes a little further. The treatise appears even I'm quoting you again. The treatise appears even more striking. Once we realize that the scandalous ladies to whom it was addressed were single women who had dedicated their virginity to Christ.

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Andy Miller III: We're talking, in effect, about nuns.

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Andy Miller III: I mean, we're Re. Is. This blew me away. Just read this first paragraph, I'm saying, this is, gonna be a great book, and we're talking about nuns

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Andy Miller III: who are dressing with or not dressing at all, and were doing all this extravagant, even nuns kind of in this sense were culturally cultural Christians like being impacted by their culture.

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Nadya Williams: Well.

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Nadya Williams: yeah, and in this case. I do clarify that like we are talking about nuns, although the concept of of non doesn't quite exist yet. But the whole point is, these are women who had dedicated their lives to the Church to serving Christ.

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Nadya Williams: They're supposed to be living holy lives, and yet, even in the midst of that. They can't resist the Greco-roman kind of traditions, because in the Greco-roman world how you dressed, for example. So the idea of excessive jewelry and makeup. That was a status symbol. You are showing off that you are well off, and that was expected of you. You're going to represent your family wealth,

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Nadya Williams: And the the whole point is like, you're not supposed to be doing this if you are God's daughter. Now.

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Andy Miller III: wow! It's so interesting. So I'm so thankful that obviously this bishop spoke out against that, and sorry I left off that last clause. I just wanted to make sure. We know that you said that indeed III stopped at the word done, albeit before the concept fully existed. Yet I just wanted we we get that folks in case you're wanting to be picky. Now, who do you have in mind with this book? I mean.

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Andy Miller III: obviously, yeah, you you have an audience particularly in mind. There's certainly people have heard of the concept of going after cultural Christianity. It's a easy target for a preacher. But who do you have in mind

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Nadya Williams: people in the pew. I really just I want the average kind of church going Christian who is trying to figure out like, where do I belong in all of this. What kind of world am I living in? Because all of us feel right now? Granted, in every period of world history, people feel like this is just not going well, but there's just so much anxiety right now. The last few years, I mean, we've just lived through a pandemic that depending on like your health, and all of that, you might still be feeling ramifications of it.

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Nadya Williams: There are massive wars going on that might suck all of us into it

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Nadya Williams: political front is not looking too good either, so that there are just so many reasons to feel anxious right now, and to wonder like, how does the Church fit into it? How do I, as a Christian, fit into it? And

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Nadya Williams: all of these things are right and good for us to think and pray about, because I mean, we'll that's the whole like, live in the world, but not of it. But that's again also the challenge of living in the world, but not of it, is thinking like, How do I fit in this culture? And sometimes it's easier to think about these questions through a historical perspective, through thinking of how other Christians have dealt with them, instead of just like hammering us

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Nadya Williams: predominantly.

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Andy Miller III: Yes, that's so helpful. Again. I'm friends. I'm talking in Nadia Williams, Dr. Naughty Williams, who's written a book called Cultural Christians in the early Church, Nadia. Your first chapter is interesting to me. It's called more for me, less for thee.

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Andy Miller III: The curious case of sharing without caring in the early church. So what's going on here? Is it? Was this a bit of a problem?

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Nadya Williams: So the first chapter looks at Ananias and safara as our kind of earliest, really well documented example of cultural Christians. And I'm looking at that problem of sharing without caring. So the idea. So, Ananias and Safara, we hear about them in acts. So here's this

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Church and Jerusalem, where everybody decides. You know what there will be no needy people among us. We are going to share with everyone. We are going to just eliminate poverty. Here's this like ideal society.

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Nadya Williams: it's like move over marks the Christians are in town. But but the point is like we right away. See that it doesn't actually go quite so ideally. Precisely because,

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Nadya Williams: well, there's human greed. And and particularly what I'm looking at here is cultural influence. So for Ananias and Safara, part of the reason, so they sell some property, and they donate some of the proceeds to the church, except that promise to donate everything, but they withheld some of it, and that's

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Nadya Williams: turns out to be their undoing.

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And the question is, what were they thinking when they were doing this

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Nadya Williams: and and looking at their motives. I'm looking at Greek and Roman ideas about property and benefactors. So in a Greco-roman world it was pretty common for wealthy people

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Nadya Williams: to sponsor some good public works in town, and you really expected everybody then to recognize you as a benefactor, to praise you in all kinds of extravagant public ways. Think statues to you dedicated like in the town square inscriptions with names celebrating the benefactor, and so on, and so forth.

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And that's the baggage that they're bringing with them to this rather than thinking. We love our brothers and sisters.

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Andy Miller III: and that's kind of the disconnect that we see between what they should be thinking, the motive and what they actually are thinking, where their cultural baggage, the cultural values, lead them completely astray.

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Andy Miller III: Yes, this is really helpful. You walk through several examples within the early church, and thinking about the issues of of food and wine, and like what sacrifice to idols. But I want to get to the concept of the period that maybe people might know

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Andy Miller III: not as as much about in the second section where you think about the age of persecution. And so in there you you talk about how these cultural sins were part of the way, kind of like the gateway of sorts to apostasy, and you tell a few stories in there. I'd love for you to pick one of those and tell us a bit about that.

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Nadya Williams: So we have this really fascinating story about the church at Bithynia. And what I love about that particular church is that we have information about it from the New Testament. First, Peter involves that particular church, but we also have

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Nadya Williams: a pagan sources. So in particular, Pliny the younger was governor of Athenia from 1 11 to 1 13. And we have this fascinating letter that he wrote to the Emperor Trajan, saying, Well, so I have these people called Christians in my province. I have no idea what exactly they are, but I'm pretty sure this is bad news, and so he walks Trajan. But this is great for us, because this this is one of those like amazing primary sources.

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Nadya Williams: And I'm so glad it survived because he walks us through the history of this church. So he tells us how he interrogated a number of people from this church but also people who were reported. So he got an anonymous denunciation of like these people are Christians.

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Nadya Williams: and he started questioning them. And it turns out that some of them had apostasized decades before. In some cases. So we kind of get. But as a result we can kind of piece together the story of this church, because if there are people who have left that church as long ago as 25 years earlier. That brings us to the late first century. So we know that the Bithinian church already was around was flourishing, but also there was a high rate of apostasy. And the question, Why

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Nadya Williams: and that's where first Peter can be really helpful in putting together that story. So the warnings about churches not mismanaging their people like being kind to their people instead of just a petty rivalries, and we have hints of those kinds of petty rivalries

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Nadya Williams: even in this whole idea of anonymous denunciation of Christians. I'm pretty sure that whoever turned people into plenty. For that person to have known who exactly all the Christians were. This has to be an inside job.

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Andy Miller III: Wow? Interesting. So what type of. So so you're you look at it from the perspective of seeing all right. There are these things that happen that indic, even if it's more just.

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Andy Miller III: almost indicative, or on the quiet implicit. I mean, on the other side, that there needs to be like 2 sides to what what's happening. If there are people who apostasicize, and if there are people who turn them in, then there needs to be people who are aware of what happens now, how is that a cult

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Andy Miller III: control sin than for those people who turn them in. Is that is that what you're alluding to?

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Nadya Williams: Well, absolutely, it is a cultural thing, because you're not. You're not following Jesus's teachings about staying with your brothers and sisters through persecution. Instead, you're thinking like, what can I get out of this? Probably like cultural advancement, possibly like some sort of Perk from the governor who just came into town. So you see, all kinds of choices. People who decided that. Well, maybe I tried converting to Christianity. But it's not working. I'm gonna try to

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Nadya Williams: get something out of it now, because I have this inside knowledge. I know who all the Christians in town are, which is kind of secret secret information, otherwise these are all people who are not necessarily worshipping in the open. That chapter in particular, really felt almost like detective work reading those sources and trying to piece together like, how does this all work. And what is the story that they're telling? But ultimately what we see is

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Nadya Williams: human strife

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Nadya Williams: was sabotaging the church in Bithinia.

00:34:28.179 --> 00:34:28.960
Andy Miller III: Hmm!

00:34:29.199 --> 00:34:45.610
Nadya Williams: And that's a warning to us, I mean, think how many churches split over like an argument. That might be just an argument between 2 people. And then suddenly, next thing you know, it engulfed a whole church, I mean, you hear stories like this, and you always think like, how could this happen like? Well, this was happening in Buffinia.

00:34:46.380 --> 00:34:54.859
Andy Miller III: Wow, so you can, you can have this sense like this is a warning sign to us as well that we can go in these same type of things.

00:34:55.010 --> 00:35:21.360
Andy Miller III: express themselves in contemporary churches, where we let these sins make them their way in to the basic life of the congregation. Now, there's also an interesting chapter in that section where you talk about martyrdom and unexpected martyrs. Women? Who, like they challenge themselves cultural Christianity. Can you tell us a little about that, particularly in the context of that third century.

00:35:21.950 --> 00:35:35.059
Nadya Williams: Yeah. So that chapter focuses especially on Perpetua and felicity. And we have, Perpetua's account of martyrdom, which is really fascinating. So here's a woman's account of her own martyrdom. Her journal.

00:35:35.060 --> 00:35:53.199
Nadya Williams: Somebody else at the end are, adds the account of her martyrdom, because obviously she was not going to write that herself. But we have her prison journal as she is awaiting execution, and she knows what's happening. And she is really just thinking articulately about what it all means.

00:35:53.200 --> 00:35:56.290
But what's striking is in the Greco-roman world.

00:35:56.290 --> 00:36:12.149
Nadya Williams: Women were usually well, actually, always legally under control of first the father. but then the husband, and in Perpetua's case she challenges all of those authorities, and

00:36:12.330 --> 00:36:30.770
Nadya Williams: this would have been something that would have been uncomfortable for the Church as well. So the whole notion of obey your parents, and so on. For women martyrs who reject parental authority. And perpetuate father begs her like, please denounce your faith and come back home. You know.

00:36:30.920 --> 00:36:39.219
Nadya Williams: So we have this confrontation where it's like, how do you choose in those kinds of situations? And she chooses her faith

00:36:39.540 --> 00:36:52.450
Nadya Williams: but what it sets her up for? But it sets up this question for the church like, How do you treat these women? Because they have some, because this gives them an extra hoop to jump through. That may seem like

00:36:52.470 --> 00:36:54.269
Nadya Williams: a sinful situation.

00:36:54.570 --> 00:36:59.600
Andy Miller III: Hmm, because they're violating these kind of boundaries that are there already with their family.

00:36:59.680 --> 00:37:07.999
Nadya Williams: Exactly. And those boundaries are also part of the 10 Commandments. I mean the whole, like, children, obey your parents. Yeah.

00:37:08.770 --> 00:37:33.250
Andy Miller III: wow. This is is a heavy piece for us to take on. You haven't another. Okay, obviously, I'm just not. I'm not going into detail on every chapter. That's why I want you all to go and get the book right. I want people. But there's a a chat. A a Augustin is a character, a person, and it's that we owe so much to in Christian theology and interpret, you know, Biblical hermeneutics

00:37:33.250 --> 00:37:48.309
Andy Miller III: in a variety of areas. But you, in the eighth chapter, talk about Christian nationalism, and I just love for you to address that a little bit, and what you found about Augustine, and how you think about what was happening, as you say, at the twilight of the Empire.

00:37:49.330 --> 00:38:18.249
Nadya Williams: Yeah. So that was one of the chapters that originally, when I was first starting this book to write this book originally, at 1 point, I thought that I would write a book about Augusta and his philosophy of history, and maybe one of these days I will. But I really love City of God. But the point that he's making so city of God is Augustine's response to the most traumatic, the greatest traumatic, stressful event of his age for everybody in the Roman Empire, and that is the sack of the city of Rome in 4 10.

00:38:18.480 --> 00:38:20.530
Nadya Williams: for

00:38:21.320 --> 00:38:37.949
Nadya Williams: for anyone who, if your Roman history is not fully up to date what I would say is, just imagine, the city of Rome has not been sacked since a really, really long time before that, very early in its history, before it was this like world empire of its age.

00:38:37.970 --> 00:38:49.020
Nadya Williams: So to the Romans it was unfathom, unfathomable, but also to Roman Christians. Just think about it. Up to that point Christianity had always existed in the context of the Roman Empire.

00:38:49.520 --> 00:39:02.290
and so for Christians, just like for pagans, the sack of Rome came as a shock. and even for Augustine this includes Augustine himself, and everyone in the Roman Empire, whether pagan or Christian, was asking the question, how

00:39:02.440 --> 00:39:28.740
Nadya Williams: could this happen? How did God let this happen, or how did the pagan gods let this happen? So everyone was wondering about this, and that's what Augustine is writing to respond to where he's saying, this is the wrong question to ask. This is not the city we should love, but the fact that we're so bothered by this. The fact that we all are asking this question shows that we've all made an idol out of this city, and that's where I see this Christian National

00:39:28.740 --> 00:39:34.359
where? If Augustine were here today, I think he would.

00:39:34.360 --> 00:39:42.630
Nadya Williams: he would understand that, because that's exactly what he was fighting against this idealization of Rome, making it synonymous with Christendom.

00:39:43.100 --> 00:39:59.750
Andy Miller III: Right? And and so it doesn't take too much inspective work to think the connections to the United States, as you're saying, like, oh, can't imagine a time. And and you know you and I both live in the United States easy to pick that out could be another country as well. Just just throw that out there. But

00:39:59.900 --> 00:40:23.709
Andy Miller III: as we're thinking about that, you can, you can see like there's this period it's like hard to imagine. Well, the United States is always gonna be, you know, it's like the most dominant world power, and you know God has blessed people in the United States, and he's gonna continue to do it. And it's easy to see the way that you know the the flag of the United States, you know, gets crossed with

00:40:23.710 --> 00:40:52.139
Andy Miller III: the Christian flag in some places, or or becomes just as important. And there's a way that you want to be patriotic. You want to love your country, love the land that we're in. But you see this, you described this, and it's helpful to see Augustin responding to. I mean he does this tell us a little bit more about how that happens? I mean, he describes the kind of 2 different types of cities I love. Just get a little insight into how we can think about this for our time, and how Augustin can help us.

00:40:53.030 --> 00:41:09.900
Nadya Williams: Augustine is very much. We forget sometimes that he's very much a pastor. He is caring for his people. And what we have to remember in the context of the sack of Rome. He is not only caring for his own people there in Hippo. But he's also welcoming survivors

00:41:10.090 --> 00:41:23.430
Nadya Williams: and book. One of the City of God very much reads like a summary of interviews with the survivors of the sack of Rome. So we have these people who are just traumatized by what they saw what they experienced. Perhaps

00:41:23.440 --> 00:41:43.110
Nadya Williams: had loved ones who were killed. And here they are who escaped the sack of Rome, and are trying to figure out how to move on. And he's very much offering that pastoral care. So a lot of times with discussions of Christian nationalism, I almost see this like response? From people who

00:41:44.200 --> 00:41:59.399
Nadya Williams: who see this as a sin, which I do, too. But a lot of times there's the response of like we'll just snap out of it. And that's not what Augustine is saying. What he is saying is, you can mourn for this like if you feel like there's a genuine loss.

00:41:59.530 --> 00:42:09.170
Nadya Williams: It's okay to mourn for it. As Christians, we should mourn for suffering of others. We should mourn for our own suffering, but

00:42:09.170 --> 00:42:32.919
Nadya Williams: keeping our focus on Jesus, keeping our focus on the beautiful city that is not here is really helpful in setting theological priorities. And that's where it. Where, what it comes down to is theological priorities. Are we thinking that the United States is the Kingdom of God? And if you say that it is? Then I think you're gonna have to do some more explaining.

00:42:33.190 --> 00:42:49.650
Andy Miller III: Yes, yeah. And that that might be the case that we're putting Wwjd license plate on our golden chariot right like, or we were taking something else and adapting it in a way that's

00:42:49.650 --> 00:43:06.000
Andy Miller III: not connected to what it really is. Now you. You have some hard stories throughout your book, and there, so are there some other heroes that maybe we haven't talked about already, or is it is it too much bad news, or do you have some heroes here for us in this book?

00:43:06.460 --> 00:43:30.260
Nadya Williams: Well, I think my favorite hero in the book is the pastor whose story you read is in the introduction in part Ciprian, Bishop of Carthage in the third century. So here's this guy who who was an adult convert to Christianity, and shortly after converting, he becomes appointed bishop, meaning pastor of this really large church in North Africa.

00:43:30.280 --> 00:43:49.440
Nadya Williams: Carthage. and it's a really bad time to be living in the Roman Empire. This is the mid third century, the crisis, but it's also particularly bad time to be a bishop and meaning responsible for thousands of people depending on you to make good decisions, and so on. And to me.

00:43:49.610 --> 00:44:09.219
Nadya Williams: I mean, it's always care we always have to be careful to make heroes out of ordinary people. And yet, the writing that he left is so deeply pastoral and kind and loving, just constantly exhorting his people to keep caring for each other. Keep giving to the local church.

00:44:09.220 --> 00:44:29.800
Nadya Williams: keep giving for other people. And I think about this. So the sociologist, Rodney Stark, when he wrote about the explosion of Christianity in the Roman Empire. In the third century he wrote about how he was precisely witnessing kindness, the counter-cultural, extravagant, lavish kindness of Christians to their neighbors.

00:44:29.800 --> 00:44:41.730
that brought about conversions, and to me, Ciprian very much exemplifies that story. Here's a here's a pastor who tells us stories from his congregation where people were not. Necessarily

00:44:41.730 --> 00:45:05.709
Nadya Williams: they were not any more saintly than I don't know the saints and Corinth, but the point is, their pastor kept calling them over and over and over, kept exhorting them to do the right thing in caring for each other, in loving each other, and through it all reminding them like, Remember, who's you? Are, you are God's people. And that makes such a big difference. And it's just really beautiful reading those kinds of stories and realizing, like, okay.

00:45:05.710 --> 00:45:14.750
Nadya Williams: like, no pressure on the local pastors. But like this is on you. This is huge labor. Right there you can make a difference.

00:45:14.870 --> 00:45:26.450
Andy Miller III: and it's important to go ahead and call these things out. It's it's harder. It's harder to do it, I'll say, like it's harder to call out the cultural sins that our parent and and their

00:45:26.760 --> 00:45:49.599
Andy Miller III: actually, I'm curious for you like, what were some of those things that you observed, because some coming from the so former Soviet Union from Israel outside of the Bible belt you come into Bible, and you see some of it might be easy to pick on for some. But tell us, like, what are some of those things that maybe struck you as surprising? Because you came from an outside perspective? You could see them a little differently.

00:45:50.790 --> 00:45:57.769
Nadya Williams: One, perhaps would be attitudes towards sexuality, even where, just

00:45:58.500 --> 00:46:13.229
Nadya Williams: on the one hand, you are in a Bible belt. On on the other hand, people were a lot more a lot more typical of the culture around them in their behavior. And that was something that was difficult even for churches in the area, I think.

00:46:14.180 --> 00:46:22.539
Andy Miller III: Yeah, it's interesting. How that could. That can often be the case. It's like this assumption, like, well, that's where I am. And I've been in different type of cultural

00:46:22.580 --> 00:46:45.370
Andy Miller III: expressions. More, some more city urban environments, more country environments. And there's just this kind of poll to what's going on around you. And it can just seem like, well, that's what we're gonna I mean, you highlight in your book, too. Just the way that you know, prostitution in certain areas was just. That's just what people access. I mean. I don't know if that's something you could address here just in a second. But like people just

00:46:45.370 --> 00:46:57.789
Andy Miller III: felt like, well, this is my culture. This is where I am. It's easier to be pulled back to it. And you could say, Oh, that's disappointing, so hard to hear that that would have been happening in the early church. But Cyprian and other people

00:46:57.790 --> 00:47:20.789
Andy Miller III: we're trying to call this out. And and still having this kind of core understanding of what a Biblical morality was in that time, and that morality has continued, tell, yeah, I don't know if that's an issue that I found helpful, I mean sad. But also I was glad to see you. Highlight. I mean, that was the basic culture of the time, and maybe I can even help us understand the New Testament letters as well.

00:47:21.380 --> 00:47:39.239
Nadya Williams: Absolutely so in the Greco-roman world. We have to keep in mind that while women's sexuality was policed, if you wanna call it that. There was an expectation that respectable women stayed faithful to their marriage. Wow! Vows girls were married off pretty young, and that was that

00:47:39.430 --> 00:47:42.680
Nadya Williams: But for men there was no expectation of

00:47:43.690 --> 00:48:10.400
Nadya Williams: morality in that regard. So both in the Greek world and in the Roman world. So that's where it was so shocking that Christianity held men to the exact same standard. So when Paul is writing to the Corinthians, and is saying, like, you guys keep like people still keep going to prostitutes. Well, that's what everybody in the Roman world did. It was very cheap, because prostitutes were usually enslaved, which adds a whole, another like layer of abuse of.

00:48:10.400 --> 00:48:25.639
Nadya Williams: you know, human dignity, and so on. When we think about the Roman world. Like all of this violence. First of all, people who were enslaved in the Roman world, we're usually war captive, so that brings us back to like military history whenever the Romans went somewhere conquered people

00:48:26.230 --> 00:48:48.739
Nadya Williams: And those people who were enslaved were sold anywhere in the Roman Empire, and a lot of times the women would be sold into brothels, and that provided very cheap prostitutes that were available for any Romans who could. I mean, it was basically the cost of a lunch. And Paul is calling it out very much. So saying, like, this is wrong.

00:48:49.080 --> 00:48:49.910
Nadya Williams: and

00:48:50.330 --> 00:49:02.520
Nadya Williams: it's really just eye opening to realize what a difference Christianity made in that regard. But also it makes you realize just what an ex, what a different expectation it is for marriages.

00:49:03.940 --> 00:49:14.279
Nadya Williams: and it's it's one of those things we might not have necessarily even thought of reading first Corinthians, that when he calls this out, presumably the men he is addressing, who were going to prostitutes were married.

00:49:14.330 --> 00:49:18.099
Nadya Williams: Because if you're if you're an adult, you were married. That's

00:49:18.310 --> 00:49:20.669
Nadya Williams: so, what is going on here and

00:49:21.230 --> 00:49:23.610
Nadya Williams: yeah, get all of this.

00:49:23.810 --> 00:49:49.000
Andy Miller III: And it, it says, maybe assumption that our our society has been impacted by these Christian values more. And and even when it's not calling them Christian. I've had I had on a person who talked about the the way that all throughout history the the testimony to various forms of morality is a part of the Christian witness in itself. It kind of all traces itself back

00:49:49.040 --> 00:50:11.930
Andy Miller III: to those basic ideas that are there. Now I'm interested, too. I saw that you wrote this book in an interested period in world history itself. So tell us how you came. About writing this book, I mean you have academic monographs that are together, academic articles and that type of thing. And you do you like. I mentioned earlier that you're the book review editor for current, but, like, tell us about how this book came about.

00:50:12.680 --> 00:50:22.030
Nadya Williams: I wanted to write something for the church with academic writing a lot of times. Not a lot of people read it.

00:50:22.180 --> 00:50:34.669
Nadya Williams: I'm sure. I'm sure you know, that's that's the thing like for a lot of us. If you write academic articles or the like. It's possible that maybe like 10 people around the world read it. And I was thinking also, just

00:50:35.640 --> 00:50:52.319
Nadya Williams: I just want my time to count my husband and I would talk a lot about redeeming our time. What does it mean? So it certainly means spending a lot more time with our kids prioritizing family. But it also means making the most of what we do with our writing and just other projects.

00:50:52.320 --> 00:51:17.050
Nadya Williams: And it felt like I had. So I had this idea, and I thought this would be a helpful book for the church, and that's what I wanted to do. This is redeeming my time during a pandemic, when all of us were trying to figure out, what is the meaning of life, anyway? That's right. So yeah. Did your husband give you? Am I right like this gave you you had a little bit of time every day to start writing, and you just did book get done? It was an hour a day that you had to go to go ride

00:51:17.080 --> 00:51:40.189
Andy Miller III: during the oh, yeah, yeah, you know, an hour a day can do a lot if you do it every day. That's right. You stack all that together. Well, this is great. Well, Nadia, thank you so much for writing this book and for coming on the podcast it's, you know, it's a I think it. You know, we we have a fair amount of New Testament scholars, and and most of them rightly focus on.

00:51:40.190 --> 00:52:05.950
Andy Miller III: you know Greco-roman history to certain degree. But even just hearing you talk and and think about the sources that you're working with on a regular basis really bring some new life to what was happening in early Christianity. I always asked my podcast guess is there. The name. My podcast is more to story. I wanna go deeper into some of these ideas and like, why, you're thinking about this book. And it's also a theological reason. And there's something that I actually saw highlighted in your book. The same

00:52:05.950 --> 00:52:32.169
Andy Miller III: theological foundation is that we need to pursue holiness like to think about the opportunity to move into a deeper relationship with Jesus. So I think more. This story and Tyler, my podcast is there's more than just being saved like there's there's more to the Christian faith than that. So but I also wonder, is there more this story of Nadia than typically told? I imagine you'll have a lot of interviews with this book. But, is there some hobby that you have? Or is there is more this story to you?

00:52:32.860 --> 00:52:55.950
Nadya Williams: It's always funny when you ask parents of children like, what is your hobby? It's like, well, spending time with my kids pretty much all day every day. It's I think my hobby really is the writing to be honest. So what we just talked about that's probably the hobby, whereas we home school. So that's kind of it. Feels like a full time job right now we're at that

00:52:55.950 --> 00:53:10.070
Nadya Williams: phase where it is, and it's beautiful, and I hope that they're learning that there's more to this story. And I think, I think there is a lot of that. The conversations that are always unpredictable and beautiful. It's raising image bearers is

00:53:10.070 --> 00:53:12.759
Nadya Williams: sanctifying in all the all the

00:53:12.760 --> 00:53:38.730
Andy Miller III: crazy ways is well, I mean in for, and your husband's also his story. And we talked. So your kids will definitely get more to the story in their home school education. My kids, my wife homeschools, our kids. And I'm a part of that to a certain degree. But I know, like often they, they know a fair amount about the Nineteenth century and Methodism and the Salvation army, too. So I imagine your kids are gonna have a lot of that, too.

00:53:38.730 --> 00:53:49.250
Andy Miller III: I know you have another book coming out with Ivp academic and a few other things. So tell us about some of the other things we might anticipate from you.

00:53:49.550 --> 00:54:13.589
Nadya Williams: So the Ivp Academic book is titled Priceless. and this is looking at those issues of human dignity. What does it mean that each of us is priceless in God's eyes, and what it started? The idea that started me down that path was seen a lot of articles over the past couple of years that were in the secular kind of publishing world that were kind of looking down on motherhood that like.

00:54:13.730 --> 00:54:21.490
Nadya Williams: There was that Bloomberg article that said, women who don't have kids are happier or something like, get wealthier. And

00:54:21.490 --> 00:54:46.089
Nadya Williams: it's one of those things like, well, depending on your metrics, you can twist the data to conclude whatever you want. But the real question is, why would somebody want to make that argument? And there are all of these jabs that essentially say in our society, like motherhood is just not really worthwhile. But what does that mean? So whenever somebody says that, what does it mean? A. About my life? What and what kind of thing are you implying about my children?

00:54:46.150 --> 00:55:14.909
Nadya Williams: But also, how does this fit in the story of the Church? And what's fascinating? What I was noticing is a lot of similar language used in the demeaning of life, both and human dignity, both in those kinds of articles, but also in the pre-christian Mediterranean. So a lot of this basically post Christian discourse on the value of human life looks a lot like pre Christian discourse on the value of human life. And that's the story I'm telling in that book.

00:55:15.260 --> 00:55:19.800
Andy Miller III: Okay? So so you're saying, like, they look the same

00:55:19.840 --> 00:55:22.160
Andy Miller III: post very similar. Yeah. Yeah.

00:55:22.190 --> 00:55:29.819
Nadya Williams: The church made a difference. Okay, the church is what changed the discourse. So the question is, how

00:55:29.860 --> 00:55:40.229
Nadya Williams: can you possibly come up with the idea that every human being, every human life is precious and priceless, and the only way to get there is through Christianity.

00:55:40.520 --> 00:55:46.249
Nadya Williams: Before the early Church came up with this, no one in the Greco Roman world really had that idea.

00:55:46.740 --> 00:56:15.610
Andy Miller III: Wow! Interesting. And it's it's helpful to hear you. You think of that. And as the way you've described the even thinking about your own kids like it's challenging, raising image bearers right like this. Language is a part of your own testimony to what's happening. This is beautiful. Well, I'm excited to hear about that book when it comes up. Maybe we can have you on to talk about that as well, Nadia, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It's a real delight. I just wanna encourage people to check out this book from Zander and cultural Christians and the early church. Thank you, Nadia, for coming on.

00:56:15.700 --> 00:56:17.269
Thank you so much, Andy.

Copyright ©2024 Andrew S. Miller III