The Beacon Show: Wisdom from the Early Church with Historian Nadya Williams (Full Episode)

Nadya Williams explores parallels between ancient and modern church challenges, from navigating political turmoil to pandemics and resisting celebrity culture.

Share This Post

As Christian leaders, it’s so easy to get caught up in today’s culture that we can forget to look back and learn from those who have gone before us. But Nadya Williams is on a mission to bridge the gap between ancient wisdom and modern faith. In this informative episode of The Beacon Show, Nadya shares profound insights from the early church that are deeply relevant for Christian leaders today, unpacking timeless truths about humility, community, and the enduring power of faith. 

Nadya Williams is a military historian of the Greco-Roman world, the author of Cultural Christians in the Early Church, and a regular contributor to publications like Christianity Today, Plough, Church Life Journal, and others. 

With a childhood spent in Russia and Israel — and now as a resident of Ohio — Nadya brings a global perspective to her study of early Christianity. In her latest book, Nadya dives deep into the cultural complexities of the early church on earth in parallel to the challenges Christian leaders face today. 

From navigating political turmoil to pandemics and resisting the allure of celebrity culture, Nadya shows how the struggles of the early church are not so different from our own. But beyond the historical insights, Nadya is passionate about bringing these ancient stories to life in a way that transforms hearts and minds in the present. 

As a homeschooling mom of five, she’s constantly thinking about how to pass on the legacy of faith to the next generation.

In this fascinating conversation, Nadya shares about the importance of humility and transparency in leadership, the power of community in an individualistic age, and timeless truths that transcend any one cultural moment. 

Whether you’re a history buff or simply looking for fresh inspiration for your faith journey, Nadya’s wisdom will leave you encouraged, challenged, and better equipped to lead in an ever-changing world. So grab your favorite beverage, settle in, and get ready to travel back in time and discover the enduring relevance of the early church for today.

Watch or listen to Nadya’s full interview on YouTube and Apple Podcasts!

Culture and Christianity: Learning from the Early Church

Nadya Williams’s story is nothing short of unique. She was born to a secular Jewish family in the former Soviet Union, and moved to Israel and then the United States by the time she was in high school. 

Nadya went on to earn a PhD and became a professor in a tenure-track position at the young age of 30. But despite her academic success, Nadya found herself embroiled in what she refers to as a personal crisis. 

“My life felt like it was unraveling,” she recalls. “That’s the year I came to Christ, and it felt like God was just working really powerfully in my life.”

Now, having been a member of multiple churches in different parts of the U.S. — and through her work as a historian — Nadya has gained a unique perspective on the culture of both ancient and modern Christianity. 

Sacrificial Love and Service in the Face of Turmoil and Persecution

According to Nadya, many of today’s church dynamics and dilemmas existed even during the early days of Christianity. 

Not only did ancient Christians gather in congregations of varying sizes — from house churches to larger urban congregations like the one at Carthage — but they also faced similar challenges to those we see today, including a pandemic. 

Nadya points to the Carthaginian pastor Cyprian as an example of faithful leadership in a time of great turmoil and persecution. 

“He was constantly calling people back to loving Christ and loving their neighbor, whether Christian or not,” she explains. “And this is the period when the church exploded in size, because clearly others could see the networks of care that these churches offered and realized, ‘These people really believe this. There is something genuine and beautiful going on.’”

Instead of only thinking of their own health and protection, these early Christians prioritized serving and caring for others, setting a shining example for how we ought to respond to crises as a community of faith.

Avoiding Harmful Cultural Influences

One of Nadya’s particular interests is the ways in which ancient Christianity differed from the Roman culture around it — and how it sometimes became blinded by that culture and fell into sin. 

Modern Christians are by no means immune to this danger, but we can learn from the example of early Christians and other biblical figures who worked hard to remain humble and faithful to God despite the temptations of their time. 

It isn’t easy to keep ourselves from falling prey to harmful cultural influences. But, with God’s help, it is possible. 

“From the earliest churches, people really hope that becoming a Christian will make their life easier,” Nadya observes. “But the gospel is not a vitamin that you take, and your health improves, and everything dramatically gets better. Jesus’s ultimate promises are not for this world. And that’s a really difficult lesson for all of us, including for me.”

Using Technology for God’s Kingdom

In today’s modern world, we have access to technology that the early church could never have dreamed of. While this technology presents incredible opportunities to spread God’s Word throughout the world, it can also prevent us from being fully effective in our calling.

Whether it’s social media or innovative technology like virtual and augmented reality, Nadya cautions that we should be careful to use these tools in edifying ways. When used well, they can help us build a strong faith community and gain a deeper understanding of Scripture. When used incorrectly, however, they can actually obscure the truth of God’s Word.

When bringing biblical stories to life through television or virtual reality experiences, for example, Nadya strongly believes we should be careful not to replace the biblical account with our own interpretations. 

“The criteria I would use is, is [this technology] bringing us closer to the Bible and to God, or is it introducing this entertainment aspect that is not really intended to be there?” she says. 

Living in Community with Fellow Believers

Finally, a core element of Christianity both today and in the ancient world is community

For Nadya, the most important form of community has been her family. From leaving her professorship and moving to another state for her husband’s job to relying on her husband and children to let her write without interruption for an hour every day during the 2020 pandemic, Nadya’s family has shown her the importance of both supporting and receiving support from one’s community. 

“Modern culture keeps telling us, ‘You’re an island unto yourself,’” Nadya says. “Like, ‘You do you, you make your own decisions, you’re in power. You’re in charge of everything on your own.’ And God says, ‘No, you’re called into community. And first and foremost, that community is your family.’”

Likewise, beyond the family unit, the church community is an essential part of life as a Christian. And while it’s important for individual church communities to welcome newcomers into their midst, Nadya believes it’s just as important for the newcomers to actively seek out connections in their new congregation. 

It’s About the People: The True Meaning of Legacy

Although Nadya loves her work as a historian and an author, she says that a true legacy is all about pouring into other people and influencing them for good.

“Whenever we go to a funeral of somebody who was a faithful Christian and we hear the legacy that they’ve left,” she says, “it’s always about people they’ve led to the Lord, including children, including spouses in some cases. And that’s where the true legacy is. The legacy is in the kingdom of God.”

About Nadya Williams

Nadya Williams (Ph.D., Classics and Program in the Ancient World, Princeton University) is a military historian of the Greco-Roman world and the co-editor of Civilians and Warfare in World History. She is book review editor at Current, where she also edits The Arena blog. She is a regular contributor to the Anxious Bench, and has also written for Plough, Front Porch Republic, Church Life Journal, History Today Magazine, History News Network, and The Conversation.

Nadya Williams is the author of Cultural Christians in the Early Church (Zondervan Academic, 2023) and Mothers, Children, and the Body Politic: Ancient Christianity and the Recovery of Human Dignity (forthcoming, IVP Academic).

Nadya Williams grew up in Russia and Israel, and after thirteen years in Georgia is now a new resident of Ohio. Along with her husband, Dan, she gets to experience the joys, frustrations, and tribulations of homeschooling their children. Some of her writings can be read here

Nadya was recently a guest on the Shifting Culture Podcast. Her episode can be listened to here.

An article written by Nadya was recently featured in Christianity Today – it can be read here.

Visit Nadya’s website here. Connect with Nadya on Twitter

More To Explore

Tamara Jackson’s thought-provoking newsletter for faith-based leaders shining their light and making a Beacon-level impact.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.