History

Here are five reasons (from a much longer list) why Christians, of all people, should have a deep and abiding interest in history:

First, God created us to be historical beings. This side of heaven, an essential attribute of our humanity is that we live in time. We cannot survive without constantly drawing on our memories of the past to make sense of the present and plan for the future. When we learn how to do that more systematically and effectively, when we begin to draw from more than our own narrow experiences, when we work to develop what I would call historical consciousness, we’re not practicing some arcane intellectual pursuit. We’re leaning in to one of the inescapable dimensions of what it means to be human.

Second, recall that history is absolutely foundational to Christianity. The pillars of our faith—creation, fall, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection—are real-time past occurrences that we believe are fraught with theological significance. Call to mind the verbs in the Apostles’ Creed. Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and so on. As historian Margaret Bendroth puts it, the past tense is “essential to our language of faith.” Indeed, the historical dimension of Christianity is so integral to the faith that one of the premier historians of the 20th century, a secular French scholar named Marc Bloch, concluded that “Christianity is a religion of historians.”

Third, as Christians, we are members of a community of faith that binds living and dead, present and past. This is what the Apostles’ Creed refers to as “the communion of saints.” We evangelicals have so imbibed the individualism of American culture that we rarely think of the church as an institution that vastly transcends our own historical moment. We may occasionally imagine the day when every tribe and nation will gather around God’s throne, but we almost never remember that the church in eternity will not only bridge the divides of race and class and ethnicity but also what Chesterton called the “abyss of ages.”

Fourth, our faith informs us that the entire unfolding human story is worthy of attention. God is the author of that story, of course—it unfolds according to his decree—and its characters bear his image. He also ennobled it immeasurably by entering the story, identifying with its characters, and walking the earth as one of them.

Fifth, historical understanding plays a vital role in faithful Christian discipleship. Scripture commands us to not be conformed to the world. But when we cut ourselves off from the past, we can be shaped by our contemporary contexts without even realizing it, since the fads of the moment can look like timeless truths. We also deny ourselves the perspective and insights of those who have gone before us. Studied with humility, history allows us to glean wisdom from our ancestors. It broadens our perspective and expands the range of experiences that we can draw on as we face the future.

(Excerpt taken from the article, "Two Best Introductions For Christians Studying History: A Joint Interview" by Justin Taylor, June 17, 2019)