Every Christian Ought to be a Good Historian

Many in the modern world, sadly even Christians, see the past as little more than this: a tiresome account of a few big names with little wisdom to impart for life today.

History is obviously important to God, since it is the realm where God ultimately brings about the salvation of his people by entering into the very fabric of time and taking on our humanity, sin excepted, in the person of Jesus Christ. This divine activity in the realm of history should not be restricted to the Bible. Though it is impossible to trace out his footsteps across the sands of time in detail, it is blasphemous to deny that God is at work. 

 

Though it was written two hundred years ago, Jane Austen’s fiction is still popular since so much of it still rings true to human experience. In her novel Northanger Abbey (1817), for instance, the heroine Catherine Morland makes a statement that is amazingly prescient about the modern boredom with history. In Catherine’s words, history “tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all—it is very tiresome.” Many in the modern world, sadly even Christians, see the past as little more than this: a tiresome account of a few big names with little wisdom to impart for life today. At best, it may offer a couple of hours of entertainment and diversion via a movie or a novel.

History, important to God

How different is the Bible’s perspective on the past. Here, history is obviously important to God, since it is the realm where God ultimately brings about the salvation of his people by entering into the very fabric of time and taking on our humanity, sin excepted, in the person of Jesus Christ. This divine activity in the realm of history should not be restricted to the Bible. Though it is impossible to trace out his footsteps across the sands of time in detail, it is blasphemous to deny that God is at work. His work may often be hidden, but it is biblical to confess that he is providentially guiding history for the glory of his Name and the good of his people. As such, to quote the seventeenth-century Puritan Richard Baxter, “The writing of Church-history is the duty of all ages, because God’s works are to be known, as well as his Word.” Reading Church history should lead therefore to the praise of God and his adoration.

The individual and history

Men and women are historical beings, immersed in the flow of time.  Without the past our lives have little or no meaning. When a community forgets its past, it is like a person suffering from dementia: they really cannot function in the world. So we must study history, and as Christians, this means Church history.

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