Monday, March 15, 2010

Thoughts on History

I was watching a short clip of John McCollough, long time host of PBS series, American Experience, in which he comments on his biographical book turned HBO miniseries, John Adams. He says some interesting things about history that I wanted to interact with.

First he says that "history is human." In part, he's right. We measure and record events as we experience them, and we usually do so from a very human perspective. "What happened to us?" History becomes important because, in the end, we hope that, by noticing trends in history, we will be able to control the future. I would add that the study of history helps us to better know who we are now. What philosophies have we accepted, what wars have we fought, what successes have we had? These are the events that shape our passions, our drives, and our reactions.

Yet there is an even deeper aspect to history, and it is a theological one. We should see history as fundamentally God-related. God created, and all things came into being and experienced events and time from that point until now. God revealed created man in his image and revealed himself to his image. God has revealed himself and instructed man, thus creating events. Wars, peace, ideas, and human interaction are all sourced in him and his unfolding will for mankind. Only when we see human action in relation to God's Word and Self-revelation, can we appropriately view and judge historical events.

Mr. McCullough later says, "I feel strongly that we need to know our history better than we do. That it is especially important that young people come to . . . history with more of a sense of what happened and why." I agree vehemently with the former statement. We must know our history better than we do. This is true for society at large, but it is especially true for Christians. It is true because we must know the God who revealed himself to man and how his self-revelation has led to our salvation. Beyond that, we should know history so we can apply it to our current context. Many Christians are heavily enculturated; that is, they live for and enjoy worldly pursuits and activities with little understanding of or concern about repercussions. God's revealed Word, and actions throughout history, should teach us how to live in order to please him.

But I would disagree with Mr. McCullough that we should come to history with a sense of what happened and why. That is the result, not the prelude, of learning history.

History is essential to the thinking person, and the study of it should illuminate human sin and separation from God in the past, but also illuminate our own sin and separation, which should, in turn, cause us to quickly repent and pursue God as his image-bearers.

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