*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 18th of October 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
To the mailbag!
Today’s question comes from an email from Jessica in Greeley Colorado. Jessica, I have sent you a longer response, but let’s extract your pertinent question for us. Along with book recommendations, she asks “How do I dig deeper into a topic and make sure I'm going down the right path?”
I have spent the past few months gardening poorly. I know I am doing it poorly because everything dies, or droops or bugs get at them, etc… I can literally see the fruit (usually dead) of my labors. But what if I get really into, say, the Crusades? What if I track down a book, and some links, and a website and after doing my research I conclude that they were a product of a secret cabal of Masons and Templars to take control of the nascent world banking system? How would I know how completely bonkers that idea is?
Two things can help.
The first has to do with the first question about book recommendations. I tend to give history book recommendations like I give bible translation recommendations: it’s ok to have your favorite or stand-by, but you’re going to need to read a few different sources/versions.interpretations. My go-to for the past few years has been Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 1,000 page “Christianity: The first 3,000 Years”. Long surveys of broad topics can be reductive and derivative. That is, complex events are reduced to simplistic names and dates and the interpretations are usually handed down in orthodoxies and ideologies. I know I bang on about this all the time- but we have to beware of trying to “indoctrinate with historical example”. Open the books and let the chips fall where they may. A couple of quick hits:
I do have a few red flags for books, however.
If I read something like “the never before revealed truth!” I tend to walk away. I’ll let it breathe for a bit and if it’s still making waves after a while I’ll peek in to see what is going on.
I try to avoid either primitivism or presentism. That is, the date of publication tells me nothing about the validity of the truth claims made inside the book. I know C.S. Lewis has a thing about “2 old books for every 1 new one” and I suppose that could work. But I am more interested in the breadth of interpretations you find and your ability to interact with them. Do your research.
But let me suggest something about “doing your research”. Church/Christian history is regular history. It is not super spiritual and only visible with faith glasses or some such. It is the story of the people of God, and we count ourselves in that throng, but the way we look at the past involves research.
Research is: asking a specific question, collecting data, reading opposing interpretations, and present an interpretation or synthesis that helps answer the specific question you are asking.
Lastly, to use an old historical trope- look at the past as if through a window, not a mirror. You are looking out into a vast world of things that aren’t you. Things will look and sound different. It’s not just about you. Sure- you can see a faint reflection in a window as you lookout, but the point isn’t to find the people who resemble you perfectly.
Thanks for the question Jessica, and as always please send me your questions however you send people questions (email, DM, etc…)
The last word for today comes from the Gospel of Matthew:
10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of October 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who saw his Boilermakers take down the #2 team in the nation. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man interested in the old Methodist/Catholic football game next week in South Bend. I am Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.