*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
The 26th of November 2021 Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It’s a holiday weekend, and we are clearing out the mailbag. There is a question that I have received several times, sometimes worded differently, but usually trying to get at the same issue. Brandon in Mesa wrote recently and asked a question, “how does what you believe affect what you teach, I know we could ask this about any teacher, but it seems that your own beliefs could make you biased with church history.”
This question is excellent and essential. It takes us into a little bit of the philosophy of history, but I’m going to keep it as practical as possible.
So- bias and context should be noted and separated. It is impossible not to have either, although we can work on our preferences as we see them.
My context is that I am a 40 something married father of 2 in Southern California. I have a Ph.D. from St. Andrews, and I spent ten years as a professor, chair, and assistant Dean at Concordia University, Irvine. I’ve been with 1517 full-time for five years. So you could probably guess a few things from that, and perhaps some that might give you questions about how I read and interpret history.
I am on “Team Protestant”- as you could probably gather from working at a Lutheran University and now for 1517. So… does this mean I am going after the Catholics as often as I can? This is where we separate context from bias.
I think Luther was, on the whole, right. But the Catholic Church wasn’t akin to some collective matinee villain, fiendishly twisting their black mustache. Institutions, filled with corruptible people, can become corrupt. And those institutions can be reformed, replaced, etc.… and I can’t stress enough- just because someone attends a church doesn't mean they sign off on everything taught and done in that church. People are complicated.
I believe that the most significant thing the church has to offer is Jesus. A living, dying, resurrected Jesus who doesn’t snuff the wick or break the bruised reed. If the church is obscuring this, then I will be critical. And this is where being a church historian can get tricky. I have theological convictions, and I need to decide when my confidence justifies telling the story that makes a theological point that I agree with or disagree with.
Also- I take my job as a teacher very seriously. When I am asked what I do (if you aren’t American, please know that we are obsessed with asking people this), I have long shortened it to “teacher.” And as a teacher, I need to- in whatever context- recognize who I am teaching. And, when you broadcast your voice across the world, you can’t know exactly who you are teaching, so it is best to be careful and work from a common denominator. C.S. Lewis compares the church to a large house where we all mingle in the standard rooms, but we enter the particular rooms for bed and board, fire, and conversation.
Lastly, with regards to biases: they can be identified. To what extent can they be eradicated? I think this is an excellent conversation to have. If we couldn’t eliminate them at all, then inquiry would be useless. At the same time, it seems romantic to pretend we can all become blank slates. This is true in many disciplines and certainly in church history. And I will end by asking you a question: what biases might clutter the way you look at church history? What might you listen to or learn about with a little more patience or compassion?
Thanks for the question Brandon in Mesa!
The last word comes from Hebrews 11- the author has listed examples of the faith of the Old Testament Patriarchs and then writes:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Mesa’s include the city in Arizona, the restaurant chain owned by Bobby Flay, and former relief pitcher Jose. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who remembers Jose Mesa blowing game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the Cleveland Indians (it's been 72 years since they won the title!) I’m 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.