*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 27th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
We go to the mailbag today as we are emptying it over this holiday weekend. I received an email from Rob in Saint Cloud.
[Maybe my favorite city name in America. I just read that it’s named after a St. Clodald- a grandson of Clovis living in the 500s. A French city named after him and this St. Cloud was named after that French city.]
Rob asked a few particular questions about becoming a historian. While I had some specific advice for his specific situation, I thought I’d take the idea and broaden it out for the general audience.
Now, I realize that there is a small minority of listeners who will have a career in the academic discipline of history. But let me reiterate what I said on a recent show. I claimed not to be a professional theologian but a theologian nonetheless. As Christians, we are always “doing theology.” And when we come to a show like this and start thinking historically about the church and our faith, we are “doing church history.” So Let me give my advice to Rob and other budding historians but also everyone listening.
Here it is approaching church history as a window, not a mirror.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t look for reflections; this is often how we first get into history. We ask fundamental questions: how did those people (maybe “my people”) end up there? And why did they do what they did and believe what they believed? My sons first learned about their city, then state, then country, a world in elementary school.
But at some point, we need to ween ourselves off the need to find ourselves in every story. If every bit of history has to tie closely to you, you may find that all of history starts to resemble you. Imagine an art gallery with mirrors instead of portraits. You’d learn a lot about yourself and probably get bored.
When we look at history, we are looking through a window into a bustling landscape of foreign people and places. And you can’t possibly take it all in, but you can start asking why things look the way they do and why people are doing what they are doing.
And as you take in as many external stimuli as you can, you want to simplify and complexity (which is a word! For reals!) As you look through the windows of history, you can start to see patterns and specific names and ideas… take note of this and begin to build the basic structure and timeline of events. And then realize that it is so complex simple answers (especially with existential issues) won’t do.
Here’s where I lose some of you- but consider the sport of American football. Let’s say your favorite team has lost two games in a row, in large part because your quarterback threw two interceptions in each game, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The analyst could say, “it’s the quarterback’s fault,” and on the one hand, they would be right. But anyone who knows football knows that there are 22 people on the field at any given time, and all of them have very particular assignments, and if one breaks down, the whole play can break down. You might still be mad at Matthew Stafford for throwing the interceptions. Still, you’re not going to trade him because you know the problem had to do with the left guard and center, the running back who tore his ACL before the season started, and a myriad of small things leading to bigger things.
This means that the church developed the way it did on account of Constantine and thinks about sin and grace with Augustine, and analyzed the place of faith and reason with Aquinas. Luther led the Reformation, Henry VIII started the Church of England etc.. etc… but you’ll need to complexify to answer questions about the diversity of thought in these systems and how they developed in different places, different times and different languages.
Rob, thanks for the question and I appreciate all of you taking time to “do church history” with me for a few minutes every day. Keep listening, we’re just warming up.
The last word for today comes from the Gospel of Luke
16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite American city names include St Cloud, Duckwater Nevada, American Fork Utah and Popejoy Iowa. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by man whose favorite city name in America: Humptulips Washington. 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.