The Importance of Christian History
I recently read an article (albeit an older article - 2003) in Christian History & Biography discussing the relevance of Christian history. The author produced some facts that all Christians, regardless of whether history interests you or not, should take a close look at.
The bestsellers list on an average contains three to 5 non-fiction histories or biographies. In comparison when one takes a look at the New York TimesChristian Booksellers Association (CBA) nonfiction list it usually turns up - you guessed it - zero. Why is that? Is Christian history that boring? Is it not relevant? What appears to be the cause is alarming.
Christianity as a whole, according to the article, is more concerned with ministering to "generations X, Y, or Z, unearthing Christian insights from films, fixing marriages, revitalizing the church and inspiring the discouraged." He is right. While these books are certainly worthwhile, forgetting, or worse yet - not even knowing, the events, people, places from history bygone is seriously detrimental to ones growth as a Christian. Psalm 77:11 reminds us that the Psalmist knew the importance of history,
"I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old." (KJV)
Part of this problem can be laid on not the reader, but on the preachers, theologians, apologists and authors who purposefully skate past the subject of history. They are afraid to. It isn't profitable, the stores won't carry them in a section to make them viable - but the book stores don't because there are not enough texts to make them viable. So goes the vicious circle. The article goes on to state that authors bypass even entertaining the idea of writing a historical Christian work for the fact that they would be considered "slumming" - Christian history isn't work for a legitimate Christian author, they should be focusing on whitewashing the history and packing it into a book that will
2. Provide a modern viewpoint
3. Not "scare" away potential readers - Christian and secular alike
4. Give the reader something tangible to take away.
But why is the history of Christianity important in the first place?
Probably the biggest reason is because what happens in the past is a realistic and usually accurate gauge on how actions, decisions and circumstances played out then and how those results can be used effectively in modern times.
Also, we have to remember that memories are not fixed. Meaning, that as time passes lessons learned and resultsfade with the passing of time. This is why studying the writtings and teachings of Christian figures such as the apostle Paul, Eusubius, St. Anselm, Martin Luther, and John Wesley are highly important in understanding the complete picture of how Christianity grew and eveolved from the time of Christ until now.
So is there a solution? The author of the article suggested a couple.
First, CBA needs to seriously consider adding history/biography to it's bestseller lists. The market is there if the product was, thus making it "legitimate" to write historical Christian books.
Second, Christian bookstores need to, as an act of stewardship, promote some of these titles, even if they are not on the bestseller list.
Third, Christian publishers need to do more to keep their history lineup fresh and full.
The history of Christianity is more than just stories from the past. It provides readers with an insight to the daily lives of those who lived in a period that is crucial to understanding the faith that we rely on. With only surface understanding or "Cliff Notes" versions of history, the reader and Christian is getting a watered down version of their faith in action. It is like going to Sunday morning worship, the praise team sings only the chorus of each song and the pastor just hits bullet points from his sermon and then you are sent out the door. You are not getting the full effect, and worse yet, God is not getting the full glory He deserves.
Thehistorian Roman Cicero stated, "To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child always." Just as with our spiritual walk with Christ, we start as a child, but we must mature. A lack of understanding of our Christian history prevents us from maturing.
History Is Not Bunk <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2003/sep5.html>