It’s February 1! And that means we’re beginning our new book in the ‘TfC Book Club‘!
So what are we reading this month, you ask? We’re working through Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity – a fairly lengthy history of Christianity from ‘Christmas Eve’ to today. I know what you’re probably thinking…”Why did you choose a big book (around 400 pages) for the shortest month of the year?!”
And the answer is simple: I didn’t plan well.
But that’s okay! I’m up for a challenge and I hope you are too! Oh, and remember, it’s okay if you aren’t reading at the exact same pace as me (or anyone else for that matter), the important thing is that you’re reading! So whenever you have a thought or finish a book (or chapter), post a comment and we’ll see what kind of conversation we can get going.
In the meantime, I wanted to give you 4 reasons every Christian should study Christian history.
Christian History Gives Us an Appreciation for God’s Work in the Past
The author of Hebrews opens his (or her) letter up with this statement: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” In other words, Jesus is the culmination of a work that God had been doing from the very beginning.
Jesus didn’t break into the world out of nowhere. Over the course of two-thousand years, God was preparing a people – through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and countless others. He had been orchestrating history in such a way that everything would be ready on that first Christmas day.
But perhaps even more amazing than that is the fact that he didn’t stop there. God has continued to work through his people over the past two-thousand years. He’s used men like Clement and Augustine, Luther and Wesley. He’s worked through women like Sojourner Truth, Fanny Crosby, and Phoebe Palmer.
The depths of Christian history continue to amaze me. I’m regularly introduced to believers I never knew existed – men and women God used in amazing ways.
And as I learn about new Christians, my appreciation for God’s work in the past continues to grow. What an amazing God we serve! And if he worked that way in the past, won’t he continue to work that way in the present? And the future?
If I never read or study Christian history, I won’t have the appreciation for God’s work in the past that it deserves.
Christian History Encourages Us
Not only does the study of Christian history give us an appreciation for the past, it also reminds us that we’re not alone. One of the most famous passages in the book of Hebrews, the ‘hall of faith’ (chapter 11), ends by encouraging us to keep the lives of God’s saints in mind as we press forward.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
When we read Christian history, we come face to face with men and women like ourselves. People who had temptations and struggles, doubts and fears, joys and sorrows. And yet, through it all, they trusted God and pressed on toward their calling.
These faithful men and women of God reminds us that we’re not alone. The journey of faith we’re all on is a communal pilgrimage. It’s something we take together.
And as we reflect on this, we’re encouraged. After all, if Sojourner Truth could persevere – and preach the inclusive gospel (see Galatians 3:28) – as a black woman at the height of American slavery, then what excuse do I have to be silent? Absolutely none.
We’re not alone and this isn’t God’s first rodeo. He’s been at this for a long time. He knows what he’s doing.
Christian history helps us remember that fact.
Christian History Helps Us Make Sense of the Present
Why do many Protestant churches have altar calls? Where’d the idea of the trinity come from? Why do we believe only the books in the Bible are scripture? And is the King James really better than other translations?
So many of the things we do and believe are not taken right out of the Bible. Much of Christian doctrine and practice has developed over the past two millennia. From the words we say to the practices we include in our worship services, Christian history helps us to understand why we believe, say, and do the things we believe, say, and do.
Though many conservative Christians believe they are purely ‘Bible-Christians’, that simply isn’t the case. We all stand in a stream that stretches back to the very first days of Christianity. We have all been influenced – for better or worse – by the thought and teachings of others. And that’s okay. It just means we have to be extra careful. And we must continually bring our traditions, ideas, and theologies back to scripture for sharpening.
Studying Christian history helps us understand how others have influenced us
In some ways, it’s like looking at a map. Seeing where we’ve been helps us make better sense of where we are.
Christian History Helps Us Navigate the Future
And as we make sense of where we are, we’ll more easily be able to see where we’re going. Studying Christian history helps us chart a course into the unseen waters of the future. I can reflect on what has and hasn’t worked in the past. And that reflection helps me make decisions on what I’ll do in the future.
George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This isn’t just true of politics. Studying Christian history can help us avoid the mistakes that Christians throughout the ages have made. Christian history is filled with stories of believers who made horrible decisions – attempting to defend slavery from scripture, murdering other believers over doctrinal issues, etc.
Rather than brush Christian history off as unimportant, we ought to read it, learn from it, and make use of it.
We don’t have to keep making the same mistakes!
With That in Mind…
Can you think of any other ways that history helps us, as Christians? How has it helped you? Let us know in the comments below.
I hope you’ll join me in reading The Triumph of Christianity this month. I read Stark’s more recent work, Bearing False Witness last year and it was excellent; so I have great hope for this one.
P.S. – Don’t forget to sign-up for our newsletter. Not only will you get my book, ‘A Disciple’s Manifesto’, for free, you’ll also be able to easily keep up-to-date with the book club – and other updates.