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The word remember is used 166 times in the NIV. Clearly, as God’s chosen, holy, and dearly loved people, we are called to remember. In fact, “the concept of remembering is central to the Old and New Testaments” (Fairbairn, 2018). As a people of memory, it is important that Christians surround themselves with the correct interpretation of the story of God’s history with his people. Consequently, the perspective of the storyteller is paramount in the retelling and understanding of the Christian story.
Followers of Christ need to be attuned to the perspective of the historian because people are spiritually formed in part by their understanding of church history.
In addition, they are influenced by the perspective of the storyteller, and there are different myths that influence the way that historians retell events. Also, varying perspectives on the early church provide particular perspectives more in keeping with the Christian faith. We must remember well to be spiritually well-formed.
Followers of Christ need to be attuned to the perspective of the historian because people are spiritually well-formed, in part, by their understanding of church history. Because the Bible is the primary source for the Christian story, historians through the ages have gleaned wisdom from its pages for how to thrive in a life-long, intimate relationship with the God of the universe. Scripture says, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand” (Matt 3:2, 4:17, 10:7). Dallas Willard, a trusted church historian remarked that,
“This is a call for us to reconsider how we have been approaching our life, in light of the fact that we now, in the presence of Jesus, have the option of living within the surrounding movements of God’s eternal purposes, of taking our life into his life” (“Spiritual Formation,” 2018).
At times the Christian journey can be challenging, and the call to remember our history and our distant ‘relatives’ can sustain us on the path. Although the saints struggled just like believers of today, we can learn from their lives and examples. As a pastor, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had the opportunity to escape Nazi oppression and serve in America. Shortly after his arrival in the USA, he wrote to a friend,
“I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people”(Christianity Today, 2018).
Learning from the history of the lives of brave saints like Bonhoeffer, who returned to Germany and was eventually martyred, can spiritually form and encourage us; therefore, we need the perspective of a historian who will teach us and show us who we are by telling the story in a manner that is challenging and encouraging while holding to the authority of scripture.
In addition to valuing the authority of scripture, Christians need to be attuned to the perspective of the historian because there are different myths that influence the way historians retell events. In Lecture 2, “Just the Facts Please,” Dr. Fairbairn identifies four primary myths that can influence the perspective of the storyteller. First, the Universal Myth purports that Christianity sold out and recast its primary tenets into Greek philosophical categories. What this myth looks like today is that it is en vogue to slander the majority. However, “Tolerance is not only the virtue of enduring what is intolerable for me, but also the virtue of refraining from inflicting spiritual or cultural harm on other people”(Losonczi and Singh, 83). We must be wary of storytellers who are comfortable with slander, gross generalizations, and careless speech.
Secondly, the Evangelical Protestant myth supports the church’s sellout to the pagan world. It champions the separation of the church today so that those within the church walls are not tainted by those outside the church. One example of this myth is the Quiverfull movement which advocates against birth control and promotes the
“sheltering of the children…the homeschool mindset includes the basic belief that children are to be protected and sheltered from ‘the world,’ outside influences which could be detrimental to the child’s spiritual well-being”(Patheos, 2018).
While the majority of homeschoolers do not hold to the separatist tendencies of the Quiverfull movement, Christians must hold the tension between being in the world and not of the world.
The third and fourth myths, The Liberal Protestant and the Catholic myths, are opposites of each other. The Liberal Protestant myth is certainly alive and well in America today. It holds that there is no absolute truth. Supporters of this myth “project our modern relativism back on the early church that says orthodoxy was arbitrary”(Fairbairn, 2018). Sadly, this myth has permeated many mainline denominations like The Episcopal Church, which has on its official website’s dictionary of terminology under inerrancy that “Biblical inerrancy and infallibility are not accepted by the Episcopal Church. See Fundamentalism”(The Episcopal Church, 2018). Truth matters. Students of church history must carefully guard against historians who champion this myth.
Based on an ache for a more stable story than what is offered by the Liberal Protestant myth, we arrive at the Catholic myth. This fabrication of history says that the truth of our faith has always been believed by everyone, everywhere. This myth denies the fractured parts of our faith. It forces, like a fable, the story of Christianity into a framework that oversimplifies the beauty and complexity of our faith story.
Ultimately, the perspective of a historian who can hold all these myths in tension is the type of person that I most want to learn from. We all carry biases and lenses that shape our understanding and telling of the Biblical story. I believe that acknowledging and honoring our personal stories and how those intersect with the larger story church history is the
Ultimately, all Christians need to be taught to be attuned to the perspective of the historian, including our own, because we are all influenced by the perspective of the storyteller. A skewed perspective can lead to a distortion in the retelling of the story, which can lead to the skewed perspective of the learner. The cycle is viscous. As students of church history, we must guard ourselves against the inaccurate telling of our story. “When you are reading the writing of anything or anybody that is not divinely inspired, you should ask the question ‘does the perspective of this person, this historian lead to problems; does it lead to distortions?’”(Fairbairn, 2018). By pausing to ask this question and then engaging wise historians who acknowledge the intricate tapestry of the Biblical story coupled with the history of the church, past and present, Christians will be encouraged to continue on our faith journey.
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