Question: Why study history?
It seems that i have made a 180 degree turn. I think the discipline is vital, perhaps even necessary to doing ministry. Here’s why in a “Q & A” format.
Answer: The study of history is beneficial b/c in it we recognize our finitude, and we need our other “body” parts. Simply put, our ecclesiology/theology of ministry teaches us that the church of old is part of the universal church, and as such we learn and can benefit from them as much as we can from reading Boyd, Piper (hmm . . .), Sanders, Barth, or any more recent theologian, denomination, etc.
Question from Evangelical/Protestant:Why don’t we look to Scripture only, since it is our only infallible guide?
Answer: Infallible, yes. Only, no. What is interesting about this question is that the reformation & evangelicalism were both founded on this idea of Scripture alone will preserve us from error. To bring out why i think this idea is misguided, let’s look at history briefly. Protestants proudly ignore history, but their position has HISTORICAL FOUNDATIONS! Both are influenced by humanism (interestingly, Luther studied under Occam [eg Occam’s razor]. hmm . . Could the protestant reformation be influenced by “unbiblical ideas?”) who said to focus on the “original sources.” I think that you would agree with me that from a historical perspective, their view hasn’t kept them from error. At this point refer to point #1 above again.
Question from scholar: Using history to prove history’s value is circular reasoning. Can you justify the use of history biblically/theologically?
Answer: The other main reason i will give for why this is important in addition to the post and #1/2 is that, theologically speaking, our faith is HISTORICAL in nature. While this seems like a bit of a “duh” statement, i think that it bears a little pondering.
Obviously, God acted in history in Biblical times (eg Exodus, Pentecost), but what many don’t often consider is that through the INCARNATION Jesus swapped His nature with ours for our salvation when considering history. Where this point intersects with our discussion is that as such Jesus can continue his ministry through his church (of holy & blameless “conduits”) to build His Kingdom. His work in the world is synergistic in nature (he cooperates with us; eg 1 Cor 6:2, 3, 17, the importance of intercessory prayer [2 Chr 7:14, Eze 2:30-32, Ex 32:10-14]).
The implication of all this is hopefully clear now. CK sums it up in his syllaubs like this: “Our theology of ministry teaches us that the ministry of Jesus Christ is not just confined to 1st century Judea, but also to the work of the church today. This has been true as well in regard to the church that ministered between the times of the apostles and our present situation.” We study the history of the church to see how the historical church tried to cooperate with Jesus in His ministry. How was it successful? How did it fail? This understanding offers us warning signs about what to avoid and what to focus on.
At this point you might be thinking: don’t we get that from Scripture? My answer is yes and no. Yes, the overarching principles are there, but God was working in the 1st cenury Greco-Roman-Jewish culture during the writing of the Bible. On the negative though, we don’t see how God worked in the world during the Enlightenment, Biblical criticism, the Inquisition, Sacerdotalism, and many other things throughout history in Scripture.
However, when we take the incarnation and its benefits seriously we get both: using the objective interpretive historical lens of Scripture we can “exegete” today’s (& the past’s) church & culture to see “What God is Doing in the World Today.”
The church is not supposed to focus on being culturally relevant. It should focus on Jesus Christ and what He has done, is doing, and will do. He is our guide. His work is worthy of our finest efforts to discern, understand and apply.