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What's the Value of Studying Church History? An Excerpt from "Church History, vol 2" Explains
Below is an excert from John Woodbridge's and Frank James III's new church history resource Church History, Volume 2: The Pre-Reformation to the Present Day. If you haven't done so already, check out an excellent introductory video by Woodbridge.
The history of the church reminds us that Christians can be culprits of foolishness as well as bold titans for truth. They can be egoistic and self-serving; they can be humble and generous. A single individual can embody conflicting traits. We may find it disconcerting to discover that our heroes are sometimes flawed. To alleviate in part this dissonance, may we suggest an aphorism to accompany your reading: God works through sinners to accomplish his good purposes. Such words remind us all that despite our frailties, we are yet serviceable to God.
This volume has sought to accomplish a number of goals. The first of these is to provide an academically responsible engagement with the facts of history as best we can determine them, whether or not these facts comport with personal convictions. We believe that such honesty, although at times painful, will ultimately serve the best interests of all, Christian or not.
Second, this volume endeavors to provide a global perspective. We now inhabit a world where the center of Christianity has shifted from the West to the global South, which requires that due consideration be given to the theology and movements in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
Third, we intend this volume to be contemporary and relevant to the church today. Change, whether cultural, technological, political, or social, is now happening at an ever-increasing pace. Although it is impossible to keep up with every new movement, we nevertheless endeavored to engage the most significant of those developments that are most likely to impact the Christian church. Fourth, we have not avoided controversial issues of the past or the present. But we do not presume to make final judgments. Rather, we seek to present the relevant dimensions of the debate in order to provide readers with enough information so that they can begin to reach their own conclusions.
Fifth, we are keenly aware that church history — like all history — is culturally conditioned. The social norms that governed an earlier era may not be the social norms today. For example, we do not execute heretics. However, even as we evaluate actions according to the cultural standards of the time, we are mindful that Christians affirm doctrinal beliefs and ethical standards that are culturally transcendent. Finally, we have embraced a broad ecumenical stance; that is to say, we have endeavored to be respectful of all Christian traditions and indeed, to give a thoughtful and faithful treatment to other religions…
The ultimate value of history lies not in its predictive ability or even its capacity for elucidation, but in its aptitude to teach humility. Church history, in particular, is an opportunity for self-reflection and, indeed, for self-correction. If the story of the Christian church can bestow on us a measure of this humility, then we will enter the uncertain future with a sure compass.
Church History, Volume 2
by John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III
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