I’ve always enjoyed history. That, right there, marks me off as different from lots of other people in my society. Maybe I was just lucky, but my history teachers were good. They always seemed to be able to show how where we are now is because of what happened before. I specifically remember a professor at my Community College, Mr. Haydu, who I realized lectured in history like he was telling a story: characters, plot twists, motivations – all of those things were what made up history.
As I advanced in my education, I got the typical undergraduate stuff about perspectivalism: “All the ancient histories, as one of our wits say, are just fables that have been agreed upon” – Voltaire. My favorite is the African proverb, “Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.” But that attitude never satisfied. There has always been perspective, sure, but one reason why we tend to trust some historians over others is that those we trust seemed to work hard to eliminate their biases.
In any case, when it comes to history about the church, things get fun. Christianity places a Very High value on objective truth. Yet, because another high value is the recognition of human fallibility, Christianity is ‘realistic’ and recognizes that historians – operating by themselves – can record with unrecognized bias.
Christianity itself is a religion based on history: the historical facts of Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. In fact, Paul states that if the historical fact of the death and resurrection of Jesus is not an objective fact, then Christianity itself is just plain false. Without history, Christianity evaporates. For millennia, this has been known as the ‘soft underbelly’ of the faith. And yet, dispite this notoriously known fact, there’s been no soft underbelly to be found. Archeology and high-confidence history keep revealing more and more strength where the soft belly is supposed to be.
Judaism and Christianity both affirm the importance of history and note that the writing of history is left to its most capable people. Moses, equipped with the best education that civilization of his time had to offer, recoded a purposeful history of humanity to show how his people came to be. Unnamed prophets compiled histories of the Jewish people using the reign of kings as their narrative structure. Ezra, an extremely gifted priest, compiled a brief history of Jews returning to their homeland. Luke, a gentile physician, used his scholarly bent to compile a systematic biography of Jesus and early history of the Apostles.
And we also believe that all these writers were not operating by themselves. They had supernatural guidance. Because, even with the most gifted of people, God was there to work with those writers to not only make sure that the facts were correct, but also that the writing would accomplish the purposes that God ultimately had for those writings.
History is important to Christianity.