history of Bible colleges

Dr. Daniel Spanjer shares his thoughts on thinking about history from a Christian perspective.


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Thinking Christianly About History

December 8, 2017

history of Bible colleges

The Chinese sage, Confucius, once advised his hearers to “study the past if you would define the future.” This statement rings true even as it also sounds an alarm. Those who write history assume the responsibility of both explaining the present and charting the future. Homer told the story of the Trojan War to make the Greeks believe they were the people of the gods. After the North won the Civil War, historians portrayed the North as the America of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The old saying that history is written by the winners may be a rather bald way of communicating the same concept but it conveys a truth: history grants its craftsmen a great deal of influence. At times, Christians have chosen to wield this influence to shape human society and direct its future, but sadly to ill effect. A biblical worldview requires us to look at history differently. 

People may not be aware of it, but history is a very potent instrument. It possesses forces that are strong enough to vindicate unjust causes, substantiate political positions and villainize opponents. History can even serve as a weapon powerful enough to marginalize entire people groups. The institution of slavery was built on a view of the human past that rendered African peoples helplessly backwards. Intellectuals today arrogantly claim to be on the “right side of history,” which means that those on the “wrong side” would best serve society by going extinct. Christians reject this use of history because they believe that the past does not control the future. The Bible claims that the eschatological Kingdom of God will not grow out of human history but rather be established when King Jesus enters history and does something alien to every human effort.

Yet, the future work of Christ will confirm history rather than erase it. Abraham’s act of faith to leave his home in Haran made our faith possible. Paul’s obedience in the first century AD laid the groundwork for the Church to which we now belong. The love and obedience of God’s people has eternal value. For the Christian, history is important because it shows us, through the lives of the saints and the work of the Holy Spirit, what we must do to love our King and our neighbors. It also warns us about the pitfalls of obeying false kings and trusting in human autonomy.

Christians have every reason to value history but should avoid the gateway error of seeing it as mere utility. George Santayana said that those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. I am afraid this sentiment smacks of a dangerous naiveté that makes the past the reference point for human progress. The utilitarian view of history allows for two errors: seeking to return to the past or marking improvement by how far we distance ourselves from it. For Christians, however, the Gospel views history from a different perspective. History shows us human genius, sin, goodness, and evil, but offers neither hope nor despair. Christians, you see, do not serve history; they obey the God who will one day redeem it.

Although I feel melancholy about humanity’s ability, no matter how well intentioned, to avoid disaster in the short-term, I am at heart an optimist about the long-term. Christ has shown us, through His word and through the testimony of His saints that He is in the business of redeeming our failures. As an act of faith in God’s plan to transform our flawed efforts into a beautiful Jerusalem, we work for a kingdom that we do not have the skill to construct. History, as it turns out, does not have a right side but a right conclusion – the King of all Creation permanently reigning over His people with perfect justice and love. Christians love history not because it serves as a political weapon, but because it testifies to our undying hope.

We are coming up on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. At the end of October, Christians will be confronted with history. What will we do with it? People will be tempted either to see in Luther’s bravery a brilliance that we should imitate or to judge him as an unenlightened, backwards man whose antiquated views we should revile. It is important that we not make the past into more than it was. Luther neither damns us to backward thinking nor saves us from irreligious cultures. Rather his efforts, like those of all mankind, are so many stones which Christ will take up, shape, polish and install in His Kingdom. He will neither destroy nor restore history – He will salvage it and make it adorn the architecture of His heavenly city. History should capture but not freeze our attention; it is at its best when it helps us look for a home that we have not yet seen. Soli Deo Gloria.

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