Why History Matters: And Why Christian History Matters in Particular

December 15, 2008
Short Description: 

I have just completed the reading of a small booklet by Ted Byfield, General Editor of The Christian History Project http://www.thechristians.ca/home.htmlByfield sees our culture facing a crisis. His extensive essay is a critique of the philosophy of John Dewey and its application by “educators” to our culture. He pleads for a return to the study of history to gain lost perspective. This posting is my reflection.

I have just completed the reading of a small booklet by Ted Byfield, General Editor of The Christian History Project http://www.thechristians.ca/home.htmlByfield sees our culture facing a crisis. He writes: 
 
“Unless we can somehow restore the unity we once shared, our society will either disintegrate or change into something unrecognizable.” He continues to state that “the chief essential in restoring it is to return to the teaching of history.” 
 
His extensive essay is a critique of the philosophy of John Dewey and its application by “educators” to our culture. He pleads for a return to the study of history to gain lost perspective. He concludes that “Christians are as notably ignorant of our own history as the world around us.” 
 
He is of course promoting the series of Christian History books he is general editor of. I have the first six and am looking forward to the remaining 6 being published over time. I can thoroughly recommend them.
 
History!
 
Since writing my Doctor of Ministry Dissertation I have been studying history. It started with understanding the history of my small Village and County of Flagstaff, going on to better understand the Province of Alberta that I now call home and my adopted country of Canada. In the process I discovered Christian roots everywhere. I discovered something that even folk born here in the County of Flagstaff did not know including my wife – that the County is named after the Flagstaff Hills the highest point of which is called Treaty Hill.  Of course Flag-staff or Signal Hill was used to signal the coming of the buffalo and to make treaties before the coming of the white man. At one point in time we held a prayer service at that high point and prayed for the healing of the land. It was an awesome experience when Pastor Robert Giant of Saddle Lake prayed a prayer of blessing over the land in his native Cree language. Robert used to pass through this land as a boy with his parents as they sought work and camped in their tepee on the edge of my adopted village.
 
We established Pray Flagstaff to gather folk together to pray and did prayer-journeys around our County. In February of 2006 my wife Patricia and I participated in a prayer journey to Israel with a group of like-minded friends from England and the US. This was an amazing adventure of discovering the Biblical roots of our faith. 
 
In 2007 we determined to do a prayer journey to the land of my ancestors – Ireland – which opened up a whole new understanding of the history of my own people. And of course the history of Ireland is the history of Christianity in that land. 
 
Circumstances led us to Hungary that year and another prayer journey throughout Hungary and the nations surrounding it during May and June of 2008. History came alive as we researched and visited significant historical sites.
 
I am presently planning a prayer-journey “In the Steps of Saint Paul” which will take us through the world of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. 
 
Ted Byfied makes the point that,
 
“The rules of our own civilization – usually referred to as “the West” – originate in the ancient world. From the ancient Israelites, we derived our ideas about God. From the ancient Greeks, we derived our ideas about government. And from the ancient Romans we derived our concept of the civil law.” (Byfield references the book by W.G. de Burgh, The Legacy of the Ancient World, Oxford, 1924.)
 
Byfield opines that “these three strains were combined by Christians into a unified whole known as Western civilization”, and it is the unraveling of these three strands in our day and age that he is so concerned about in his essay.
 
According to Byfield, Dewey was “obsessed by the idea of freedom. But his object was to establish a new kind of freedom… He envisioned a new civilization, liberated from its ancient taboos and enslavement to outdated creeds and codes of conduct.”
 
Freedom!
 
In Israel I stood on the summit of Masada and the Golan Heights and felt the cry for Freedom. 
 
In Ireland I heard the clash of battle as people fought for freedom. 
 
Standing on Tynwald Hill, Isle of Mann, where the ceremony of proclaiming laws (even to this day) is traceable to the Norse practice of making public proclamations from mounds,  I was aware of the cost of preserving freedom on that small island in the Irish Sea.  
 
And of course the history of Hungary is one great fight for Freedom.
 
During these prayer-journeys, the historical battle between good and evil, truth and lies became so obvious. Seeing the memorials everywhere attested to the heroes of these great fights. 
 
Byfield writes of Christians throughout history that “were so persuaded by the truth of the Christian Gospel and the genuine presence of Christ in their lives that they endured the most hideous tortures, enslavement and persecution that the imperial government could inflict upon them. Meanwhile their undoubted valor and their unstinting care for one another and those around them drew into their numbers the meek and the mighty, the rich and the poor, the learned and the illiterate… Christians could remind the Greeks that it was their man Plato, five centuries before Christ, who had concluded that if the perfectly good man ever came into the world he would be “impaled”.”
 
In this regard there are monuments to Jan Huss for example all over the Czech Republic. The Hussite Museum in Tabor, Czech Republic, tells the story of how Jan Huss objected to the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church and preached reform, foreshadowing Luther by preaching that “A man can receive the pardon of his sins only through the power of God and the merits of Christ”. He also stood for services and scripture read in the people’s own language. Huss was burnt at the stake in 1415, condemned by the Council of Constance.  A week before his death he wrote from jail to his students: 
 
“Stand on the recognized truth which prevails over all and retains its power until the end of time”.
 
Indeed it does, for in 1999, 584 years later, the Vatican apologized for his execution and reinstated him!!
 
Dr. James Houston, founding president of Regent College, Vancouver writes about seeing the Christian life through wide-angled lenses in the reading for November 30 of his book, Letters of Faith through the Seasons, Volume 2. He writes:
 
“Amassing this collection has been like putting on wide-angled lenses to see much wider perspectives. It has made me realize, more than ever, how cheated we are by being “modern” or even “postmodern,” since these labels lack a historical perspective. When secularism – by ignoring God rather than overtly denying his existence – saturates our consciousness, we tend to ignore our rich Christian heritage. How stupid can we be to be politically correct, opening our door domestically to all the religions of the world, yet they never deny their own past, while we are ignoring or even denying our own past! Should we be surprised if one day our national apostasy is condemned when we become aliens within our own land, outvoted by those strongly faithful to their past?”
 
So it is that I affirm Ted Byfield’s passion for Christian history to be made accessible. I am one of those rediscovering the past that Byfield so passionately believes necessary to bring us back from the brink of disaster. I am finding that exploring the reality of history does indeed change one’s worldview and the understanding of our times. Byfield makes no claim that his set of books will change the direction of society, but simply quotes an old Jewish saying, “it’s better to light one candle than complain about the dark.”