Growing through Christian history

One of the quotes that stayed with me from last year said this about historians:

“Without them, our civic life would be a wasteland of forgetfulness, a cultural desert.” [Source]

I think the same is true of our church life. As Christians we need to know something of our history. The basic deposit of our faith is the gospel of Jesus, in the whole inspired counsel of God in the Scriptures.

But that faith has been taught, defended and defined, prayed and lived by generations of Christians since, and we have much to learn from them.

In the age of instant Tweets and Facebook updates, we are in more danger than ever of what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”. J. I. Packer mocked it as the dangerous view which holds that:

the newer is the truer,

only what is recent is decent,

every shift of ground is a step forward,

and every latest word must be hailed as the last word on its subject. [Source.]

It’s for this reason I am always so grateful Joy Horn’s annual round up of Christian anniversaries for the coming year.

Initially inspired by John Piper’s biographical talks, I’ve discovered that ’round number’ anniversaries – 50, 100, 250, 500 and so on – provide great angles for introducing a bit of church history into bulletin articles, blog posts, and occasionally even sermons.

Learning history this way is very accessible – especially since it’s biographically-oriented.  It’s often an interesting way of teaching a bit of theology too.

Once I see an anniversary that interests me, I try to discern whether there’s a major sermon or seminar in the topic. If so, I will try and discover if there are any primary texts from the person or incident being remembered. Then I will try and read some of that material and also any good articles and perhaps a book on the topic I can track down.

In these cases, if you want to publish your article or present your talk on or near the actual anniversary date (if known), you will need to plan ahead to obtain the materials and make time for preparation beyond your normal preaching and teaching load.

Alternatively, you might find a suitable local scholar or pastor who has researched the topic and could speak to your people for you.

In the case of lesser topics, Google-searching for web-articles is often sufficient, though it’s sometimes wise to check multiple sources to double-check the claims being made.

Anniversaries from Joy’s list that caught my Australian eye for 2014 include:

  • 500th birthday of John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, of special interest to Presbyterians;
  • 300th birthdays of George Whitfield, great preacher on both sides of the Atlantic in the Great Awakening, and, lesser known to most, of William Romaine, whom I discovered in J.C.Ryle’s Five Christian Leaders of the 18th Century.
  • 250th anniversary of publication of John Newton’s An Authentic Narrative, an autobiographical account of his conversion from slave-trading captain to Anglican minister.
  • 250th birthday of Samuel Marsden, second chaplain to the Colony in NSW and pioneer missionary to New Zealand Maori.
  • 100th birthday of Leon Morris, former Principal of Ridley College, and famous for his scholarly defence of the traditional evangelical understanding of the atonement.

There were many others listed and you can check them out, often with actual dates in Joy’s article. for Many thanks to Evangelicals Now for publishing this article each year.

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