Sunday, July 20, 2014

The work of an historian

Since when is the Gospel a guardian of the one true faith, the opponent of all false religions, the tool of God’s vengeance and wrath on the pagans? Yet in the historical record, we find that Christianity, which owes its very existence to the Gospel, is often found ‘beating… plowshares into swords and… pruning hooks into spears,’ and ‘weaklings’ saying ‘that they are warriors’ (Joel 3:10). While it aggresses, it seems to forget that the Gospel is ‘good news’ and that Jesus came ‘to seek and save those who are lost’ (Luke 19:10). This happens not only on a grand scale, nation against nation (Christians against Jews or Muslims), even confession against confession (Christians ‘crusading’ against each other) under institutional direction, but even more often on a small scale, man against man, under no leadership at all.

What do I mean by this? What I mean is, Christianity is whatever people call Christianity. Sometimes it has little or nothing to do with the Gospel or with Jesus Christ at all. Often it is just a cover for other motives, none of them honest, though usually hidden from their owners by what can be called ‘invincible ignorance.’

Ironically this ignorance comes from people reading the Bible and fitting its contents to what they already have in mind, whether doctrines only or actions as well, since the one often leads to the other. How is this possible? The Bible is supposed to be the source of all wisdom, knowledge and blessing. How can reading the Bible result in the kind of ignorance that produces fanaticism? Easy, ‘the Bible says what I want it to say,’ and it’s infallible, so if you disagree, you’re wrong.

The historian, especially the Christian historian, has his work cut out for him. If there is a Christianity different from the one that writes big in the world, where is it? How do you find it? Is it documented? ‘Because, if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.’ No, not really. This popular but cynical saying is absolutely false. Lots of things happen that are never documented. In fact, most things aren’t, yet they happen anyway. The historian, though, does have a real job to do, if he is honest. To collect the facts and interpret them in a constructive and honest way.

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