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Why Do We Study History?

“To comprehend the history of a thing is to unlock the mysteries of its present, and more, to disclose the profundities of its future.”   – Hilaire Belloc

Foundational to Dave Raymond’s history is moral philosophy. Moral philosophy is why knowing the past matters, why it is a right and good and beautiful task, and why it is integral to our deepening understanding of our place in an eternal story.  In American History and Modernity, Dave establishes central pillars to the study of history: by understanding our past, we may be better equipped to live in the present with vision for the future.

As Dave Raymond explains, we study history:

  • TO SHOW FORTH THE GLORY OF AN INFINITE GOD. 

    The Christian faith is a faith established in time – through actual events that have occurred in history.  From God’s creation of all things, to His incarnation in His world, and His continued provision for His people unto completed redemption, the Lord has revealed His eternal glory through the bounds of past, present, and future.  History is the long retelling of the glory of God, who He is, and what He has done in His world through all ages and people of the past.

  • TO SHOW THE DECAY OF ALL THINGS.

    In the fallenness of this creation, all kingdoms and peoples eventually do reach an end. Towers fall and the world’s riches come to ruin.  History drives us to reckon with the “vanity of vanities” of Ecclesiastes. It drives us to continually remember that the grass withers and the flower fades, and – by the grace of the Gospel – to pursue those things that will never pass away.

  • TO SHOW THE REDEMPTION OF OUR GOD.

    The study of God’s work through history requires what J.R.R. Tolkien called “the long defeat,” Frederick Buechner, “the magnificent defeat,” and Gerard Manley Hopkins, a life “doomed to succeed by failure.”  Throughout all ages, the church appears to be constantly conquered. continually broken, always fraught with failure and sin, and filled with fallen men.  Yet the past demonstrates that the church has never and never will be fully destroyed. For God’s redemption of His people transcends their failure to live redemptively.  The study of history reveals the steady, ancient grace of God.

  • TO KNOW OUR OWN IDENTITY.

    History reveals to us our past, the people we have descended from, the inheritance that is ours.  The lives, writings, and legacies of those who have gone before show us what it means to be human, what it means to be fallen, and what it means to walk daily in the faithfulness of God.  We must live in continual remembrance of where we have come from to live in continual vision of where we are going.

  • TO KNOW THE FALLEN HEROES.

    We study history to know men and women, in just as much need of grace as we, whom God has used to accomplish great things for the Kingdom.  Although fallen, they take their place as heroes by grace. Through their repentance and their faithfulness, they humbly walk with their God.

  • TO KNOW THE FALLEN VILLAINS.

    We also study history to know men and women who failed to repent and failed to be faithful.  Their pride came before their destruction, and their place as villains humbles us in our need of mercy.

  • TO KNOW THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST.

    John Briggs writes, “The Christian faith does not have to contort itself to embrace the hard facts of history. It admits that the tragedy of history cannot be avoided, but claims that there is power that redeems tragedy.”  We study history to learn its lessons, not so that we may eventually create in this world a perfected civilization, but so that we may see God’s redemption and continue to pursue sanctification in Christ.

  • TO BECOME GREAT STORYTELLERS.

    If the last seven pillars stand true (and they do), then we are the recipients of an extraordinary story.  It would be a pity to not be able to tell it – to our communities, to our children, to the Body of Christ, and to ourselves.  History is the story of the outworking of the Gospel in time and place; it is then, of all stories, most worthy to be told.

Resting on these pillars, the lives, narratives, and writings of American History and Modernity serve to establish us in the legacy of the past.  So firmly rooted, we seek to carry out the present, daily faithfulness of those who have gone before, unto the hope of the eternal future promised to us by him who is himself the Ancient of Days.