History for Everyman

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The other evening we had my parents to dinner, and we had a delightful time at the table with them telling stories to our boarders. Most of these were stories I have heard my entire life, and some of them I had told on numerous occasions. As I listened, I was delighted to hear new details, have gaps filled in, and here and there have adjustments made.

History is story telling. Faithful history is faithful story telling. And it is amazing how many little errors and emphases can go wrong in just the course of one generation. They told the story of how my father’s life was spared when his destroyer hit a mine in the Korean War. We heard about how Corrie Ten Boom joined them on the last part of their honeymoon in Japan. And when I was a little kid, Corrie Ten Boom gave me a wiffle ball, which I frankly admit I should have kept better track of.

As a family recollects all the varied things that have happened, and as they pass them on to subsequent generations, it is easy to see how memories get blurry, details get hazy, and perspectives vary.

This being the case, then where do we get off having a history conference every year? If I am not exactly sure what I was doing in 1959, then why would I undertake to talk about events in the 18th century? But for a decade now, we have had an annual history conference in February. None of the speakers at this conference are trained historians. And this coming year, the history conference will be moved to August, rolled into a bigger event called the Trinity Festival, and we will do it all again. What are we doing? We are telling stories, and the reason we are doing so is that we believe that God requires it of us.

History depends on the dedicated historians and archivists who sort, assemble, and work through the mountains of material available to them. And when they have done their work, they present to the layman . . . mountains of material. Not only does it appear that we need specialists to deal with the raw material, we also need specialists to sort out the finished products. What is a “definitive” biography? Who says?

Scripture tells us that every fact should be confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses, and that in the multitude of counselors there is wisdom. Historical laymen should read broadly enough to make sure they are not reading some truncated account or other, but neither should they be embarrassed by the necessity of popularizing the material. Parents who homeschool have to make decisions about curricular material. Parents who serve on the curriculum committee of their children’s private Christian school have to decide between this textbook and that one. They may do so in all faithfulness, despite the obviouis limitations.

Those textbooks will tell the story a certain way. Andrew Jackson will either look good, or he will not look good. The American colonists were violating Romans 13 in their revolt against King George, or they were not. And the textbook will lean one way or the other. Cromwell was either a disaster or he wasn’t. Everyone who undertakes this kind of task is in way over his head, and this includes the trained historians. And we cannot protect ourselves by means of our own prowess.

This means that we walk by faith, faith in the God who orders all history to His own perfect ends. Trusting Him does not mean that we throw up our hands in a “facts be damned” sort of way, and choose some sort of relativistic history that “works for us.” Such postmodern relativism has to be rejected outright. But so does modernist hubris. No one man knows exactly what happened at the battle of Waterloo — although we can get the general drift of it. We are not omnicient, and so we must trust the God who is.

One other element has to be mentioned. Just as we trust Him, we also read the story with our loyalties intact. In other words, we cannot love God without loving those whom we believe to be His sons and daughters, and our brothers and sisters. I read the story of Latimer and Ridley while identifying with them. I am pulling for John Knox, and not for Mary, Queen of Scots. We are a people, and so we must tell the stories of our people to our children. We are not given the option of being silent. And to step out in faith like this is not hubris, but rather humility.

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