We live in a society largely disconnected from history. The secular myth of progress has taught us to disdain history. To many, the figures of history reek of foolishness; such odious Neanderthals pollute with their offensive beliefs and values. Our ignorance of the past is only surpassed by our disgust towards it. Yet, our disgust exposes our prejudices. Our bias encloses us like a bubble, sheltered and naive from the tensions of the current age. When the past delivers a critique of the present, we quickly dismiss it as incredulous and obsolete.
Postmodernity’s influence is so pronounced, that the debunked theory of the evolution of truth is assumed without suspicion. Our disregard and disdain of the past leave our assumptions unchallenged and without a competitor. Can a boxer declare himself champion if he never steps into the ring against an opponent? Mistakenly, today’s presumptions declare victory without ever facing the heavyweights of history. Confidence in your conjecture combined with the refusal of historical scrutiny is the height of folly.
The insanity of historical ignorance is not only a problem for the secular academy but an equal problem for Christian discipleship. As the church advances effective spiritual formation, professors, pastors, and church leaders must root the young in the great tradition of the church. The history of the church spans two millennia, ripe for investigation and discipleship. Studying church history deepens our perspective, as we encounter old ideas that are new to us. Historical theology challenges today’s notions of Christianity and church, putting strain on own cultural moment to reveal if the contemporary church is in sync or out of step with the word of God. The church possesses a rich heritage ready to produce robust disciples of Jesus Christ if we would only take up the past and utilize it. Church history discloses contemporary Christian presumptions, equips us with the careful thinking of theologians prior, and warns us of their past failures. Few Christians realize how much their own culture shapes their worldview. History expands the minds of the saints, helping them to critically evaluate their own generation.
Evangelicals have tended towards skepticism when it comes towards history. We’ve reduced Sola Scriptura to Solo Scriptura. Though Scripture will always be the final and ultimate authority for the church, church history helps us reevaluate our interpretation of Scripture, improving our hermeneutics. As any experienced biblical interpreter will tell you, our own presuppositions shape how we interpret the word of God. Possessing and knowledge of the history of biblical interpretation will improve our ability to rightly handle the Scriptures. Church history doesn’t compete with Sola Scriptura, rather it aids us to honor this key Protestant principle faithfully by curtailing our own biases.
The benefits of church history in spiritual formation are legion. Providing students with a mental framework of the history of ideas will only produce men and women who more faithfully follow Christ and challenge the culture in which they live with the objective authority of God’s revealed word. Christian colleges and local churches should broaden the minds of the young and see the education of church history as an incredibly practical and strategic path in producing fully formed disciples of Jesus Christ.