My training is in New Testament studies and not history. However, I see a very close relationship between the two. I come at New Testament studies from the perspective of history.
How does one go about history in any other area? People who study Alexander the Great, the Han dynasty in China or the Napoleonic wars all go about it the same way. They look at the primary sources and examine the other historical forces surrounding those events.
When I study the New Testament, I do it the same way. I look at the New Testament texts as historical documents. I don’t mean looking at them as inerrant and inspired religious Scripture. I have Christian faith but I come at the New Testament as a historian first.
I then look at the surrounding context, including Hellenism, the Roman empire and early Judaism. I look at both the events that are described and what the texts say about the authors. This is exactly what historians do with other events.
That is not to say that New Testament studies is fully the same as other historical endeavours. Many New Testament scholars (including me) have religious beliefs and introduce theological ideas into the process. A historian of 19th century German philosophy may be inspired by the ideas they encounter but not in the same way as a New Testament scholar with Christian faith.
My basic conclusion is that New Testament studies can be more than history but it is definitely not less.
I recently had a comment from listener who was disappointed in the podcast. The heart of the complaint was that the podcast was more about Christian apologetics than about history. He felt I wasn’t completely honest about the nature of the podcast.
His concern deserves to be addressed.
My intent is that this podcast be truly about the history of Christianity and not about Christian apologetics. What I mean is that my goal for this podcast is not to convince people that Christianity is true.
That is not to say that I’m against Christian apologetics. I have written extensively in the area of Christian apologetics. I am a Christian and a pastor and I believe that Christianity is true. I am also aware that my bias toward the truth of Christianity affects the podcast.
But that doesn’t mean that unbelievers are unbiased. Atheists and people of other faiths have their own bias. I would encourage you to listen to those perspectives as well.
My aim for this podcast is to present the history of Christianity. I intend to demonstrate where and how the church has made mistakes. I also hope to show that many of the important figures had their faults. I won’t gloss over the problems just for the sake of making Christianity look more attractive.
I understand that this podcast will not be for everyone. There will be those who will want a non-confessional take on the history of Christianity. That is fine.
But I hope that you will find something of value in this podcast and that will give you another perspective on church history.
You might find this post on the relationship between history and apologetics interesting.
One of the challenges for doing history in any area is that of bias. This can appear in number of ways, from the bias of our sources to the bias of our interpretation.
We should not become too discouraged by this. I strongly disagree with those who say we can’t do history because of bias.
There are ways that we can do history with integrity and comes as close to the truth as possible. I would like to share a few things that can help us as we study the past.
- Attempt to use as wide a range of sources, in terms of perspectives, as possible. This means those who who were both friendly and hostile toward the event.
- Try to find as many types of sources, such as documents, archaeological evidence, etc.
- Identify the bias of the sources. Attempt to determine how much their bias affected what they produced.
- Identify your own bias. How strongly do you hold your view? What kind of evidence would make you change your mind?
- How does all the evidence fit together? What theory makes most sense of the available evidence?
- Don’t give up. If we wait for completely unbiased evidence, we will never get it because it doesn’t exist.
History is one of the most interesting topics in our world. There are challenges but the presence of bias doesn’t make it impossible.
I have loved history for as long as I can remember. When my friends were reading superhero comic books, I was reading comic books about World War Two (Sgt Rock was my favourite).
My interest in military history has continued but has also expanded. There are many areas of history that I enjoy, both ancient and modern.
Even as a I did graduate work in biblical studies, I often came at the subject from a historical perspective.
I don’t know if you appreciate history like I do, but I thought I would share five reasons why I love history.
- We can learn from the mistakes of the past. People throughout history have made many unfortunate choices. This includes the church (the subject of this podcast). I do not intend to cover up the mistakes, but I hope we can learn from them.
- We can learn from the successes of the past. On occasion, people have made good choices that have helped people and changed lives for the better. We need to hear their stories.
- We can be inspired by the individuals and events of the past. Much of history is not just a list of events but includes story. Ancient historians expected that their writings would have some sort of positive effect on their readers.
- Studying history connects us to a larger story. Who we are is much more than just our personal life or even the experiences of our parents. We are connected to people and events across the globe and throughout the generations. One of my relatives pushed back our family tree to the late 1400s and even that is only a small part of the picture.
- History is interesting. There are some pretty strange characters throughout history. I’m always shocked when people say history is boring. If you think history is boring, you are not looking close enough. They say that truth is stranger than fiction and history demonstrates this to be true. I study history not to impress people but because it is fun.
What about you? Why do you love history?