Why should we care about history when it comes to faith? Why should my beliefs be affected by what happened thousands of years ago?
It only matters if we care about truth. And then only if truth is something we can decide on by evaluating various ideas and claims. Today’s Political Correctness insists on toleration as the highest value, that all claims and ideas and views are equally valid.
Except for ideas that are not politically correct. As an example, there are those who deny the reality of the Holocaust. But even PC advocates will point to an indisputable historical record of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. If we are to learn from the horrors of the Holocaust we look to the historical record to see what happened and how it was allowed. If our social and political conscience is to be affected by the reality of the Holocaust, we draw from the historical truth of that awful event. Few people would respond that “It doesn’t really matter if it happened or not. We can learn from the story regardless of its historical roots.” The suggestion that truth is a subjective (and slippery) concept unrelated to history is belied even by those who suggest it.
Even Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code knows better than to deny the importance of history in shaping our beliefs. Brown goes to tortuous lengths to shape his view of history as superceding the more conventional record in both secular and sacred documents. He never suggests we should ignore history. He understands that history provides a basis for beliefs. He just makes up his own.
Spirituality is a popular topic today. Few people want to be purely materialistic, but see the need for the added dimension and depth of a spiritual part of life. But those who make any claim to Christian spirituality, or invoke the name of Jesus in their spiritual quest need to understand the historical roots that provide a basis for what they are seeking. It’s one thing to admit to others (and to one’s self) that a belief system is based on personal whim and whatever seems novel or attractive today. But a “spirituality” that purports to be inspired by Jesus should be consistent with the historical record of His life and teaching.
Even Christians face a temptation to turn following Jesus into a personal cafeteria of beliefs and behavior. The popularity of WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do”) bracelets and bumper stickers may be well-intentioned. But without a clear foundation in the historical Gospel record of Jesus (WDJD – “What Did Jesus Do”) they pose a danger of becoming a subjective way of rationalizing questionable or borderline behavior. Paul made it clear that our faith depends on a historical event (the resurrection, 1 Cor 15) and John was equally emphatic about distinguishing true from false spirits based on the historicity of the incarnation (1 John 4:2,3; 2 John 7).
Spirituality (Christian or not) that ignores history is spirituality without accountability – the best kind in most post-modern minds. If we can ignore the historical record (or substitute our own) then we don’t have to worry about inconvenient ideas that might require us to change our thinking or behavior. With out an objective historical reference point, spirituality is only a subjective, self-focused justification for thinking and doing whatever we please (another high value today). But if there is a historical record that describes certain standards of belief and behavior, and if we believe the authenticity of that record validates those standards (i.e., they are “true” whether I like it or not – cp. C.S. Lewis), then measuring up to those standards should be important to me. If that makes me uncomfortable, I either need to change, or I can just abandon the standards. And the easiest way to do that is to either (a) say that history doesn’t matter (but then there is that Holocaust thing), or (b) make my own history that is much more comfortable and puts the standard back in my court after all. That’s the approach of The Da Vinci Code.
Copyright 2006 by Michael Wiebe