Thursday, June 27, 2024

Historical Thinking: "What is History?"

 As we get started down this rabbit trail of “Historical Thinking,” the first thing I’d like to work through is a question: “What is history?” 

Why? Because too many people come back with “I don’t like history” as their response to the idea of studying, learning, or reading anything about history. Now, some folks will probably still never like history. And certainly, not everyone is going to vibe on the academic discipline of history, but history as a whole can be very enjoyable even without perfectly spelled footnotes!

First, let’s dismiss some wrong definitions of history. History is not just a collection of dates. While it is necessary to keep up with what happened when—I read once that a key factor in history is knowing some things happened before other things—your school-aged history tests of just memorizing and reciting dates is not really history. It’s facts.

Second, “history” comes from a Greek word “ ‘istoria” and has nothing to do with the gender pronoun. It’s not “his story” in place of “her story.” Sometimes it’s presented as such—and it’s sometimes presented that we need a “her story” to counterbalance “his.” Folks, it’s all “history.” Because the word doesn’t break down into a pronoun.

Third, a corollary on the second point: I firmly believe that history involves the work of God in the world. Fully and completely. But it’s not “His story,” either. He gave us His story—has garden-based bookends, Creation, fall, redemption, REDEEMER, redeemed. That’s not the same. Neither is it appropriate to apply to God all the causation in history, though that’s another matter but we’ll hit it here: God is sovereign. Historical causation can be viewed as understanding how God did it, but we do not drop back to “Well, it happened because God did it, moving on….” 

Apply that to something as simple as World War II: I’ll take miraculous intervention helping the Allies overthrow the Nazis. But a “all that matters is God did it” view means that God caused the Nazis. I don’t think that lines up with theology, how about you?

Another thing that is not “history” are the memory triggers we use, like statues or single items in museums. Those help us remember history, but without “history” it’s just a guy on a horse. Who is he? Why did we put up his statue? 

You need to know that.

So what is “history”? 

For our purposes here, “history” is the recorded story we tell to understand the past. That’s my combination of several pieces of definition from around the academic world. It is not just a record of events, but the interpretation and collation of the facts surrounding them. This is why history, at times, needs to be reconsidered. For example, throughout the 1950s-1970s, much of the story about events in the American space program focused on the astronauts and the “high profile” lead scientists, like von Braun. Recently, though, the lens has widened to show that men and women, including Black women, were always in the picture. The story we need tell needs to be told better.

Or, as we look longer into the past, we have long heard the popular tale that Columbus proved the Earth was round. Yet clearly understanding history shows that this story was told without regard to the facts: it was a widely known fact that the Earth was round. The initial story was more focused on “heroic development” of America at the time.

History is the story we tell about the facts—it cannot exclude the facts but instead explains them, interrogates them (asks questions, seeks understanding), and puts together a mostly cohesive narrative about them. That narrative is recorded, shared, and then open to debate and discussion. Perspectives affect our creation of history as well as our understanding, but the facts remain the same. 

That’s why history remains an open discussion. Some things are fairly plainly settled, but new information should lead to re-evaluation of the story, correction of errors, and plainer dealing with what has gone on before now. History does change, because we understand the story better. The facts remain the same, and that’s the key.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Sermon Addendum June 23rd 2024

 Sermon Addendum June 23rd 2024

(Keep in mind, the date is for the sermon, not the post :) )

This past Sunday, I wrapped up the sermon series in Acts that I’ve been doing for several months. There wasn’t enough time to get all the way through Acts, and when it comes to Acts you either need about 2 years or you have to leave something out. After all, one of my “want but am not spending the money” book purchases is Craig Keener’s four volume commentary on Acts. We do Acts a disservice if we only read it as one-off actions stories.

So, what’s going on in Acts 15?

First, it’s the justification for what is called in church history The Conciliar Movement. At least, one of my textbooks used that label. Most of what we deem standard (orthodox) Christian doctrine is born from bodies of church leaders in the 2nd-5th Centuries AD gathering and establish what Scripture means, how Christianity understands the truths contained in the Word. For example, our understanding of God in Three Persons, the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was defined by the Councils of the Early Church. It is drawn from Scripture’s revelation of the nature of God, but there is a lot of Bible about God.

And the idea that a group of wise Jesus-followers can make plain what Scripture means starts here in Acts 15, where Peter, Paul, James, Barnabas, and others gathered to sort out how the Old Testament Law needed to be applied on the current church.

Second, we see some basic guidelines on how the Old Testament Law needs to be applied on the current church! Note the nature of the four instructions passed on to the Gentiles. As we look at the expectations given to the people, these were about clear worship (abstaining from idols); clear lifestyle (abstaining from sexual immorality); and clear fellowship (avoiding foods that would have re-divided Jew and Gentile). And the last one we see some development through later years under Paul’s authority as he mitigates that command somewhat. (He never backs up from avoiding idolatry and immorality.) As we examine the traditions and expectations of years gone by, our questions could rightly come back to these: are we clearly worshiping only Jesus? Are we honoring God with our lifestyle? Are we strengthening our fellowship with one another or being self-absorbed?

Third thing that we see here is some of the leadership of the church in Jerusalem. We see James, and we know it is not James Zebedee, as he died earlier in Acts (Acts 12). So it’s another James. Usually we connect him to James the (half-)brother of Jesus, and author of the Biblical book of James. We see Peter, we see Paul, we see Barnabas. Both the primacy of James as spokesman and the equality of all to share their views are important here.

Finally, Acts 15 wraps up with perhaps one of the sadder moments in the flow of the story of the early Christians. Paul and Barnabas have a sharp disagreement, sharp enough that they no longer work together. The text’s statement of “they parted company” implies something deeper than a “well, agree to disagree, see you later,” moment but more of a “Nope, we’re done” kind of event. Tragically, we sometimes go down that path: it is okay to have a disagreement, but strive to keep it from causing you to “part company.” That’s an important idea to keep in mind, that we can disagree. We can even decide that we are not going to work with someone because our approaches are too different. But preferences and styles should never drive us apart in our relationships.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Books: What I'm Reading

Rather than a book review this time, I would like to hit a rundown of some of the things I am currently reading. I would not automatically endorse everything in all of these...but they should be useful reading anyway!


1. I'm rereading Timothy Zahn's Thrawn and Thrawn: Ascendancy trilogies during wind-down time in the evening. It's a good relaxation moment.

2. Before that I read the Michael Crichton/James Patterson work Eruption. It's not as awesome as Jurassic Park, but it's still good :)

Non-Fiction Devotional:

1. I'm working through Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart and the accompanying work by Jan Johnson Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice. Thought-provoking.

2. Ryan Holiday's latest in the Stoic Virtues series: Right Thing, Right Now. I like this series, even though I might not always agree with all of Holiday's philosophical ideas, this is a good series.

3. Jesus Every Day: A Journey through the Bible in One Year by Mary DeMuth, which is a great opener with a short Bible passage and devotional.

Non-Fiction Learning:

1. The Battle of Brandy Station which is about the largest cavalry battle in North America. It occurred in the Civil War, shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg. It's by Eric J. Wittenberg, who also wrote a good book about John Buford during Gettysburg.

2. Ownership: The Evangelical Legacy of Slavery in Edwards, Wesley, and Whitfield by Sean McGever. Why? because.

That's the current spread of reading outside of the dissertation work.


Monday, June 24, 2024

Sermon Recap for June 23 2024

 Good afternoon!

It's time for the sermon recap for yesterday. The morning sermon was the last one in our series on Acts. We've wrapped up that one and we're moving on to 1 Samuel next week.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Historical Thinking for June 18 2024

 So, one of the things that has me struggling with blogging for the last, oh, 3 or 4 years is that I am supposed to be writing a dissertation. I feel bad to blog when I should write for assignments. Except these days the dissertation is a bit stymied. It’s not so much writer’s block as it is…doldrums. I’m just stating and restating the same things and that is getting me nowhere. I’m also now past the deadline/time-limit and living on appeal.

But one lesson learned from the mechanical world is that sometimes, one must prime the pump. You have to put in a little bit to get a lot out, and since the blog is worth exactly what you are paying for it, I decided it’s a good place to write with a little less formality. Hopefully that gets my brain going to get the other, “proper” writing going. It’s not that I intend to be less precise or spell worse—if I represent something as factual, I intend to show where I got that fact from.

Academic history writing, though, is expected to be dispassionate, third-person, non-prescriptive, and generally lacking in empathy or judgment. As I write about racism and misogyny in late nineteenth century America, I’m not supposed to sound agitated by the people who cloaked that in religious language. 

Except I’m quite agitated by it. It was wrong. It remains wrong that we have never really corrected for the embedding of these attitudes in many of our religious systems to this day. There’s just some agitation to be shared.

Although I do not want to only rant here, but I do want to have a way to talk about where we have been and how that, in turn, drives certain emotional responses. It is good and right and fitting to have emotional responses to history. 

Which is the main point for Historical Thinking today: it is not only acceptable to have feelings about the past, it is right and fitting to have feelings about the past. In the course of those feelings, you cannot ignore the facts or be unwilling to learn new ones. There may be a whole new set of emotional responses to deal with after learning new facts, but thtat is just the way it goes sometimes.

You see, history is not just the facts of what has happened, it is more accurately our understanding of the facts. Not just whether or not the United States declared independence from England, but why they did, when they did, and what difference it made. And our emotional response is part of that. The facts—like the approval of the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776, or the final end of the Revolutionary War (which started in 1775) in 1783—are part of that understanding. Neither fact should affect an American’s emotional attachment to July 4th as our Independence Day. It’s the mutually-agreed upon celebration of all those facts at once.

Most weeks, then, I’ll post a bit of something about the past and how we think about the past. Maybe it will be something that provokes some thought. Maybe it will be something that you find boring. All of it will be from things I have learned or am learning in working in history.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Book: Matthew through Old Testament Eyes


Cover of book Matthew through Old Testament Eyes

In the ever-growing intermittency of my blog writing, I have another book to talk about today. It is Matthew through Old Testament Eyes, the next entry in the Through Old Testament Eyes commentary series. Which, hopefully, will end up encompassing most of the New Testament. I would not expect OT commentaries, although a "Pentateuch through Post-Exilic Eyes" type of commentary might be intriguing.

First, the series: the idea here is to examine specifically how Old Testament thoughts informed the writing of portions of the New Testament. Not merely the "big idea" concept of "There is a God, He made the world," but rather the finer details like how the Beatitudes are informed by passages like Psalm 1. There are entries, so far, on the Gospels of John and Mark, and on the book of Revelation. (No, it's not "Revelations" through Old Testament Eyes, either. It's always singular.)

This entry to the series is on the Gospel of Matthew, and therefore draws the appropriate name of Matthew through Old Testament Eyes. It is a paperback, 390 pages, published by Kregel Academic with a list price of around $31. Endorsement blurbs include Lynn Cohick from Houston Theological Seminary and Michael F. Bird from Ridley College.

David Capes, author, is the Executive Director of the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, a place that my daughters have been to but I have not. I will try not to hold that jealousy against him in this review. He holds a PhD from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary nad been involved in many scholarly works on the New Testament in his thirty-plus years of academic work.

On to the content: 

This is a generally academic commentary, more fit for the in-depth study of Scripture than for basic devotional use. It is not a deeply technical one requiring knowledge of Greek or Hebrew (the Hebrew would be relevant because of the OT references). It is broken down by sections of Matthew, with some areas detailing verse-by-verse but usually covering a couple of verses per comment. 

As an example, the commentary on Matthew 18:21-22 caught my attention. Most Christians are familiar with Peter's question about how many times he should forgive his brother--it even made one of the earlier VeggieTales episodes--and we have sermons on it, debates about it. It was not until this commentary that I even considered a connection to Genesis 4:23-24 about Lamech's boast. 

This is a good insight. And representative of the types of help this commentary will bring. The introductory material, covering background, etc., of Matthew is brief. It will hit the highlights but if you are needing details on authorship debates, date of writing, etc., you will need an additional source.

In all, this is a good addition to the Matthew shelf. This will broaden your understanding of how Matthew's original audience heard what he said.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Sermon Recap for June 16 2024

 Good Monday!

Here is yesterday's sermon. Video and audio. One more sermon in Acts, then it's time to move elsewhere in the text.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Sermon Recap for June 2 2024

 Good morning!

This week, there's just the one sermon :)

Steven preached his second sermon at Mt. Olive, Crossett, and had the joy of preaching a second week in a row after last week. Here he is:

Sermon Recap for July 21 2024

Another week, another sermon. We're still working through Ephesians on Sunday nights, but that's a discussion group and it does not ...