John Vest has written two interesting posts. One is “Historical Myopia,” the other is “Change.” They fit together and deal with what Vest sees as reluctance by conservative Christians to accept change as well as what he views as their misunderstanding of church history, which he views as dynamic. Vest gives his broad view of religious history in general, going beyond the history of the Israelites, but then he ties church history to it as a part of the dynamic flow.
History has its historians. By that I mean there are historians who write about the history of writing history. Historiography is a fascinating subject. And what many do not understand is that there have been various ways of writing and understanding history. They all, however, have problems.
For instance the rather romantic idea that history can be written by looking at the lives of great men leaves out everyone but great men. A modern mode of history writing called the annales school began by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, is basically concerned with empirical evidence such as records and statistics. It often fails to find a unifying theme around which to write history. And often it is very dry reading.
One type of history observes the movements of nations, cultures, and institutions seeing history in dynamic movements, and often seeing such movements as progressive. But the problem with such a history is that everything is viewed not by solid structures or ideas but instead by dynamism. The movement is the thing. When this plays out in either philosophy or religion it can make havoc with any kind of reality.
Hegel and his Introduction to the Philosophy of History is an example of this kind of history. Of course he is extreme. History is the movement of spirit working out the ultimate ideal and the players, whether nations or individuals, are simply a means to that end. One can mix religion with historical dynamism. But the results will divorce the past from the future. And events will simply be stair steps toward some religious ideal. To see Christian history or even Christian theology this way is unthinkable.
Vest concludes his last posting with these words:
First, the subsequent 2000 years of dynamic history demonstrates that we have not been in a holding pattern at all. But more importantly, the nature of God to be discerned from this history suggests that this continuing change is deeply rooted in the presence of God in our midst.
In the same way that we must correct our historical myopia, we must remove the blinders that prevent us from recognizing the dynamic nature of our religion, a faith that responds to a dynamic God.
By viewing church history this way one is able to eliminate any solid foundations because there are no events worthy of permanence. Not only are creeds, such as Nicene, and confessions such as Barmen tossed aside, even Scripture is lost. The lives of past Christians become meaningless except as agents of change. The same is true of church councils and reform movements.
Church history is either the history of Christ building his church, which includes the fellowship of brothers and sisters who love Jesus, the Lordship of Jesus and adherence to apostolic teaching, or it is a dynamic progressive movement that constantly leaves all else behind.