Many pastors and preachers are readers of history. If the study of theology and the Bible is their vocation, history is often their source for relaxation as well as for extra help. Stories from history support and add to sermons. History is, in some ways, an extended commentary of Biblical truths.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “I know of nothing next to the reading of the Scriptures themselves that has been of greater value to me in my own personal life and ministry than constant reading of the history of the church.” Along with church history, biographies are a favorite of ministers. But secular history, and I wince at that awkward term, is also useful for broadening a pastor’s perspectives, providing rich sources for sermon illustrations, and disciplining the mind.
Not only do many preachers read history, quite a few have written on historical subjects. There is the field of history as a profession, involving certain academic credentials and labors, but history is not confined to the specialists. Along with journalists, novelists, and popular authors dipping into the vast river of history, preachers sometimes write histories.
Along with history-reading-and-using preachers, there are also history teachers who borrow heavily from the fields of the Bible and theology. I am talking about more than a history teacher who is a church member in good standing and who reads his Bible each morning for personal spiritual growth. Some historians have dug deeply into theological matters for historical research. This is more than just the realm of church historians.
Christopher Dawson was first and foremost a historian, but his historical works are shaped by his theological concerns. The Dutchman Groen van Prinsterer was primarily a historian, but his conversion to Christianity radically altered his understanding and writing of history.
Just as some (hopefully not many) preachers preach badly, so some people do history badly. Beware of statements like “History shows” or “History proves” or “What we can learn from history is.” History provides illustrations of everything. Want to prove or buttress any argument? Look around in the huge bin of historical examples. Every cause imaginable has been put forth as to why the Roman Empire fell. Every American President or political leader can be likened to some famous or infamous Roman. Almost any era of history can be presented as a golden age or as an example of vice we should be careful not to follow.
In short, history does not prove. Go to math class for proofs. This does not mean that history is without lessons or practical applications.
Today (July 19, 2017), I finished reading the book Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers by Daniel L. Dreisbach. It is published by Oxford University Press.This is one of the best books I have read this year and is one of the best studies of the Founding Era of U. S. history that I have ever read. While it is true that we should not be taken in by credentials and academic titles, professional historians are held to higher standards than the rest of us. There is much to be said for academic reputations and peer reviews. Yes, mother sometimes knows best what to do for your stomach ache, but you still go to the trained, licensed doctor for serious medical conditions.
Dr. Dreisbach is both a scholarly historian and a Christian. He has filled in a large gap in the conventional story of the sources of America’s freedom and establishment as a nation. Certainly, the familiar names, such as John Locke and Montesquieu, are mentioned, but it was the Bible that provides the most quotes and references among the founders in their writings and speeches. But was this just a ploy used to appeal to a Bible-reading public? To some degree, yes, but the extensive use of Bible verses, references, and ideas in public and personal discourse indicates that the Bible was believed and adhered to as a spiritual or God-given source for political understanding.
In my Humanities class this coming school year, I will be teaching The American Story. It is my favorite of the four Humanities courses, largely because I am better versed in American history and literature than the other subject areas. But even the teacher needs both refresher studies and new realizations. This book provides both. I have been exploring the connection between the Bible and American history for years. I am certain that I have read and studied at least a couple of hundred books on the topic. (Many books included the topic but were not focused on it.) If I were to provide a bibliography of ten or so books, this one would make the cut. Unless I am forgetting some other vital book, this one might very well get first place honors.
If 234 pages of text were not enough to convince or challenge me, Dreisbach has an extensive section of notes with further details. This book can be used, as the title of this post states, as a devotional read for the history teacher. But this devotional will not be closed as the teacher then prepares for his or her labors in the classroom. Whether quoted extensively in lectures or just used indirectly, this book will impact the teaching of history.
I received my copy of this book free for the task of reviewing it. As such, I am not obligated to speak in favorable, much less glowing, terms about it. But I am doing such because it is that good.