Make History Great Again

Matthew Arbo | February 15, 2017

History isn’t what you’d call “straightforward.” It’s notorious for raising as many questions as it settles.

What is history, really? How do we reach sensible interpretations of it? Which criteria are most important? Are we to prioritize facts or meanings? Does history tell one story or many? 

Some of these questions are more puzzling than others, of course, but it’s the question of interpretation that’s a recurring fascination for Christians. Perplexed by challenges and crises, communities of faith have turned to the past for understanding.

This turn to the past can be done well or poorly, and can be rightly or wrongly motivated. One of the more powerful instigators of today’s nostalgic attitudes—“nostalgic” being distinguishable from traditional—is novelty itself. The modern period is in many respects a purveyor of newness—new commodities, new techniques, new ideas, new lifestyles. The new is superior because of its newness. Modernists relish this sort of perpetual change. The early 20th-century mantra—“Everyday and in every way the world keeps getting better and better”—nicely captures this optimistic spirit.

Conversely, in such a fluctuating and accelerated world, some individuals will see only threats, and retreat to the familiar past for refuge. Those troubled by modern crises who feel the threats most…

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