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The Importance of Studying Church History

Don Sweeting, President of Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando Florida, writes of the importance of church history for American Evangelicals: “Why Study Church History? Getting Beyond American-Evangelical Amnesia

Sweeting lists 11 reasons, which I highlight:

  1. It reaffirms a Biblical value of looking to the past.
  2. It tells us the rest of the story.
  3. It frees us from faddishness.
  4. It is an antidote to arrogance.
  5. It exposes us to some of the issues faced by the church in every age.
  6. It helps us see further than we naturally can on our own.
  7. It gives us insight into our own culture.
  8. It provides warnings about what to look out for and what not to do.
  9. It can be used to spark a longing for awakening and revival.
  10. It implants hope in dark times.
  11. It offers company and help in difficult seasons of ministry.

Sweeting’s conclusion:

Church history is one of the most helpful studies in the preparation of Christian ministers. It gets us beyond our natural shortsightedness, faddishness and pride. It becomes a source of warning, wisdom and encouragement. It provides spiritual sparks to awaken us and lift our eyes so that we might have renewed hope. And it gets us beyond our own American evangelical amnesia.

I would draw two conclusions. First, Sweeting’s reference to “amnesia” would mean that at some point in the past, something of our history was known. That is stated a bit more optimistic than may be warranted. I am not sure the history has been known, so there is not something there to forget. Second, the only thing I would add to Sweeting’s post is an exhortation to study church history!

In a future post, I will provide a reading list for those interested in heeding the exhortation.

Greg Strand

Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.

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