A Response to “Sin and the Historian”

I am in the final weeks (six, to be exact) of my very long undergraduate period.  One of my current classes is a U.S. History class.  It is one that I should have taken care of years ago . . . but . . . well, I didn’t.  So here we are now, wrapping things up!

In this class, one of the ongoing assignments is to read articles as a weekly devotional and write a response to the article.  Last week’s article was titled “Sin and the Historian“, written by John Fea.  (Click on the title of the article in the previous sentence to read it.)  I really enjoyed reading the article and found much value in it.  However, it was written from a different theological perspective than my own.  So in my response, I reframed what was being considered.  My response is what follows:

Fea concludes his article with this question: “What if we taught and wrote history as if human depravity mattered?” (par. 8).  As a Wesleyan theologian, I feel compelled to turn the question around on him: What if we taught and wrote history as if prevenient grace mattered?  Certainly, I was put on guard early on when he alludes to himself as a Calvinist: “This article is must reading for all Christian academics, whether you are a Calvinist or not” (par. 1).

There is, indeed, much that I agree with in his article.  I never support the whitewashing of history.  One of the things I love about Scripture is that all the great men and women of faith are still flawed.  Scripture never hides their sins.  I believe that this should be the case with history, as well.  We can respect what men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington contributed in the founding of the United States while at the same time lamenting the fact that they were slave owners.

Still, I would rather look at history through the lens of prevenient grace.  Doing so requires us to acknowledge the flaws of historical figures.  We do not dwell on the flaws, though.  Instead, we can look at those things and see how God is working grace through them.  Fea writes, “History certainly teaches us that we live in a broken world that will not be completely fixed on this side of eternity” (par. 4).  This is true.  All will not be set right until the Kingdom of God is fully consummated.  However, the Kingdom of God is a present reality, and as the Kingdom of God advances through the Holy Spirit working in God’s people, God is currently in the process of making all things new.  Let us rejoice in this good while at the same time not being afraid to acknowledge and learn from the mistakes of history.

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