Why read history?
by Pastor John Mann | January 5, 2015To be honest, I have not always been a fan of history. Too many strange names, from too many strange places, with too many dates to memorize just did not picque my interest. There was always something much more entertaining to do than read about some subject with which I could not identify.
Thankfully, the Lord has given me an appreciation for history, whether it is biographical or historiographical. I would like to share three reasons I think every Christian would benefit from reading books of history.
First, reading history gives us a greater appreciation for our heritage. I have known myself long enough, and have known enough people, to realize that people have a propensity toward taking the unique benefits of their life for granted. But who of us would not acknowledge that we are the recipients of courageous people who have gone before us?
Second, reading history gives us a better view of our circumstances. In 1 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul appeals to the Corinthians to learn from the mistakes of the Hebrews as they wandered in the wilderness due to their lack of faith in God. In verse 11, he says "Now these things happened to them as an exampole, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."
Of course, Paul's primary purpose is to appeal to the Old Testament scriptures as the Word of God that is ever-living, but to do so, he teaches us that an examination of history may serve to instruct us about our own current circumstances.
Mark Twain reportedly once said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." We may not relive the challenges of the past as history advances, but we can certainly learn lessons from humanities pitfalls. A close reading of history will enable us to see what these pitfalls may be.
Third, reading history helps us to see the impact our actions will have upon future generations. Winston Churchill once said, "The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see." If we have learned necessary lessons from our examination of history, we will be more prepared to leave a stable foundation for the generation that follows.
WIth these three things in mind, I would say that there is one primary way a Christian would benefit from the reading of history. Namely, reading history is profitable for his level of sanctification. It teaches me humility because I see the sacrifices that have been made in the past, the faith I should have for the present, and the responsiblility I bear for the future.
"For this is the will of God: your sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And part of that sanctification will occur as I know more of the "great cloud of witnesses" who have surrounded me (Heb. 12:1). So pick up a biography and get some sanctification!
So where should you begin? Here are a few recommendations:
"Surprised by Joy" by CS Lewis
"The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom
"Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey" by Timothy George
"Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Spy" by Eric Metaxas
"To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson" by Courtney Anderson
And so many more! Happy reading!