Evangelical amnesia

Robert Tracy McKenzie, professor and chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College, writing in his review of Mark Noll’s From Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian’s Discovery of the Global Christian Story:

So by what path did God lead him [Noll] to a deeper, more vital faith? To quote a famous essay by C. S. Lewis, it was through “the reading of old books.” American evangelicals, like modern Americans generally, are “stranded in the present,” to quote a haunting phrase by Christian historian Margaret Bendroth. … We cut ourselves off from the vast majority of all the Christians who have ever lived, implicitly assuming that we have nothing to learn from those who have gone before us. You can see this “chronological snobbery” on display in almost any commercial Christian bookstore. The shelves will bulge with the latest hastily written book from the pulpit celebrity of the moment, but good luck finding anything dating to the first nineteen centuries of Christian history.

Danger comes with such tunnel vision. As Lewis understood, contemporary books mainly reinforce what we will already believe—including what we wrongly believe. They cast light where we already see and deepen the darkness where we are unwittingly blind. The only antidote, Lewis maintained, “is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”

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Doulos

δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ. Simul iustus et peccator.

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