Over the last year and a half, the topic of creation/evolution, and specifically the age of the earth, took up a good bit of my study time. I’m almost finished with that season, and hopefully I will eventually post a summary article of my findings. It has been at times an interesting, enlightening, confirming, and frustrating topic to examine.
But this year I want to go in a different direction and delve deeply into church history. Yeah, I can probably guess that you’re either yawning or groaning about now. Maybe you had a history course in college that bored you to sleep. I did. It was the fall of 1992. I was a naïve freshman at a large secular university, studying engineering, and still three months away from my 18th birthday. That first semester I enrolled in a Western History class that met every Tuesday-Thursday at 8:00am. (You can see where this is going!) On the first day, the professor walked us through the syllabus, and when he came to the part explaining his exams, he really let us have it.
“Over the last few years my exams, which I designed to test a student’s overall grasp of the significant and important material, have been shared as “koofers” against our school’s honor code.” As most students were using my old exams gained from upper classmen as cheat sheets, I’ve had to change my philosophy of exams. Beginning this year, I will begin rewriting my exams to focus on the minutiae and insignificant facts. This is the only way we can ensure that you’ll actually learn any history.”
Collective gasps erupted from the back of the room. “What did we do to deserve this?!?”
“You pledged a fraternity. That’s where my old exams are shared.” Seriously. He said that.
So for the rest of the semester, when I actually woke up on time and dragged my lazy, unmotivated, defeated self to class, my classmates and I were subjected to the absolutely worst way to learn history. I swore that never again I would cram gobs of useless dates and names into my over-caffeinated brain. That torture chamber of Western History indelibly imprinted on my mind the birth and death dates of every pope and monarch in Europe from Gregory the Great to John Paul II. And I don’t remember anything else. For a long time, that class was my lone experience of church history.
Thankfully in seminary I got a different taste of what the study of church history can be. Not just dates and names, but stories—family stories—that explain why the directions of history shifted and why things are today what they are. Church history learned well tells the tale of heroes and villains, saints and sinners, orthodoxy and heresy, and those little “accidents” that turn the tide of history and usher in new eras and possibilities. Recounting and celebrating this kind—the exciting kind—of church history is the goal of pastor, teacher, international speaker, and prolific author Sinclair Ferguson’s book In the Year of Our Lord: Reflections on Twenty Centuries of Church History (IYOL). In the span of 20 brief chapters, Ferguson serves snippets of the historical highlights from every century of the church. Continue reading