The Winds of History
Using History to Get Where We Ought to Go
by Wilfred M. McClay
Christians cannot ignore history. On the contrary, we are uniquely bound to it. We are not like Buddhists or gnostics. The specific things that happen in time and space matter enormously for us, precisely because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And yet the meanings of history are always partial and subordinate and provisional, precisely because God’s ways are not our own. We cannot ever know for sure what matters most in God’s sight. Indeed, we know that the fall of one sparrow, or the crucifixion of one man, can trump the fall of a great and gaudy empire.
And so we need some way of sorting out what history means and does not mean. In doing this, there is the real danger that we will make history mean either too much or too little. Our era’s problem, as Patrick Reardon observes in his editorial, is almost entirely with the former. We tend to understand history in our age as History, an inexorably “progressive” force, and hence an authority of last resort.
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Wilfred M. McClay holds the SunTrust Chair of Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and is the author of The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America (North Carolina) and A Student's Guide to U.S. History (ISI Books). He is a member of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.
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