The question of “Why history?” and “Why the look to the past?” is one historians constantly have to answer. There have been many answers given. Cary J. Nederman offers a good one in his Lineages of European Political Thought. In the introductory chapter Nederman discusses the utility and importance of investigating medieval political ideas, writing:
Indeed, the very “otherness,” the foreignness, of the medieval world may have salutary decentering effects upon our complaisant contemporary assumptions about political life and its relation to a whole host of other philosophical questions. The hollowness of an “end of history” thesis, for instance, is problematized once we see how pervasive that claim has been in past times as well. We continue to live on the edge of history, and what Janet Coleman says of William of Ockham holds no less true at the beginning of the twenty-first century: “By knowing one’s past, one understands one’s present and one makes one’s future.”1
This is a more succinct version of what I was saying here. Protestants are possibly the most guilty of all the “rooms” in Christendom of ignoring, mocking, and misunderstanding the past. Of all people, Christians should take the principle of Nederman’s words quite seriously, and Protestants need to heed these sentiments in particular. History, whether its content is social, ecclesiastical, theological or philosophical, will break down our current assumptions. It will, as Nederman says, have a ‘decentering’ effect on our own thinking. Hence the need for retrieval, a distinctly historical act, to accompany the renewal evangelical Protestantism.
One reply on “Retrieval and the Use of History”
I do wonder if you might be overreaching in your charge against protestants. Christians in other traditions have their equally predominant ways of ignoring and misunderstanding the past–which might in fact come under the guise of respect for the past. That being said, Nederman’s words are worth hearing.