Reflections on the Christian Historian’s Task

Soon to reach our organization’s quinquagenary, we thought it an appropriate time to do some reflecting on nearly five decades of The Conference on Faith & History. Hopefully a few posts here on the CFH site will stir up online conversation, perhaps even some off-line chatter.

Ten years into The Conference on Faith & History, Mark Noll took time to look back on some of the members’ scholarly activity represented in the pages of Fides et Historia. In his piece, Noll also suggested a way forward, a way that would allow CFH members to influence the academy and the church. “Ideally, it seems to me that we should be doing at least four things in our historical work,” said Noll. Those things included:

  • Speaking in the profession. CFH members should be doing first-order primary historical research.
  • Speaking to the profession. CFH members should not shy away from a confessional stance on God’s role in history.
  • Speaking to the church. CFH members should challenge the often uncritical acceptance of current culture as the normative expression of the body of Christ.
  • Speaking in the church. CFH members should acknowledge the many dimensions of the kingdom of God, including what takes place outside the professional study of history.

I asked Mark to reflect on his words from years past. Here is what he has to add in our day.

Surprisingly, after forgetting I had written such injunctions, I find that I still mostly agree with what my much-earlier self wrote. The one adjustment I would probably make now is to think of the first two audiences in sequence. Maybe it comes from sitting on too many tenure committees and writing too many letters for placement, but I don’t think believers trying to say something TO the academy will be heard if they have not already won at least a measure of respect speaking IN the academy. Otherwise, I wish I was able myself to live up better to what I told others they should be doing.

There you have it. The past and the present, surprisingly, sound familiar. And, I might add, not unlike what we heard and discussed at the 29th Biennial Meeting of CFH, “Christian Historians and Their Publics,” so wonderfully hosted by Loree Hunnicutt and the good people at Pepperdine University.

A couple of questions come to mind. Would you add to or subtract from Mark Noll’s four things? How have CFH members been doing speaking in and to the academy and church?