A doozy today, my friends. It turns out that someone has decided to condense all of Church History down into a twenty-minute lecture. Twenty minutes. I was both shocked and amused when I read this…and I had to check it out.
You can find the material on the blog No Longer Be Children, where the author splits apart his minimal opus into four parts: Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Magisterial Reformation, and Anabaptism. The blog’s stated goal is to pursue a “stable, mature Christian worldview,” which I have to somewhat question if you’re only going to spend twenty minutes talking about two thousand years of Church History. But I digress.
A few caveats here: 1) the author indicates that he only tracks the development of the Church up through 1700 (yet somehow manages to get to Vatican II), 2) he has made the strategic decision to record his “lectures” by apparent use of a Bluetooth in his car with the windows rolled down, and 3) he seems to have a pathological desire to diminish what I’ve spent the last 9 years studying.
There are so many holes in this project that I can’t even begin to address most of them. The project could have been done with a bit of humor, like The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), but it wasn’t. As it is, it is just kind of sad. Nevertheless, a few thoughts:
- Anabaptists? Why whole five minutes on the Anabaptists? Turns out the author of the blog comes out of the Mennonite movement, which explains some of this. Nevertheless, their inclusion as a full quarter of the lectures seems completely out of place.
- Why are we all white? Christianities in parts of the world other than Europe–some of which did exist before 1700–seem to be wholly ignored. At least a discussion of early missions or the settlement of Latin America or something should be included here.
- The strange concentration of Church History to a length shorter than an episode of The Simpsons does raise the interesting spectre that all historians face: picking and choosing topics and sources to include or exclude in our writing. Just as thia blogger has tried to do, all historians must necessarily limit their scope. In so doing, other narratives get left by the wayside. The discarded narrative options (pre-Augustinian Christianity, the Crusades, the mystics) are easy to hear in this case, but they are present through historical writing.
- Why do we tend to give the Reformation so much importance? A full half of all this Church History is Reformation-oriented, even though only one quarter of the story of Christianity has been touched by it. Once again, prejudices and expectations and the social and theological location of the historian plays a huge role in determining such emphases. But in general, I think we do give too much emphasis to the Reformation in modern day Protestant retellings of history.
- Though fatally flawed and unsuccessful on a number of counts, this abbreviated effort does highlight the need for narrative and cohesiveness in the historical enterprise. History is about telling good stories, thinking deeply about those stories, and allowing them to permeate our understandings of the actors and situations of the past even as it opens doors to understanding in the present. I’m going to say it again: historians need to be good storytellers.
- Lastly, and most hauntingly, when listening to this perfunctory twenty minute discussion I find it amazing how little of it matters. History matters immensely, but if we who are the guardians of it treat it as a science only and not an art or philosophy of existence, we miss having it count for much at all. It can become, in the words of the cynic, “One damned thing after another.”
But I have to ask. All my critiques notwithstanding, what would your twenty minutes look like?