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Why Study History: A Review

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This review, by Dr. Nicholson, has been provided courtesy of Desert Bible Institute (www.desertbibleinstitute.com).

          Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, by John Fea, is a useful and insightful book into how the fields of history and theology intermingle. The book, written primarily for History students, explores the ideas of how history can, and is, looked at through the lens of theology. It also does the opposite by trying to help the reader appreciate theology by looking at it as a historian does. The book gives many tools for thinking about history and theology in these ways, and it accomplishes this in an interesting and purposeful way.

Perhaps one of the most useful areas of this book for theologians comes early on when Fea gets to reader to think about the many ways people encounter the past today. It is amazing to think of all that has come before us, and how any subtle shift in those events could have radically changed our current situation. The book doesn’t get sci-fi or metaphysical at this point, but instead directs the readers’ attention to how every event in the past interacts with each other to form the world that we are currently living in. When we give ourselves time to think about this, the idea is awe-inspiring.

Too often we thrust our current values or perceptions as correct in regards to history. Fea points out to us that too often the facts that we have assumed are true can radically change when new details or information comes out. It is our responsibility, therefore, to enter the past for the purpose of making sense of people, places, and values that are different than our own. Our idea therefore that history is  fixed or stagnate is woefully misplaced.

As a Christian, one of the ideas that I found interesting in this book was issue of providence. If God does have a plan for us, then it seems likely that there must be some pattern to it in history. Fea examines many of the major works and schools of thought on this issue. This concept makes history have a whole new influence in the discussion of theology when we stop to think that if God has a master plan and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) then we should be able to discern, to a greater or lesser degree, how He has affected history.

It is clear that Fea supports a Christian perspective of history and states that historians should have “an adequate theological and biblical understanding.” He brings to light such issues as the difficulty of understanding historical figures such as Nero and Adolf Hitler without a definitive understanding of the concept of sin. On the other hand, he warns us if historians are to write ethically about what happened in history, “they should do so with caution so that preaching does not trump historical interpretation.” Additionally, he berates self-professed historians that use Sunday school proof-texting or moral platitudes as their basis for historical analysis.

In all, this was a very insightful book with a clear direction and purpose. There are spots in the book where the lengthy explanations, though useful to a student of history, could be a bit dry for the lay-reader. It should be considered; however, that this book was intended for History students and not pastors and theologians. Nonetheless, anyone taking the Bible and biblical history serious will find many useful tools in the textbook.

Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.

Desert Bible Institute, President

Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit  Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.

The book for this review was provided free of charge by Baker Academic through NetGalley.com. This book was provided without the expectation or requirement of a positive response. Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley.com for the opportunity to both read your advanced copy and to  provide this unpaid evaluation. All opinions in this review reflect the views of the author and not DBI, NetGalley.com, or the publisher.

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