Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Does Church History Matter?

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Does Church History Matter?

Article excerpt

GENERAL AND MISCELLANEOUS Does Church History Matter? By Robert F. Rea. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic. 2014. Pp. 231. $20.00. ISBN 978-0-8308-2819-7.)

This book argues for the relevance of church history to the concerns of contemporary Protestant congregations. Robert F. Rea targets his argument to "Biblefocused" Christians, who consider the Bible to be the "inspired, infallible, and sufficient" basis for Christian life (p. 74). Although Rea endorses this view of scripture, he notes that it can easily become a basis for dismissing historical theology on the grounds that it is part of man-made "tradition" and thus lacks divine inspiration or authority. For Rea, this is a mistake, as, rightly understood and interpreted, church history deepens one's capacity to engage and apply scripture. Taking the Bible seriously, in other words, implies taking church history seriously.

In part 1, "How We Understand Tradition," Rea defines history as "the study of the past in order to understand the present and to improve the future" (p. 23). Specifically Christian history is marked by the "presence, actions, will, and heart of God" (p. 24). Meanwhile, "tradition" broadly understood is a "synonym for church history, Christian history', or historical theology" (p. 29). These overlapping definitions of history and tradition underscore a key point: tradition is inevitable. The simple act of professing Christianity helps to propagate a religion 2000 years in the making. Thus, even groups that dismiss tradition as a determining factor in Christian life and practice are still recipients and transmitters of tradition. Part 2, "Expanding Circles of Inquiry," argues that strengthening one's Christian identity requires moving beyond one's immediate faith community' to engage the Body of Christ more broadly. This engagement deepens our understanding of the consensus fidelium that unites a Body of Christ that is not only transdenominational and transcultural, but also transtemporal. Learning to see the present through the lens of past thinkers sharpens our insight into the present state of faith communities and helps us integrate them more fully with the Body. The third and final part, "Tradition Serving the Church,"examines how learning from the great exegetes of the past helps Bible-focused Christians to interpret and apply scripture more effectively and gives them powerful tools for addressing contemporary issues in church life. …

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