From age 15 to 21, I experienced two ways of learning history.

The first was modeled at my public high school in southwest Ohio. My teacher (whose primary job was to coach the football team) would review dates and facts, then quiz us on how well we memorized them. He was clearly as bored by the litany as we were.

The second was the kind I witnessed at a Christian college in Michigan. There, our professors taught us dates and facts, of course. But they also explored the why behind the what: why the printing press was central to the Reformation, why King Henry VIII created the Anglican Church, why some 19th-century Christians supported slavery. History took on flesh and blood for me, and I became aware of our great debt to it.

We trust that this month’s cover story (p. 38) is like the second kind of history.

Theologian Justin Holcomb provides an overview of heresy: what it is, how the early church councils came to define it, and what role the creeds play in defending against it. But if you walk away from the piece thinking that orthodoxy simply means getting all the right facts, we have not done our job. “Orthodoxy is not just a matter of theological precision,” writes Holcomb. “It’s about making sure the church rightly grasps our God and his work for us in Christ.” The why behind the what of orthodoxy is not to score points in debate but to more deeply love the triune God.

We also study history to gain wisdom and avoid mistakes our forebears made. That is one theme of a new essay (p. 48) from Tish Harrison Warren (who wrote for CT last year on being the “wrong kind of Christian” at Vanderbilt). She recounts the racial injustice woven into US history, and asks how we should respond to it. That question will remain pertinent as Americans continue to debate displaying the Confederate flag on public grounds.

But we also study history because we believe Christ is Lord over it. From a human vantage, history—including church history—will always be tainted by sin. But we believe God is at work through and in spite of us, revealing his power to bring good out of evil. “Divine interventions seem to be a necessary element in a Christian view of history,” writes historian David Bebbington (best known for his evangelical quadrilateral). “The Christian . . . is aware of divine activity not only in the world but also in his own life.”

Learning what happened before us helps us to see the God who is with us now—and to trust that he will lead us in his sovereign care until the end of time.

Follow Katelyn Beaty on Twitter @KatelynBeaty

To contribute give online at or send checks (US dollars only) to: Christianity Today, Attn: Donor Relations, Box CT1015, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188. Christianity Today International is a 501(c)(3) organization.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.