History helps us avoid mistakes . . . or something more?

What Douglas A. Foster says about history will now stick with me every time someone says, “We ought to know history so we can avoid mistakes of the past . . . ” Foster disagrees. In a recent article, he writes this contrary view to the conventional wisdom about learning from history (he is a historian, so don’t think he’s down on history!):

I am convinced, however, that the primary reason it is vital for Christians to know our history is to make us humble.

(Douglas A. Foster, “Ignorance is not bliss,” Christian Standard (November 7, 2004 Vol 139, no. 45).

Foster along with D. Newell Williams, Paul Blowers, and Tony Dunnavant (who died during the preparation of the 800 page tome) have recently with Eerdmans released the most extensive and broad reference work ever to be done on all of the Stone-Campbell movement: Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia.

14 comments on “History helps us avoid mistakes . . . or something more?

  1. Greg, thanks for quoting one of my favorite people….Doug Foster. What a quiet, humble, servant, historian! I do have a question though…….was Doug disagreeing or just adding to why we should study history? Does it have to be an either or…….could it not be both? I would think that seeing our past mistakes we do not want to repeat WOULD make us humble.

    Has the book that Doug, Randy Harris, and Mark Love are doing together been published yet? I can’t wait to get my hands on that one!

    Love you, brother!


  2. thanks for the reference to the encyclopedia. just looking at the three-page intro makes me want to get it. this is exciting stuff, and i hope results in a lot of dialogue, reconciliation, and reunion.



  3. As a student under Dr. Foster, and having him as a faculty mentor, it is obvious that he is humbled by the history that we share. Even in the less noble events and attitudes of our heritage, he can discern the goodness in people’s hearts and intentions, remembering that we are not above making similar mistakes.

    If we look at history primarily to avoid repeating mistakes, we can end up proud and over-confident. While ignorance contributes to mistakes, so does arrogance. Dr. Foster has always reminded me to be conformed to Christ, and to allow the story of scripture and the continuing story of our heritage to help me journey deeper into the Story of Stories. He is a true gift to the body of Christ.


  4. Interestingly, this has been a primary theme of the Wednesday night class I’ve been leading through the Old Testament. It just emerged one night while I was teaching through Genesis: If God can be with them — as screwed up as they were — certainly he can be with us.

    Perhaps what Foster says about our reading of history should also be applied to our reading of the Bible?


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