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The Past That Informs Our Present

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

A few years ago I was driving back from the city, and I noticed that one of my running lights on the car was out. As we arranged to get a few things done on the car, some time went by. Maybe it was summer and the sun was out more often, but the appointment day came, and our mechanic graciously picked up our car from the house in the dark of the early morning. When he came back that evening, he asked how we'd been getting around with both the running lights burnt out!

I guess it was just a timing thing.

Recently, one of the running lights was out again. I seemed to remember something in the back of my mind about both the lights going out at the same time, and once again, time went by and we had a car with no running lights.

The time lapse was really only a year or two, I think. But it highlights for me, that something occurred in my past, and it affected what I know in the present day. When my light went out now, I remembered something. It was a moment where I could make a choice, and respond with that information. I could have made an appointment earlier to replace the lights, instead of waiting until they both were out.

In a similar way, what has happened in Christian history affects our set of beliefs and values today; it affects how we respond to situations and the culture around us.

We may regard ourselves as average Christians. We want to know God better. We try to keep up reading our Bible. We attend church. We pray.

We keep on keeping on with what we know to be right and true. But what informs our knowledge? What has influenced what we believe?

Obviously Scripture is the main one, teaching on Sundays, a bible study. As believers, we all have a knowledge about God, so that means we are all have a theology.

In his book, Knowing Scripture, RC Sproul writes, "The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones."

So, as we grow in our knowledge of God, we grow in our theology and become better equipped Christians, to approach the life God has given us.

This link between history and our theology is what Gavin Ortlund's book, "Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals: Why We Need Our Past to Have a Future" is about.

If I'm honest, it didn't interest me at first. I didn't really understand the main title, but the subtitle began to draw me in.

An understanding of church history has been a growing desire of my heart the few years, as I have been teaching my daughter at home. I began to realize, especially in our second year, that I have a very limited understanding of what happened to the church after the apostle Paul. So as we began reading about Ireneus, Basil and Athanasius, my mind was blown, because this was the first time I was hearing about these guys and I've been a Christian for some thirty years. I found myself eagerly learning alongside my daughter.

Why this is important, I feel, is that our current understanding of how history has affected our beliefs about God is limited, and we begin to take for granted what we believe about, for example, the nature of Jesus, or the Trinity. These were issues that were hard fought and established by the writings and lives of the church fathers, who God used to bring forth truth, during the early days of the church.

As we begin to understand how the church was shaped through history, we can better approach the shifting changes in culture that we see today.

The main thrust of this book is "the conviction that one of the church's greatest resources for navigating her present challenges is her very past - indeed, her entire past," this is called theological retrieval.

This book is definitely written on an academic level, which I wasn't prepared for, but it did challenge me to think and study on a more intellectual level. The book is divided into two parts. First, there are three chapters about the importance of studying the church's past, the benefits and the need for it today. The second part, is four chapters each looking at a different issue in church history, the historical writings on the topic, and how it can influence our approach to that issue today.

I gave this book 3 stars. It is primarily for someone who wants to dive into the realm of theological retrieval from a more academic perspective.

My encouragement to you is to continue learning about who God is, and think through how you can apply that to your life today! Don't be afraid or intimidated by the study of theology, because our knowledge grows, and so does our love and adoration of Him.

How do you think your knowledge of God affects your everyday life?

**Thank you to Crossway for the complimentary copy and the opportunity to post an honest review!


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