28 September 2008

Orthodox Christianity & The Historian

As a result of a discussion I was involved in on Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory Blog, I was asked to define what I meant by the term "orthodox Christianity." I was a little surprised by the question as those tenets are generally well known, at least that was my assumption.

Here's a rather commonly accepted list of the "non-negotiables":

  • The Trinity
  • The deity of Christ
  • The bodily resurrection of Christ
  • The atonement as a result of the life and the death of Christ
  • A need for personal salvation by grace due to man's universal sinfulness as a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden
  • The inerrancy of the Bible
  • God's inspiration of the Bible's authors
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The anticipated second coming of Christ

And, to that list, I would add a belief in a literal 6 day creation as laid out in the Book of Genesis. In addition, the person who posed this question, asked another one: "Who killed Jesus?" My answer: We all did with our sins. For it was our sins from which we needed saving and for which Christ hung on the Cross.

And one more point. I do not consider myself a professional historian, in the strictest sense of the term. One definition of being a "professional" in anything is whether or not you get paid for the work. I do. I've written 3 history related books, dozens of history related articles, serve on the board of trustees for a new museum, am involved in a number of historic and preservationist organizations, and have co-produced two history related films. Yet I still consider myself an "amateur historian." I am not credentialed and do not work full time in the field. Perhaps, one day, I, might earn the title by my work alone, as did Shelby Foote. We'll see. I figure I, Lord willin' have about 20 years or so left to prove myself.

That being said, I must add that whatever I (or others) consider my contribution worthy of being called, it is important for me to inject two clarifying terms to my work: "Christian" & "Southern." I write unapologetically from a Southern perspective. I was born in the South, the great-great grandson of three Confederate Veterans. I grew up hearing my father and grandfather (both liberal Kennedy Democrats by the way) tell of the virtues of Lee and Jackson and of the honor of the South's struggle. I grew up playing on the blood-soaked ground that my ancestors defended. My grandfather hung a Confederate battle flag in his home until the day he died, as did my father. My father's home was adorned with images of Lee and Jackson and other Southern heroes. My father was constantly giving me biographies and histories about the WBTS and passed his passion for the study of history to me. It's in me and I cannot, nor do I desire to, get it out.

Dad loved the South. As a child growing up, we never went North for vacation - always South: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, numerous places in Virginia. Dad loved Southern food, especially grits. He once told me as a very young boy that if you did not eat your grits for breakfast in Georgia restaurants, the authorities would put you in jail. I believed him and have loved grits ever since!

I love the South too. I so tire of her being attacked, impugned, ridiculed, stereo-typed and made fun of for the burdens that the whole Nation shares. Her critics are oh so selective. I believe most of them are politically motivated, despising the old-fashioned, conservative values that still permeate the South. So I defend her when the elites (or those who hold kindred views) attack. I don't write to please anyone, except my conscience and my God (and the great cloud of witnesses of which the Book of Hebrews speaks).

Which brings me to the other clarifier: Christian. As a former agnostic, liberal, and Darwinist, I know how the "other side" thinks. I know how they reason. I know how they view the world because I used to view it in the same way. (Very depressing, I might add.) That transformation in my life was dramatic. It was life-changing. My faith impacts everything I do, especially my writing. So just what is a "Christian historian" - professional or amateur? I like the simple definition put forth by Roland A. Wells:

He is a historian who first, accepts "the 'reality' that God exists and that God came among us in the historical person known as Jesus", and, second brings to the study of history a different "angle of vision," which, Wells asserts, allows the believing scholar to ask different questions, to "see what others do not." (From a review of Wells's book: History and the Christian Historian, reviewed by Augustus Cerillo, Jr. of California State University, Long Beach)

So that is my goal, to bring a different "angle of vision" to the study of history: The Christian angle. And though I may not always do that to everyone's satisfaction, that is my goal.

Regarding some of the other questions raised by Mr. Levin - I believe every one of them were addressed head on in my book about Stonewall Jackson and his Sunday school class. No need to re-write my whole book on Kevin's blog. I'm finding the problem with blog discussions are that rarely is anyone moved from their original opinions. Most bloggers are pretty hard-headed and strong willed. It's the nature of the beast, so to speak.

I trust that clarifies some things. Now, you will have to excuse me as it is time for me to go cling to my guns and religion.

Good night.


Michael Aubrecht said...

Amen brother! BTW: I find it telling that Mr. Levin specifically references (and chastises) my Stonewall Jackson Bible Study in the comments area and then closes the section down. I wonder if he ever had to move to a double-classroom in order to fit all of the students who signed up for his course. :)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Michael. This post was put together a little hastily, I may have been able to say it better had I put more time into it, but I wanted to get something up quick for those who may have been following the discussion.

Kevin and I agree on very little, obviously. He has, nonetheless, been gracious about allowing me to post lengthy comments, and I appreciate that. I believe he's interested in dialogue because he looks at someone like me with great curiosity and bewilderment. I see him reacting as Mr. Spock used to do on Star Trek: raising one eyebrow and cocking his head in curiosity as he tries to process my thoughts and opinions! ;)

That's not an insult, just my opinion.

Kevin said...

Richard, -- You are absolutely right on track, but I assume you have the same reaction to me. Remember, it's a Civil War Memory blog and I find your species (LOL) to be an interesting case study. "Live long and prosper."


p.s. MA: My decision to shut down the comments section had nothing to do with you since you've been banned from commenting.