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Toward the end of the first episode of People of Faith: Christianity in America (Vision Video), an attractive, nicely paced video series, several voices weigh in why Christians need to know their history.
One scholar says it's impossible to understand American history without an understanding of the nation's Christian history. Another suggests that it can lead to church renewal. A third says it helps us interpret Scripture, shape our mission, and appreciate God's grace. People of Faith serves most of these needs well.
The series—produced by the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College (Illinois), with support from the Lilly Endowment—shows Christians engaged in public life during the European settlement, the founding of the nation, the Civil War, the 19th-century social reform movements, and the civil rights movement. Christian activity is portrayed as predominantly positive, though not entirely so. For example, the series points out that Christians made arguments both for and against slavery, and that Prohibition began as a public health crusade against a devastating social problem but quickly turned punitive and counterproductive. Subjects that Christians got mostly wrong, notably the treatment of Native Americans, are touched on lightly, if at all.
One episode profiles 10 American "saints," ranging from Jonathan Edwards and Charles Grandison Finney to Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., and, curiously, Norman Vincent Peale. More broadly, the series tracks forces in American religious life—religious freedom, immigration, voluntarism, social reform—looking at pioneers in these areas as well as their modern-day offspring. These episodes present some heroes, a few cautionary tales, and much perspective on how Christians over the years have taken different stances toward the larger culture.
Clocking in at just three hours, the series necessarily omits much. This would be less of a complaint ...